I HAVE A DREAM SPEECH 

This is an audio recording of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving the "I Have a Dream" speech during the Civil Rights rally on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963


 

Martin Luther King Jr. Biography

(1929–1968)

Martin Luther King Jr. was a scholar and minister who led the civil rights movement. After his assassination, he was memorialized by Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Who Was Martin Luther King Jr?

Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister and civil-rights activist who had a seismic impact on race relations in the United States, beginning in the mid-1950s. 

Among his many efforts, King headed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Through his activism and inspirational speeches, he played a pivotal role in ending the legal segregation of African-American citizens in the United States, as well as the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, among several other honors. He continues to be remembered as one of the most influential and inspirational African-American leaders in history.

Early Life

Born as Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929, Martin Luther King Jr. was the middle child of Michael King Sr. and Alberta Williams King. 


The King and Williams families had roots in rural Georgia. Martin Jr.'s grandfather, A.D. Williams, was a rural minister for years and then moved to Atlanta in 1893. 


He took over the small, struggling Ebenezer Baptist church with around 13 members and made it into a forceful congregation. He married Jennie Celeste Parks and they had one child that survived, Alberta. 


Martin Sr. came from a family of sharecroppers in a poor farming community. He married Alberta in 1926 after an eight-year courtship. The newlyweds moved to A.D.'s home in Atlanta.

Martin Sr. stepped in as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church upon the death of his father-in-law in 1931. He too became a successful minister and adopted the name Martin Luther King Sr. in honor of the German Protestant religious leader Martin Luther. In due time, Michael Jr. would follow his father's lead and adopt the name himself.


Martin Luther King Jr. and Martin Luther: The Parallels Between the Two Leaders

King had an older sister, Willie Christine, and a younger brother, Alfred Daniel Williams King. The King children grew up in a secure and loving environment. Martin Sr. was more the disciplinarian, while his wife's gentleness easily balanced out the father's strict hand. 


Though they undoubtedly tried, King’s parents couldn’t shield him completely from racism. Martin Sr. fought against racial prejudice, not just because his race suffered, but because he considered racism and segregation to be an affront to God's will. He strongly discouraged any sense of class superiority in his children which left a lasting impression on Martin Jr.


Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, King entered public school at age five. In May 1936 he was baptized, but the event made little impression on him. 

In May 1941, King was 12 years old when his grandmother, Jennie, died of a heart attack. The event was traumatic for King, more so because he was out watching a parade against his parents' wishes when she died. Distraught at the news, young King jumped from a second-story window at the family home, allegedly attempting suicide.

King attended Booker T. Washington High School, where he was said to be a precocious student. He skipped both the ninth and eleventh grades, and entered Morehouse College in Atlanta at age 15, in 1944. He was a popular student, especially with his female classmates, but an unmotivated student who floated through his first two years. 

Although his family was deeply involved in the church and worship, King questioned religion in general and felt uncomfortable with overly emotional displays of religious worship. This discomfort continued through much of his adolescence, initially leading him to decide against entering the ministry, much to his father's dismay. 

But in his junior year, King took a Bible class, renewed his faith and began to envision a career in the ministry. In the fall of his senior year, he told his father of his decision.


Education and Spiritual Growth

In 1948, King earned a sociology degree from Morehouse College and attended the liberal Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. He thrived in all his studies, and was valedictorian of his class in 1951, and elected student body president. He also earned a fellowship for graduate study. 

But King also rebelled against his father’s more conservative influence by drinking beer and playing pool while at college. He became involved with a white woman and went through a difficult time before he could break off the affair.

During his last year in seminary, King came under the guidance of Morehouse College President Benjamin E. Mays who influenced King’s spiritual development. Mays was an outspoken advocate for racial equality and encouraged King to view Christianity as a potential force for social change. After being accepted at several colleges for his doctoral study, King enrolled at Boston University.

During the work on his doctorate, King met Coretta Scott, an aspiring singer and musician at the New England Conservatory school in Boston. They were married in June 1953 and had four children, Yolanda, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott and Bernice. 

In 1954, while still working on his dissertation, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church of Montgomery, Alabama. He completed his Ph.D. and earned his degree in 1955. King was only 25 years old.


Montgomery Bus Boycott

On March 2, 1955, a 15-year-old girl refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery city bus in violation of local law. Teenager Claudette Colvin was then arrested and taken to jail. 

At first, the local chapter of the NAACP felt they had an excellent test case to challenge Montgomery's segregated bus policy. But then it was revealed that Colvin was pregnant and civil rights leaders feared this would scandalize the deeply religious black community and make Colvin (and, thus the group's efforts) less credible in the eyes of sympathetic whites.

On December 1, 1955, they got another chance to make their case. That evening, 42-year-old Rosa Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus to go home after an exhausting day at work. She sat in the first row of the "colored" section in the middle of the bus. As the bus traveled its route, all the seats in the white section filled up, then several more white passengers boarded the bus. 


The bus driver noted that there were several white men standing and demanded that Parks and several other African Americans give up their seats. Three other African American passengers reluctantly gave up their places, but Parks remained seated. 


The driver asked her again to give up her seat and again she refused. Parks was arrested and booked for violating the Montgomery City Code. At her trial a week later, in a 30-minute hearing, Parks was found guilty and fined $10 and assessed $4 court fee.


On the night that Parks was arrested, E.D. Nixon, head of the local NAACP chapter met with King and other local civil rights leaders to plan a Montgomery Bus Boycott. King was elected to lead the boycott because he was young, well-trained with solid family connections and had professional standing. But he was also new to the community and had few enemies, so it was felt he would have strong credibility with the black community.


In his first speech as the group's president, King declared, "We have no alternative but to protest. For many years we have shown an amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we liked the way we were being treated. But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice."


King's skillful rhetoric put new energy into the civil rights struggle in Alabama. The bus boycott involved 382 days of walking to work, harassment, violence, and intimidation for Montgomery's African American community. Both King's and Nixon's homes were attacked. 


But the African American community also took legal action against the city ordinance arguing that it was unconstitutional based on the Supreme Court's "separate is never equal" decision in Brown v. Board of Education. After being defeated in several lower court rulings and suffering large financial losses, the city of Montgomery lifted the law mandating segregated public transportation.


Southern Christian Leadership Conference

Flush with victory, African American civil rights leaders recognized the need for a national organization to help coordinate their efforts. In January 1957, King, Ralph Abernathy and 60 ministers and civil rights activists founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to harness the moral authority and organizing power of black churches. They would help conduct non-violent protests to promote civil rights reform. 


King's participation in the organization gave him a base of operation throughout the South, as well as a national platform. The organization felt the best place to start to give African Americans a voice was to enfranchise them in the voting process. In February 1958, the SCLC sponsored more than 20 mass meetings in key southern cities to register black voters in the South. King met with religious and civil rights leaders and lectured all over the country on race-related issues.

In 1959, with the help of the American Friends Service Committee, and inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's success with non-violent activism, King visited Gandhi's birthplace in India. The trip affected him in a profound way, increasing his commitment to America's civil rights struggle. 

African American civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who had studied Gandhi's teachings, became one of King's associates and counseled him to dedicate himself to the principles of nonviolence. Rustin served as King's mentor and advisor throughout his early activism and was the main organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. 


But Rustin was also a controversial figure at the time, being a homosexual with alleged ties to the Communist Party. Though his counsel was invaluable to King, many of his other supporters urged him to distance himself from Rustin.



Greensboro Sit-In

In February 1960, a group of African American students in North Carolina began what became known as the Greensboro sit-in movement. 


The students would sit at racially segregated lunch counters in the city's stores. When asked to leave or sit in the colored section, they just remained seated, subjecting themselves to verbal and sometimes physical abuse. 


The movement quickly gained traction in several other cities. In April 1960, the SCLC held a conference at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina with local sit-in leaders. King encouraged students to continue to use nonviolent methods during their protests. 


Out of this meeting, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee formed and for a time, worked closely with the SCLC. By August of 1960, the sit-ins had been successful in ending segregation at lunch counters in 27 southern cities.


By 1960, King was gaining national exposure. He returned to Atlanta to become co-pastor with his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church but also continued his civil rights efforts. 


