Martin Luther King Jr. Timeline

Martin Luther King, Jr. Chronology

1929 Born on at noon on January 15, 1929.
Parents: The Reverend and Mrs. Martin Luther King, Sr.
Home: 501 Auburn Avenue, N.E., Atlanta, Georgia.
1944 Graduated from Booker T. Washington High School and was admitted to Morehouse College at age 15.
1948 Graduates from Morehouse College and enters Crozer Theological Seminary.
Ordained to the Baptist ministry, February 25, 1948, at age 19.
1951 Enters Boston University for graduate studies.
1953 Marries Coretta Scott and settles in Montgomery, Alabama.
1955 Received Doctorate of Philosophy in Systematic Theology from Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts on June 5, 1955.
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 December 1. On December 5, he is elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, making him the official spokesman for the boycott.

1956 On November 13, the Supreme Court rules that bus segregation is illegal, ensuring victory for the boycott.
1957 King forms the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to fight segregation and achieve civil rights. On May 17, Dr. King speaks to a crowd of 15,000 in Washington, D.C.
1958 The U.S. Congress passed the first Civil Rights Act since reconstruction. King’s first book, Stride Toward Freedom, is published.

On a speaking tour, Martin Luther King, Jr. is nearly killed when stabbed by an assailant in Harlem. Met with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, along with Roy Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph, and Lester Grange on problems affecting black Americans.

1959 Visited India to study Mohandas Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence.

Resigns from pastoring the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church to concentrate on civil rights full time. He moved to Atlanta to direct the activities of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

1960 Becomes co-pastor with his father at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

Lunch counter sit-ins began in Greensboro, North Carolina. In Atlanta, King is arrested during a sit-in waiting to be served at a restaurant. He is sentenced to four months in jail, but after intervention by John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, he is released.

Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee founded to coordinate protests at Shaw University, Raleigh, North Carolina.

1961 In November, the Interstate Commerce Commission bans segregation in interstate travel due to work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Freedom Riders.

Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) began first Freedom Ride through the South, in a Greyhound bus, after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed segregation in interstate transportation.

1962 During the unsuccessful Albany, Georgia movement, King is arrested on July 27 and jailed.
1963 On Good Friday, April 12, King is arrested with Ralph Abernathy by Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor for demonstrating without a permit.

On April 13, the Birmingham campaign is launched. This would prove to be the turning point in the war to end segregation in the South.

During the eleven days he spent in jail, MLK writes his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail

On May 10, the Birmingham agreement is announced. The stores, restaurants, and schools will be desegregated, hiring of blacks implemented, and charges dropped.

On June 23, MLK leads 125,000 people on a Freedom Walk in Detroit.

The March on Washington held August 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 November 22, President Kennedy is assassinated.

1964 On January 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 December 10. Dr. King is the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for Peace at age 35.

1965 On February 2, King is arrested in Selma, Alabama during a voting rights demonstration.

After President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act into law, Martin Luther King, Jr. turns to socioeconomic problems.

1966 On January 22, King moves into a Chicago slum tenement to attract attention to the living conditions of the poor.

In June, King and others begin the March Against Fear through the South.

On July 10, King initiates a campaign to end discrimination in housing, employment, and schools in Chicago.

1967 The Supreme Court upholds a conviction of MLK by a Birmingham court for demonstrating without a permit. King spends four days in Birmingham jail.

On November 27, King announces the inception of the Poor People’s Campaign focusing on jobs and freedom for the poor of all races.

1968 King announces that the Poor People’s Campaign will culminate in a March on Washington demanding a $12 billion Economic Bill of Rights guaranteeing employment to the able-bodied, incomes to those unable to work, and an end to housing discrimination.

Dr. King marches in support of sanitation workers on strike in Memphis, Tennessee.

On March 28, King lead a march that turns violent. This was the first time one of his events had turned violent.

Delivered I’ve Been to the Mountaintop speech.

At sunset on April 4, Martin Luther King, Jr. is fatally shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

There are riots and disturbances in 130 American cities. There were twenty thousand arrests.

