Home » Key events in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr and the civil rights movement

Key events in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr and the civil rights movement

Martin Luther King, Jr. is born to Reverend and Mrs. Martin Luther King, Sr. on January 15 in Atlanta, Georgia. King is licensed to preach and begins assisting his father, who is a pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. King is ordained as a Baptist minister on February 25. In June, he graduates from Morehouse College in Atlanta and receives a scholarship to study divinity at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. While studying at Crozer, King attends a lecture by Dr. Mordecai Johnson on the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi and is inspired to delve deeper into the teachings of the Indian social philosopher.

King graduates from Crozer with a Bachelor of Divinity degree. He is class valedictorian and winner of the Pearl Plafker Award for most outstanding student. In September, he begins doctoral studies in theology at Boston University, where he studies personalism with Edgar Sheffield Brightman and L. Harold De Wolf. King marries Coretta Scott at her family’s home in Marion, Alabama on June 18. In May, the Brown v. Board of Education decision paves the way for school desegregation as the Supreme Court of the United States uninamously rules racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

The same month, King accepts a position as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. On October 31, he is installed as the church’s twentieth pastor. Having completed his dissertation, King is awarded his Ph. D. from Boston University. On November 17, Yolanda Denise (Yoki), the King’s first child is born. Less than one month later, on December 5, the Montgomery bus boycott begins after Mrs. Rosa Park, a seamstress, is arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white person.

King is elected president of the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association and assumes leadership of the boycott, which will last 381 days. The King’s home is bombed on January 30. Although Mrs. King and Yolanda are at home with a friend, no one is injured. In Early February, the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa is ordered by the Supreme Court to admit its first black student, Autherine Lucy. When white students demonstrate, Lucy is suspended from the University of Alabama for “reasons of safety”. A federal district judge orders her reinstated.

When she is expelled again, she makes no further effort to enroll, and the University remains segregated until 1963. On February 21, King is indicted, along with twenty-four other ministers and more than one hundred other blacks, for conspiring to prevent the Montgomery bus company from operation of business. A United States Discrit Court rules on June 4 that racial segregation on Alabama’s city bus lines is unconstitutional. On November 13, the United States Supreme Court uninamously upholds the decision. On December 21, blacks and whites in Montgomery ride for the first time on previously segregated buses.

More than sixty black ministers, committed to a southern civil rights movement, respond to King’s call for a meeting. In Atlanta on January 9 and 10, they form the organization that will become the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SLCL). While King and Rev. Ralph Abernathy are in Atlanta for the meeting, Abernathy’s home and church are bombed in Montgomery. Three other Baptist churches and the home of a white minister are also bombed in response to the victory of the bus boycott. On February 14, the SCLC meets formally for the first time in New Orleans. King is unanimously elected president.

On May 17, three years to the day after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, King participates with other civil rights leaders in a Prayer Pilgrimage to Washington. He delivers his first major national address, calling for black voting rights. The next month, he meets with Vice-President Richard Nixon. On September 9, Congress passes the 1957 Civil Rights Act, the first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. The act created the Civil Rights Commission, established the Civil Right Division of the Justice Department, and empowered the federal government to seek court injunctions against obstruction of voting rights.

The same month, President Dwight D. Eisenhower federalizes the Arkansas National Guard to escort nine black students to Little Rock Central High, a previously all-white high school. A thousand para-troopers are sent to restore order, and troops remain on campus for an entire school year. When the U. S. Supreme Court refuses to delay desegregation, Little Rock schools are closed for the 1958-59 school year. When they reopen, they are integrated. Martin Luther III, the King’s second child and first son is born in Montgomery on October 23.

On June 23, King, along with Roy Wilkins of the NAACP and A. Philip Randolph of the AFL-CIO, meets with President Eisenhower. King is arrested on September 3 in front of the Montgomery Recorder’s Court and charged with loitering. The charge is later changed to “failure to obey an officer”. The following day, he is convicted. He decides to go to jail rather than pay the fine. Over King’s objection, the fine is paid by Montgomery Police Commissioner Clyde C. Sellers.

In early February, Dr. and Mrs. King depart for a monthlong trip to India, where, as the guests of Prime Minister Nehru, they study Gandhi’s techniques of nonviolence. King submits his resignation as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church on November 29. He will join his father as co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where the SCLC has its headquarters. The sit-in movement begins on February 1 at a Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. In an effort to desegregate lunch counters, movies, hotels, libraries, and other segregated facilities, it spreads rapidly throughout the country. On May 6, the 1960 Civil Rights Act is signed.

