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Barack Obama
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Born on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii, Barack Obama is the 44th and current president of the United States. He was a civil-rights lawyer and teacher before pursuing a political career. He was elected to the Illinois State Senate in 1996, serving from 1997 to 2004. He was elected to the U.S. presidency in 2008, and won re-election in 2012 against Republican challenger Mitt Romney. President Obama continues to enact policy changes in response to the issues of health care and economic crisis.

Early Life

Barack Hussein Obama was born on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii. His mother, Ann Dunham, grew up in Wichita, Kansas, where her father worked on oil rigs during the Great Depression. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dunham's father, Stanley, enlisted in the service and marched across Europe in Patton's army. Dunham's mother, Madelyn, went to work on a bomber assembly line. After the war, the couple studied on the G.I. Bill, bought a house through the Federal Housing Program and, after several moves, landed in Hawaii.

Barack Obama's father, Barack Obama Sr., was born of Luo ethnicity in Nyanza Province, Kenya. Obama Sr. grew up herding goats in Africa, eventually earning a scholarship that allowed him to leave Kenya and pursue his dreams of college in Hawaii. While studying at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, Obama Sr. met fellow student Ann Dunham, and they married on February 2, 1961. Barack was born six months later.

Obama did not have a relationship with his father as a child. When his son was still an infant, Obama Sr. relocated to Massachusetts to attend Harvard University, pursuing a Ph.D. Barack's parents officially separated several months later and ultimately divorced in March 1964, when their son was 2. In 1965, Obama Sr. returned to Kenya.

In 1965, Dunham married Lolo Soetoro, an East–West Center student from Indonesia. A year later, the family moved to Jakarta, Indonesia, where Barack's half-sister, Maya Soetoro Ng, was born. Several incidents in Indonesia left Dunham afraid for her son's safety and education so, at the age of 10, Barack was sent back to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents. His mother and sister later joined them.

Excelling in School

While living with his grandparents, Obama enrolled in the esteemed Punahou Academy, excelling in basketball and graduating with academic honors in 1979. As one of only three black students at the school, Obama became conscious of racism and what it meant to be African-American. He later described how he struggled to reconcile social perceptions of his multiracial heritage with his own sense of self: "I began to notice there was nobody like me in the Sears, Roebuck Christmas catalog ... and that Santa was a white man," he said. "I went to the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror with all my senses and limbs seemingly intact, looking the way I had always looked, and wondered if something was wrong with me."

Obama also struggled with the absence of his father, who he saw only once more after his parents divorced, when Obama Sr. visited Hawaii for a short time in 1971. "[My father] had left paradise, and nothing that my mother or grandparents told me could obviate that single, unassailable fact," he later reflected. "They couldn't describe what it might have been like had he stayed."

Ten years later, in 1981, tragedy struck Obama Sr. He was involved in a serious car accident, losing both of his legs as a result. Confined to a wheelchair, he also lost his job. In 1982, Obama Sr. was involved in yet another car accident while traveling in Nairobi. This time, however, the crash was fatal. Obama Sr. died on November 24, 1982, when Barack was 21 years old. "At the time of his death, my father remained a myth to me," Obama later said, "both more and less than a man."

After high school, Obama studied at Occidental College in Los Angeles for two years. He then transferred to Columbia University in New York, graduating in 1983 with a degree in political science. After working in the business sector for two years, Obama moved to Chicago in 1985. There, he worked on the South Side as a community organizer for low-income residents in the Roseland and the Altgeld Gardens communities.

Law Career

It was during this time that Barack Obama, who said he "was not raised in a religious household," joined the Trinity United Church of Christ. He also visited relatives in Kenya, which included an emotional visit to the graves of his biological father and paternal grandfather. "For a long time I sat between the two graves and wept," Obama said. "I saw that my life in America—the black life, the white life, the sense of abandonment I felt as a boy, the frustration and hope I'd witnessed in Chicago—all of it was connected with this small plot of earth an ocean away."

