Skip to main content

The Life of Dr Martin Luther King Jr

James A. Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and a writer with four non-fiction books and hundreds of magazine articles read by millions.

Martin Luther King Jr Biography

Martin Luther King Jr. was a twenty-six year old Baptist minister when he got involved with the civil rights movement in Montgomery, Alabama. He had been in town a little over a year with his fledgling family. As he spoke up in meetings it was quickly recognized that here was a man who could move people with words.

In his first public speech, Martin Luther King said, "We are not here advocating violence. I want it to be known throughout Montgomery and throughout the nation that we are a Christian people. The only weapon that we have in our hands this evening is the weapon of protest."

King became the leader of a bus boycott in Montgomery, designed to end segregation on city buses. This brought him into contact with the national correspondents of a new medium that would make him famous: television. It also filled his mailbox with hate mail.

Martin Luther King Jr. as a boy

Martin Luther King Jr. as a boy

The People of Dr Martin Luther King Jr

The Reverend A. D. Williams was the maternal grandfather of Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1894, Williams founded the venerated Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. He was also a founding member of the Atlanta NAACP.

The son-in-law of Rev. Williams was Martin Luther King, Sr.—known as "Daddy" King—one of nine children born to sharecroppers. Daddy King quit school when he was fifteen years old. He obtained a minister's license and preached on a traveling circuit for a few years.

When Daddy King was twenty-one, he decided to go back to school, where his test results got him assigned to the fifth grade. Within five years, during which he worked full time as a delivery driver and preached on weekends, he became a high school graduate.

Daddy King married Alberta Williams, who was everything he was not—educated, genteel, sophisticated. He entered Morehouse College at twenty-seven, and earned a degree in four years by going to school year-round. A year after Daddy King graduated from college, the Reverend Williams died of a sudden heart attack and Daddy King was called to lead the Ebenezer Baptist Church.



The Young Dr Martin Luther King Jr

Scroll to Continue

Martin Luther King, Jr. was the grandson of a slave on his father's side but eminently endowed with intelligence, eloquence, and courage. He grew up secure and well-loved in a prosperous family that was safely ensconced in the black elite of Atlanta. His father was a powerful preacher; a fire and brimstone man who believed the Bible to be the literal Word of God. Daddy King was against drinking, lewd dancing, and Socialism.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was embarrassed by the emotive style of preaching for which his father was famous—stomping, shouting, and wailing from the pulpit. MLK said that Morehouse College, where he attained his degree in 1948, freed him from "the shackles of fundamentalism."

King went to Crozer Seminary in Pennsylvania before he accepted a fellowship at Boston University to earn a Ph.D. In Boston, King worked to undermine popular perceptions about black behavior. Blacks were known to be careless about time so MLK became the most punctual man on campus. Blacks were loud and noisy, so MLK was calm and quiet. Blacks wore flashy, colorful clothes, but MLK always wore a perfectly-pressed conservative suit with sharply-shined dress shoes.

In Boston, Martin Luther King, Jr. became a leader among upper-class blacks. He drove a brand new Chevrolet, was a great dancer, and the black beauties of Boston loved him. It was there that he met his future wife, Coretta Scott, who was by all accounts beautiful and intelligent, with character and personality to spare. Daddy King had an Atlanta woman lined up for MLK to marry, and Coretta Scott was not enamored with the idea of being the wife of a minister. She wanted a career as a singer. But love had its way.

Martin Luther King, Jr. studied Marxism at Boston University and appreciated its anti-capitalism but ultimately rejected its atheism. His favorite thinkers turned out to be Walter Rauschenbusch, famous for his promotion of the Social Gospel; the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr; and Gandhi.



Martin Luther King Jr Moves to Montgomery

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was called to the ministry of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. It was a famous church, which sat across the street from the Alabama Supreme Court and diagonally across from the state capitol. The Dexter Avenue congregation was the black Baptist elite of Montgomery, mostly college-educated, with a reputation for being snobbish and highly political.

It was observed by a Montgomery newspaper man that King would quote Kant and Nietzsche to whites, but then slip into jive talk with blacks on the street.



Martin Luther King Learns to Work the Media

Dr. Martin Luther King was one of the first people to fully comprehend the power of national television. A good story needs expert casting, and King became the best at selecting villains. By skillfully provoking these villains, dramatic footage would be captured by the camera and broadcast across America.

King wanted northern white people in their homes to see blacks acting with great dignity while being brutally assaulted by Southern whites. He carefully picked those segregationists who were the most crude and ugly: Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus; Selma Sheriff Jim Clark; and Bull Connor of Birmingham.