The new legislation authorizes judges to appoint referees to help blacks register and vote. King meets with Senator John F. Kennedy, candidate for president of the United States, on June 24 to discuss racial concerns. In October, King is arrested in a sit-in at a major Atlanta department store. The charges are subsequently dropped, and all of the jailed demonstrators except King released. King is held on charge of a violating probation in a previous traffic arrest case. He is sentenced to four months of hard labor and transferred to DeKalb County Jail in Decatur, Georgia, and from there to Reidsville State Prison.

Only after Senator Kennedy intervenes is he released on two thousand dollar bail. In a 7 to 2 decision in December, the U. S. Supreme holds that discrimination in bus terminal restaurants operated for the service of interstate passengers is a violation of the Interstate Commerce Act. On January 10, Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes become the first black students to enroll at the University of Georgia in Athens. The event is peaceful. The King’s third child , Dexter Scott, is born on January 30. In March, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), along with SNCC and SCLC, announces a new campaign – the Freedom Rides.

The first Freedom Riders depart from Washington, D. C. , on May 4. One bus is burned and stoned in Anniston, Alabaman on May 14. The same day, riders are attacked in Birmingham. When they arrive in Montgomery on May 20, the ensuing violence leads to martial law. In Jackson Mississippi, the riders are arrested and spend forty to sixty days in Parchman Penitentiary. In November, in large measure as a result of the Freedom Rides, the Interstate Commerce Commission bans segregation on buses, trains and supportive facilities. On December 15, King arrives in Albany, Georgia to help the local movement in its fight to desegregate public facilities.

The following day King is arrested and charged with obstructing the sidewalk and parading without a permit. King is arrested at a prayer vigil at the Albany City Hall on July 27 and jailed on charges of failure to obey an officer, disorderly conduct, and obstructing the sidewalk. The Albany Movement is generally unsuccessful in its effort to force desegregation of public facilities. Two are killed and many are injured as James Meredith attempts to enroll at Ole Miss – the University of Mississippi in Oxford – in September.

He is enrolled by Supreme Court order and escorted onto the campus by U. S. marshals federalized by President John Kennedy. On October 16, King meets with President Kennedy at the White House. Bernice Albertine, the fourth child of Dr. and Mrs. King, is born on March 28. Mass demonstrations begin in Birmingham, Alabama on April 3 to protest segregation of public facilities. On April 12, King and other ministers are arrested by Police Commissioner Eugene (“Bull”) Connor. King is placed placed in solitary confinement. While imprisoned, King writes his famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail” explaining the need for non-violent civil disobedience.

When school children join the protests in Birmingham in early May, Bull Connor orders the use of fire hoses and police dogs to halt the youthful protestors. The nation is shocked by the photographs of police brutality. On May 10, a biracial agreement is announced in Birmingham to desegregate public accomodations, increase job opportunities for blacks and provide amnesty to those arrested. White segregationists react violently to the agreement.

On May 11, a bomb explodes at the home of King’s brother, Reverend A. D. King, in Birmingham. A second explosion blasts King’s headquarters in the Gaston Motel. In response, blacks in Birmingham riot. Two hundred and fifty state troopers are sent to keep peace. On May 20, the Supreme Court rules Birmingham’s segregation ordinances unconstitutional. When black students Vivian Malone and James Hood attempt to register at the University of Alabama on June 11, Alabama governor George Wallace carries out a 1962 campaign promise to “stand in the schoolhouse door” to prevent integration of Alabama’s schools.

Wallace confronts Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, who brought a proclamation from President Kennedy. At a second confrontation later the same day, Wallace withdraws and allows the black students to register. The following day, June 12, in Jackson, Mississippi NAACP state chairman Medgar Evers is shot to death as he returns home. Byron de la Beckwith of Greenwood, Mississippi is later charged with the murder, but his two trials both result in mistrials. The March on Washington, on August 28, becomes the largest and most dramatic civil rights demonstration in history.

More than 250,000 marchers, including 60,000 whites, fill the mall from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument. King and other civil rights leaders meet with President Kennedy in the White House. King’s “I Have A Dream” Speech is the high point of the event. On September 15, a bomb explodes during Sunday school in Birmingham’s sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church, killing four little girls, aged eleven to fourteen. This is the twenty-first bombing incident against blacks in Birmingham in eight years. No perpetrators are found. President Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22.

