Martin Luther King, Jr.

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The holiday on the third Monday each January commonly known as Martin Luther King Day is set to honor Martin Luther King Jr., best known for his activities supporting the African-American civil rights movement and his subsequent assassination in 1968, but did you know that his given name when he was born was Michael King Jr., that he sang with his church choir at the premier of Gone With The Wind in 1939 in Atlanta, that he never graduated from high school, and that he was the youngest person at the time to win the Nobel Peace Prize (in 1964)?

Young Martin's father, Rev. Michael King Sr. (Baptist), took his family to Germany in 1934 and changed their names legally to honor the Protestant leader, Martin Luther King. Since their last name did not change, his two siblings' names remained the same. Martin Luther King Jr. skipped ninth and twelfth grades and so did not formally graduate from Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, but he entered Morehouse College at the age of 15. He received his BA in 1948, his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Crozer Theological Seminary (Baptist) in 1951, and his PhD from Boston University in 1955 at the age of 26.

Martin Luther King Jr. was greatly influenced by his father. In An Autobiography of Religious Development, he recounted times his father reacted to racial discrimination, and quoted him as saying, "I don't care how long I have to live with this system, I will never accept it." Martin Luther King Jr.'s father outlived him but his mother, Alberta Williams King, was murdered in 1964. Despite the racially tense times and violence in his life, Martin Luther King Jr. believed in peaceful means to accomplish change. Martin Luther King Sr. died in 1984.

In 1953, King married Coretta Scott and the couple had four children - Yolanda Denise King, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott King and Bernice Albertine King. Yolanda, a human rights activist and actress, died in 2007. Martin Luther King III is also a human rights advocate and community activist. Dexter Scott King has had disagreements with the rest of his family resulting in alienation and a pending law suit. Dexter met with James Earl Ray, the accused killer of his father, and firmly believes that he was innocent. Bernice, who was only five years old when her famous father was killed, is a skilled public speaker, a licensed attorney, minister and anti-gay marriage advocate. She has collaborated with her brother Martin Luther King III on several projects.

Today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day has become known as a day of service. According to the website,, "people of all ages and backgrounds will come together to improve lives, bridge social barriers, and move our nation closer to the 'Beloved Community' that Dr. King envisioned." To this end, universities, communities, churches and local groups organize to celebrate the life and continue the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on a Day of Service. In fact, the slogan of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service organization is "Make it a day on, not a day off".

The King Center in Atlanta was established in 1968 by Coretta Scott King and, according to their web site, is the "official, living memorial dedicated to the advancement of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., leader of America's greatest nonviolent movement for justice, equality and peace". Coretta Scott King wrote, "(The King Holiday) is not a black holiday; it is a people's holiday. And it is the young people of all races and religions who hold the keys to the fulfillment of his dream." The King Holiday honors the man who died striving to teach us all to be more accepting, more loving, and more serving. Martin Luther King Jr. himself phrased it best when he said, "Everyone can be great because everyone can serve" (The Drum Major Instinct).

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“...One person can't possibly do all of the work alone. They need help to speed up the work...The only way to do this is with your wonderful service...”
—Jeff Bagley
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