On October 19, 1960, King and 75 students entered a local department store and requested lunch-counter service but were denied. When they refused to leave the counter area, King and 36 others were arrested. 


Realizing the incident would hurt the city's reputation, Atlanta's mayor negotiated a truce and charges were eventually dropped. But soon after, King was imprisoned for violating his probation on a traffic conviction. 


The news of his imprisonment entered the 1960 presidential campaign when candidate John F. Kennedy made a phone call to Coretta Scott King. Kennedy expressed his concern for King's harsh treatment for the traffic ticket and political pressure was quickly set in motion. King was soon released.


Letter from 

Birmingham Jail


In the spring of 1963, King organized a demonstration in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. With entire families in attendance, city police turned dogs and fire hoses on demonstrators. 


King was jailed along with large numbers of his supporters, but the event drew nationwide attention. However, King was personally criticized by black and white clergy alike for taking risks and endangering the children who attended the demonstration. 

In his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, King eloquently spelled out his theory of non-violence: "Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community, which has constantly refused to negotiate, is forced to confront the issue."



'I Have a Dream' Speech

By the end of the Birmingham campaign, King and his supporters were making plans for a massive demonstration on the nation's capital composed of multiple organizations, all asking for peaceful change. 


On August 28, 1963, the historic March on Washington drew more than 200,000 people in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial. It was here that King made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, emphasizing his belief that someday all men could be brothers

"I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."  — Martin Luther King, Jr. / "I Have A Dream" speech, August 28, 1963

The rising tide of civil rights agitation produced a strong effect on public opinion. Many people in cities not experiencing racial tension began to question the nation's Jim Crow laws and the near-century of second-class treatment of African American citizens. 


Nobel Peace Prize

This resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, authorizing the federal government to enforce desegregation of public accommodations and outlawing discrimination in publicly owned facilities. This also led to King receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

King's struggle continued throughout the 1960s. Often, it seemed as though the pattern of progress was two steps forward and one step back. 

On March 7, 1965, a civil rights march, planned from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama's capital, turned violent as police with nightsticks and tear gas met the demonstrators as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. 

King was not in the march, however, the attack was televised showing horrifying images of marchers being bloodied and severely injured. Seventeen demonstrators were hospitalized in a day that would be called "Bloody Sunday." 


A second march was canceled due to a restraining order to prevent the march from taking place. A third march was planned and this time King made sure he was part of it. Not wanting to alienate southern judges by violating the restraining order, a different approach was taken. 

On March 9, 1965, a procession of 2,500 marchers, both black and white, set out once again to cross the Pettus Bridge and confronted barricades and state troopers. Instead of forcing a confrontation, King led his followers to kneel in prayer and they then turned back. 

Alabama governor George Wallace continued to try to prevent another march until President Lyndon B. Johnson pledged his support and ordered U.S. Army troops and the Alabama National Guard to protect the protestors. 

On March 21, approximately 2,000 people began a march from Selma to Montgomery, the state capitol. On March 25, the number of marchers, which had grown to an estimated 25,000, gathered in front of the state capitol where King delivered a televised speech. Five months after the historic peaceful protest, President Johnson signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act. 

From late 1965 through 1967, King expanded his civil rights efforts into other larger American cities, including Chicago and Los Angeles. But he met with increasing criticism and public challenges from young black power leaders. 

King's patient, non-violent approach and appeal to white middle-class citizens alienated many black militants who considered his methods too weak, too late and ineffective. 

To address this criticism, King began making a link between discrimination and poverty, and he began to speak out against the Vietnam War. He felt that America's involvement in Vietnam was politically untenable and the government's conduct in the war discriminatory to the poor. He sought to broaden his base by forming a multi-racial coalition to address the economic and unemployment problems of all disadvantaged people.


Assassination

By 1968, the years of demonstrations and confrontations were beginning to wear on King. He had grown tired of marches, going to jail, and living under the constant threat of death. He was becoming discouraged at the slow progress of civil rights in America and the increasing criticism from other African American leaders. 


Plans were in the works for another march on Washington to revive his movement and bring attention to a widening range of issues. In the spring of 1968, a labor strike by Memphis sanitation workers drew King to one last crusade. 

On April 3, he gave his final and what proved to be an eerily prophetic speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” in which he told supporters at the Mason Temple in Memphis, "I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land." 

The next day, while standing on a balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Motel, Martin Luther King Jr. was killed by a sniper's bullet. The shooter, a malcontent drifter and former convict named James Earl Ray, was eventually apprehended after a two-month, international manhunt. 

The assassination sparked riots and demonstrations in more than 100 cities across the country. In 1969, Ray pleaded guilty to assassinating King and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. He died in prison on April 23, 1998.

Legacy

King's life had a seismic impact on race relations in the United States. Years after his death, he is the most widely known African American leader of his era. 


His life and work have been honored with a national holiday, schools and public buildings named after him, and a memorial on Independence Mall in Washington, D.C. 

But his life remains controversial as well. In the 1970s, FBI files, released under the Freedom of Information Act, revealed that he was under government surveillance, and suggested his involvement in adulterous relationships and communist influences. 

Over the years, extensive archival studies have led to a more balanced and comprehensive assessment of his life, portraying him as a complex figure: flawed, fallible and limited in his control over the mass movements with which he was associated, yet a visionary leader who was deeply committed to achieving social justice through nonviolent means.

Martin Luther King Jr. (born Michael King Jr.; January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American Christian minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the Civil Rights Movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. King is best known for advancing civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience, inspired by his Christian beliefs and the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi.




King led the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and later became the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). As president of the SCLC, he then led an unsuccessful 1962 struggle against segregation in Albany, Georgia, and helped organize the nonviolent 1963 protests in Birmingham, Alabama. He helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.




On October 14, 1964, King won the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. In 1965, he helped organize the Selma to Montgomery marches. In his final years, he expanded his focus to include opposition towards poverty and the Vietnam War. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover considered him a radical and made him an object of the FBI's COINTELPRO from 1963 on. FBI agents investigated him for possible communist ties, recorded his extramarital liaisons and reported on them to government officials, and, in 1964, mailed King a threatening anonymous letter, which he interpreted as an attempt to make him commit suicide.[1]




Before his death, King was planning a national occupation of Washington, D.C., to be called the Poor People's Campaign, when he was assassinated on April 4 in Memphis, Tennessee. His death was followed by riots in many U.S. cities. Allegations that James Earl Ray, the man convicted of killing King, had been framed or acted in concert with government agents persisted for decades after the shooting.




King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in cities and states throughout the United States beginning in 1971; the holiday was enacted at the federal level by legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Hundreds of streets in the U.S. have been renamed in his honor, and a county in Washington was rededicated for him. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was dedicated in 2011.

^^^^Martin Luther King Jr talks about Gandhi (see video)^^^^


READ MORE: How Martin Luther King Jr. Took Inspiration From Gandhi Nonviolence

Inspiring Quotes by Martin Luther King Jr.



Martin Luther King Jr. (born Michael King Jr.; January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American Christian minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the Civil Rights Movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. King is best known for advancing civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience, inspired by his Christian beliefs and the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi.

King led the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and later became the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). As president of the SCLC, he then led an unsuccessful 1962 struggle against segregation in Albany, Georgia, and helped organize the nonviolent 1963 protests in Birmingham, Alabama. He helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

On October 14, 1964, King won the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. In 1965, he helped organize the Selma to Montgomery marches. In his final years, he expanded his focus to include opposition towards poverty and the Vietnam War. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover considered him a radical and made him an object of the FBI's COINTELPRO from 1963 on. FBI agents investigated him for possible communist ties, recorded his extramarital liaisons and reported on them to government officials, and, in 1964, mailed King a threatening anonymous letter, which he interpreted as an attempt to make him commit suicide.[1]

Before his death, King was planning a national occupation of Washington, D.C., to be called the Poor People's Campaign, when he was assassinated on April 4 in Memphis, Tennessee. His death was followed by riots in many U.S. cities. Allegations that James Earl Ray, the man convicted of killing King, had been framed or acted in concert with government agents persisted for decades after the shooting.

King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in cities and states throughout the United States beginning in 1971; the holiday was enacted at the federal level by legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Hundreds of streets in the U.S. have been renamed in his honor, and a county in Washington was rededicated for him. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was dedicated in 2011.

