Born in 1929, Martin Luther King Jr was a Baptist minister known most prominently for his role as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement.

The Civil Rights movement harnessed a series of demonstrations and boycotts to protest the widespread racial segregation and discrimination of African Americans, culminating in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. King was instrumental to the movement’s success as not only an organiser of key demonstrations like the March on Washington, but an orator whose rousing speeches galvanised the public into action. Both his personal values and leadership ethos were inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of satyagraha, the belief in nonviolent civil resistance, which King saw as aligning with his Christian beliefs. 

King was not the only leader of the Civil Rights Movement – others include the well-known Malcolm X and the lesser-known John Lewis – but he is perhaps the most recognised and revered member of the collective. Prior to the inception of the movement, King was a pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where he lived with his wife Coretta Scott King and four children. While in Montgomery, the activism of local resident Rosa Parks (who refused to relinquish her seat on a segregated bus) sparked an anti-segregation group known as the Montgomery Improvement Association. King was made leader of the group and, under his guidance, the collective successfully fought for desegregation on Montgomery buses. This success would precipitate King’s rise as a convincing and powerful voice for freedom in the realm of African-American rights.  

Later King and his family moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where he preached at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. While in Atlanta, King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organisation that aimed to unify the various communities in the Civil Rights Movement. Under King’s leadership, the SCLC engaged in nonviolent protests such as sit-ins at segregated restaurants, leading to King’s arrest in October 1960.  

The momentum the SCLC gained was due in large part to King’s popularity. His imprisonment caused a national uproar that spurred John F. Kennedy, a presidential candidate at the time, to demand for King’s release. King’s popularity reached its peak in 1963, when he delivered the famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech at a rally known as the March on Washington, a demonstration involving over 200,000 civil rights protestors who peacefully marched on the nation’s capital and congregated in front of the Lincoln Memorial. In his speech King proclaimed his vision of a peaceful future, one where individuals “will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.” 

“Peace is not merely the absence of some negative force — war, tensions, confusion but it is the presence of some positive force.” — Martin Luther King Jr

The passing of the Civil Rights Act a year later marked the culmination of King’s work. As a voice for peace, King advocated above all that the fight for antidiscrimination and desegregation remain nonviolent. However, this philosophy was not well received by other members of the Civil Rights Movement, with some factions opposing King’s focus on nonviolent peacebuilding, favouring retaliatory solutions instead.  

Despite this pushback, King remained adamant that peace was an unrealistic ideal but a feasible outcome. When accepting his Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, King declared that while a peaceful world was not yet a reality, that did not mean it was unattainable:   

“I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him.” — Martin Luther King Jr

This declaration captures the essence of King’s aspirational belief in peacemaking as a collective action achieved through personal commitment. In emphasising how individuals have the capacity for peacemaking, King affirmed how global peace is the responsibility of all, not just those in power.  



Joshua Woo

Communications Associate

Vision of Humanity

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