The Key Resource Guide to Martin Luther King

On January 15, 1929, Martin Luther King, Jr. was born into a family rooted in the Baptist Church and involved in the fight for civil rights. He grew up in a stable supportive family environment and attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. After studying at Crozer Theological Seminary and Boston University, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He and Coretta Scott were married in 1955, and that same year he received his Ph.D. in systematic theology. Having closely studied the work of Mahatma Gandhi, he then set about using nonviolent strategies to right the wrongs against the black citizens of the United States. In 1960, Dr. King joined his father as co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

He and his fellow workers in the Civil Rights Movement opened the country's eyes to the plight of America's black citizens who were being denied basic freedoms and rights by the states. Dr. King also fought to end poverty and spoke out against the Vietnam War. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He raised his voice and called for change right up until the evening of April 4, 1968, when he was assassinated.

Dr. King left behind a legacy of using nonviolence to bring about social change. Today, he is still teaching through his sermons and speeches which are readily available on the Internet.

Environment of the 1960s
The Turbulent 1960s was a time of social unrest in the United States. Young people sought freedom of many kinds and as a result controversy arose over drugs, sex and lifestyle. It was the time of Woodstock and communal living. The Vietnam War raged and sparked violent anti-war protests. The Civil Rights Movement in the South and the fight for the rights of farm workers in the West both gained momentum. In the 60s, America lost both President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to assassins' bullets.

  • Chavez: Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers civil rights struggle.
  • Washington: Seattle civil rights and labor history.
  • The Law: Text of Title VII, Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.
  • The Movement: The anti-war movement in the U.S. from The Oxford Companion to American Military History.
  • The Decade: A list devoted to resources about the 1960s.
  • Urban Unrest: Digital resources for the Civil Rights Era, including a section on urban unrest and socioeconomic conditions during the 60s.
  • A Visual Journey: The turbulent 60s in pictures by Lisa Law.
  • President John F. Kennedy: Served as president from January 20, 1961 to November 21, 1963.
  • President Lyndon B. Johnson: Vice president to John F. Kennedy, became president when President Kennedy was assassinated.

Sermons and Speeches
Martin Luther King's adult life can be traced through his sermons and speeches. His I Have a Dream speech, delivered before the Lincoln Memorial, is considered by many to be one of the very finest examples of American oratory. Though I Have a Dream may be the most recognizable of his sermons and speeches, many others have also been preserved for history.

  • MIA Mass Meeting: December 5, 1955, Montgomery Improvement Association speech at the Holt Street Baptist Church before the bus boycott.
  • Why Vote?: Transcript of Give Us the Ballot, We Will Transform the South speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, May 17, 1957, during the March on Washington.
  • I Have a Dream: Dr. King's iconic I Have a Dream speech before the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963.
  • Lost Speech: Background information, photos and transcript of the December 18, 1963, King speech, a part of the Conscience of America lecture series at Western Michigan University. Tape of the speech was lost for 30 years.
  • Nobel Peace Prize: Dr. King's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, given in Oslo, Norway, on December 10, 1964.
  • In Oslo: Nobel Lecture, The Quest for Peace and Justice presented on December 11, 1964, the day after he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Our God is Marching On: Dr. King's March 25, 1965, speech after the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Given from the steps of the state capitol, also called How Long, Not Long.
  • Civil Rights Sermon: How did Martin Luther King, Jr. become involved in the civil rights movement? He explains in this sermon given in Chicago, September of 1966.
  • Mountaintop: I've Been to the Mountaintop speech (complete transcript) delivered in Memphis by Dr. King on April 3, 1968, the day before he was assassinated.

Montgomery Boycott

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a black woman refused to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man. This event triggered what was to become the Montgomery (Alabama) Bus Boycott and brought to life a significant chapter in the American Civil Rights Movement. Because Rosa Parks was arrested for her defiance of a law which said that a white man had a right to take her seat on public transportation, the black people who made up the majority of Montgomery city bus riders decided to stage a boycott which lasted more than a year. It finally ended on December 20, 1056 and led to a ruling by the Supreme Court declaring that Montgomery's law was unconstitutional.