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Martin Luther King Jr vs. Gandhi

Martin Luther King Jr talks about Gandhi


Mahatma Gandhi inspired people all over the world, including one of the United States’ most famous civil rights leaders, Martin Luther King Jr. 

Though the two men never got a chance to meet (King was 19 when Gandhi was assassinated), King learned about Gandhi through his writing and a trip to India in 1959. King drew heavily on Gandhian principle of nonviolence in his own civil rights activism, writing that “while the Montgomery boycott was going on, India’s Gandhi was the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change.”

“Nonviolence” is a more than simply agreeing that you won’t physically attack your enemy. Gandhi referred to his form of nonviolence as satyagraha, meaning “truth-force” or “love-force.” Practicing satyagraha means a person should seek truth and love while refusing, through nonviolent resistance, to participate in something she believes is wrong. This principle guided Gandhi’s activism against the British Empire, helping India win independence in 1947.

King connected Christianity to Gandhi's teachings

King first learned of Gandhi’s concept of nonviolence as a seminary student. As a Christian, he connected the Hindu thinker’s words to the Biblical appeal of Jesus to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

“I came to see for the first time that the Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom,” King later wrote.

King was already familiar with peaceful civil disobedience through American writers like Henry David Thoreau, and he liked Gandhi’s idea that oppressed people could use truth or love as weapons in their struggle for justice. But he didn’t find a practical application for how to put it to use until he became involved in the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955 and ‘56.

In his 1958 book Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, King laid out the principles of nonviolence he’d employed during the boycott. He affirmed that it is possible to resist evil without resorting to violence and to oppose evil itself without opposing the people committing evil. He also wrote that people who practice nonviolence must be willing to suffer without retaliation, internal or external: “The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him.”

“He saw [nonviolence] as an expression of love for all people,” says Clayborne Carson, a history professor and director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University. “It’s a way of reaching people and convincing them of the rightness of your cause.”

Shortly after the Supreme Court ruled that Montgomery’s bus segregation was unconstitutional, King told a crowd in Brooklyn: “Christ showed us the way, and Gandhi in India showed it could work.”

King wasn’t the only civil rights leader who looked to Gandhi for inspiration. In the late 1950s, future congressman John Lewis studied Gandhi in nonviolence workshops led by activist James Lawson. These workshops prepared Lewis for the sit-ins he and other students would later hold at lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee.


“[I]f you can understand and feel even in the midst of those critical and often physically painful moments that your attacker is as much a victim as you are, that he is a victim of the forces that have shaped and fed his anger and fury, then you are well on your way to the nonviolent life,” Lewis wrote in his book Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement.

Martin Luther King Jr. removes his shoes before entering Mahatma Gandhi's shrine in New Delhi, India during his 1959 visit


He saw the legacy of Gandhi's leadership in India

To better understand Gandhian principles, King took a one-month trip to India at the beginning of 1959. There, he was pleasantly surprised to find that many people there had followed the nonviolent bus boycott he’d been a part of. 

During the trip, he met with Gandhi’s son, cousin, grandsons and other relatives and laid a wreath on his entombed ashes. And he left even more convinced of the power of nonviolent civil disobedience to affect social change.

“It was a marvelous thing to see the amazing results of a nonviolent campaign,” King wrote in Ebony after his trip. “The aftermath of hatred and bitterness that usually follows a violent campaign was found nowhere in India. Today a mutual friendship based on complete equality exists between the Indian and British people within the commonwealth.”

“I would say that after he returned he was the most prominent living advocate for nonviolence,” Carson says. “He popularized a lot of the ideas that Gandhi had, but through King, they spread throughout the United States and, of course, came to other parts of the world.”

BY BECKY LITTLE

Becky Little is a journalist in Washington, D.C.

© 2020 Biography and the Biography logo are registered trademarks of A&E Television Networks, LLC.


Martin Luther King Jr. and Martin Luther: The Parallels Between the Two Leaders


King had an older sister, Willie Christine, and a younger brother, Alfred Daniel Williams King. The King children grew up in a secure and loving environment. Martin Sr. was more the disciplinarian, while his wife's gentleness easily balanced out the father's strict hand. 




Though they undoubtedly tried, King’s parents couldn’t shield him completely from racism. Martin Sr. fought against racial prejudice, not just because his race suffered, but because he considered racism and segregation to be an affront to God's will. He strongly discouraged any sense of class superiority in his children which left a lasting impression on Martin Jr.




Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, King entered public school at age five. In May 1936 he was baptized, but the event made little impression on him. 


In May 1941, King was 12 years old when his grandmother, Jennie, died of a heart attack. The event was traumatic for King, more so because he was out watching a parade against his parents' wishes when she died. Distraught at the news, young King jumped from a second-story window at the family home, allegedly attempting suicide.


King attended Booker T. Washington High School, where he was said to be a precocious student. He skipped both the ninth and eleventh grades, and entered Morehouse College in Atlanta at age 15, in 1944. He was a popular student, especially with his female classmates, but an unmotivated student who floated through his first two years. 


Although his family was deeply involved in the church and worship, King questioned religion in general and felt uncomfortable with overly emotional displays of religious worship. This discomfort continued through much of his adolescence, initially leading him to decide against entering the ministry, much to his father's dismay. 


But in his junior year, King took a Bible class, renewed his faith and began to envision a career in the ministry. In the fall of his senior year, he told his father of his decision.




Education and Spiritual Growth


In 1948, King earned a sociology degree from Morehouse College and attended the liberal Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. He thrived in all his studies, and was valedictorian of his class in 1951, and elected student body president. He also earned a fellowship for graduate study. 


But King also rebelled against his father’s more conservative influence by drinking beer and playing pool while at college. He became involved with a white woman and went through a difficult time before he could break off the affair.


During his last year in seminary, King came under the guidance of Morehouse College President Benjamin E. Mays who influenced King’s spiritual development. Mays was an outspoken advocate for racial equality and encouraged King to view Christianity as a potential force for social change. After being accepted at several colleges for his doctoral study, King enrolled at Boston University.


During the work on his doctorate, King met Coretta Scott, an aspiring singer and musician at the New England Conservatory school in Boston. They were married in June 1953 and had four children, Yolanda, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott and Bernice. 


In 1954, while still working on his dissertation, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church of Montgomery, Alabama. He completed his Ph.D. and earned his degree in 1955. King was only 25 years old.




Montgomery Bus Boycott


On March 2, 1955, a 15-year-old girl refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery city bus in violation of local law. Teenager Claudette Colvin was then arrested and taken to jail. 


At first, the local chapter of the NAACP felt they had an excellent test case to challenge Montgomery's segregated bus policy. But then it was revealed that Colvin was pregnant and civil rights leaders feared this would scandalize the deeply religious black community and make Colvin (and, thus the group's efforts) less credible in the eyes of sympathetic whites.


On December 1, 1955, they got another chance to make their case. That evening, 42-year-old Rosa Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus to go home after an exhausting day at work. She sat in the first row of the "colored" section in the middle of the bus. As the bus traveled its route, all the seats in the white section filled up, then several more white passengers boarded the bus. 




The bus driver noted that there were several white men standing and demanded that Parks and several other African Americans give up their seats. Three other African American passengers reluctantly gave up their places, but Parks remained seated. 




The driver asked her again to give up her seat and again she refused. Parks was arrested and booked for violating the Montgomery City Code. At her trial a week later, in a 30-minute hearing, Parks was found guilty and fined $10 and assessed $4 court fee.




On the night that Parks was arrested, E.D. Nixon, head of the local NAACP chapter met with King and other local civil rights leaders to plan a Montgomery Bus Boycott. King was elected to lead the boycott because he was young, well-trained with solid family connections and had professional standing. But he was also new to the community and had few enemies, so it was felt he would have strong credibility with the black community.




In his first speech as the group's president, King declared, "We have no alternative but to protest. For many years we have shown an amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we liked the way we were being treated. But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice."




King's skillful rhetoric put new energy into the civil rights struggle in Alabama. The bus boycott involved 382 days of walking to work, harassment, violence, and intimidation for Montgomery's African American community. Both King's and Nixon's homes were attacked. 