King produced hypnotic stories for network television, full of action and confrontation, with moral tension aplenty. He always made sure that national network newsmen were on hand to capture on film any planned confrontation—in time for the nightly news programs.

Because of the activities of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Eisenhower proposed legislation that became the Civil Rights Act of 1957—the first civil-rights law since Reconstruction. Eisenhower also established what became the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1960.

Consider the coverage television gave to Martin Luther King Jr. during his civil rights campaign. Dr. King reported that whenever he would talk about the Christian basis for his work, either the cameras would get turned off or it would be edited out. He said: “They aren’t interested in the why of what we are doing, only in the what of what we’re doing, and because they don’t understand the why they cannot really understand the what.”




The zenith in the career of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was reached in 1963. Early in that year, King led a desegregation campaign in Birmingham, Alabama that was met with ferocious police dogs and water cannon, all captured on national television. This turned the tide for the civil rights movement, clearly capping blacks with the white hats and southern racists with the black hats.

The highpoint of 1963 was also the apex of Dr. King's life, as he led 250,000 protestors on a march through Washington DC, singing "We Shall Overcome," that ended at the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his famous "I have a dream" speech. It was the largest demonstration for civil rights in American history. One year later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

But other, more violent voices were being raised in the black community that preached Dr. King was too soft—the black racist Malcolm X; the proponent of "black power" Stokely Carmichael; and Eldridge Cleaver who said raping white women qualified as a legitimate act of insurrection. The Black Panther Party spokesman H. Rap Brown told black Americans to "get you some guns and kill the honkies."

Whereas Dr. King worked with whites to achieve the aims of the civil rights movement—indeed a multitude of whites were heavily involved in its successes, which frankly could not have been achieved without them—the new black militants took over the movement and purged it of its white members. At least the white males. The black men would allow white women to remain in the movement only if they would come to bed with them to prove they were not prejudiced.





Dr King Is Killed in Memphis

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was devastated when a march he planned in Memphis, Tennessee turned into a full blown black riot. 155 shops owned by whites on Beale Street were attacked and sixty people were hurt. Streets were blocked by angry black mobs; bricks were thrown at trucks, cars, and police cruisers. Windows were smashed and stores looted. White taxi-drivers and police officers were beaten, battered by flying objects, or stabbed. Then came a night of arson as blacks tried to burn down Memphis while chanting, "Burn Baby Burn!" Especially targeted were stores owned by Jews and Italians. No black-owned stores were touched.

A few days later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his final speech, in which he said: "Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. . . . I have seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you."

Martin Luther King was assassinated the next day by James Earl Ray—a lifelong member of the Democratic Party—the evening of 4 April, 1968. Blacks across America reacted with grief, anger, rioting, looting, arson, and destruction that went on for a week. 110 cities suffered from the riots, none more than Washington DC. 3,500 people were hurt and 46 killed.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the only American honored with a federal holiday except for the Father of our Country George Washington.


My primary source for this article is the wonderful book The Fifties by David Halberstam. Additional material was gathered from The Sixties by Arthur Marwick; A History of the American People by Paul Johnson; and America: A Narrative History by Tindall & Shi.


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on June 26, 2012:

cynamans— Why did I include references to MLK's father as having a "shouting from the pulpit" preaching style and his being against lewd dancing? I think everybody knows that MLK marched here and marched there and said this and said that. But what about Martin Luther King Jr. the man? Who was he that doesn't get headlines in our history books? One of the main things I look for is 'where did he come from?' What was his father like?

When I was a boy my preacher also shouted about sin from the pulpit and also opposed lewd dancing. What is wrong with that?

You wrote: "What does any of those things have to do with the man and his legacy? You also rambled on and on about black behavior . . . What is this nonsense all about?"

What I wrote is true and unless all you are interested in is presenting a human being as some sort of supernatural angel I think what I wrote gives real insights into what made MLK MLK. He DID consciously work to counter the perception of the behavior of most black folks, which was obviously based on their actual behavior. He WAS well aware of the behaviors that were typical and thus had become stereotypical. He went against the gain to further his cause AND IT WORKED. That is what you apparently don't see.

I am completely genuine about everything I write and this subject is of great interest to me or I wouldn't have spent perhaps 20 hours researching and writing it. I have plenty of other things to do with my time. I am quite fond of MLK and his message—especially his early message. I think you are simply too used to politically correctness to be able to enjoy the Truth for a change.

