The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is the person portrayed on the $100 I-Bond. Here is a little history about him:
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was a Baptist minister and political activist who was the most famous leader of the American civil rights movement. King won the Nobel Peace Prize and Presidential Medal of Freedom before being assassinated in 1968. For his promotion of non-violence and racial equality, King is considered a peacemaker and martyr by many people around the world. Martin Luther King Day was established in his honor.
Background and family
King was born in Atlanta, Georgia (Dixie on Auburn Avenue) to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. (Birth records list King’s first name as Michael, apparently due to some confusion on the part of the family doctor regarding the true name of his father, who was known as Mike throughout his childhood.) He graduated from Morehouse College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology in 1948. At Morehouse, King was mentored by President Benjamin Mays, a civil rights leader. Later he graduated from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania  with a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1951. He received his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Boston University in 1955.
King married Coretta Scott on June 18, 1953. The wedding ceremony took place at Scott’s parents’ house in Marion, Alabama, and was performed by King’s father.
King and Scott had four children:
Yolanda Denise (November 17, 1955, Montgomery, Alabama)
Martin Luther III (October 23, 1957, Montgomery, Alabama)
Dexter Scott (January 30, 1961, Atlanta, Georgia)
Bernice Albertine (March 28, 1963, Atlanta, Georgia)
The four children all have one thing in common: They have followed their father’s footsteps as civil rights activists, although pet issues and opinions differ among the King children.
Civil rights activism
In 1953, King became the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He was a leader of the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott which began when Rosa Parks refused to comply with Jim Crow law and surrender her seat to a white man. The boycott lasted for 381 days. The situation became so tense that King’s house was bombed. King was arrested during this campaign, which ended with a United States Supreme Court decision outlawing racial segregation on intrastate buses.
Following the campaign, King was instrumental in the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, a group created to harness the moral authority and organizing power of black churches to conduct nonviolent protests in the service of civil rights reform. King continued to dominate the organization until his death. The organization’s nonviolent principles were criticized by the younger, more radical blacks and challenged by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) then headed by James Foreman.
The SCLC derived its membership principally from black communities associated with Baptist churches. King was an adherent of the philosophies of nonviolent civil disobedience used successfully in India by Mahatma Gandhi, and he applied this philosophy to the protests organized by the SCLC. King correctly recognized that organized, nonviolent protest against the racist system of southern segregation known as Jim Crow would lead to extensive media coverage of the struggle for black equality and voting rights. Indeed, journalistic accounts and televised footage of the daily deprivation and indignities suffered by southern blacks, and of segregationist violence and harassment of civil rights workers and marchers, produced a wave of sympathetic public opinion that made the Civil Rights Movement the single most important issue in American politics in the early 1960s.
King is perhaps most famous for his “I Have a Dream” speech, given in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and FreedomKing organized and led marches for blacks’ right to vote, desegregation, fair hiring and other basic civil rights. Most of these rights were successfully enacted into United States law with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
King and the SCLC applied the principles of nonviolent protest with great success by strategically choosing the method of protest and the places in which protests were carried out in often dramatic stand-offs with segregationist authorities. Sometimes these confrontations turned violent. King and the SCLC were instrumental in the unsuccessful protest movement in Albany, in 1961 – 1962, where divisions within the black community and the canny, low-key response by local government defeated efforts; in the Birmingham protests in the summer of 1963; and in the protest in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1964. King and the SCLC joined forces with SNCC in Selma, Alabama, in December 1964, where SNCC had been working on voter registration for a number of months.
Stance on Affirmative Action
Contrary to popular belief, and despite his call for a colorblind nation, Martin Luther King Jr. may have supported affirmative action. Among his comments:
“Whenever this issue [compensatory treatment] is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree, but should ask for nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable but is not realistic. For it is obvious that if a man enters the starting line of a race three hundred years after another man, the first would have to perform some incredible feat in order to catch up.”
“A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for him, to equip him to compete on a just and equal basis. ”
“… for two centuries the Negro was enslaved and robbed of any wages — potential accrued wealth which would have been the legacy of his descendants. All of America’s wealth today could not adequately compensate its Negroes for his centuries of exploitation and humiliation. It is an economic fact that a program such as I propose would certainly cost far less than any computation of two centuries of unpaid wages plus accumulated interest. In any case, I do not intend that this program of economic aid should apply only to the Negro: it should benefit the disadvantaged of all races.”
As one site puts it: “King actually suggested it might be necessary to have, something akin to “discrimination in reverse” as a form of national “atonement” for the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow segregation.”
