Pastor Leader Champion of Social Justice
Martin Luther King, Jr. lived in Alabama for only a little more than five years but the time he spent here as resident or visitor between 1954 and 1968 radically altered the culture of the state and nation. Called to ministry and already a college graduate at age 18, King left his native Atlanta for the Northeast to continue his education. He met Perry County native Coretta Scott in Boston and through her forged a powerful first link to Alabama.
King accepted an invitation to lead Montgomery's Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in 1954 and quickly built a reputation for his passionate oration and intellect. Drawn into the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56, he also quickly became a nationally recognized leader of a growing social revolution. In1957 King joined other prominent pastors in the state and region, including Alabama pastors Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth and Joseph Lowery, to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
King returned to Atlanta in 1960 but in 1963 Shuttlesworth invited him and the SCLC to join the struggle for equality in Birmingham, a city reeling from racist violence and a bitterly divided city government. Arrested for participating in demonstrations there, King wrote his famous "Letter From Birmingham Jail," in defense of the SCLC's cause, methods and timing. Shortly afterward, a new SCLC project to mobilize children in the cause of equality collided with violent police suppression of nonviolent protests in Birmingham. News of the violence helped solidify public support for civil rights and win a key victory for the movement--the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Violence against civil rights marchers, including King, in Selma in 1965 also galvanized the movement. King's public stature continued to grow along with national impatience with the segregated South. Now a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, King found a new victory in 1965 with the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
Building on these transformative nonviolent successes, King applied his deep Christian faith to issues of economic justice and the U.S. war in Vietnam. An assassin's bullet cut short Martin Luther King, Jr.'s leadership in those causes but his service to this state, the nation and the world will never be forgotten.