MLK: a brief History of an American Icon

A Note From the Dramaturg:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 


Born: Michael Luther King, Jr. January 15th, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia

His grandfather was pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church (Atlanta) where MLK, Sr. became pastor and later MLK, Jr. became co-pastor.

MLK, Jr. attended segregated public schools and despite the trauma of growing up in a segregated and racist nation (trauma that contributed to MLK’s childhood depression and suicide attempts) MLK was a brilliant young scholar – he graduated from high school at 15 years old; received his Bachelor of Arts at Morehouse College at 19 years old; and by the age of 25 King had had acquired his Ph.D..

His wife was Coretta Scott (King) an aspiring singer and a “young woman of uncommon intellectual and artistic attainments.”  When asked if King took credit for Coretta’s own Civil Rights work he stated that his male ego would like to say so but that she was like that when they met.  

They had four children: Yolanda Denise King, Martin Luther King, III., Dexter Scott King and Bernice Albertine King.


By 1954, King had become a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the leading organization of its kind in the nation. 

In 1955, (at age 26!!) he was asked to lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott. King was reluctant to become the leader of this movement – though the issues at hand were dearly important to him, he did not “hunger” to be seen as the face of the movement (perhaps because of his young age and/or lack of ego).  King may have also been aware of the sacrifices that would come – during the boycott King was arrested, his family was put in danger (his home was bombed) and he endured physical violence.


In 1957 he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization formed to provide new leadership for the now burgeoning civil rights movement. The ideals for this organization he took from Christianity; its operational techniques from Gandhi. In the eleven-year period between 1957 and 1968, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action; and meanwhile he wrote five books as well as numerous articles.

In these years, he led a massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama, that caught the attention of the entire world, providing what he called a coalition of conscience. and inspiring his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, a manifesto of the Negro revolution; he planned the drives in Alabama for the registration of Negroes as voters; he directed the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his address, “l Have a Dream”, he conferred with President John F. Kennedy and campaigned for President Lyndon B. Johnson; 

He was arrested upwards of twenty times and assaulted at least four times; he was awarded five honorary degrees; was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963; and became not only the symbolic leader of American blacks but also a world figure.

At the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize. When notified of his selection, he announced that he would turn over the prize money of $54,123 to the furtherance of the civil rights movement.


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