Obama returned from Kenya with a sense of renewal, entering Harvard Law School in 1988. The next year, he met Michelle Robinson, an associate at the Chicago law firm of Sidley Austin. She was assigned to be Obama's adviser during a summer internship at the firm, and not long after, the couple began dating. Their first kiss took place outside of a Chicago shopping center—where a plaque featuring a photo of the couple kissing was installed more than two decades later, in August 2012. In February 1990, Obama was elected the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review. He graduated from Harvard, magna cum laude, in 1991.

After law school, Obama returned to Chicago to practice as a civil rights lawyer, joining the firm of Miner, Barnhill & Galland. He also taught part time at the University of Chicago Law School (1992-2004)—first as a lecturer and then as a professor—and helped organize voter registration drives during Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. On October 3, 1992, he and Michelle were married. They moved to Kenwood, on Chicago's South Side, and welcomed two daughters several years later: Malia (born 1998) and Sasha (born 2001).

Entry into Illinois Politics

Obama published an autobiography, Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, in 1995. The work received high praise from literary figures like Toni Morrison and has since been printed in 10 languages, including Chinese, Swedish and Hebrew. The book had a second printing in 2004, and was adapted for a children's version. The 2006 audiobook version of Dreams, narrated by Obama, received a Grammy Award (best spoken word album).

Obama's advocacy work led him to run for a seat in the Illinois State Senate. He ran as a Democrat, and won election in 1996. During these years, Obama worked with both Democrats and Republicans to draft legislation on ethics, and expand health care services and early childhood education programs for the poor. He also created a state earned-income tax credit for the working poor. Obama became chairman of the Illinois Senate's Health and Human Services Committee as well, and after a number of inmates on death row were found innocent, he worked with law enforcement officials to require the videotaping of interrogations and confessions in all capital cases.

In 2000, Obama made an unsuccessful Democratic primary run for the U.S. House of Representatives seat held by four-term incumbent candidate Bobby Rush. Undeterred, he created a campaign committee in 2002, and began raising funds to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 2004. With the help of political consultant David Axelrod, Obama began assessing his prospects of a Senate win.

Following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Obama was an early opponent of President George W. Bush's push to go to war with Iraq. Obama was still a state senator when he spoke against a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq during a rally at Chicago's Federal Plaza in October 2002. "I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars," he said. "What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne." Despite his protests, the Iraq War began in 2003.

U.S. Senate Career

Obama, encouraged by poll numbers, decided to run for the U.S. Senate open seat vacated by Republican Peter Fitzgerald. In the 2004 Democratic primary, he won 52 percent of the vote, defeating multimillionaire businessman Blair Hull and Illinois Comptroller Daniel Hynes. That summer, he was invited to deliver the keynote speech in support of John Kerry at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Obama emphasized the importance of unity, and made veiled jabs at the Bush Administration and the diversionary use of wedge issues.

After the convention, Obama returned to his U.S. Senate bid in Illinois. His opponent in the general election was supposed to be Republican primary winner Jack Ryan, a wealthy former investment banker. However, Ryan withdrew from the race in June 2004, following public disclosure of unsubstantiated sexual deviancy allegations by Ryan's ex-wife, actress Jeri Ryan.

His opponent in the general election was supposed to be Republican primary winner Jack Ryan, a wealthy former investment banker. However, Ryan withdrew from the race in June 2004, following public disclosure of unsubstantiated sexual deviancy allegations by Ryan's ex-wife, actress Jeri Ryan.

They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met."

First 100 Days

Between Inauguration Day and April 29, 2009, the Obama Administration took to the field on many fronts. Obama coaxed Congress to expand health care insurance for children and provide legal protection for women seeking equal pay. A $787 billion stimulus bill was passed to promote short-term economic growth. Housing and credit markets were put on life support, with a market-based plan to buy U.S. banks' toxic assets. Loans were made to the auto industry, and new regulations were proposed for Wall Street. He also cut taxes for working families, small businesses and first-time home buyers. The president also loosened the ban on embryonic stem cell research and moved ahead with a $3.5 trillion budget plan.

Over his first 100 days in office, President Obama also undertook a complete overhaul of America's foreign policy. He reached out to improve relations with Europe, China and Russia and to open dialogue with Iran, Venezuela and Cuba. He lobbied allies to support a global economic stimulus package. He committed an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan and set an August 2010 date for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. In more dramatic incidents, he took on pirates off the coast of Somalia and prepared the nation for a swine flu attack. For his efforts, he was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize by the Nobel Committee in Norway.

