Martin Luther King Jr was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on 15 January. His father, Martin Luther King Sr, was a Baptist pastor and married to Alberta Williams. Martin Luther King would grow up as the second child in a family of three children: his sister Christine was two years older and his brother Alfred Daniel was born a year after him.
In the 1930s America was suffering from the economic consequences of the Great Depression. As a child King witnessed the poverty, seeing the long lines of people waiting to get their free bread.
Even more painful was the confrontation with racism and racial segregation, which were fully embedded in society as a result of the Jim Crow laws. Especially in the southern states, where education, public transport and restaurants were segregated.
In the summers of 1944 and 1947, King worked on a tobacco plantation in Connecticut to earn money for college. In this northern state he was much less confronted with racial segregation, which made him somewhat reluctant to return to the southern states.
That same year King started his studies at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
King graduated from Morehouse College, after which he enrolled at the Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. While studying at the seminary, he had the opportunity to attend a lecture on Mahatma Ghandi in Philadelphia. King became fascinated with Ghandi’s non-violent resistance, which had led to social change in India.
His next step as a student was Boston University. Here, King studied philosophy and theology and became deeply influenced by African-American civil rights activist Howard Thurman.
While studying at Boston University, King met his future wife: Coretta Scott. She, too, was socially engaged and from the south of the US. They married a year later.
Even before finishing his studies, King became a minister at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where he succeeded Vernons Johns.
In the same year, a symbolic victory was also achieved in the fight for civil rights in America. As a result of the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case the American Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. The case had been instigated a couple of years previously, after a black girl had been refused enrollment in a white school.