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Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King and civil rights movement


  • was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia as the second of three children
  • his mom Alberta King was a teacher and his dad Michael Luther King a Baptist minister
  • grew up in a black middle class family
  • went to Morehouse College in 1948 which was the only college for “Blacks” in that time and received a bachelor’s degree in Sociology
  • later he graduated from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Divinity degree
  • King married Coretta Scott on June 18, 1953; they had four children => all have one thing in common: they have followed their father's footsteps as civil rights activists
  • King moves to Montgomery, Ala., to preach at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church
  • in the same year the U.S. Supreme Court bans race segregation (Rassentrennung) in public schools
  • King was awarded a doctorate by Boston University in 1955
  • December: the bus boycott in Montgomery took place
  • January 1956 he got arrested and on January 30 his house was firebombed
  • accepted the presidency of the newly formed Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)
  • in 1958 he presented his first book “Stride Toward Freedom” and got attacked by an African American Woman
  • in 1959 he visited India => his whole life he admired Mahatma Gandhi and his writings about the principle of non-violent oppositions and how he fought for the independence of India
  • January 1960: he resigned (niederlegen) his Montgomery pastorate and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where the SCLC had its headquarters
  • In the same year John F. Kennedy is the new president and sit-ins in the whole country
  • 1962: King meets Kennedy to ask for support
  • 1963: publication of his second book “Strength to Love”
  • In August he organized the historic March of Washington. It was here that King gave his famous "I have a dream" speech to thousands of supporters. His dream was equal rights and a better life for US blacks.
  • 1964: visits Willy Brandt in West-Berlin
  • 1965: march to Montgomery to enforce the right to vote for blacks which president Johnson signs in 1965
  • 1967: King spoke out strongly against the Vietnam war; published his last work ”Where do we go from here: chaos or community?”
  • he was assassinated on the balcony in Lorraine Motel in Memphis-Tennessee on April, 4th 1968 => he was just 39 years old; His wife and family now believe that the US government wanted to silence him
  • the world was shocked=>ever since, special memorial services have marked his birthday on January 15
  • by vote of Congress, the third Monday of every January, beginning in 1986, is now a federal holiday in King's honor
  • Martin Luther King gave US blacks hope of a better life and fought for economic and social equality

The civil rights movement

Definition: in general it is a social movement which tries to enforce civil rights of excluded and discriminated people
  • although slavery was disestablished since the end of the American civil war in1864, there was still oppression of African Americans especially in the Southern States
  • were excluded by many public buildings i.e. universities
  • the perception (Wahrnehmung) of the American civil rights was made more difficult or even refused
  • again and again the racialist Ku Klux Klan terrorized and murdered Afro-American citizens often without a legal pursuit of such encroachments (juristische Verfolgungen solcher Übergriffe)
  • in the late 50s and early 60s, African Americans, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., used boycotts, marches, and other forms of nonviolent protest to demand equal treatment under the law and an end to racial prejudice
  • high point of this civil rights movement: more than 200,000 people of all races met in front of Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to hear the “I have a dream speech” by King
  • not long afterwards the U.S. Congress passed laws prohibiting discrimination in voting, education, employment, housing, and public accommodations
  • for many activists and some scholars, the civil rights movement ended in 1968 with the death of Martin Luther King
  • but at the same time, some people, especially blacks, argue that the movement is not over yet because the goal of full equality has not been achieved
  • racial problems clearly still exist
  • in any case, a great change has been in the attitudes of America's white citizens
  • more than a generation has come of age since King's "I Have a Dream" speech
  • Younger Americans show new respect for all races, and there is an increasing acceptance of blacks by whites in all walks of life and social situations
  • first steps toward racial equality were set

The most important events

   Bus boycott in Montgomery
  • on a cold day in December 1955, Rosa Parks finished her workday and waited for a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, to take her home
  • had worked hard that day, was tired and wanted nothing more than to sit down in a warm bus and rest until she got home
  • but laws of Alabama decreed that whites had preference for the seats in the front of the bus
  • white male came into the bus, the driver asked Mrs. Parks move to the back
  • fed up (die Schnauze voll haben) with the "Southern way of life," she replied, "I don't think I should have to move." She got arrested for this!
  • Blacks, under the leadership of Martin Luther King organized a boycott of the Montgomery bus company for 12 months
  • on June 5,1956, a federal district court ruled that the bus segregation policy violated the Fourteenth Amendment, which forbids the states from denying (verweigern) equal rights to any citizen
  • later that year, the Supreme Court affirmed (bestätigen) the judgment

    Martin Luther King asked Glenn Smiley, a white minister, to make a list with behaviour tips for the time after the boycott. Here a few points:
    • if there are more empty seats, don’t sit next to a white man
    • before you sit down ask your neighbour if he minds
    • if you get insulted (beschimpft) don’t reply, if he hustles don’t react,
    • if somebody punches you, don’t punch him back!
    • if there will be an incident (Zwischenfall) talk as little as possible
    On December 21st, 1956, King and Glen Smiley shared the front seat of a public bus after 381 days of courageous protesting. On this day Smiley was witness of one incident: a young White hit a black woman in the face so hard that she would fell down. Smiley helped her and asked: “Why didn’t you say anything to him? Did you pray?”she answered: “Last night I heard King’s warning not to punch anybody back in no way so I decided to follow his advice! Otherwise I would have torn him from limb from limb (in Stücke reißen).” So the historical bus boycott in Montgomery ended in Gandhi’s senses. No blood was shed.
   The March on Washington
  • nobody was sure how many people would turn up for the demonstration in Washington, D.C.
  • heavy police presence turned out to be unnecessary, as the march was noted for its peacefulness
  • this March for Jobs and Freedom took place on August 28, 1963
  • 250,000 people attended
  • Martin Luther King’s speech “I have a dream” => the speech outlined

    his dream for the improvement of the relation between blacks and whites

    his dream of America upholding its own standards of every man being equal

    his dream of former slaves and former slave-owners sitting down together at the table of brotherhood

    his dream of his children being judged by their character and not the colour of their skin

  • King believed racism could be broken through, but he knew it would take all of American society joined together to accomplish (vollenden) it
   Desegregating Little Rock (Aufhebung der Rassentrennung)
  • President Dwight D. Eisenhower sends federal troops to enforce (durchsetzen) the right of nine black students to enrol at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas
  • first use of federal troops to protect black civil rights in the South since shortly after the Civil War
   Sit-ins and freedom rides
  • students in Greensboro, North Carolina, Nashville, Tennessee and Atlanta, Georgia began to "sit-in" at lunch counters in local stores to protest those establishments (Einrichtungen) refusal to desegregate
  • the Freedom Rides were a series of student political protests performed in 1961
  • student volunteers, African-American and white, called Freedom Riders rode in interstate buses into the pro-segregationist (Apartheitpolitik) U.S. South
   Brown vs. Board of Education
  • Oliver Brown’s daughter Linda Brown, a third grader, had to walk five blocks to her school bus stop to ride to Monroe Elementary, her segregated black school two miles away, while Sumner Elementary, a white school, was only five blocks from her house

 - Martin Luther King, Traum und Tat - Eine Biografie von Richard Deats, Verlag Neue Stadt
 - Martin Luther King, ich habe einen Traum. Texte und Reden, Kiefel Verlag

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