But the African American community also took legal action against the city ordinance arguing that it was unconstitutional based on the Supreme Court's "separate is never equal" decision in Brown v. Board of Education. After being defeated in several lower court rulings and suffering large financial losses, the city of Montgomery lifted the law mandating segregated public transportation.




Southern Christian Leadership Conference


Flush with victory, African American civil rights leaders recognized the need for a national organization to help coordinate their efforts. In January 1957, King, Ralph Abernathy and 60 ministers and civil rights activists founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to harness the moral authority and organizing power of black churches. They would help conduct non-violent protests to promote civil rights reform. 




King's participation in the organization gave him a base of operation throughout the South, as well as a national platform. The organization felt the best place to start to give African Americans a voice was to enfranchise them in the voting process. In February 1958, the SCLC sponsored more than 20 mass meetings in key southern cities to register black voters in the South. King met with religious and civil rights leaders and lectured all over the country on race-related issues.


In 1959, with the help of the American Friends Service Committee, and inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's success with non-violent activism, King visited Gandhi's birthplace in India. The trip affected him in a profound way, increasing his commitment to America's civil rights struggle. 


African American civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who had studied Gandhi's teachings, became one of King's associates and counseled him to dedicate himself to the principles of nonviolence. Rustin served as King's mentor and advisor throughout his early activism and was the main organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. 




But Rustin was also a controversial figure at the time, being a homosexual with alleged ties to the Communist Party. Though his counsel was invaluable to King, many of his other supporters urged him to distance himself from Rustin.






Greensboro Sit-In


In February 1960, a group of African American students in North Carolina began what became known as the Greensboro sit-in movement. 




The students would sit at racially segregated lunch counters in the city's stores. When asked to leave or sit in the colored section, they just remained seated, subjecting themselves to verbal and sometimes physical abuse. 




The movement quickly gained traction in several other cities. In April 1960, the SCLC held a conference at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina with local sit-in leaders. King encouraged students to continue to use nonviolent methods during their protests. 




Out of this meeting, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee formed and for a time, worked closely with the SCLC. By August of 1960, the sit-ins had been successful in ending segregation at lunch counters in 27 southern cities.




By 1960, King was gaining national exposure. He returned to Atlanta to become co-pastor with his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church but also continued his civil rights efforts. 




On October 19, 1960, King and 75 students entered a local department store and requested lunch-counter service but were denied. When they refused to leave the counter area, King and 36 others were arrested. 




Realizing the incident would hurt the city's reputation, Atlanta's mayor negotiated a truce and charges were eventually dropped. But soon after, King was imprisoned for violating his probation on a traffic conviction. 




The news of his imprisonment entered the 1960 presidential campaign when candidate John F. Kennedy made a phone call to Coretta Scott King. Kennedy expressed his concern for King's harsh treatment for the traffic ticket and political pressure was quickly set in motion. King was soon released.




Letter from 


Birmingham Jail




In the spring of 1963, King organized a demonstration in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. With entire families in attendance, city police turned dogs and fire hoses on demonstrators. 




King was jailed along with large numbers of his supporters, but the event drew nationwide attention. However, King was personally criticized by black and white clergy alike for taking risks and endangering the children who attended the demonstration. 


In his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, King eloquently spelled out his theory of non-violence: "Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community, which has constantly refused to negotiate, is forced to confront the issue."






'I Have a Dream' Speech


By the end of the Birmingham campaign, King and his supporters were making plans for a massive demonstration on the nation's capital composed of multiple organizations, all asking for peaceful change. 




On August 28, 1963, the historic March on Washington drew more than 200,000 people in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial. It was here that King made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, emphasizing his belief that someday all men could be brothers


"I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."  — Martin Luther King, Jr. / "I Have A Dream" speech, August 28, 1963


The rising tide of civil rights agitation produced a strong effect on public opinion. Many people in cities not experiencing racial tension began to question the nation's Jim Crow laws and the near-century of second-class treatment of African American citizens. 




Nobel Peace Prize


This resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, authorizing the federal government to enforce desegregation of public accommodations and outlawing discrimination in publicly owned facilities. This also led to King receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

King's struggle continued throughout the 1960s. Often, it seemed as though the pattern of progress was two steps forward and one step back. 

On March 7, 1965, a civil rights march, planned from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama's capital, turned violent as police with nightsticks and tear gas met the demonstrators as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. 

King was not in the march, however, the attack was televised showing horrifying images of marchers being bloodied and severely injured. Seventeen demonstrators were hospitalized in a day that would be called "Bloody Sunday." 

A second march was canceled due to a restraining order to prevent the march from taking place. A third march was planned and this time King made sure he was part of it. Not wanting to alienate southern judges by violating the restraining order, a different approach was taken. 


On March 9, 1965, a procession of 2,500 marchers, both black and white, set out once again to cross the Pettus Bridge and confronted barricades and state troopers. Instead of forcing a confrontation, King led his followers to kneel in prayer and they then turned back. 


Alabama governor George Wallace continued to try to prevent another march until President Lyndon B. Johnson pledged his support and ordered U.S. Army troops and the Alabama National Guard to protect the protestors. 


On March 21, approximately 2,000 people began a march from Selma to Montgomery, the state capitol. On March 25, the number of marchers, which had grown to an estimated 25,000, gathered in front of the state capitol where King delivered a televised speech. Five months after the historic peaceful protest, President Johnson signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act. 


From late 1965 through 1967, King expanded his civil rights efforts into other larger American cities, including Chicago and Los Angeles. But he met with increasing criticism and public challenges from young black power leaders. 

King's patient, non-violent approach and appeal to white middle-class citizens alienated many black militants who considered his methods too weak, too late and ineffective. 

To address this criticism, King began making a link between discrimination and poverty, and he began to speak out against the Vietnam War. He felt that America's involvement in Vietnam was politically untenable and the government's conduct in the war discriminatory to the poor. He sought to broaden his base by forming a multi-racial coalition to address the economic and unemployment problems of all disadvantaged people.


Assassination


By 1968, the years of demonstrations and confrontations were beginning to wear on King. He had grown tired of marches, going to jail, and living under the constant threat of death. He was becoming discouraged at the slow progress of civil rights in America and the increasing criticism from other African American leaders. 




Plans were in the works for another march on Washington to revive his movement and bring attention to a widening range of issues. In the spring of 1968, a labor strike by Memphis sanitation workers drew King to one last crusade. 


On April 3, he gave his final and what proved to be an eerily prophetic speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” in which he told supporters at the Mason Temple in Memphis, "I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land." 


The next day, while standing on a balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Motel, Martin Luther King Jr. was killed by a sniper's bullet. The shooter, a malcontent drifter and former convict named James Earl Ray, was eventually apprehended after a two-month, international manhunt. 

The assassination sparked riots and demonstrations in more than 100 cities across the country. In 1969, Ray pleaded guilty to assassinating King and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. He died in prison on April 23, 1998.


Legacy


King's life had a seismic impact on race relations in the United States. Years after his death, he is the most widely known African American leader of his era. 

His life and work have been honored with a national holiday, schools and public buildings named after him, and a memorial on Independence Mall in Washington, D.C. 


But his life remains controversial as well. In the 1970s, FBI files, released under the Freedom of Information Act, revealed that he was under government surveillance, and suggested his involvement in adulterous relationships and communist influences. 


Over the years, extensive archival studies have led to a more balanced and comprehensive assessment of his life, portraying him as a complex figure: flawed, fallible and limited in his control over the mass movements with which he was associated, yet a visionary leader who was deeply committed to achieving social justice through nonviolent means.

John F. Kennedy Biography

(1917–1963)

UPDATED:OCT 29, 2019ORIGINAL:OCT 27, 2017

John F. Kennedy, the 35th U.S. president, negotiated the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty and initiated the Alliance for Progress. He was assassinated in 1963.

Who Was John F. Kennedy?

John F. Kennedy served in both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate before becoming the 35th president in 1961. As president, Kennedy faced a number of foreign crises, especially in Cuba and Berlin, but managed to secure such achievements as the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty and the Alliance for Progress. On November 22, 1963, Kennedy was assassinated while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.