2010 State of the Union

On January 27, 2010, President Obama delivered his first State of the Union speech. During his oration, Obama addressed the challenges of the economy, proposing a fee for larger banks, announcing a possible freeze on government spending in 2010 and speaking against the Supreme Court's reversal of a law capping campaign finance spending. He also challenged politicians to stop thinking of re-election and start making positive changes, criticizing Republicans for their refusal to support any legislation, and chastizing Democrats for not pushing hard enough to get legislation passed. He also insisted that, despite obstacles, he was determined to help American citizens through the nation's current domestic difficulties. "We don't quit. I don't quit," he said. "Let's seize this moment to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and strengthen our union once more."

Challenges & Successes

In the second part of his term as president, Obama has faced a number of obstacles and scored some victories as well. He signed his health-care reform plan, known as the Affordable Care Act, into law in March 2010. Obama's plan is intended to strengthen consumers' rights and to provide affordable insurance coverage and greater access to medical care. His opponents, however, claim that "Obamacare," as they have called it, added new costs to the country's overblown budget and may violate the Constitution with its requirement for individuals to obtain insurance.

On the economic front, Obama has worked hard to steer the country through difficult financial times. He signed the Budget Control Act of 2011 in effort to rein in government spending and prevent the government from defaulting on its financial obligations.

In August 2004, diplomat and former presidential candidate Alan Keyes accepted the Republican nomination to replace Ryan. In three televised debates, Obama and Keyes expressed opposing views on stem cell research, abortion, gun control, school vouchers and tax cuts. In the November 2004 general election, Obama received 70 percent of the vote to Keyes' 27 percent, the largest electoral victory in Illinois history. With his win, Barack Obama became only the third African-American elected to the U.S. Senate since the Reconstruction.

Sworn into office January 4, 2005, Obama partnered with Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana on a bill that expanded efforts to destroy weapons of mass destruction in Eastern Europe and Russia. Then, with Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, he created a website to track all federal spending. Obama also spoke out for victims of Hurricane Katrina, pushed for alternative energy development, and championed improved veterans' benefits.

His second book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, was published in October 2006. The work discussed Obama's visions for the future of America, many of which became talking points for his eventual presidential campaign. Shortly after its release, it hit No. 1 on both the New York Times and Amazon.com best-seller lists.

2008 Presidential Election

In February 2007, Obama made headlines when he announced his candidacy for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. He was locked in a tight battle with former first lady and then-U.S. senator from New York Hillary Rodham Clinton. On June 3, 2008, however, Obama became the presumptive nominee for the Democratic Party, and Senator Clinton delivered her full support to Obama for the duration of his campaign. On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama defeated Republican presidential nominee John McCain, 52.9 percent to 45.7 percent, winning election as the 44th president of the United States—and the first African-American to hold this office. His running mate, Delaware Senator Joe Biden, became vice president. Obama's inauguration took place on January 20, 2009.

When Obama took office, he inherited a global economic recession, two ongoing foreign wars and the lowest international favorability rating for the United States ever. He campaigned on an ambitious agenda of financial reform, alternative energy, and reinventing education and health care—all while bringing down the national debt. Because these issues were intertwined with the economic well-being of the nation, he believed all would have to be undertaken simultaneously. During his inauguration speech, Obama summarized the situation by saying, "Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many.

The act also called for the creation of a bipartisan committee to seek solutions to the country's fiscal issues, but the group failed to reach any agreement on how to solve these problems.

Obama has also handled a number of military and security issues during his presidency. In 2011, he helped repeal the military policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which prevented openly gay troops from serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. He also gave the green light to a 2011 covert operation in Pakistan, which led to the killing of infamous al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by a team of U.S. Navy SEALs.

