MLK's voice from archives: 'I tried to love and serve humanity'

Editor's Note: United Press International published a profile of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, the day the civil rights leader was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. As the United States observes the holiday in his honor, this edited excerpt of the profile, as well as audio reports that include some of King's speeches, portray his fight for equality.

By UPI Staff
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his famed "I Have Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963. The speech galvanized the nation's civil rights movements and led to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1968 Fair Housing Act. UPI File Photo
1 of 15 | The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his famed "I Have Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963. The speech galvanized the nation's civil rights movements and led to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1968 Fair Housing Act. UPI File Photo | License Photo

Dr. Martin Luther King won his first big battle in the war on segregation in Montgomery, Ala., the cradle of the Confederacy.

The point of no return came in 1956. King led the famed Montgomery bus boycott that brought integrated seating of buses in the Alabama capital.


It was a victory many Southerners found difficult to believe, and it launched King on a campaign to abolish all forms of segregation.

Advocating nonviolence, he became the nation's best-known civil rights leader and his ceaseless battle won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

He accepted the prize on behalf of "all men who love peace and brotherhood."

King was pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church when he became the driving force behind the bus boycott in Montgomery.

It was in that year that King, long an admirer of Mohandas K. Gandhi's passive resistance movement that broke the back of British rule in India, perfected nonviolence as the basic weapon for the war on segregation.


Since the Montgomery bus boycott, thousands have gone to jail under King's leadership. King himself was in jail more than a dozen times in seven years.

When he was in a Georgia jail in 1960, his wife, pregnant with their fourth child, received a call from Sen. John F. Kennedy, then the Democratic nominee for president.

Mrs. King said Kennedy had told her he was "very much concerned for both of us. He wanted me to know he was thinking about us and he would do all he could to help."

With the winning of the bus boycott, King came to Atlanta as associate pastor of his father's Ebenezer Baptist Church and organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

King and his organization hit at the right of Negroes to eat in any restaurant, apply for jobs as policemen and firemen and to try on a dress in a department store. He leaned heavily on the dramatic and the weight of public opinion. He used symbolic cities for campaigns that gained worldwide attention.

King logged hundreds of thousands of miles in cross-country flights, lecturing and raising funds for his movement.

King had numerous threats on his life, and at times of major campaigns sometimes referred to them in almost the detached manner of a man who knew he was marked.


Early in 1965, King's conference concentrated its drive for equal rights to Selma in Alabama's Black Belt.

The goal was to make it easier for Negroes to vote.

King's lieutenants organized a march to Montgomery, 40 miles away. Several hundred whites and Negroes in the march were dispersed by club-swinging police when they reached the Selma city limits. Indignation around the nation was immediate and hundreds of white ministers answered King's call to join a new march on the Alabama capital two days later.

This attempt ended peacefully, despite a tense confrontation between King, personally leading the way this time, and Alabama state troopers.

King was in an Alabama hospital Oct. 14, 1964, undergoing a routine physical after months of ceaseless activity, when word came from Oslo that he had won the Nobel Prize.

His selection was lauded by many. But Southerners reacted angrily for the most part.

Eugene Bull Connor, former Birmingham police commissioner whose men had battled with King's followers in 1963, said the Nobel selection committee was "scraping the bottom of the barrel."

"He caused more strife in this country than anyone I can think of," Connor said.

Later, Atlanta civil leaders -- white and black -- sponsored a testimonial dinner for King. He accepted the prize but donated the $54,000 that accompanied it to the civil rights movement with an admission his work had not won the "very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize."


Soon after, King was branded the "most notorious liar in the United States" by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover said it was his reply to King's suggestion the FBI had been ineffective in the investigation of a Southern civil rights case.

Married and the father of four, King lived in a modest two-story brick home in Atlanta. King lived with the threat of violence daily.

In New York in September, 1958, a Negro woman armed with a letter opener and a loaded automatic stabbed him while he autographed copies of one of his works in a Harlem department store.

It was the third attempt on his life up to that time and he narrowly escaped death. Surgeons, fighting the possibility of infection, removed 2 1/2 inches of bone from his chest. The wound bothered him the rest of his life.

An unknown person fired a shotgun blast through the door of his home in 1956 and a dynamite bomb was thrown on the front porch of his home a year later. It failed to explode.

In St. Augustine, King rented a beach cottage and it promptly was riddled with gunfire. He was not there at the time.


King was educated in Atlanta public schools (segregated at that time), Morehouse College in Atlanta, Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylviania, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard and Boston universities.

He earned a doctor of philosophy degree at Boston University in 1955 and a doctor of divinity degree from the same school four years later.

Such fear as he knew was not for himself but for his country, which he loved.

Many times in recent months he had expressed concern that the time was running out for completion of a peaceful revolution that would give black people a fair share in American life.

Hear more from UPI's audio archives.

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