Early Life

Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917, in Brookline, Massachusetts. Both the Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys were wealthy and prominent Irish Catholic Boston families. Kennedy's paternal grandfather, P.J. Kennedy, was a wealthy banker and liquor trader, and his maternal grandfather, John E. Fitzgerald, nicknamed "Honey Fitz," was a skilled politician who served as a congressman and as the mayor of Boston. Kennedy's mother, Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald, was a Boston debutante, and his father, Joseph Kennedy Sr., was a successful banker who made a fortune on the stock market after World War I. Joe Kennedy Sr. went on to a government career as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and as an ambassador to Great Britain.



John, nicknamed "Jack," was the second oldest of a group of nine extraordinary siblings. His brothers and sisters include Eunice, the founder of the Special Olympics; Robert, a U.S. Attorney General, and Ted, one of the most powerful senators in American history. The Kennedy children remained close-knit and supportive of each other throughout their entire lives.


Joseph and Rose largely spurned the world of Boston socialites into which they had been born to focus instead on their children's education. Joe Sr. in particular obsessed over every detail of his kids' lives, a rarity for a father at that time. As a family friend noted, "Most fathers in those days simply weren't that interested in what their children did. But Joe Kennedy knew what his kids were up to all the time." Joe Sr. had great expectations for his children, and he sought to instill in them a fierce competitive fire and the belief that winning was everything. He entered his children in swimming and sailing competitions and chided them for finishing in anything but first place. John's sister, Eunice, later recalled, "I was twenty-four before I knew I didn't have to win something every day." John bought into his father's philosophy that winning was everything. "He hates to lose at anything," Eunice said. "That's the only thing Jack gets really emotional about — when he loses."




Education

Despite his father's constant reprimands, young Kennedy was a poor student and a mischievous boy. He attended a Catholic boys' boarding school in Connecticut called Canterbury, where he excelled at English and history, the subjects he enjoyed, but nearly flunked Latin, in which he had no interest. Despite his poor grades, Kennedy continued on to Choate, an elite Connecticut preparatory school. Although he was obviously brilliant — evidenced by the extraordinary thoughtfulness and nuance of his work on the rare occasions when he applied himself — Kennedy remained at best a mediocre student, preferring sports, girls and practical jokes to coursework.


His father wrote to him by way of encouragement, "If I didn't really feel you had the goods I would be most charitable in my attitude toward your failings ... I am not expecting too much, and I will not be disappointed if you don't turn out to be a real genius, but I think you can be a really worthwhile citizen with good judgment and understanding." Kennedy was in fact very bookish in high school, reading ceaselessly but not the books his teachers assigned. He was also chronically ill during his childhood and adolescence; he suffered from severe colds, the flu, scarlet fever and even more severe, undiagnosed diseases that forced him to miss months of school at a time and occasionally brought him to the brink of death.


After graduating from Choate and spending one semester at Princeton, Kennedy transferred to Harvard University in 1936. There, he repeated his by then well-established academic pattern, excelling occasionally in the classes he enjoyed but proving only an average student due to the omnipresent diversions of sports and women. Handsome, charming and blessed with a radiant smile, Kennedy was incredibly popular with his Harvard classmates. His friend Lem Billings recalled, "Jack was more fun than anyone I've ever known, and I think most people who knew him felt the same way about him." Kennedy was also an incorrigible womanizer. He wrote to Billings during his sophomore year, "I can now get tail as often and as free as I want which is a step in the right direction."


Nevertheless, as an upperclassman, Kennedy finally grew serious about his studies and began to realize his potential. His father had been appointed Ambassador to Great Britain, and on an extended visit in 1939, Kennedy decided to research and write a senior thesis on why Britain was so unprepared to fight Germany in World War II. An incisive analysis of Britain's failures to meet the Nazi challenge, the paper was so well-received that upon Kennedy's graduation in 1940 it was published as a book, Why England Slept, selling more than 80,000 copies. Kennedy's father sent him a cablegram in the aftermath of the book's publication: "Two things I always knew about you one that you are smart two that you are a swell guy love dad."




U.S. Navy Service

Shortly after graduating from Harvard, Kennedy joined the U.S. Navy and was assigned to command a patrol torpedo boat in the South Pacific. On August 2, 1943, his boat, PT-109, was rammed by a Japanese warship and split in two. Two sailors died and Kennedy badly injured his back. Hauling another wounded sailor by the strap of his life vest, Kennedy led the survivors to a nearby island, where they were rescued six days later. The incident earned him the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for "extremely heroic conduct" and a Purple Heart for the injuries he suffered.


However, Kennedy's older brother, Joe Jr., who had also joined the Navy, was not so fortunate. A pilot, he died when his plane blew up in August 1944. Handsome, athletic, intelligent and ambitious, Joseph Kennedy Jr. had been pegged by his father as the one among his children who would some day become president of the United States. In the aftermath of Joe Jr.'s death, Kennedy took his family's hopes and aspirations for his older brother upon himself.


Upon his discharge from the Navy, Kennedy worked briefly as a reporter for Hearst Newspapers. Then in 1946, at the age of 29, he decided to run for the U.S. House of Representatives from a working-class district of Boston, a seat being vacated by Democrat James Michael Curly. Bolstered by his status as a war hero, his family connections and his father's money, Kennedy won the election handily. However, after the glory and excitement of publishing his first book and serving in World War II, Kennedy found his work in Congress incredibly dull. Despite serving three terms, from 1946 to 1952, Kennedy remained frustrated by what he saw as stifling rules and procedures that prevented a young, inexperienced representative from making an impact. "We were just worms in the House," he later recalled. "Nobody paid attention to us nationally."


Congressman and Senator

In 1952, seeking greater influence and a larger platform, Kennedy challenged Republican incumbent Henry Cabot Lodge for his seat in the U.S. Senate. Once again backed by his father's vast financial resources, Kennedy hired his younger brother Robert as his campaign manager. Robert Kennedy put together what one journalist called "the most methodical, the most scientific, the most thoroughly detailed, the most intricate, the most disciplined and smoothly working state-wide campaign in Massachusetts history – and possibly anywhere else." In an election year in which Republicans gained control of both Houses of Congress, Kennedy nevertheless won a narrow victory, giving him considerable clout within the Democratic Party. According to one of his aides, the decisive factor in Kennedy's victory was his personality: "He was the new kind of political figure that people were looking for that year, dignified and gentlemanly and well-educated and intelligent, without the air of superior condescension."



Shortly after his election, Kennedy met a beautiful young woman named Jacqueline Bouvier at a dinner party and, in his own words, "leaned across the asparagus and asked her for a date." They were married on September 12, 1953. John and Jackie had three children: Caroline, John Jr. and Patrick Kennedy.


Kennedy continued to suffer frequent illnesses during his career in the Senate. While recovering from one surgery, he wrote another book, profiling eight senators who had taken courageous but unpopular stances. Profiles in Courage won the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for biography, and Kennedy remains the only American president to win a Pulitzer Prize.


Presidential Candidate and Presidency

Kennedy's eight-year Senate career was relatively undistinguished. Bored by the Massachusetts-specific issues on which he had to spend much of his time, Kennedy was more drawn to the international challenges posed by the Soviet Union's growing nuclear arsenal and the Cold War battle for the hearts and minds of Third World nations. In 1956, Kennedy was very nearly selected as Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson's running mate, but was ultimately passed over for Estes Kefauver from Tennessee. Four years later, Kennedy decided to run for president.


In the 1960 Democratic primaries, Kennedy outmaneuvered his main opponent, Hubert Humphrey, with superior organization and financial resources. Selecting Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson as his running mate, Kennedy faced Vice President Richard Nixon in the general election. The election turned largely on a series of televised national debates in which Kennedy bested Nixon, an experienced and skilled debater, by appearing relaxed, healthy and vigorous in contrast to his pallid and tense opponent. On November 8, 1960, Kennedy defeated Nixon by a razor-thin margin to become the 35th president of the United States of America.


Kennedy's election was historic in several respects. At the age of 43, he was the second youngest American president in history, second only to Theodore Roosevelt, who assumed the office at 42. He was also the first Catholic president and the first president born in the 20th century. Delivering his legendary inaugural address on January 20, 1961, Kennedy sought to inspire all Americans to more active citizenship. "Ask not what your country can do for you," he said. "Ask what you can do for your country."



