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Life of Martin Luther King Jr.: a chronology of key events

Life of Martin Luther King Jr.: a chronology of key events
Martin Luther King Jr. was named “Man of the Year” by Time magazine in 1964.


  • Born at noon on Jan. 15 to the Rev. and Mrs. Martin Luther King Sr. of 501 Auburn Avenue N.E. in Atlanta.


  • Enters Boston University for graduate studies.


  • Receives doctoral degree in systematic theology from Boston University on June 5. Dissertation title: “A Comparison of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Wiseman.”

  • Joins the bus boycott after Rosa Parks was arrested on Dec. 1.

  • On Dec. 5, he is elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, making him the official spokesman for the boycott.


  • On Nov. 13, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that bus segregation is illegal, ensuring victory for the boycott.


  • King forms the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to fight segregation and achieve civil rights.


  • The U.S. Congress passes the first Civil Rights Act since reconstruction.

  • King’s first book, “Stride Toward Freedom,” is published.

  • In Harlem for a speaking engagement, King is nearly killed when stabbed by an assailant.

  • Meets with President Eisenhower along with Roy Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph and Lester Grange to discuss problems affecting black Americans.


  • Visits India to study Mohandas Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence.

  • Resigns from his role as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery to concentrate on civil rights full time.

  • Moves to Atlanta to direct the activities of the SCLC.


  • On Good Friday, April 12, King is arrested with Ralph Abernathy by Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor for demonstrating without a permit.

  • The following day, the Birmingham campaign is launched. This would prove to be the turning point in the war to end segregation in the South.

  • During the 11 days he spent in jail, King writes his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

  • The March on Washington, held Aug. 28, is the largest civil rights demonstration in history, with nearly 250,000 people in attendance. At the march, King makes his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

  • On Nov. 22, President Kennedy is assassinated.


  • On Jan. 3, King appears on the cover of Time magazine as its Man of the Year.

  • King attends the signing ceremony of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 at the White House on July 2.

  • During the summer, King experiences his first hurtful rejection by black people when he is stoned by black Muslims in Harlem.

  • King is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10. At age 35, he is the youngest person to receive the award.


  • In January, King writes his book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” while in Jamaica.

  • On July 26, black leaders King, Randolph, Wilkins and Whitney Young appeal for an end to the Detroit riots, which they say “have proved ineffective and damaging to the civil rights cause and the entire nation.”

  • On Oct. 30, the Supreme Court upholds the contempt-of-court convictions of King and seven other black leaders who led the 1963 marches in Birmingham. King and his aides enter jail to serve four-day sentences.

  • On Nov. 27, King announces the formation by Southern Christian Leadership Conference of a Poor People’s Campaign, with the aim of representing the problems of both poor blacks and whites.


  • King announces that the Poor People’s Campaign will culminate in a March on Washington, demanding a $12 billion Economic Bill of Rights that guarantees employment to the able-bodied, incomes to those unable to work, and an end to housing discrimination.

  • King marches in support of sanitation workers on strike in Memphis, Tenn.

  • On March 28, King leads a march that turns violent, the first time this has happened during one of his events

  • On April 3, King delivers the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech at Mason Temple in Memphis.

  • At sunset on April 4, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is fatally shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. There are riots and disturbances in 130 American cities that culminate in 20,000 arrests.

  • King’s April 9 funeral is an international event.

  • Within a week of King’s assassination, Congress passes the federal Fair Housing Act.


  • On Nov. 2, a national holiday is proclaimed in King’s honor.