Scholars argue whether he advocated affirmative action for the poor, blacks, or both. King himself admitted that the vast majority of the poor were black anyway, implying that he could put his proposed programs in terms of class and not race, while still achieving the end of compensatory treatment, albeit via a more agreeable position. While it may seem that he alternates between advocating socioeconomic and racial affirmative action, the latter predominated. In a Playboy interview, he proposes a massive public works project of Depression-Era proportions, the likely grounds for Reagan calling King a near communist.
The March on Washington
King and SCLC, in partial collaboration with SNCC, then attempted to organize a march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery, for March 25, 1965. The first attempt to march on March 7, was aborted due to a mob and police violence against the demonstrators. This day since has become known as Bloody Sunday. Bloody Sunday was a major turning point in the effort to gain public support for the Civil Rights Movement, the clearest demonstration up to that time of the dramatic potential of King’s nonviolence strategy. King, however, was not present. After meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson, he had attempted to delay the march until March 8, but the march was carried out against his wishes and without his presence by local civil rights workers. The footage of the police brutality against the protestors was broadcast extensively across the nation and aroused a national sense of public outrage.
The second attempt at the march on March 9 was ended when King stopped the procession at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the outskirts of Selma, an action which he seemed to have negotiated with city leaders beforehand. This unexpected action aroused the surprise and anger of many within the local movement. The march finally went ahead fully on March 25, with the agreement and support of President Johnson, and it was during this march that Willie Ricks coined the phrase “Black Power” (widely credited to Stokely Carmichael).
King, representing SCLC, was among the leaders of the so-called “Big Six” civil rights organizations who were instrumental in the organization of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. The other leaders and organizations comprising the Big Six were: Roy Wilkins, NAACP; Whitney Young, Jr., Urban League; A. Philip Randolph, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; John Lewis, SNCC; and James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). For King, this role was another which courted controversy, as he was one of the key figures who acceded to the wishes of President John F. Kennedy in changing the focus of the march. Kennedy initially opposed the march outright, because he was concerned it would negatively impact the drive for passage of civil rights legislation, but the organizers were firm that the march would proceed.
The march originally was conceived as an event to dramatize the desperate condition of blacks in the South and a very public opportunity to place organizers’ concerns and grievances squarely before the seat of power in the nation’s capital. Organizers intended to excoriate and then challenge the federal government for its failure to safeguard the civil rights and physical safety of civil rights workers and blacks, generally, in the South. However, the group acquiesced to presidential pressure and influence, and the event ultimately took on a far less strident tone.
As a result, some civil rights activists who felt it presented an inaccurate, sanitized pageant of racial harmony; Malcolm X called it the “Farce on Washington,” and members of the Nation of Islam who attended the march faced a temporary suspension.
The march did, however, make specific demands: an end to racial segregation in public school; meaningful civil rights legislation, including a law prohibiting racial discrimination in employment; protection of civil rights workers from police brutality; a $2 minimum wage for all workers; and self-government for the District of Columbia, then governed by congressional committee.
Despite tensions, the march was a resounding success. More than a quarter of a million people of diverse ethnicities attended the event, sprawling from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial onto the National Mall and around the reflecting pool. At the time, it was the largest gathering of protestors in Washington’s history. King’s I Have a Dream speech electrified the crowd. It is regarded, along with President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, as one of the finest speeches in the history of American oratory.
Throughout his career of service, King wrote and spoke frequently, drawing on his long experience as a preacher. His “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, written in 1963, is a passionate statement of his crusade for justice. On October 14, 1964, King became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to him for leading non-violent resistance to end racial prejudice in the United States.
After several successes in the South, King and other people in the civil rights organizations decided to try to spread the movement to the North. The first target was Chicago. King and Ralph Abernathy moved there. They lived in slums on purpose as an educational experience and as a way to symbolize that they were with the poor. They were both rather middle-class folks, well educated and of decent means, so they had to figure some way to connect.
Abernathy could not stand the slums and secretly moved out after a short period. King stayed and wrote about how Coretta and his children suffered emotional problems from the horrid conditions, inability to play outside.
In Chicago, Abernathy would later write, they received a worse reception than they had received in the south. Thrown bottles and screaming throngs met their marches and they were truly afraid of starting a riot. King had always felt a responsibility to the people he was leading to not unnecessarily stage a violent event, something rather unique to him as a radical social leader of the 60s or any other decade. If he had intimations a peaceful march would be put down with violence he would call it off for the safety of people. But he himself still faced death many a time by marching at the front in the face of death threats to his person. And in Chicago the violence was so formidable, it shook the two friends.
