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The King Years
1944 MLK wins an oratory contest on April 17 with a speech entitled “The Negro and The Constitution.” At age fifteen he graduates from Booker T. Washington High School and is admitted to Morehouse College (Atlanta) on September 20.
1948 MLK is ordained on February 25 at the age of nineteen as a minister at Ebenezer Baptist Church; his father is its pastor. MLK graduated from Morehouse College on June 8 with a degree in sociology. He enters Crozer Theological Seminary (Pennsylvania) on September 14.
1951 MLK receives bachelor of divinity degree from Crozer on May 8 and hears his first lecture on Gandhi. He enters Boston University for graduate studies in theology on September 13.
1953 Coretta Scott and MLK marry in Marion, Alabama, on June 18. Martin Luther King, Sr., officiates at the ceremony.
1954 MLK delivers his first trial sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, on January 24. On October 31, he becomes its pastor.
1955 MLK is granted the doctorate of philosophy in systematic theology from Boston University on June 5. His dissertation topic: “A Comparison of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Wiseman.” MLK is elected on August 26 to the executive committee of the Montgomery NAACP. After Rosa Parks’s December 1 arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus, he joins the bus boycott. On December 5, MLK is elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association and becomes the bus boycott spokesman and leader.
1956 On January 26, MLK is arrested as part of a “Get Tough” campaign to intimidate the bus boycotters. On January 30, his home is bombed. He successfully pleads for calm to a vengeful crowd of neighbors gathered outside his home. On November 13, the Supreme Court rules that bus segregation is illegal. After black Montgomery walked for more than one year as part of the boycott, on the morning of December 21, MLK is one of the first passengers to ride on the newly integrated buses.
1957 MLK forms the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to fight segregation and achieve civil rights, and on February14 becomes its first president. He and Coretta attend the midnight ceremonies in Accra on March 6, marking Ghana’s independence. On May 17, in Washington, D.C., MLK speaks to a crowd of fifteen thousand at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom to expand civil rights. On September 27, partially in response to the Prayer Pilgrimage, the U.S. Congress passes the first civil rights act since Reconstruction.
1958 MLK’s first book, Stride Toward Freedom, is published on September 17. At a Harlem book signing on September 20, MLK is nearly killed when he is stabbed by an assailant. Along with other civil rights leaders, he meets on June 23 with President Dwight D. Eisenhower to discuss problems affecting black Americans.
1959 MLK and Coretta make a pilgrimage to India on February 2 and spend a month there as the guests of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to study Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence and to pay homage at his shrine. On November 29, MLK announces his resignation, effective January 1, as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church to concentrate on civil rights work full time. He moves to Atlanta to direct the activities of the SCLC.
1960 On January 20, MLK moves to Atlanta and becomes co-pastor, with his father, at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. Lunch counter sit-ins begin on February 1 in Greensboro, North Carolina. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee is founded on April 15 to coordinate student protests at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, and elsewhere. MLK is the keynote speaker at the event. In Atlanta, on October 19, MLK is arrested during a sit-in while waiting to be served at a restaurant. He is sentenced to four months in jail, but after intervention by then presidential candidate John Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy, MLK is released.
1961 On May 4, soon after the Supreme Court outlawed segregation in interstate transportation, Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) demonstrators begin the first Freedom Ride through the South, traveling as a racially mixed group on a Greyhound bus. On May 21, MLK addresses a mass rally in support of another group of Freedom Riders at a mob-besieged church in Montgomery, Alabama. In November, the Interstate Commerce Commission bans segregation in interstate travel in response to the Freedom Riders’ protests. On December 15, MLK arrives in Albany, Georgia, at the request of the leader of the Albany protest, to desegregate public facilities there. The following day, at a demonstration attended by seven hundred protesters, MLK is arrested for obstructing the sidewalk and parading without a permit.
1962 Following the unsuccessful Albany, Georgia, movement, MLK is tried and convicted on July 10 for leading the march the previous December. He is arrested again on July 27 and jailed for holding a prayer vigil in Albany. He leaves jail on August 10 and agrees to halt demonstrations there. On October 16, he meets with President Kennedy at the White House.