Upon assuming office, President Johnson urges the speedy passage of Kennedy’s civil rights bill as a fitting tribute to the murdered president. Time magazine names King “Man of the Year” in its January 3 issue. In April, demonstrations begin in St. Augustine, Florida. Mrs. Malcolm Peabody, the mother of the governor of Massachusetts, is arrested. In May, King is jailed for demonstrating in St. Augustine, where protests meet violent reaction from white segregationists. King witnesses the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2.

This is the most far-reaching civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. Among other provisions, it guarantees blacks the right to vote and access to public accommodations. It also authorizes the federal government to sue to desegregate public public facilities and schools. In July, riots erupt in New York City’s Harlem after a fifteen year old black boy is shot by an off-duty policeman. The initial rioting is followed by uprisings throughout the summer in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, as well as in Bedford-Stuyvesant; Rochester, NY, New Jersey; Chicago and Philadelphia.

On August 4, the bodies of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner are found by FBI agents in a shallow grave near Philadelphia, Mississippi. All three had been shot. Chaney had been brutally beaten. Neshoba county sheriff Lawrence Rainey and his deputy, Cecil Price, are arrested for conspiring to violate the Civil Rights Code. Ultimately, Price and six others are convicted. Sheriff Rainey is found not guilty. In September, New York City begins busing students to end segregation in public schools.

King is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway on December 10. He is the twelfth American, third black and at age thirty-five, the youngest person to win the coveted prize. The Selma campaign is initiated on February 2, when King is arrested for demonstrating as part of the SCLC’s voter registration drive. Several days later, a federal district court bans the literacy test and other technicalities used against black voter applicants, and on February 9, King meets with President Johnson at the White House to discuss voting rights.

Jimmie Lee Jackson, a twenty-six year old black man, is fatally shot by state troopers during a demonstration in Marion, Alabama, on February 18. Three days later, on February 21, Malcolm X, Black Muslim leader, is assassinated at a rally of his followers in the Audubon Ballroom in New York. Eventually three blacks are convicted of his murder. On March 7, demonstrators in Selma are beaten by state patrolmen as they attempt to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on a march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery.

That evening, Reverend James Reeb and two other white Unitarian ministers are beaten by white segregationists in Selma. Reeb dies two days later. The three men who are later indicted for the murder are all acquitted by a Selma jury. President Johnson addresses a joint session of Congress on March 15 to appeal for the passage of the Voting Rights Bill, which he submits two days later. In the televised address, he uses the slogan of the non-violent movement – “We Shall Overcome”. On March 21, King and three thousand protestors begin a five-day march from Selma to the Alabama state capitol in Montgomery.

By agreement, only three hundred are allowed to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge and continue the entire way to the state capitol. They are escorted by hundreds of army troops and national guardsmen. In Montgomery, they are met by twenty-five thousand marchers. Mrs. Viola Liuzzo, a civil rights worker from Detroit, is shot to death while driving returning marchers back to Selma on March 25. The next day, President Johnson denounces the Ku Klux Klan and announces the arrests of four Klan members in connection with the murder.

On March 30, the House Un-American Activities Committee opens a full investigation of the Klan and its “shocking crimes”. On August 6, President Johnson signs the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Six days of rioting break out in Watts, the black gheto of Los Angeles, on August 11, leaving thirty-five dead. More than thirty-five hundred people are arrested in one of the worst riot in the nation’s history. Robert Weaver, named head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, becomes the first black to serve in a presidential cabinet, and Constance Baker Motley becomes the first black woman to be named a federal judge.

In February, King and his family move into a tenement apartment in Chicago to initiate the Chicago Project. The SCLC joins forces with Al Raby’s Coordinating Council of Community Organizations. King meets with Black Muslim leader Elijah Muhammad in Chicago. On May 4, more than 80 percent of Alabama’s registered blacks vote in the Alabama Democratic primary. The first major black vote since Reconstruction causes sheriffs James Clark of Selma and Al Lingo of Birmingham to lose their offices.

James Meredith is shot on June 6 – the first day of his 220 mile “March Against Fear” from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi. King and other civil rights leaders decide to continue the march. In Greenwood, Mississippi, Stokely Carmichael, the newly elected head of SNCC, and Willie Ricks use the slogan “Black Power” for the first time in front of reporters. Designating July 10 “Freedom Sunday”, King initiates a drive to make Chicago an “open city”, demanding an end to discrimination in housing, schools and employment.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this essay please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.