Martin Luther King timeline
April 4, 2018 -- Graphic originally published 2008 and reissued 2018: Martin Luther King Jr. -- one of the pivotal leaders of the American civil rights movement -- was assassinated 50 years ago on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.
Educated as a Baptist minister, King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott which ended segregation on public transport in Alabama and organised the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. A year later King became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Despite King’s advocacy of nonviolent resistance, his murder triggered an explosion of pent-up anger in the black community in several U.S. cities, with fire bombings, arson, looting and sniper fire.
King’s impact on race relations helped to end segregation and the disenfranchisement of African-Americans, but many challenges remain. The economic gap between black and white America continues, and the poverty rate in the world’s most prosperous country is higher now than it was five decades ago.
March 28, 2008: His speech, “I have a dream”, is one of the most powerful in the history of U.S. oratory and he is recognised as one of his country’s greatest moral leaders. Now, as America prepares to commemorate the anniversary of his assassination on April 4, 1968, the legacy of civil rights leader Martin Luther King is facing fresh scrutiny.
At the time of his death the tide was turning against King. He faced criticism over his opposition to the Vietnam War, and condemnation from radical black leaders, including Malcom X, who disagreed with his strategy of non-violence to force change. King braved his critics, as well as numerous threats to his life, until the end.
This time America will remember the death of the civil rights leader and Nobel laureate in the shadow of an election campaign that has thrust another inspirational black orator to the forefront of politics. Observers debate whether Illinois Senator Barack Obama’s sensational battle to become the first U.S. black president is proof of King’s achievements or evidence that racial equality is still a long way off.
One thing everyone agrees on is that without Martin Luther King many modern notions of civil rights would be unthinkable. He inspired a drive for racial and social justice that would eclipse his life, a fact he seemed to anticipate in the speech to striking black sanitation workers in Memphis the day before he was shot dead: “I’ve looked over (the mountain top). And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know that we, as a people, will reach the Promised Land”.
Born the son of a reverend in Atlanta, Georgia, on January 15, 1929, King studied theology and philosophy and in 1953 became a Baptist minister in Montgomery, Alabama. After Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man under the Jim Crow Laws, King became involved in city bus boycotts that eventually forced an end to racial segregation on public transport.
After founding the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, King led marches to demand labour and voting rights for black Americans. He preached non-violence, but clashes with segregationists often erupted at the demonstrations. His campaign pushed civil rights onto the national agenda, however, culminating in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act a year later.
In recognition of his work to end racial injustice, in 1964 King became the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
His “I have a dream” speech was delivered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington during the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom. The march was attended by 250,000 people and considered a huge success, though Malcom X complained that King had toned down its demands for black equality in accordance with the wishes of President John F. Kennedy.
In the last few years of his life King widened his campaign both geographically and politically, but he faced growing opposition, too: in Chicago peaceful protests were disrupted by violent mobs; in 1968 his Poor People’s Campaign to end economic injustice for people of all races alienated activists who wanted to focus mainly on black issues. He was threatened, spied on by the FBI and labelled a communist, placing wife Coretta Scott King and his family under immense strain. His courage and determination have inspired generations of African-Americans ever since. (Story: Duncan Mil/ Joanna Griffin)