Dr Martin Luther King Jr
Why is Martin Luther King famous?
Martin Luther King Jr was an American campaigner for the fair and equal treatment of all people and an end to racial discrimination.
A brilliant and brave man and a brilliant speaker, he was the youngest-ever person to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Top 10 facts
- Martin Luther King Jr’s father was the pastor of the Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States of America.
- Martin was a gifted student. He was awarded several university degrees and became a Doctor of Divinity.
- He decided he wanted to become a minister and delivered his first sermon at his father’s church at the age of 18.
- In December 1955, in Montgomery Alabama, Rosa Parks, a black woman, was arrested for failing to give up her bus seat to a white man.
- Martin Luther King was appointed president of the Montgomery Improvement Association which led the boycott of the Montgomery bus services. (A boycott is where you stop using goods or services to bring about a change.)
- The bus boycott lasted 381 days at the end of which the US Supreme Court ruled that segregation was illegal.
- Martin Luther King was a very brave man who believed in non violent protest. During the course of his campaign his house was bombed, he was arrested on numerous occasions and he was stabbed. Finally he was shot at the age of 39.
- Dr King was a very powerful orator (speech maker). His most famous speech, I Have A Dream, was delivered to an audience of 250,000 people.
- Following Martin Luther King’s murder a national day of mourning was declared in the USA.
- Martin Luther King Day, held on the third Monday of January, is now a public holiday in the USA.
- 15 January 1929Michael Luther King is born in Atlanta, Georgia
- 1944Graduates from High School and attends Moorhouse College, Atlanta
- 1947Delivers his first sermon at his father’s church
- 1948He is appointed assistant pastor at the church and graduates with a degree in Sociology; he attends Crozer Theological Seminary
- 1951He graduates with a degree in Divinity and begins studying Theology at Boston University
- 1953He marries Coretta Scott
- 1954He is appointed Pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama
- 1955He receives his doctorate
- 1 December 1955Rosa Parks is arrested for not giving up her bus seat to a white man in breach of the segregation laws
- 5 December 1955Martin Luther King becomes president of the Montgomery Improvement Association and leads bus boycott
- 30 January 1956Martin Luther King’s house bombed
- 1957Forms the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to campaign for civil rights
- 18 February 1957Martin Luther King is on the cover of Time Magazine
- 17 May 1957He gives his first national address at the Lincoln Memorial
- 1958He meets President Eisenhower; his book Stride Towards Freedom; The Montgomery Story is published; he is stabbed by a woman at a book signing in Harlem, New York
- 1961Meets President Kennedy
- 28 August 1961Delivers I Have a Dream speech to crowd of 250,000 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC
- 1964Time Magazine Man of the Year
- 10 December 1964Awarded Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end racial discrimination and segregation through non violence
- 1965Selma to Montgomery civil rights march
- 11/12 August 1965Watts Riots in California – 35 people die in the worst single racial disturbance in the history of the United States
- 3 April 1968Martin Luther King delivers his last speech
- 4 April 1968Martin Luther King killed
- 7 April 1968Day of National Mourning
Did you know?
- Martin Luther was born Michael Luther King but his father later changed both of their names to Martin.
- The original Martin Luther was a German Protestant who wanted to reform the Catholic Church.
- Martin Luther King was so clever that he was two years ahead at school and he started his college education at the age of 15.
- At age 35 he was the youngest-ever person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
- He is recognised as one of the greatest speakers in American history.
- Over 750 streets in the United States are named after him.
- In 1986, Martin Luther King Day was declared a national holiday in the United States.
- More than 300,000 people marched alongside Dr King’s coffin.