Obama made headlines again in June 2012, when a mandate included in his Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (initiated in 2010) was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, thus allowing other important pieces of the law to stay intact. The law includes free health screenings for certain citizens, restrictions to stringent insurance company policies and permission for citizens under age 26 to be insured under parental plans, among several other provisions. In a 5-4 decision, the Court voted to uphold the mandate under which citizens are required to purchase health insurance or pay a tax—a main provision of Obama's health-care law—stating that while the mandate is unconstitutional, according to the Constitution's commerce clause, it falls within Congress' constitutional power to tax.

Re-Election & Second Term

As he did in 2008, during his campaign for a second presidential term, Obama focused on grassroots initiatives. Celebrities such as Anna Wintour and Sarah Jessica Parker aided the president's campaign by hosting fund-raising events.

"I guarantee you, we will move this country forward," Obama stated in June 2012, at a campaign event in Maryland. "We will finish what we started. And we'll remind the world just why it is the United States of America is the greatest nation on Earth."

In the 2012 election, Obama faced Republican opponent Mitt Romney and Romney's vice-presidential running mate, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan. On the evening of November 6, 2012, Obama was announced the winner of the election, gaining a second four-year term as president. Early election results indicated a close race. By midnight on Election Day, however, Obama had received more than 270 electoral votes—the number of votes required to win a U.S. presidential election; later results showed that the president had won nearly 60 percent of the electoral vote, as well as the popular vote by more than 1 million ballots.

Nearly one month after President Obama's re-election, the nation endured one of its most tragic school shootings to date: On December 14, 2012, 20 children and six adult workers were shot to death at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Two days after the attack, Obama delivered a speech at an interfaith vigil for the victims in Newtown, discussing a need for change in order to make schools safer, and alluding to implementing stricter gun control. "These tragedies must end," Obama stated.

"We can't accept events like these as routine. In the coming weeks, I'll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental-health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? . . . Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?"

Obama achieved a major legislative victory on January 1, 2013, when the Republican-controlled House of Representatives approved a bipartisan agreement on tax increases and spending cuts, in an effort to avoid the looming fiscal cliff crisis (the Senate voted in favor of the bill earlier that day). The agreement marked a productive first step toward the president's re-election promise of reducing the federal defecit by raising taxes on the extremely wealthy—individuals earning more than $400,000 per year and couples earning more than $450,000, according to the bill. Prior to the the bill's passage, in late 2012, tense negotiations between Republicans and Democrats over spending cuts and tax increases became a bitter political battle. Vice President Joe Biden managed to hammer out a deal with Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Obama pledged to sign the bill into law.

Barack Obama officially began his second term on January 21, 2013. The inauguration was held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of Medgar Evers, gave the invocation. James Taylor, Beyoncé Knowles and Kelly Clarkson sang at the ceremony and poet Richard Blanco read his poem "One Today." U.S. Supreme Court Chief John Roberts conducted Obama's presidential oath of office. After completing his oath, Obama was congratulated by his wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha.

In his inaugural address, Obama called the nation to action on such issues as climate change, health care and marriage equality. "We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today's victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall," Obama told the crowd gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol building.

Celebrations continued that day. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attended two official inauguration balls, including one held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. There the first couple danced the Al Green classic "Let's Stay Together," sung by Jennifer Hudson. Alicia Keys and Jamie Foxx also performed.

After the inauguration, Obama led the nation through many challenges. None more difficult perhaps, the bombing of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. Three people were killed and more than 200 people were injured in this terror attack. Obama traveled to Boston to speak at a memorial service three days after the bombings.

To the wounded, he said "Your country is with you. We will all be with you as you learn to stand and walk and, yes, run again. Of that I have no doubt. You will run again." And he applauded the city's citizen’s response to this tragedy. "You’ve shown us, Boston, that in the face of evil, Americans will lift up what’s good. In the face of cruelty, we will choose compassion."

Obama had suffered a significant drop in his approval ratings in a CNN/ORC International poll. He declined to an approval rating of only 45 percent—his lowest rating in more than 18 months. The poll results meant that more than half of Americans disapproved of how Obama was doing as president. Experts attribute the ratings slide to several factors, including the controversy surrounding the NSA surveillance program.