But worse than the violence was the two facedness of the city leaders; Abernathy and King secured agreements on action to be taken but this action was largely bureaucratically killed after the fact by the politicians of the corrupt Daly machine. Some of their small successes such as Operation Breadbasket did not translate into anything as large as the desegregation cases of the bus boycott in the South. However, they did light the fire of ideas like Affirmative Action and organizing labor as legitimate techniques in the minds of the people.
They left a young Chicago activist in charge of their organization as they went back to the South. His name was Jesse Jackson and while he had a great deal of heart and oratorical skill, he knew very little about running an organization. They asked him for financial information, and he sent them a bag of unorganized receipts. Chicago could be seen as a point where the civil rights movement lost its momentum and began to fade to a shadow of what King had planned for it.
Starting in 1965, King began to express doubts about the United States’ role in the Vietnam War. On April 4, 1967 — exactly one year before his death — King spoke out strongly against the US’s role in the war, insisting that the US was in Vietnam “to occupy it as an American colony” and calling the US government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” But he also argued that the country needed larger and broader moral changes:
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: “This is not just.”
King was long hated by many white southern segregationists, but this speech turned the more mainstream media against him. TIME called the speech “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi (a propaganda radio station run by the North Vietnamese Army during the Vietnam War)”, and the Washington Post declared that King had “diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.”
The speech was a reflection of King’s evolving political advocacy in his later years. He began to speak of the need for fundamental changes in the political and economic life of the nation. Toward the end of his life, King more frequently expressed his opposition to the war and his desire to see a redistribution of resources to correct racial and economic injustice. Though his public language was guarded, so as to avoid being linked to communism by his political enemies, in private he sometimes spoke of his support for democratic socialism:
You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry…. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong… with capitalism…. There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism. (Frogmore, S.C. November 14, 1966. Speech in front of his staff.)
However, like Nelson Mandela, Russel Means, and other social leaders, he was against communism because among other things it had no room for the individual.
In 1968, King and the SCLC organized the “Poor People’s Campaign” to address issues of economic justice. The campaign culminated in a march on Washington, D.C. demanding economic aid to the poorest communities of the United States.
On April 3, 1968, King prophetically told a euphoric crowd:
It really doesn’t matter what happens now…. some began to… talk about the threats that were out — what would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers…. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place, but I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and 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. And so I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
The Lorraine Motel, where Rev. King was assassinated, now the site of the National Civil Rights MuseumKing was assassinated the next evening, April 4, 1968, at 6:01pm, on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, while preparing to lead a local march in support of the heavily black Memphis sanitation workers’ union which was on strike at the time. Friends inside the motel room heard the shot fired and ran to the balcony to find King shot in the jaw. He was pronounced dead at St. Joseph’s hospital at 7:05 PM. The assassination led to a nationwide wave of riots in more than 60 cities. Four days later, President Lyndon Johnson declared a national day of mourning for the lost civil rights leader. A crowd of 300,000 attended his funeral that same day.
Two months after King’s death, escaped convict James Earl Ray was captured at London’s Heathrow Airport while trying to leave the United Kingdom on a false Canadian passport in the name of Ramon George Sneyd. Ray was quickly extradited to Tennessee and charged with King’s murder, confessing to the assassination on March 10, 1969, (though he recanted this confession three days later). Later, Ray would be sentenced to a 99-year prison term.
Ray, a presumed white supremacist and segregationist, allegedly killed King because of the latter’s extensive civil rights work. On the advice of his attorney Percy Foreman, Ray took a guilty plea to avoid a trial conviction and thus the possibility of receiving the death penalty although it was highly unlikely that he would have been executed even if he had been sentenced to death, since the US Supreme Court’s 1972 decision in the case of Furman v. Georgia invalidated all state death penalty laws then in force.
Ray fired Foreman as his attorney (from then on derisively calling him “Percy Fourflusher”) claiming that a man he met in Montreal, Canada with the alias “Raoul” was involved, as was his brother Johnny, but not himself, further asserting that although he didn’t “personally shoot Dr. King,” he may have been “partially responsible without knowing it,” hinting at a conspiracy. He spent the remainder of his life attempting (unsuccessfully) to withdraw his guilty plea and secure the trial he never had.
Awards and recognition
Besides winning the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, in 1965 the American Jewish Committee presented the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with the American Liberties Medallion for his “exceptional advancement of the principles of human liberty.” Reverend King said in his acceptance remarks, “Freedom is one thing. You have it all or you are not free.”
Plans are underway for a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial to be built in Washington D.C. In October of 2005, film producer George Lucas donated $1 million towards the cost of the project.