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Minister's dream marches on

Christians who made a difference by Rosemary Dawson: Martin Luther King Jr (1929-68)

He was determined to confront the injustice of America’s economic, social and racial inequality

THE civil rights leader and Baptist min­ister Martin Luther King Jr was born in 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia.

His early experiences of segregation laws began at about the age of six, when he and a white friend were sent to different schools. At 14, he won an oratory contest for a speech about equal rights. On the bus journey home he was forced to give up his seat for a white passenger.

He was determined to confront the injustice of America’s economic, social and racial inequality, including segre­gation, which was enforced in schools, restaurants and many other public places in the South.

When, in December 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery after refus­ing to give up her bus seat to a white man, Martin led an African-American bus boy­cott that lasted 381 days. Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled that Montgomery’s bus segregation policy was unconstitu­tional, making Martin a household name at home and abroad.

Martin made his landmark ‘I have a dream’ speech at the Washington March for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. A crowd of 200,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, with millions more watching on television, as he put forward his vision of achieving freedom and equality.

His words, still widely quoted, have become symbolic of the civil rights strug­gle: ‘I have a dream that one day … the sons of former slaves and the sons of for­mer slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood … I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.’

The next year he was awarded the Nobel peace prize.

His inspirational life ended abruptly on 4 April 1968, when he was shot dead on a motel balcony in Memphis by James Earl Ray. The killing led to widespread riots and a day of national mourning.

Martin Luther King Jr is revered as a man who stayed true to his religious beliefs, his principles of non-violent pro­test and his God-given vision of freedom and equality.

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