King was born in 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia USA. His family background was religious and included harsh discipline from his father. King learned from an early age the reality of being non-white in the southern states of America when he was separated from his friend, a white boy, by segregated schools and the boy’s parents who objected to the friendship on the grounds of colour.
King’s father took a stand against the segregation and discrimination of the time including organising a civil rights march against voting discrimination.
King got a place in the only high school in Atlanta for African-American students, where he learned public speaking and continued to improve his vocabulary. At 15, to help pay for his education, he found work on a tobacco farm based outside of the segregated south, and was astounded to find that there was no segregation.
After completing a degree in Sociology, King continued post-graduate studies at Boston University where he received his Ph.D. in Theology in 1955. Throughout his youth and adolescence, he had a religious background which led to him continuously fine-tuning his own beliefs.
King’s first active role in fighting segregation came in 1955 when a non-white girl, Rosa Parks, was arrested for not giving up her bus seat to a white person. He led the “Montgomery bus boycott” which lasted over a year and resulted in a District court ruling that ended segregation on all Montgomery public buses. King's role in this successful action turned him into a national figure on civil rights.
In 1957, King and others created the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). With this organisation, King's oratory, together with nonviolent protest and the often televised violent reaction to these peaceful protests, the tide for civil rights in America was turning.
King and others organised the historic March on Washington on 28 August 1963, where more than 200,000 gathered peacefully in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial. It was here that King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. This speech, along with the Civil Rights movement in general, resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, giving black citizens rights. Later that year King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and was, at that time, the youngest person ever to receive this award.
On 29 March 1968, King went to Memphis to support a sanitation workers strike. A few days later, on 4 April 1968, King was standing on his hotel balcony when he was fatally hit by a bullet fired by a sniper. James Earl Ray was accused of the murder and sentenced to 99 years in prison. He died in 1999. His family, who believed him to be innocent, demanded a new trial, suspecting a conspiracy by the Mafia and federal agencies, but the trial was unsuccessful due to lack of evidence.