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

Within a week of the assassination, the Open Housing Act is passed by Congress.

1986 On November 2, a national holiday is proclaimed in King’s honor.

36 USC 169j — (United States Code, Title 36 (Patriotic Socieites and Observances), Chapter 9 (National Observances)

More information can be obtained here.

Martin Luther King Jr. – A Biographical Sketch

Birth and Family

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born at noon Tuesday, January 15, 1929, at the family home, 501 Auburn Avenue, N.E., Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Charles Johnson was the attending physician. Martin Luther King, Jr., was the first son and second child born to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr., and Alberta Williams King. Other children born to the Kings were Christine King Farris and the late Reverend Alfred Daniel Williams King. Martin Luther King’s maternal grandparents were the Reverend Adam Daniel Williams, second pastor of Ebenezer Baptist, and Jenny Parks Williams. His paternal grandparents, James Albert and Delia King, were sharecroppers on a farm in Stockbridge, Georgia.

He married the former Coretta Scott, younger daughter of Obadiah and Bernice McMurray Scott of Marion, Alabama on June 18, 1953. The marriage ceremony took place on the lawn of the Scott’s home in Marion. The Reverend King, Sr., performed the service, with Mrs. Edythe Bagley, the sister of Mrs. King, maid of honor, and the Reverend A.D. King, the brother of Martin Luther King, Jr., best man.

Four children were born to Dr. and Mrs. King:
Yolanda Denise (November 17, 1955 Montgomery, Alabama)
Martin Luther III (October 23, 1957 Montgomery, Alabama)
Dexter Scott (January 30, 1961 Atlanta, Georgia)
Bernice Albertine (March 28, 1963 Atlanta, Georgia)


Martin Luther King, Jr. began his education at the Yonge Street Elementary School in Atlanta, Georgia. Following Yonge School, he was enrolled in David T. Howard Elementary School. He also attended the Atlanta University Laboratory School and Booker T. Washington High School. Because of his high score on the college entrance examinations in his junior year of high school, he advanced to Morehouse College without formal graduation from Booker T. Washington. Having skipped both the ninth and twelfth grades, Dr. King entered Morehouse at the age of fifteen.

In 1948, he graduated from Morehouse College with a B.A. degree in Sociology. That fall, he enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. While attending Crozer, he also studied at the University of Pennsylvania. He was elected president of the senior class and delivered the valedictory address; he won the Pearl Plafker Award for the most outstanding student; and he received the J. Lewis Crozer fellowship for graduate study at a university of his choice. He was awarded a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Crozer in 1951.

In September of 1951, Martin Luther King began doctoral studies in Systematic Theology at Boston University. He also studied at Harvard University. His dissertation, “A Comparison of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Wieman,” was completed in 1955, and the Ph.D. degree from Boston, a Doctorate of Philosophy in Systematic Theology, was awarded on June 5, 1955.

Honorary Degree

Dr. King was awarded honorary degrees from numerous colleges and universities in the United States and several foreign countries. They include the following:


Doctor of Humane Letters, Morehouse College
Doctor of Laws, Howard University
Doctor of Divinity, Chicago Theological Seminary


Doctor of Laws, Morgan State College
Doctor of Humanities, Central State College


Doctor of Divinity, Boston University


Doctor of Laws, Lincoln University
Doctor of Laws, University of Bridgeport


Doctor of Civil Laws, Bard College


Doctor of Letters, Keuka College


Doctor of Divinity, Wesleyan College
Doctor of Laws, Jewish Theological Seminary
Doctor of Laws, Yale University
Doctor of Divinity, Springfield College


Doctor of Laws, Hofstra University
Doctor of Human Letters, Oberlin College
Doctor of Social Science, Amsterdam Free University
Doctor of Divinity, St. Peter’s College


Doctor of Civil Law, University of New Castle Upon Tyne
Doctor of Laws, Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