Have a look through the gallery and spot the following:
- Martin Luther King
- With Malcolm X
- As Time Magazine's Man of the Year
- In front of a crowd in August 1963
- Some of the values MLK stood for
- The statue of Dr King in Washington DC is known as the Martin Luther King Memorial
Martin Luther King was brought up in a Christian household and based many of his ideas about how people should treat each other on Christian teachings. His father was active in the civil rights movement and the young Martin was aware of the unfair treatment of black people from an early age. His religion also influenced his ideas about war and poverty; he protested against the Vietnam War and on behalf of poor people. He was also impressed by Mahatma Gandhi’s use of non violence in his campaign against British rule in India.
The southern United States where Martin Luther King was born commonly treated black people as being inferior to white people. As a result the condition of black people in those states was poor. Laws aimed at keeping black and white people apart meant that black people had poorer living conditions and schooling and had fewer rights than white people. Laws treated black people unfairly and prevented nearly all of them from having the vote, even in states where they formed the majority of the population. This meant that they had little political power and their interests were ignored. Because the laws had kept people apart, many white people believed they were superior to black people.
Although a civil rights campaign had been protesting against these injustices since before the First World War, only limited progress had been made. Martin Luther King’s involvement in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and his leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference marked him out from an early age as a gifted campaigner.
His intelligence, his speechmaking skills, his courage and his insistence on the use of non-violent means of protest such as marches, sit-ins and boycotts, helped to make civil rights the most important issue in American public life by the 1960s. New laws such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act helped to improve the situation of black people.
Martin Luther King’s achievements and abilities were admired and celebrated by people the world over. He received many awards for his courageous leadership and vision. His speeches and writings still have the power to inspire people today.
Rosa Parks (1913-2005) – a civil rights activist, Rosa grew up in the Southern United States and lived with her husband in Montgomery, Alabama. Montgomery was a segregated city – black people and white people had to live separately.
Rosa travelled to work on the buses. Black people had to sit at the back of the bus in seats marked ‘For Colored”. On the 1 December 1955 a white man asked Rosa to give up her seat on the bus. Rosa refused and was arrested. She was fined $10. Rosa appealed to a higher court. In support of Rosa’s cause all the black people of Montgomery stopped using the buses. Martin Luther King became head of the Montgomery Improvement Society which helped lead the bus boycott. The boycott lasted 381 days at the end of which the United States Supreme Court ruled that segregation was against the law.
Rosa received many threats as a result of her campaign but she remained strong. She was awarded the Congregational Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Just for fun...
- A quiz about Martin Luther King
- Send an e card to remember the March on Washington and Dr King's 'I Have a Dream' speech
- Travel back in time and play the role of a school newspaper reporter assigned to ride the Montgomery, Alabama bus system in 1955
- Create a window decoration inspired by Dr. King and the ideas he shared with others
- Print out some Martin Luther King Jr Day colouring pages
- Complete some Martin Luther King Day crosswords and wordsearches
- Put online jigsaw puzzle pieces together to form a picture of the MLK Memorial in Washington DC
- Try an interactive Martin Luther King puzzle
Kids' books about Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement in the USA
Find out more
- An introduction to Dr. Martin Luther King for KS1 children, on BBC Bitesize
- A BBC Newsround report looking back at the life of Martin Luther King Jr.
- Watch BBC resources about Martin Luther King, including videos of his speeches
- Watch the famous "I Have a Dream" speech, then read an annotated version of MLK's famous "I Have a Dream" speech: compare the written and spoken speech, explore multimedia images and find out more about the historical context of the words
- Martin Luther King facts for kids
- See videos about Martin Luther King's role as a civil rights leader and about the third Monday in January, Martin Luther King Jr Day, a national holiday in the USA
- Information about Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights Movement
- Listen to Dream on: a story for Martin Luther King Day on the BBC Schools website
- A detailed timeline of MLK's life
- A Martin Luther King biography for kids
- An animated film about Martin Luther King's life
- The National Museum of American History has a collection of objects from the civil rights movement and some non-violence activity suggestions and ideas
- A Scholastic News video to introduce Martin Luther King Jr, a man who changed America
- A brief history of the US civil rights movement for children
- Find out about the 1,000 streets and roads worldwide which are named after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.