Obama defended the NSA's program, which includes email monitoring and telephone wiretapping, during a visit to Germany that June. "We are not rifling through the emails of German citizens or American citizens or French citizens or anyone else,” he said, according to the Financial Times. "The encroachment on privacy has been strictly limited." Obama stated that the program has helped stop roughly 50 threats.

In early July 2013, President Obama made history when he joined former President George W. Bush in Africa to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Osama bin Laden's first U.S. attack. The event marked the first meeting between two U.S. presidents on foreign soil in commemoration of an act of terrorism.

Later that month, Obama spoke out about the Trayvon Martin murder trial and the outrage that followed the jury's verdict. His shooter George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing the African American teen in Florida. In a White House press conference, the president said that "when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago." Obama explained that this particular case was a state matter, but he discussed how the federal government could address some of the legislative and racial issues brought up by this situation.

Obama found himself grappling with an international crisis in late August and September 2013. It was discovered that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons against civilians. According to the White House website, Obama said that "thousands of people, including over 400 children," had been killed in these attacks. Syria's actions present "a serious national security threat to the United States and to the region, and as a consequence, Assad and Syria needs to be held accountable." The president then worked to persuade Congress and the international community at large to take action against Syria.

As the positions of the members of Congress revealed that the majority was in favor of refraining from striking Syria, Obama announced an alternative solution. During an address on forthcoming action against Syria made on September 10, 2013, Obama stated that if al-Assad agreed with the stipulations outlined in a proposal made by Russia to give up its chemical weapons, then a direct strike against the nation could be avoided.

Al-Assad acknowledged the possession of chemical weapons and was receptive to the idea of a proposal from Russia, however Obama stated that "It's too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments."

Later that month, Obama made diplomatic strides with Iran. He spoke with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani on the phone, which marked the first time the leaders of the two countries have had direct contact in decades. This groundbreaking move by Obama is seen by many as a sign of thawing in the relationship between the United States and Iran. According to an NBC News report, Obama said that "The two of us discussed our ongoing efforts to reach an agreement over Iran's nuclear program." Obama expressed some optimism that a deal on the issue could be reached.

Obama found himself struggling on the domestic front in October 2013. There was a 16-day shutdown of the federal government, which was caused by a dispute over the federal budget. Republicans especially wanted to defund or otherwise derail Obama's Affordable Care Act. After a deal had been reached to end the shutdown, Obama used his weekly address to express his frustration over the situation and his desire for political reform. "The way business is done in Washington has to change. Now that these clouds of crisis and uncertainty have lifted, we need to focus on what the majority of Americans sent us here to do—grow the economy, create good jobs, strengthen the middle class, lay the foundation for broad-based prosperity, and get our fiscal house in order for the long haul."

The Affordable Care Act continued to come under fire in October after the failed launch of HealthCare.gov, which was meant to help people find health insurance. Extra technical support was brought in to work on the troubled website after users encountered difficulty with it in its early days. The act also seemed to impact the existing insurance policies of many Americans, causing them to lose coverage. According to the Chicago Tribune, Obama insisted that his legislation didn't cause the coverage change, the insurance companies did. He said, "Remember, before the Affordable Care Act, these bad-apple insurers had free rein every single year to limit the care that you received, or used minor pre-existing conditions to jack up your premiums, or bill you into bankruptcy."

Under mounting pressure, Obama found himself apologizing regarding some health care changes. He told those who lost their insurance plans that "I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me," according to a NBC News report. Obama pledged to find a remedy to this problem. "We are going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this."

Obama had to manage more challenges in the area of foreign relations around this time as well. In October 2013, German chancellor Angela Merkel revealed that the U.S. National Security Agency had been listening in to her cell phone calls.

Speaking at a summit of European leaders, Merkel said that "Spying among friends is never acceptable," according to CNN.com.

In the wake of several controversies, Obama saw his approval rating drop to a new low in November 2013. Only 37 percent of Americans polled by CBS News thought he was doing a good job as president. Another 57 percent disapproved of his handling of the nation.