Martin Luther King entered the Christian ministry and was ordained in February 1948 at the age of nineteen at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia. Following his ordination, he became Assistant Pastor of Ebenezer. Upon completion of his studies at Boston University, he accepted the call of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama. He was the pastor of Dexter Avenue from September 1954 to November 1959, when he resigned to move to Atlanta to direct the activities of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. From 1960 until his death in 1968, he was co-pastor with his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church and President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Dr. King was a pivotal figure in the Civil Rights Movement. He was elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization which was responsible for the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott from 1955 to 1956 (381 days). He was arrested thirty times for his participation in civil rights activities. He was a founder and president of Southern Christian Leadership Conference from 1957 to 1968. He was also vice president of the national Sunday School and Baptist Teaching Union Congress of the National Baptist Convention. He was a member of several national and local boards of directors and served on the boards of trustees of several institutions and agencies. Dr. King was elected to membership in several learned societies including the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Dr. King received several hundred awards for his leadership in the Civil Rights Movement.

Among them were:

  • Selected one of the most outstanding personalities of the year by Time, 1957.
  • Listed in Who’s Who in America, 1957.
  • the Spingarn Medal from NAACP, 1957.
  • The Russwurm Award from the National Newspaper Publishers, 1957.
  • The Second Annual Achievment — The Guardian Association of the Police Department of New York, 1958.
  • Link Magazine of New Dehli, India, listed Dr. King as one of the sixteen world leaders who had contributred most to the advancement of freedom during 1959.
  • Named Man of the Year by Time, 1963.
  • Named American of the Decade by Laundry, Dry Cleaning, and Die Workers International Union, 1963.
  • The John Dewey Award, from the United Federation of Teachers, 1964.
  • The John F. Kennedy Award, from the Catholic Interracial Council of Chicago, 1964.
  • The Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. At age 35, Dr. King was the youngest man, the second American, and the third black man awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • The Marcus Garvey Prize for Human Rights, presented by the Jamacian Government. (posthumously) 1968.
  • The Rosa L. Parks Award, presented by the Southern Christian Leadrship Conference. (posthumously) 1968.
  • The preceding awards and others, along with numerous citations, are in the Archives of the Martin Luther King, Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia.


Martin Luther King, Jr. Sources in the LSU Libraries.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a vital personality of the modern era. His lectures and remarks stirred the concern and sparked the conscience of a generation; the movements and marches he led brought significant changes in the fabric of American life; his courageous and selfless devotion gave direction to thirteen years of civil rights activities; his charismatic leadership inspired men and women, young and old, in the nation and abroad.

Dr. King’s concept of somebodiness gave black and poor people a new sense of worth and dignity. His philosophy of nonviolent direct action, and his strategies for rational and non-destructive social change, galvanized the conscience of this nation and reordered its priorities. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, for example, went to Congress as a result of the Selma to Montgomery march. His wisdom, his words, his actions, his commitment, and his dreams for a new cast of life, are intertwined with the American experience.

Dr. King’s speech at the march on Washington in 1963, his acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize, his last sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, and his final speech in Memphis are among his most famous utterances (I’ve Been to the Mountaintop). The Letter from Birmingham Jail ranks among the most important American documents.


Dr. King was shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, by James Earl Ray. James Earl Ray was arrested in London, England on June 8, 1968 and returned to Memphis, Tennessee to stand trial for the assassination of Dr. King. On March 9, 1969, before coming to trial, he entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to ninety-nine years in the Tennessee State Penitentiary. Dr. King had been in Memphis to help lead sanitation workers in a protest against low wages and intolerable conditions. His funeral services were held April 9, 1968, in Atlanta at Ebenezer Church and on the campus of Morehouse College, with the President of the United States proclaiming a day of mourning and flags being flown at half-staff. The area where Dr. King was entombed is located on Freedom Plaza and surrounded by the Freedom Hall Complex of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic Site, a 23 acre area was listed as a National Historic Landmark on May 5, 1977, and was made a National Historic Site on October 10, 1980 by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Sources Used in Preparing This Display:

Major Events in the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Handout included in curriculum package, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., A Biographical Sketch, prepared by the National Library Involvement Committee, Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission. (Washington D.C.: Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission), 1994.