Foreign Affairs

Kennedy's greatest accomplishments during his brief tenure as president came in the arena of foreign affairs. Capitalizing on the spirit of activism he had helped to ignite, Kennedy created the Peace Corps by executive order in 1961. By the end of the century, over 170,000 Peace Corps volunteers would serve in 135 countries. Also in 1961, Kennedy created the Alliance for Progress to foster greater economic ties with Latin America, in hopes of alleviating poverty and thwarting the spread of communism in the region.



Kennedy also presided over a series of international crises. On April 15, 1961, he authorized a covert mission to overthrow leftist Cuban leader Fidel Castro with a group of 1,500 CIA-trained Cuban refugees. Known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the mission proved an unmitigated failure, causing Kennedy great embarrassment.


In August 1961, to stem massive waves of emigration from Soviet-dominated East Germany to American ally West Germany via the divided city of Berlin, Nikita Khrushchev ordered the construction of the Berlin Wall, which became the foremost symbol of the Cold War.


However, the greatest crisis of the Kennedy administration was the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Discovering that the Soviet Union had sent ballistic nuclear missiles to Cuba, Kennedy blockaded the island and vowed to defend the United States at any cost. After several of the tensest days in history, during which the world seemed on the brink of nuclear annihilation, the Soviet Union agreed to remove the missiles in return for Kennedy's promise not to invade Cuba and to remove American missiles from Turkey. Eight months later, in June 1963, Kennedy successfully negotiated the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty with Great Britain and the Soviet Union, helping to ease Cold War tensions. It was one of his proudest accomplishments.



Domestic Policy

President Kennedy's record on domestic policy was rather mixed. Taking office in the midst of a recession, he proposed sweeping income tax cuts, raising the minimum wage and instituting new social programs to improve education, health care and mass transit. However, hampered by lukewarm relations with Congress, Kennedy only achieved part of his agenda: a modest increase in the minimum wage and watered down tax cuts.


The most contentious domestic issue of Kennedy's presidency was civil rights. Constrained by Southern Democrats in Congress who remained stridently opposed to civil rights for black citizens, Kennedy offered only tepid support for civil rights reforms early in his term. 


Nevertheless, in September 1962 Kennedy sent his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, to Mississippi to use the National Guard and federal marshals to escort and defend civil rights activist James Meredith as he became the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi on October 1, 1962. Near the end of 1963, in the wake of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Had a Dream" speech, Kennedy finally sent a civil rights bill to Congress. One of the last acts of his presidency and his life, Kennedy's bill eventually passed as the landmark Civil Rights Act in 1964.




Assassination

On November 21, 1963, President Kennedy flew to Dallas, Texas for a campaign appearance. The next day, November 22, Kennedy, along with his wife and Texas governor John Connally, rode through cheering crowds in downtown Dallas in a Lincoln Continental convertible. From an upstairs window of the Texas School Book Depository building, a 24-year-old warehouse worker named Lee Harvey Oswald, a former Marine with Soviet sympathies, fired upon the car, hitting the president twice. Kennedy died at Parkland Memorial Hospital shortly thereafter, at age 46.


A Dallas nightclub owner named Jack Ruby assassinated Oswald days later while he was being transferred between jails. The death of President Kennedy was an unspeakable national tragedy, and to this date many people remember with unsettling vividness the exact moment they learned of his death. While conspiracy theories have swirled ever since Kennedy's assassination, the official version of events remains the most plausible: Oswald acted alone.


For few former presidents is the dichotomy between public and scholarly opinion so vast. To the American public, as well as his first historians, Kennedy is a hero — a visionary politician who, if not for his untimely death, might have averted the political and social turmoil of the late 1960s. In public-opinion polls, Kennedy consistently ranks with Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln as among the most beloved American presidents of all time. Critiquing this outpouring of adoration, many more recent Kennedy scholars have derided Kennedy's womanizing and lack of personal morals and argued that as a leader he was more style than substance. 


In the end, no one can ever truly know what type of president Kennedy would have become, or the different course history might have taken had he lived into old age. As historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote, it was "as if Lincoln had been killed six months after Gettysburg or Franklin Roosevelt at the end of 1935 or Truman before the Marshall Plan." The most enduring image of Kennedy's presidency, and of his whole life, is that of Camelot, the idyllic castle of the legendary King Arthur. As his wife Jackie Kennedy said after his death, "There'll be great presidents again, and the Johnsons are wonderful, they've been wonderful to me — but there'll never be another Camelot again."


Release of Assassination Documents

On October 26, 2017, President Donald Trump ordered the release of 2,800 records related to the Kennedy assassination. The move came at the expiration of a 25-year waiting period signed into law in 1992, which allowed the declassification of the documents provided that doing so would not hurt intelligence, military operations or foreign relations.



Trump's release of the documents came on the final day he was legally allowed to do so. However, he did not release all of the documents, as officials from the FBI, CIA and other agencies had successfully lobbied for the chance to review particularly sensitive material for an additional 180days.

Of all the names associated with the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman's is the most legendary. Called the black "Joan of Arc," she is credited with personally escorting three hundred slaves to freedom on more than twenty separate missions. Such missions entailed hundreds of miles of walking, navigating through rough terrain, outwitting professional slave catchers and evading hunting dogs. An abolitionist of the nineteenth century. Born a slave on a Maryland plantation, then became an escaped slave herself. She escaped to the North in 1849 via the Underground Railroad. She became the most renowned conductor of its time. During the Civil War, she served as a nurse, scout, and spy for the Union army. Believing herself guided by God on her missions, Tubman and her 100% success rate made her a legend. Prior to and during the Civil War, a $40,000 reward was offered for her arrest. Tubman settled in Auburn, New York and died there in 1913.       

The Truths Behind the Myth of Harriet Tubman aka Araminta Ross

Harriet Tubman is an American heroine, but her life story is shrouded in myth and exaggeration. Thanks to the work of Maxwell faculty members and students, the genuine contributions of Tubman’s life are coming to light.
by Renee Gearhart Levy


As if there weren’t enough controversy during the campaign between Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama,an unlikely firestorm erupted in February, when historical icon Harriet Tubman was pulled into the fray.


It all started when feminist political analyst Robin Morgan updated her infamous 1970 essay “Goodbye to All That” to castigate the racist and sexist divisions in the campaign, particularly as hurled against Clinton. In response to the failure of some women to support Clinton (and by implication, failure to be liberated), Morgan wrote: “Let a statement by the magnificent Harriet Tubman stand as reply. When asked how she managed to save hundreds of enslaved African Americans via the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, she replied bitterly, ‘I could have saved thousands—if only I’d been able to convince them they were slaves.’”


Within days, the validity of the quote was called into question by Ralph Luker of the History News Network, who contacted scholars who have researched Tubman—including Milton Sernett, professor emeritus of history at the Maxwell School (and African American studies at SU). Sernett is the author of the recently published Harriet Tubman: Myth, Memory, and History.


None could trace the quote to primary sources.


“My impression is that this is a late 20th-century quote from a fictionalized account of Tubman’s life,” Sernett told Luker. “Whoever wishes to use the dubious quote as a political zinger ought to cite a reliable source.”


Luker then told Morgan, “Cite your source or quit pimpin’ out Harriet Tubman.”


Harriet Tubman imageThat Tubman’s legacy would be misappropriated for political use was not particularly surprising to Sernett, who writes in the introduction to his book that Tubman may be “America’s most malleable icon.”


While Tubman has become one of the most recognized symbols of the anti–slavery era, the actual facts of her life have become shrouded beneath her status as a revered public icon. Her current prominence is indisputable. According to the March 2008 Journal of American History, she’s the third most identified African American historical figure (after Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks). Her image graces a U.S. postage stamp. She is the subject of numerous children’s books and educational materials. Congress is currently studying whether her historic home should be turned into a national park.


Nonetheless, misinformation about “the Moses of her people” abounds. Tubman was illiterate and left no written record of her own, but tales of her heroics, both in rescuing other slaves and serving as a nurse, spy, and scout in the Civil War, have been canonized in biographical narrative, not all of it perfectly true.