  • Front Page: A compilation of newspaper coverage that tells the story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
  • Montgomery Story: Martin Luther King and The Montgomery Story historic comic book (c. 1956-58) tells about the Montgomery boycott.
  • The Montgomery Bus Boycott: Paper about the boycott with extensive citation notes and links to other events in the history of the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Rosa Parks: Photos accompany the story of Rosa Parks called Standing Up for Freedom.
  • About Rosa Parks: Timeline and biography at the Internet home of Rosa & Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development.
  • Rebellion in Montgomery: A legal history of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Albany Movement

The Albany Movement, as it became known, took place over the course of 1961-62 in the small town of Albany Georgia. Starting as a local movement which got national attention, it is considered to be the civil rights movement that laid the groundwork for the March on Washington. Though its leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr., admitted that their goal, the desegregation of the entire town, was not accomplished, lessons were learned that contributed to later successes.

  • Albany Movement: Looking at the Albany Movement beyond the failure to accomplish its goal.
  • Civil Rights Institute: The online home of the Albany Civil Rights Movement offers a timeline and an overview of the events of 1961 and 1962 in Albany, Georgia.
  • About the Albany Movement: Background of the movement and the civil rights struggle in Albany that dating back to Reconstruction.
  • Albany: Part of the Freedom On Film, Civil Rights in Georgia, University of Georgia site. Includes an in-depth bibliography of resources for the study of the Albany Movement at the bottom of the page.
  • Georgia Stories: About the ordinary citizens who joined leaders like Dr. King, in the Albany Movement. With video from 1961-62 in the town of Albany.
  • In the Summer of '62: From the personal remembrances of Ralph Lord Roy, who was there in Albany that summer.
  • Police Chief: Audio and transcript of oral history interview with Albany, Georgia, police chief, Laurie Pritchett.

Birmingham Campaign
Beginning in the spring of 1963, the Birmingham Campaign was an organized movement that proved to be a major turning point in the fight for civil rights in the South. The horrific scenes of violence against the peaceful demonstrators in Birmingham served to propel forward the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The organizers in Birmingham used a boycott, sit-ins, knee-ins and marches to provoke change in this extremely racially segregated city. In response, mass arrests, fire hoses and police dogs were used by police. Eventually, most of the campaign's demands were met, but change came slowly and in the fall of 1963, several bombings took place in Birmingham, including the church explosion that killed four children. In the following months, civil rights demonstrations took place in hundreds of cities across the country.

  • The Birmingham Campaign: Overview and aftermath of the 1963 civil rights campaign in Birmingham, Alabama.
  • Birmingham Letter: April 16, 1963, Letter from a Birmingham Jail written by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the text of the public statement by eight Alabama clergymen that precipitated it.
  • Birmingham Campaign of 1963: About the Birmingham Campaign from the Encyclopedia of Alabama.
  • Birmingham Bombing: Review of the September 15, 1963, Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, includes newspaper and magazine accounts.
  • Accounts of Bombing: From the digital collections of the Birmingham Public Library. Scans of newspaper clippings and photographs.
  • Euology for the Martyred Children: On September 18, 1963, Dr. King delivered this eulogy for the four little girls killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on September 15.
  • MLK & Birmingham: Lecture 25 in a religion class that gives background to the Birmingham Campaign.

March on Washington
It's simply known as the March on Washington, but it was complicated process to bring an estimated 250,000 people to Washington, D.C. for a non-violent march in support of jobs and freedom. From the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, the protestors marched peacefully in one of America's most successful civil rights milestones. Standing before the Lincoln Memorial marchers listened to Martin Luther King, Jr. as he delivered his lauded I Have a Dream speech.

  • March on Washington: A part of King program resources from the History Channel.
  • March on Washington Program: Image of the original program at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963.
  • For Jobs & Freedom: Extensive review of the March on Washington, from the Civil Right Movement Veterans. Includes origins and effects of the march, media coverage and first-hand recollections.
  • March Documentary: Video documentary about the March on Washington from the National Archives.
  • Speeches: Audio of speeches during the March on Washington.
  • The March on Washington: Article from the book Free at Last: The U.S. Civil Right Movement. Links out to a PDF of the entire book. Overview and background of the March.
  • JFK Meeting: About President Kennedy, civil rights and his meeting with the leaders of the March on Washington on August 28, 1968.

