Champion of equal rights

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 December, 2006, 12:00am

Free At Last! The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Angela Bull

Martin Luther King was the great American civil rights leader. His story is an inspiration to all lovers of freedom and equality, and many people around the world owe a lot to him. This is his story.

Black people in America

King was born in 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, a town in the southern states of America. He was a black person, and life for black people in America was very tough.

Only 70 years before, they had still been slaves - indeed both his grandparents had been slaves. Although slavery had long since been abolished, black people were still seen as inferior by many whites, and in the eyes of the law.

'Whites Only' signs kept black people from many shops and cafes. They did not have the right to vote. They had to give up their seats to white people on buses. King was to change all that.

A pastor

King's father was a pastor in the Baptist Church. King was a powerful public speaker, and he followed his father's vocation. While he was at college, he came across the work of Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi had fought injustice in India through non-violent means. King decided to take the same path.

The Rosa Parks incident

In 1955, a black lady refused to give up her seat on a bus to white people. She was arrested.

King was so angry at this injustice that he called for a boycott of all buses by black people. He figured that the bus companies would suffer financially so much, they would relent and give black people equal rights.

His boycott worked. It worked so well that the city authorities found an old law against boycotts and put King on trial. It had to be abandoned: the government changed the law so that bus segregation was illegal. The process of gaining equal rights was starting.

President Kennedy

In 1963, president John F. Kennedy passed a bill outlawing all discrimination against blacks. A quarter of a million people marched to the Lincoln memorial in Washington to celebrate. There, King made one of the most well-known speeches in modern times.

'I have a dream today, today!' he thundered. 'Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'

The struggle continues

Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. His successor as president did not pursue civil rights with the same energy, and black people found they still did not have the right to vote in every American city. They also often ended up with the worst jobs and poorest housing.

Many black people were becoming impatient. New Black Power movements rejected King's peaceful ways, instead calling for violent confrontation with the whites.

King also opposed the war in Vietnam. It went against his principles as a peace-loving person. He was finding it harder and harder to persuade people to follow his pleas against violence.

A murder

King had often been attacked by those who disagreed with his views. On April 3, 1968, he was in Memphis to organise a non-violent protest. So was a white man called James Earl Ray, who hated all black people. He shot King with a high-powered rifle. King died before reaching hospital.

A great man

King won the Nobel Peace prize for his efforts. There is now an annual national holiday on the third Monday of each January to commemorate his efforts. Thousands attended his funeral and millions watched it on television. He was a great man indeed.