Still, I do appreciate you engaging me on this Hub. Thank you for visiting and commenting.


cynamans on June 11, 2012:


I did not understand why you included such references to Lewd dancing,shouting from the pulpit, and drugs to describe aspects of King's life story. What does any of those things have to do with the man and his legacy. You also rambled on and on about black behavior:"Blacks were known to be careless about time so MLK became the most punctual man on campus. Blacks were loud and noisy, so

MLK was calm and quiet. Blacks wore flashy, colorful

clothes, but MLK always wore a perfectly-pressed conservative suit with sharply-shined dress shoes." (LoL)

What is this nonsense all about? Maybe I misunderstood your article but those things really made me believe that you were not genuine in writing about this particular subject. If I'm wrong, I sincerely apologize. In reference to why I made the remark stating: Anyone who thinks otherwise should not write about such a person, I was only alluding to my belief that the subject was not of great interest to you and that you probally are not too fond of the civil rights leader or his message. In regard to the Hitler reference. I was only being sarcastic, as for me writing about Hitler, I tend to not write about people I despise despite their importance to history.

Again, if I'm incorrect in my opinions, I do apologize.

Best C

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on June 04, 2012:

C— Thank you for taking the time to read my Hub. I might point out that is not a Blog, it is an internet magazine article.

I write about history and people in history quite often. This was written on MLK's birthday.

I have not written about Hitler yet. In an Hub at least.

Dr King was a great man. I have no idea what in my article led you to interpret that my feelings were otherwise. I would appreciate it if you would be specific about what it is you see as biased in this piece. I read it again just now and I do not understand your caustic remarks.

And what do you mean by "Anyone who thinks otherwise should not write about such a person?" You mean the only people who should write about anybody are those who write hagiographies? Does that apply to Hilter too? Then maybe you should write that one.


cynamans on June 03, 2012:


I don't think you should blog about subjects that you are bias about. This hub does not come off as genuine but rather self serving. Dr. King was a great man who changed America for the better. Anyone who thinks otherwise should not write about such a person. Maybe Hitler is more up your alley. (LoL)no offense intended,

best C

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on May 05, 2012:— Thank you very much for that link! The article is extraordinary and I loved it and saved it in my favorites. I appreciate you. :) from upstate, NY on May 01, 2012:

Hi James I thought maybe you'd appreciate this link to MLK's view on the evil of communism:

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on February 01, 2012:

ahorseback— Thank you!!! Thank you very much!! :D

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on January 31, 2012:

Michele Travis— Thank you very much! Those were confusing times, the Sixties. I remember when Dr. King was killed very well because riots broke out in my hometown of Benton Harbor, Michigan that led to my whole extended family—maybe 50 people—moving out of that city.

ahorseback on January 30, 2012:

James you should have been a teacher , if you weren't!......Great read!

Michele Travis from U.S.A. Ohio on January 30, 2012:

Another great hub. I do remember when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. I was very young, people were talking about it, but no one would explain it to me. Of course I learned later. But, then I was confused, just very confused.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on January 28, 2012:

Derdriu— I did try to keep this article brief. Thanks for noticing. :)

As always, I am grateful that you hit all the right buttons and gave me a "voted up" for this Hub. I am thankful that you have invested your time in reading my writings. That is quite an encouragement to me.

Thank you for your kind compliments. I appreciate the visit, Derdriu.


Derdriu on January 25, 2012:

James A Watkins, What an intelligent, logical, organized summary of the life and times of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr! In particular, you do a great job of introducing the pertinent background influences on the evolving thoughts and activities of the activist minister. Your respect for accuracy and comprehensiveness is much appreciated since you achieve both without excess words or excessive length!

Thank you for sharing! Voted up + all!


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on January 23, 2012:

drpastorcarlotta— Thank you! Thank you very much. :)

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on January 23, 2012:

teaches12345— You are welcome. I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. I am well pleased that you enjoyed reading my Hub. I have a fondness for teachers and I love people who love Christ. Welcome to the HubPages Community!

Pastor Dr Carlotta Boles from BREAKOUT MINISTRIES, INC. KC on January 22, 2012:

I am so Proud of you! Very well written James, God Bless you!! Voted-Up!

Dianna Mendez on January 21, 2012:

He was such a great man who made positive changes in our country. He had great faith. Your hub was very informative and brought out interesting facts about his background and beliefs. Thanks for the information.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on January 19, 2012:

Kaie Arwen— I did my best to keep this Hub short. I think my latest few articles have been too long for our MTV attention spans. I do tend to prattle on but I want to correct this from now on.