Opposing Vietnam War
As the War in Vietnam continued year after year, Martin Luther King's public stance on it evolved. Though he had always opposed the war, according to Stanford Professor Clayborne Carson, his hope was that negotiations would work and President Johnson should be given time. However, it eventually became clear to him that standing by and not speaking out against the Vietnam War was unacceptable. He then gave speeches and sermons publicly announcing his opposition to U.S. involvement and support for the anti-war movement.

  • Casualties of War: Speech about involvement in the Vietnam War, shows his determination to oppose it.
  • Beyond Vietnam: Dr. King's speech Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence in New York City, N.Y. on April 4, 1967.
  • Why I Am Opposed: MLK sermon on April 30, 1967, at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, entitled Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam. Audio of Dr. King's speech with video scenes of Vietnam War and the struggle for civil rights. (Please be patient, the video is preceded by a long Real News promo.)
  • The Drum Major Instinct: Transcript of Dr. King's sermon at Atlanta, Georgia's Ebenezer Baptist Church, February 4, 1968. Mentions the "a senseless, unjust war" and "we are criminals in that war."
  • Peace & War: A succinct overview of the speeches and sermon in which MLK addressed the Vietnam War.
  • Stance on Vietnam War: A National Public Radio interview with Professor Clayborne Carson, Director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford.
  • The Backlash: From the floor of the House of Representatives to the New York Times, this site offers documents that highlight the backlash created by Dr. King's public anti-war stance.

After leading a disastrous protest march in Memphis, Tennessee, on March 28, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. returned to the city the next week to prepare for a march in support of striking sanitation workers. On the April 4, after a day of strategizing for the planned protest, Dr. King and his group came out of the room where they were working at the Lorraine Motel. While standing on the balcony outside, he was killed by an assassin's bullet.

  • The Assassination: TIME magazine's Friday, April 12, 1968, story on the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • King's Last March: Background to the Memphis sanitation workers' strike, Dr. King's support, his last speech, assassination and the aftermath.
  • Assassination Report & Funeral: Page of links to video of Dr. King's interviews and speeches, includes Walter Cronkite's news report of the assassination and video of his funeral. Scroll down and click on photos to view.
  • Robert Kennedy: Senator Robert F. Kennedy's reaction to the assassination of Martin Luther King, from Indianapolis, Indiana, April 4, 1968.
  • The Truth About Memphis: Newsweek special feature includes the story of what happened in Memphis. 
  • Assassination Investigation: Department of Justice records of the investigation of 1998 allegations about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • National Civil Right Museum: Online home of the museum at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was killed.

Teacher Resources

  • MLK Research & Education Institute: Extensive Martin Luther King, Jr. resources at Stanford University. Offering an enormous number of primary resources for the study of Dr. King and the U.S. Civil Right Movement.
  • National Historic Site: For teachers, from the National Park Service at the Martin Luther King, Jr. NHS. Includes curriculum materials, Traveling Trunks and a list of links to speeches and sermons.
  • MLK & Nonviolent Resistance: Lesson Plan One of the Competing Voices of the Civil Right Movement curriculum unit, especially for grades 9-12.
  • Triumphs: A LIFE slideshows of the high points in Dr. King's struggle.
  • Memphis Sanitation Workers: Court documents related to Dr. King and the Memphis sanitation workers. A lesson plan from the National Archives.
  • A Tribute: Site includes timeline, extensive bibliography and a further reading list.
  • The 1960s: Teaching module, The Tumultuous 1960s with primary source documents, learning tools, visual aids and resources.
  • Eyes on the Prize: The story of the civil rights movement from 1954 to 1985 in 26 events.
  • Facing History: Study guide with extensive information about using Eyes on the Prize in the classroom. Lots of primary source documents. 
  • MLK & Civil Rights: In-depth resources about the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Vietnam & African Americans: This lesson plan includes resources about Dr. King and the Vietnam War.