These embellished semi-truths embedded in what seems to be literal biography are at the root of the problem. “That is where much of the misinformation about her has come from—historical fiction that is not always clear about when it is historical and when it is fictive,” Sernett says.


Sernett, with his recent book, is helping sort things out. He chronicles the life of the commemorated Tubman (the myth) and compares it with the actual Tubman, in the process exploring “the myth that draws on the factual core but is often in tension with it,” he writes.


Sernett is one of two Maxwell faculty members helping to adjust popular understanding of Tubman’s history, the other being anthropologist Douglas Armstrong. For most of this decade, Armstrong has overseen archaeological projects at the homestead in Auburn, New York, where Tubman lived out almost 50 years of her life. His work, much of it conducted as field studies with Syracuse University students, is providing a version of Tubman that is more genuine, more three-dimensional than her iconic bearing.


“So little information about Tubman has been based on fact and so much based on myth and created history,” says Armstrong. “. . . Hopefully, we’re coming to the point where we can recognize her true contributions.”


Let’s start with a brief history lesson, with an eye out for imbedded myth: Harriet Tubman was born Araminta Ross, probably in 1822, the fifth of nine children, in Cambridge, Maryland. The daughter of slaves, “Minty” was nearly killed as a teen by a blow to her head from an iron weight, thrown at another slave by an angry overseer. She was severely injured and suffered from headaches, seizures, and narcolepsy for the rest of her life. (This piece of the myth appears to be true! Tubman is said to have been struck when she deliberately placed herself between the overseer and the other slave. Her resulting impairment—the sleeping spells—made her a less desirable slave.)


In 1844, Tubman married and around the same time shed her childhood nickname for her mother’s name, Harriet. Two years later, her owner died; she and her family were now at risk of being sold and dispersed. It was then that Tubman tapped into the Underground Railroad and escaped to Philadelphia. 


“It seemed strange that a figure who was so large a symbol should suffer such a dearth of historical information.”

It’s said that over the next decade she made approximately 19 trips to the eastern shore of Maryland, bringing 300 slaves to freedom and earning the title of the “Black Moses.” (Well, not quite. Kate Clifford Larson, author of another recent scholarly biography of Tubman, puts the number of trips between 11 and 13. Sernett says the documented number of slaves rescued is closer to 70, although an exact number is impossible to know. Additional slaves made it north on their own using instructions from Tubman, but that number is also impossible to calculate.) Those rescued include her parents, brothers, and other family members, many of whom settled in Canada and Central New York. As word of her success spread, the bounty for her capture rose to as high as $40,000. (False! According to Larson, “There never was a $40,000 reward for Tubman’s capture, a figure that became grossly exaggerated through the retelling of her story.”)


In 1859, William Henry Seward, New York senator and later Lincoln’s secretary of state, sold Tubman a home on the outskirts of Auburn, New York, where she settled her aged parents and other family members before joining northern abolitionists in support of Union efforts in the Civil War.


During the Civil War she headed back south, where she provided nursing care to black soldiers and the hundreds of newly liberated slaves who crowded Union camps. Her service also included spying and scouting behind Confederate lines, and she is said to have become the first woman to command an armed military raid when she guided Col. James Montgomery and his 2nd South Carolina black regiment up the Combahee River, routing out Confederate outposts; destroying stockpiles of cotton, food, and weapons; and liberating more than 700 slaves. (Only partly true! “While she was certainly a nurse, spy, and scout for the Union Army, I think the claims that she was the first female general and commanded a raid are wishful thinking,” says Sernett. )


After the war, Tubman lived for almost 50 years in Auburn, where she raised pigs and vegetables. She remarried (having been abandoned by her first husband) and was active as a suffragist and humanitarian, opening a home for indigent African American elderly, many of them former slaves.


During his 30 years teaching at SU, Milton Sernett has published seven books on African American history, most of them focusing on religion, and conducted extensive research on the abolition movement and Underground Railroad in Central New York. In his writings and his classroom, the subject of Harriet Tubman was no stranger. “You really can’t miss her in any facet of African American history that deals with cultural icons,” he says.


Milton Sernett image

Milton Sernett retired from the Maxwell School’s full-time faculty in 2005 after 30 years of teaching. A professor of history and African American studies and adjunct professor of religion, Sernett focused his teaching and research on African American religious history, the American South, the abolitionist movement, and American social reform movements. He is the author of nearly 50 articles, essays, or chapters; and of eight books, including North Star Country: Upstate New York and the Crusade for African American Freedom; Black Religion and American Evangelicalism; Bound for the Promised Land; African American Religion and the Great Migration; and Harriet Tubman: Myth, Memory and History. Sernett has been a research associate at the W.E.B. DuBois Institute at Harvard and a Fulbright Scholar in Berlin.

Sernett was long puzzled as to why a figure who had clearly captured the public imagination had been neglected by professional historians. The last attempt at a serious biography about her had been written in 1943 by journalist Earl Conrad. “It seemed strange that a figure who was so large a symbol should suffer such a dearth of historical information,” he says.


As Sernett began research on a possible biography, the evidentiary trail led to early biographies written by Geneva, New York, resident Sarah Bradford, based on interviews with Tubman—works sponsored by Senator Seward and other Tubman supporters in the late 1880s in an attempt to get Tubman’s story out and improve her financial situation.


Sernett quickly found internal inconsistencies. “It gradually dawned on me that much of what we as Americans thought we knew about Harriet Tubman was not derived from good historical research but was a perpetuation of a larger-than-life story,” he says. “The symbol had overpowered the life, had overshadowed the historical person.”


Sernett began teaching a class, Harriet Tubman: Myth, Memory and History. (He believes it to be the first such course on Tubman at any college or university.) In addition to studying Tubman’s life, the class wrestled with the question of why some historical figures are forgotten and others remembered, how American memory plays a role in choosing icons, and the extent to which individuals use icons in their own lives to inspire. The course syllabus became a loose outline for Sernett’s book of the same name, published by Duke University Press last fall.


“The interaction of the myth, memory, and history of Harriet Tubman is not unlike that of any American icon, be it George Washington or Abraham Lincoln,” says Sernett, who retired from full-time teaching in 2005. “One of the purposes of myth is to give status to the myth tellers within their own social environment. Harriet Tubman was very useful as different segments of American society struggled to achieve parity at the table. Whether it’s women or African Americans or the disabled, it’s amazing the variety of different groups who have adopted her as their symbol.” Because Tubman left no writings of her own and only limited information is available in the public record, Sernett says there has been “elbow room for groups to create whatever they wish as a symbol to honor her.”


By comparing the larger-than-life symbolic Tubman with the actual, historical Tubman and analyzing how the Tubman icon has changed over time, Sernett explores in his new book the interplay of history and myth in our national consciousness and illustrates that the various constructions of “Black Moses” reveal as much about their creators as they do about Tubman herself.


Setting the record straight does not diminish Tubman’s accomplishments. “The humanistic values enshrined in her life strike right at the core values of the American system—essentially, if you have enough faith and you struggle hard enough you can triumph over adversity,” says Sernett. “She exemplifies what we would all like to be.”


Until recently, the physical evidence related to Tubman only added to the misinformation. People driving through Auburn, New York, for example, were often excited when they passed the white clapboard house with a sign marking it as the home of Harriet Tubman.


The only problem is, Tubman never lived there. She lived next door, in a house that was originally wood, then rebuilt from bricks made on the property after the wood house burned in 1880.


The white house is one of several dwellings on the 32-acre property Tubman owned, which at one time included 10 structures and was a self-sustaining farm. It is believed that the white clapboard house was part of the Tubman’s Home for the Aged.


Much of this information has come to light—literally—only in the last decade, the result of work led by Maxwell School anthropologist and archaeologist Douglas Armstrong.


Armstrong has worked on issues related to African diaspora, slavery, and freedom for 25 years, though his primary focus was on archaeological investigations in the Caribbean. His work on Harriet Tubman, though, came somewhat by accident. In the early 1990s, as part of a public policy and archaeology class, Armstrong and his undergraduate students carried out an archaeological investigation of the former Wesleyan Methodist Church in Syracuse, which housed a piece of art that may have been made by African American refugees from slavery. Historical and archaeological investigations confirmed the importance of the church in the abolition movement. As part of a follow-up summer archaeological field school, Armstrong and his students visited several sites associated with people involved with the Freedom Train and/or Underground Railroad. One of those was the Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn.