As you said so beautifully, "me, I love to learn about the journey that made them the people they became"

Me too!! :-)

Thank you for your ongoing affirmation and encouragement.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on January 19, 2012:

itakins— Thank you!! Thank you very much! :D

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on January 19, 2012:

suziecat7— You're welcome. It is great to hear from you again. Thank you for visiting and commenting.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on January 19, 2012:

ringlawncare— Thank you ever much for the awesome accolades. I enjoyed your most excellent comments. I am grateful that you came by and shared your thoughts with us.


James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on January 19, 2012:

Dexter Yarbrough— Hello! Thank you, Dex, for the voted up, up and away. I appreciate your affirmation of my work here.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on January 19, 2012:

platinumOwl4— There is some truth to that quote you offered by The Godfather of Soul. I met him once. One of a kind, that's for sure.

I thank you for posting such insightful and thoughtful remarks here. I certainly appreciate this visitation from you, as well as your gracious compliments. It is always a pleasure to hear your voice.

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on January 19, 2012:

MonetteforJack— You are most welcome, my dear! I surely appreciate your kind comments. Thank you for taking the time to read my articles. God Bless! :)

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on January 19, 2012:

stars439— Thank you!! Thank you very much! :D

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on January 19, 2012:

Gypsy Willow— You are quite welcome. Thank you for reading my work. :-)

James A Watkins (author) from Chicago on January 19, 2012:

tlpoague— Thank you for being my first visitor! I am so glad you enjoy my Hubs. And I appreciate you passing on my Hubs on the History of Christianity to your husband. I think I have about 40 in that series. I should probably publish an orderly index of them. I plan to collate them into a book, after some editing.

(I did not get the email so please send it again.)

Thanks again and you are welcome.

Kaie Arwen on January 19, 2012:

It never ceases to amaze me that you can cover so much in such a short space.......... this was a fascinating look at Dr. King; I enjoyed the sections of his own history most. Many people just want to know who someone is in the context of who they are at a given moment .......... me, I love to learn about the journey that made them the people they became........... ever yours, Kaie

itakins from Irl on January 18, 2012:

Very interesting James -a nice bite-size piece of fascinating reading-well done again.He was a truly incredible man!

suziecat7 from Asheville, NC on January 18, 2012:

Great Hub - I learned some new things about King's background and really enjoyed the read. Thank you.

ringlawncare from Stillwater MN on January 18, 2012:

James that was absolutely fascinating! I grew up in the city, and I'm not gonna sit here at this keyboard and tell you all the black friends I had growing up.

That is just the way I grew up, so this is actually close to my heart and most likely will be to the grave.

It almost sickened me growing up knowing people were like this especially most of my own relatives.

You have just wrote something very special for all of America to be proud of!

Martin, Ali and Malcolm were all heroes of mine growing up and still are today (I guess you could add Jordan to that list)


Dexter Yarbrough from United States on January 17, 2012:

Hi James! A wonderful tribute to a very dedicated man! Voted up, up and away!

platinumOwl4 on January 17, 2012:

James A Watkins, This is a superb hub. The Dr. gave many speeches the one I prefer more that the one you quoted and the I have a dream and the gist of it is, that black people should not go to sleep during this period or the consequence would be dire. Unfortunately, for the most part they did go to sleep. Interviews carried by major Television station have shown blacks in some cases in the same condition and position as they were during Dr.King's lifetime as far as employment, housing and education. The legendary Godfather of Soul claimed while he was serving time. "the brothers had went backwards faster in fifty years than they had come forward in a hundred years"

MonetteforJack from Tuckerton, NJ on January 17, 2012:

Sir James, thank you! Another history lesson from you... I wasn't aware of Daddy King. Anyway, for a person like me who is interested and yet slow in learning, I appreciate your writing style -- you considered readers in all levels of reading comprehension. Thank you! Thank you for being a great writer, too.

stars439 from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State. on January 17, 2012:

A wonderful hub about a great man of courage. God Bless You Friend, and Brother, and your precious loved ones.

Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on January 16, 2012:

More interesting history, thanks for the education!

Tammy on January 16, 2012:

What a fascinating reading of Martin Luther King Jr.. I wasn't born yet when he was gaining fame with his speaches, and later his death, but I remember my grandparents often talking of him and those days as they watch it on TV. Thanks for sharing a bit of his life.

(P.S.- I sent you an email with some questions from a previous hub I read. I wasn't sure if you received it. Let me know if not, and I will send it again. Thanks!)

The hard work you have done to bring about these historical documents is amazing. I have enjoyed reading them. I have been passing on your Christian history ones to my hubby. He has a facination with Christian theology right now.

Related Articles