On this blog I have been counting down my top 10 greatest Americans of all time based on their personal commitment to (and servce for) the principles of “all men are created equal” and “liberty and justice for all”. My second greatest American, Martin Luther King, Jr., was bold and politically incorrect.
King was born into a family of black ministers in 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Morehouse College when only 19 years old. He went on to get a master’s degree from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, PA where he was the first black student body president and graduated first in his class. Next he earned a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Boston University in 1955, where he met and married Coretta Scott.
After his education he became pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. In December of that year, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give her seat on a bus to a white man.
The black citizens of Montgomery then formed the Montgomery Improvement Association with King as head, and began a bus boycott that lasted more than a year during which King’s life was repeatedly threatened and his home was bombed. The boycott forced Montgomery and the bus company to desegregate the buses and late in 1957 the Supreme Court declared the bus segregation law to be unconstitutional.
Afterward, King worked tirelessly leading civil rights marches and protests across the South. He elevated the idea of equal rights into a moral movement by appealing to the conscience of the nation. His use of nonviolent resistance captured the country’s sympathy due to the violence and brutality directed at non-violent protesters. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches rang with passion, commitment, and justice as they stirred the souls of millions of people across America.
In 1964 King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and was the first black American to be named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year”. His efforts and the efforts of tens of thousands of other brave Americans led to the end of legal racial discrimination in employment, desegregation of public places, and the enforcement of voting rights for blacks and other minorities. King paid the ultimate price for freedom when he was murdered in Memphis, TN in 1968 because of his work for “liberty and justice for all”.