1963 Sit-in demonstrations begin in February in Birmingham, Alabama. On April 3, the Birmingham campaign is officially launched. On Good Friday, April 12, Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor arrests MLK and Ralph Abernathy for demonstrating without a permit. During the days he spends jailed, MLK writes his historic “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” On April 19, MLK and Abernathy are released on bond. During May 2-7, Birmingham police use fire hoses and dogs against the Children’s Crusade. More than one thousand demonstrators, mostly high school students, are jailed. Protest leaders suspend mass demonstrations as negotiations begin on May 8. Two days later, the Birmingham agreement is announced. The stores, restaurants, and schools will be desegregated; hiring of blacks implemented; and charges dropped against the protesters. The day after the settlement is reached, segregationists bomb the Gaston Motel where MLK was staying. On May 13, federal troops arrive in Birmingham. The Birmingham protests prove to be the turning point in the war to end legal segregation in the South. On June 11, President Kennedy announces new civil rights legislation. Kennedy is the first U.S. president to say publicly that segregation is legally and morally wrong. On June 23, MLK leads 125,000 people on a Freedom Walk in Detroit. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28 is the largest civil rights demonstration in history with nearly 250,000 marchers. MLK leads the march for Jobs and Freedom. The demonstrators demand an end to state-supported segregation and equal job opportunities. At the march, MLK makes his memorable “I Have a Dream” speech. On September 15 in Birmingham, a dynamite blast kills four black girls attending Sunday school at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. MLK delivers the eulogy for the four girls on September 22. President Kennedy is assassinated on November 22.
1964 On January 3, MLK appears on the cover of Time magazine as its Man of the Year. MLK is arrested protesting for the integration of public accommodations in St. Augustine, Florida, on June 11. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner—three civil rights workers who tried to register black voters during the Freedom Summer—are reported missing on June 21. MLK attends the signing ceremony of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 at the White House on July 2. The FBI finds the bodies of the slain civil rights workers buried not far from Philadelphia, Mississippi. On December 10, at age thirty-five, MLK becomes the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
1965 On February 2, MLK is arrested in Selma, Alabama, during a voting rights demonstration. Marching demonstrators are beaten at the Pettus Bridge by state highway patrolmen and sheriff’s deputies on March 7. In reaction to the brutal beatings, President Johnson addresses the nation, describes the voting right act he will submit to Congress, and uses the slogan made famous by the civil rights movement: “We Shall Overcome.” Federal troops are mobilized on March 21-25 to protect more than three thousand protestors marching from Selma to Montgomery. MLK, who led the march, addresses a crowd of more than twenty-five thousand supporters in front of the Cradle of the Confederacy, the Alabama State Capitol. On August 6, the 1965 Voting Rights Act is signed by President Johnson and MLK is given one of the pens.
1966 On January 22, MLK moves into a Chicago tenement to attract attention to the living conditions of the poor. In the spring, he tours Alabama to help elect black officials under the newly passed Voting Rights Act. On July 10, MLK initiates an effort to make Chicago an open city in regard to housing. James Meredith is shot during MLK’s March Against Fear, on June 6. MLK and others continue the march. On August 5, as he leads a march through Chicago, MLK is stoned by a crowd of angry whites.
1967 On April 4, MLK delivers his first public antiwar speech at New York’s Riverside Church. On April 15, in the shadow of the United Nations building, he delivers a speech against the war in Vietnam in what turns into the largest peace protest in the history of the country. The Justice Department reports that as of July 6 more than 50 percent of all the eligible black voters are now registered to vote in Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and South Carolina. The Supreme Court upholds a conviction of MLK by a Birmingham court for demonstrating without a permit. Starting October 30, MLK spends four days in a Birmingham jail. On November 27, MLK announces the inception of the Poor People’s Campaign focusing on jobs and freedom for the poor of all races.
1968 MLK announces that the Poor People’s Campaign will culminate in a march on Washington to demand a $12 billion Economic Bill of Rights guaranteeing employment to the able-bodied, incomes to those unable to work, and an end to housing discrimination. On March 18, MLK speaks to sanitation workers on strike in Memphis, Tennessee, and agrees to support them. On March 28, MLK leads a march that turns violent. He is appalled by the violence but vows to march again after the protestors learn discipline. On April 3, MLK delivers the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech at the Memphis Masonic Temple. At sunset on April 4, sniper James Earl Ray fatally shoots MLK as the civil rights leader stands on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Ray is later convicted for the murder, which sparks riots and disturbances in 130 U.S. cities and results in 20,000 arrests. MLK’s funeral, on April 9 in Atlanta, is an international event, and his coffin is carried on a mule cart followed by more than 50,000 mourners. Within a week of the assassination, the Open Housing Act is passed by Congress.
1986 On November 2, MLK’s birthday, January 15, is declared a national holiday.
2011 The dedication of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial takes place in Washington, D.C., August 26-28.
Timeline from MLK: A celebration in Word and Image introduced by Charles Johnson, edited by Bob Adelman