“I was surprised by how little was known of Tubman and the relative condition of the structures associated with her life,” says Armstrong of his first look at the property. “In time, I would come to understand the difficulties and hardships involved with maintaining the property, but my initial impression was, How could a site associated with such an important person in American history be so poorly known?”


Since 1903, Tubman’s property has been owned by the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Auburn. (Tubman deeded it to her church because she couldn’t afford the upkeep, and wanted to ensure its continuation as a home for aging African Americans.) Since 1953, when they opened it to the public, members of the church have struggled to maintain the property as a popular tourist site. Though they undertook the task with a great sense of purpose and dedication to keeping Tubman’s memory alive, they did so with limited funding.


During a class visit to the Tubman Home, Armstrong asked about the location of a large brick building called John Brown Hall, evident in photos on display. He was told that the structure no longer exists and that no one knows its original location—only that it was somewhere back in the woods.


It was nearly lunch time. Armstrong told his students to go into the brush past the mown part of the grounds. There would be no lunch until they found the remains of the building.


“Fifteen minutes later, we were eating lunch on John Brown Hall,” he says. “There was this huge rock pile covered with brick. It was fairly obvious, but it was in the woods, lost to memory.”


Four years later, Armstrong set up his first archaeological project at the site. He returned the following summer to give a four-week-long “field school” course, now given every summer to a mix of undergraduate and graduate students—roughly half of them anthropology majors or master’s students, and the others just people interested in archaeology or in Tubman. Part of the six-credit course is textual; students read Tubman biographies, histories, and other references to her life and social network in Auburn. Students also learn the field techniques of archaeology—how to map, excavate, analyze artifacts, and correlate what they find in the context of where they’re working.


The first two summers were spent excavating around John Brown Hall, which had served as a dormitory or infirmary of the Home for the Aged. Subsequently, Armstrong and his team have surveyed the entire property, excavated a brick kiln, and excavated around Tubman’s house and yard. In the process, they have amassed a tremendous collection of material objects that, combined with other information, paint a picture of Tubman’s life in Auburn.


“For example, from tax records, we know how many pigs she had, what kind of orchards. Census records tell us who lived in the house, so we know that the objects we found belong to Tubman and her close relatives,” says Armstrong, a Maxwell Professor of Teaching Excellence and a Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor (S.U.’s highest teaching honor).


The most exciting find came in 2004, on the second-to-last day of excavation, just outside the door to Tubman’s house.


“All of a sudden, all of these artifacts just started coming out of the ground,” says Anna Hill, a doctoral candidate in anthropology and Armstrong’s research assistant on the Tubman project.


Earlier excavation had determined that Tubman’s original home had burned to the ground in 1880, and a new brick structure built on the original foundation. (Because Tubman’s second husband was a brick mason by trade and a brick kiln was excavated on the property, it is believed that the bricks for this house were made there.) What the team came upon was a builder’s trench that had been dug along one side of the foundation. “They had pulled all the burned material from the house, dumped it in this trench, and covered it up,” Hill says.


It was a huge discovery. “Everyone always thinks of Harriet Tubman as being poverty stricken,” says Hill. “But we uncovered beautiful glass vases, china, curtains. It completely changed how I imagined the inside of her house looking.”


Douglas Armstrong image

Douglas Armstrong (left) is shown with Reverend Paul and Christine Carter, directors and caretakers of the Tubman Home, in front of the brick house built after Tubman’s original house burned. Armstrong is an anthropological archaeologist specializing in historical archaeology, diaspora studies, world heritage site management, and public policy and archaeology. His scholarship revolves around work in the Caribbean on diaspora-related topics and in New York on public policy and “Freedom Trail” subjects. He is author of more than 25 articles or book chapters, most dealing with the African diaspora in the Caribbean; and two books, including Creole Transformation from Slavery to Freedom: Historical Archaeology of the East End Community, St. John, Virgin Islands. In 2002, Armstrong received Syracuse University’s “Spirit of the Lanterns Community Service Award.” He has also been honored by SU as a Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor.

In addition to completing the archaeology on the site, the key players at the Tubman Home want to see the property physically restored in a manner authentic to the Tubman era. To that end, Armstrong is working with Beth Crawford (of Crawford & Stearns Architects and Preservation Planners), who has spearheaded the physical restoration of the house; and consulting with the site’s directors, Reverend Paul Carter and his wife, Christine. (The Carters represent the A.M.E. Zion Church, which is funding the restoration, through Harriet Tubman Home Inc. In addition, SU Chancellor Nancy Cantor has provided University support for both the archaeological project and toward efforts to enhance the Tubman Home’s public interpretation mission.)


The Tubman property consists of two tracts, one section that included her home and farm and another with dwellings for her Home for the Aged. Unfortunately, the residential portion was home to a bus company for many years. Cinderblock additions turned the original barn into a bus garage. When hazmat abatement is complete—there is an old fuel tank that must go—the additions will be removed and the barn rebuilt to its earliest form. Using original photos and renderings, the exterior of the house will be restored with porches added to mimic the original, and a woodshed rebuilt on the rear.


“These buildings, rebuilt to their original state, will help tell an accurate story of Tubman’s life,” Crawford says. “We are trying to document the real story of the site so that we can interpret it correctly. There were a lot of misconceptions before Doug came to the project in the way the site was interpreted. So much of Doug’s work has explained what the site tells us about Tubman’s life.”


In 1998, Sernett and Armstrong were both present when then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton visited the Tubman site as part of her Save America’s Treasures tour and announced a $10,000 grant toward the restoration of the home. Now, Armstrong and the A.M.E. Zion Church hope to have the Tubman Home reborn as a national park. Armstrong is using his public policy expertise to help represent the church in its negotiations with the National Park Service. Having worked for eight years in association with the Virgin Islands National Park in St. John, he understands both organizations well—the National Park Service and the A.M.E. Zion Church. “I’m in a wonderful position where I can translate the hopes of each organization to the other,” Armstrong says.


If all goes well, there will be National Park status and a full-scale information and interpretation center at the Tubman site in time for the centennial of her death in 2013.


“Harriet Tubman has an incredible, unique history,” says Armstrong. “Here she was, a former slave, but she was also a property owner. She was a farmer. She was involved in the brick-making industry. So here you have a black-constructed house, from bricks that were probably made by blacks, on a site owned by blacks in the late 1800s.”


In addition to Sernett’s book, there have been three scholarly biographies of Tubman published since 2003. While today’s historians are attempting to set the Tubman record straight, perhaps her property is the best means for Tubman to tell her own story. “The life she led is one that is and should be inspirational,” says Armstrong. “We have things Tubman owned on a landscape she constructed. If we can present those material things in a setting that projects that inspiration to future generations, I think we’re making a huge contribution.”

Abraham Lincoln 

Martin Luther King Jr. (born Michael King Jr.; January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American Christian minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the Civil Rights Movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. King is best known for advancing civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience, inspired by his Christian beliefs and the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi.


King led the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and later became the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). As president of the SCLC, he then led an unsuccessful 1962 struggle against segregation in Albany, Georgia, and helped organize the nonviolent 1963 protests in Birmingham, Alabama. He helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.


On October 14, 1964, King won the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. In 1965, he helped organize the Selma to Montgomery marches. In his final years, he expanded his focus to include opposition towards poverty and the Vietnam War. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover considered him a radical and made him an object of the FBI's COINTELPRO from 1963 on. FBI agents investigated him for possible communist ties, recorded his extramarital liaisons and reported on them to government officials, and, in 1964, mailed King a threatening anonymous letter, which he interpreted as an attempt to make him commit suicide.[1]


Before his death, King was planning a national occupation of Washington, D.C., to be called the Poor People's Campaign, when he was assassinated on April 4 in Memphis, Tennessee. His death was followed by riots in many U.S. cities. Allegations that James Earl Ray, the man convicted of killing King, had been framed or acted in concert with government agents persisted for decades after the shooting.


King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in cities and states throughout the United States beginning in 1971; the holiday was enacted at the federal level by legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Hundreds of streets in the U.S. have been renamed in his honor, and a county in Washington was rededicated for him. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was dedicated in 2011.

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