Jan. 15, 1929 - April 4, 1968
Occupation: civil rights leader
Occupation: minister (religion)
Michael King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in the Atlanta home of his maternal grandfather, Adam Daniel Williams (1863 — 1931). He was the second child and the first son of Michael King Sr. (1897 — 1984) and Alberta Christine Williams King (1903 — 1974). Michael Jr. had an older sister, Willie Christine (b. 1927), and a younger brother, Alfred Daniel Williams (b. 1930). The father and later the son adopted the name Martin Luther, after the religious figure who founded the Lutheran denomination.
The family background was rooted in rural Georgia. A.D. Williams was already a minister himself when he moved from the country to Atlanta in 1893. There he took over a small struggling church with some 13 members, Ebenezer Baptist. In 1899 Williams married Jennie Celeste Parks (1873 — 1941). The couple had one child that survived, Alberta Christine, M.L. King Jr.'s mother. A.D. Williams was a forceful preacher who built Ebenezer into a major church.
Michael King Sr. came to Atlanta in 1918. He had known the hard life of a sharecropper in a poor farming country. His father, James Albert King (1864 — 1933), was irreligious, became an alcoholic, and beat his wife, Delia Linsey King (1873 — 1924). In the fall of 1926, Michael Sr. married Alberta Williams after a courtship of some eight years. The newlyweds moved into A. D. Williams's home.
When Williams died in 1931, Michael King Sr. followed in his father-in-law's footsteps as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church. King, too, became a very successful minister. The King children grew up in a secure and loving environment. As King Jr. said in "An Autobiography of Religious Development," an essay written for a class at Crozer Seminary when he was 23: "It is quite easy for me to think of a God of love mainly because I grew up in a family where love was central and where lovely relationships were ever present."
King Sr. was inclined to be a severe disciplinarian, but his wife's firm gentleness — which was by no means permissive — generally carried the day. The parents could not, of course, shield the young boy from racism. King Sr. did not endure racism meekly; in showing open impatience with segregation and its effects and in discouraging the development of...
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... a new, better-organized demonstration and gave a very moving address to an audience of 500 at Memphis Temple on April 3. He spoke of and accepted the possibility of his own death, a recurring theme in his speeches. The following evening, shortly after 5:30 p.m., King was shot and killed on the balcony outside his motel room.
King's assassination led to disturbances in well over 100 cities and, before the violence subsided on April 11, the deaths of 46 people (mostly African Americans), 35,000 injuries, and 20,000 people jailed. On April 9 King's funeral was held in Ebenezer; in addition to the 800 people crammed into the sanctuary, a crowd of 60,000 to 70,000 stood in the streets. He was buried in Southview Cemetery, near his grandmother. On his crypt were carved the words he often used: Free At Last, Free At Last Thank God Almighty I'm Free At Last.
In 1986 Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday became a national holiday. While alive, King became the symbol of hope for African Americans and for America as a whole that brotherhood and sisterhood could be obtained. The quintessential black leader, King's legacy reminds one of how far America has come, and how far it still has to go.
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