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Martin Luther King

Kings roots

Martin Luther King was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. Even though he grew up as one of the few black middle-class children, he knew racism from childhood. By the law of segregation (racial segregation), black and white were strictly separated.

King was not allowed to use the same toilet or drink from the same water dispenser as the whites. It was impossible for his mother, the Alberta teacher Christine Williams King, to teach in white schools. His father, Martin Luther King Sr., a respected Baptist preacher among blacks, was called "Boy".

Christian principles and civil rights played an important role not only for the pastor but also for his son Martin. The boy was intelligent. He mastered school and studies with flying colors. In 1948 he completed his studies in sociology, in 1951 that of theology.

In addition to victorious participation in speaker competitions, he has already demonstrated his extraordinary talent for languages ​​as assistant preacher to his father since he was 17. Not least, his way of speaking convinced Coretta Scott to marry him, because originally she did not want to be the wife of a pastor. They moved to Montgomery together in 1954. There, Martin Luther King took over his first own congregation, the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.

Preacher and champion

Montgomery was a typical city in the southern states. Although a third of the population was black, blacks had few rights. Ten months after King took office, on December 1, 1955, the African American Rosa Parks violated segregation on public transport: she refused to get up from a seat reserved for whites on the bus and was arrested.

The result was the "Montgomery Bus Boycott". Many blacks refused to take the bus to protest racial segregation.

Martin Luther King, politically a blank slate, became the leader of the boycott. For the 26-year-old, this was a huge and, as it quickly turned out, dangerous task. White racists threatened him and his family massively.

"I wanted to give up the fight. Without touching the coffee, I sat at the kitchen table and pondered how I could disappear from the scene without appearing as a coward. In this state of utter despondency I laid my misery to God ... At that moment I experienced the presence of God like never before. I felt as if I heard an inner voice that encouraged me: "Stand up for justice! Stand up for the truth! And God will always be by your side!" I was ready to face anything. "

That was how King later remembered the time. But he should forego personal protection for the rest of his life, because his decision to sacrifice his life for justice if necessary was made.

In Montgomery, no black person got on a bus for almost a year. Eventually the Supreme Court confirmed that segregation was unconstitutional and should be repealed on buses.

Fight against segregation

Montgomery was followed by other cities such as Albany, Birmingham and Selma, in which blacks fought for their rights. Martin Luther King, now chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), developed into the charismatic leader of the civil rights movement. He traveled constantly around the country organizing or participating in protests.

King deeply believed in justice and the power of morality. Direct nonviolent actions such as marches, sit-downs and prayer circles became his weapons in the fight against racism. "I'm tired of the violence I've seen too often. I've seen this hatred on the faces of too many sheriffs in the south ... I'm not going to descend to their level. We have a force that cannot be found in Molotov cocktails . "

King was already fascinated by Mahatma Gandhi during his studies, but had no in-depth knowledge of the principle of nonviolent resistance. Bayard Rustin, who had already traveled in the Indian's homeland for six months, became an important and close collaborator of the civil rights activist. But also the communist Stanley David and the three pastors Wyatt Walker, Ralph Abernathy and Andrew Young became close friends and helpers.

"I have a dream"

"I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of fraternity." This famous speech was given by Martin Luther King in 1963 at the height of his popularity.

250,000 people living peacefully in Washington D.C. demonstrated against racism and poverty, listened to his words. Victories seemed within reach: in 1964 racial segregation was abolished by law, King received the Nobel Peace Prize, and a year later a new suffrage came into force that allowed all black Americans to vote.

"I have the boldness to believe that all human beings can have three meals a day for their body, education and culture for their spirit, and dignity, equality and freedom for their soul." Despite the hopeful words of his Nobel Prize speech, King's optimism was already crumbling by this time.

Target of criticism

King had to realize that even the new laws could not really change the situation of blacks. Most of the blacks were significantly poorer than the whites. Funds for funding programs were swallowed up by the Vietnam War. King realized that racism, poverty and war were inextricably linked and that injustice was not a national but an international problem.

He decided to fight for all the oppressed, regardless of skin color: "For years I struggled with the thought of reforming the existing institutions of society ... Now I have a completely different opinion, I think a revolution in values ​​is necessary ... A building that produces beggars has to be rebuilt ... One begins to ask the question: Who owns the oil? ... Who owns the iron ore? "

His protest against the Vietnam War and the campaign against poverty also caused criticism from within his own ranks. Former colleagues feared that donations would not be available. In the White House, the once courted Nobel Prize winner was declared an undesirable person. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) circulated tapes allegedly showing the married Baptist minister and his loved one.

But that was not the only reason why King appeared more and more dejected and depressed in public. In America, a violent black movement formed that ridiculed the civil rights activist and his methods.

King's death and legacy

On April 4, 1968, King was in Memphis to fight alongside black garbage workers for better wages. As he stepped onto the balcony of his hotel, two shots echoed across the parking lot. The civil rights activist, hit in the neck and neck, collapsed and died - at the age of just 39. Officially, the white James Earl Ray was convicted as a lone perpetrator. However, there are still numerous theories about the background to the attack.

Thinking about his death, King said, "I will not leave any money. I will not leave anything posh and luxurious. I just want to leave a committed life."

King's commitment has left its mark to this day. Not only has the situation of African Americans in the USA improved significantly, their non-violent struggle served as a model for others - also in Germany. He inspired the civil rights and peace movement of the GDR and thus played a decisive role in the reunification of the two German states.