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In honor of those we have lost, we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tags: martin luther king jr celebrate life activist leader barack political word life production feature

Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. King, both a Baptist minister and civil-rights activist, had a seismic impact on race relations in the United States, beginning in the mid-1950s. Among many efforts, King headed the SCLC. Through his activism, he played a pivotal role in ending the legal segregation of African-American citizens in the South and other areas of the nation, as well as the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, among several other honors. King was assassinated in April 1968, and continues to be remembered as one of the most lauded African-American leaders in history, often referenced by his 1963 speech, "I Have a Dream."

Early Years

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 were rooted 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. Michael King Sr. came from a sharecropper family in a poor farming community. He married Alberta in 1926 after an eight-year courtship. The newlyweds moved to A.D. Williams home in Atlanta.

Michael King 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.

Young Martin 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 more strict hand. Though they undoubtedly tried, Martin Jr.’s parents couldn’t shield him completely from racism. Martin Luther King 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, Martin Luther King Jr. entered public school at age 5. In May, 1936 he was baptized, but the event made little impression on him. In May, 1941, Martin was 12 years old when is grandmother, Jennie, died of a heart attack. The event was traumatic for Martin, more so because he was out watching a parade against his parents' wishes when she died. Distraught at the news, young Martin 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 though his first two years. Although his family was deeply involved in the church and worship, young Martin 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, Martin 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, Martin Luther King Jr. 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 Martin 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, Martin Luther King Jr. came under the influence of theologian Reinhold Niebbuhr, a classmate of his father's at Morehouse College. Niebbuhr became a mentor to Martin, challenging his liberal views of theology. Niebuhr was probably the single most important influence in Martin's intellectual and spiritual development. After being accepted at several colleges for his doctoral study including Yale and Edinburgh in Scotland, King enrolled in Boston University.

During the work on this doctorate, Martin Luther King Jr. 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 was award 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. Claudette Colvin was 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 she 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 from 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 it 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 Rosa Parks was arrested, E.D. Nixon, head of the local NAACP chapter met with Martin Luther King Jr. and other local civil rights leaders to plan a citywide 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."

Martin Luther King Jr.'s fresh and skillful rhetoric put a new energy into the civil rights struggle in Alabama. The bus boycott would be 382 days of walking to work, harassment, violence and intimidation for the Montgomery's African-American community. Both King's and E.D. 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.

The 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, Martin Luther King Jr., 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 Gandhi's success with non-violent activism, Martin Luther King visited Gandhi's birthplace in India. The trip affected him in a deeply 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 non-violence. 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, USA. Though his counsel was invaluable to King, many of his other supporters urged him to distance himself from Rustin.

In February 1960, a group of African-American students began what became known as the "sit-in" movement in Greensboro, North Carolina. 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. Martin Luther King Jr. 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, Martin Luther King Jr. was gaining national notoriety. 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.

'I Have a Dream'

In the spring of 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. organized a demonstration in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. Entire families attended. City police turned dogs and fire hoses on demonstrators. Martin Luther 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. From the jail in Birmingham, 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."

By the end of the Birmingham campaign, Martin Luther King Jr. 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.

 

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 second class treatment of African-American citizens. 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 Martin Luther King receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for 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 Alabama's capital in Montgomery, turned violent as police with nightsticks and tear gas met the demonstrators as they tried to cross the Edmond 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 leading to the naming the event "Bloody Sunday." A second march was cancelled 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 on it. Not wanting to alienate southern judges by violating the restraining order, a different tact 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. The event caused King the loss of support among some younger African-American leaders, but it nonetheless aroused support for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

From late 1965 through 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. expanded his Civil Rights Movement 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 and too late.

In the eyes of the sharp-tongued, blue jean young urban black, King's manner was irresponsibly passive and deemed non-effective. To address this criticism King began making a link between discrimination and poverty. He expanded his civil rights efforts to the Vietnam War. He felt that America's involvement in Vietnam was politically untenable and the government's conduct of the war discriminatory to the poor. He sought to broaden his base by forming a multi-race coalition to address economic and unemployment problems of all disadvantaged people.

Assassination and Legacy

By 1968, the years of demonstrations and confrontations were beginning to wear on Martin Luther King Jr. 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 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, in what proved to be an eerily prophetic speech, he told supporters, "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 struck 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 killing 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.

Martin Luther King Jr.'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.

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