Barack Obama Speech – Selma, Alabama 2007

SELMA, ALA.–From the pulpit of the historic Brown Chapel A.M.E. church, White House hopeful Barack Obama talks about the job of the “Joshua generation” and his own claim to a place in the civil rights movement.

” So don’t tell me I don’t have a claim on Selma, Alabama. Don’t tell me I’m not coming home to Selma, Alabama,” Obama said.

Click below for the text, as delivered….

from the Obama campaign….

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama

As Delivery

Selma Voting Rights March
Commemoration, Brown Chapel A.M.E Church

March 4, 2007

Selma, Alabama

Here today, I must begin because at the Unity breakfast this morning I was saving for last and the list was so long I left him out after that introduction. So I’m going to start by saying how much I appreciate the friendship and the support and the outstanding work that he does each and every day, not just in Capitol Hill but also back here in the district. Please give a warm round of applause for your Congressman Artur Davis.

It is a great honor to be here. Reverend Jackson, thank you so much. To the family of Brown A.M.E, to the good Bishop Kirkland, thank you for your wonderful message and your leadership.

I want to acknowledge one of the great heroes of American history and American life, somebody who captures the essence of decency and courage, somebody who I have admired all my life and were it not for him, I’m not sure I’d be here today, Congressman John Lewis.

I’m thankful to him. To all the distinguished guests and clergy, I’m not sure I’m going to thank Reverend Lowery because he stole the show. I was mentioning earlier, I know we’ve got C.T. Vivian in the audience, and when you have to speak in front of somebody who Martin Luther King said was the greatest preacher he ever heard, then you’ve got some problems.

And I’m a little nervous about following so many great preachers. But I’m hoping that the spirit moves me and to all my colleagues who have given me such a warm welcome, thank you very much for allowing me to speak to you here today.

You know, several weeks ago, after I had announced that I was running for the Presidency of the United States, I stood in front of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois; where Abraham Lincoln delivered his speech declaring, drawing in scripture, that a house divided against itself could not stand.

And I stood and I announced that I was running for the presidency. And there were a lot of commentators, as they are prone to do, who questioned the audacity of a young man like myself, haven’t been in Washington too long.

And I acknowledge that there is a certain presumptuousness about this.

But I got a letter from a friend of some of yours named Reverend Otis Moss Jr. in Cleveland, and his son, Otis Moss III is the Pastor at my church and I must send greetings from Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. but I got a letter giving me encouragement and saying how proud he was that I had announced and encouraging me to stay true to my ideals and my values and not to be fearful.

And he said, if there’s some folks out there who are questioning whether or not you should run, just tell them to look at the story of Joshua because you’re part of the Joshua generation.

So I just want to talk a little about Moses and Aaron and Joshua, because we are in the presence today of a lot of Moseses. We’re in the presence today of giants whose shoulders we stand on, people who battled, not just on behalf of African Americans but on behalf of all of America; that battled for America’s soul, that shed blood , that endured taunts and formant and in some cases gave — torment and in some cases gave the full measure of their devotion.

Like Moses, they challenged Pharaoh, the princes, powers who said that some are atop and others are at the bottom, and that’s how it’s always going to be.

There were people like Anna Cooper and Marie Foster and Jimmy Lee Jackson and Maurice Olette, C.T. Vivian, Reverend Lowery, John Lewis, who said we can imagine something different and we know there is something out there for us, too.

Thank God, He’s made us in His image and we reject the notion that we will for the rest of our lives be confined to a station of inferiority, that we can’t aspire to the highest of heights, that our talents can’t be expressed to their fullest. And so because of what they endured, because of what they marched; they led a people out of bondage.

They took them across the sea that folks thought could not be parted. They wandered through a desert but always knowing that God was with them and that, if they maintained that trust in God, that they would be all right. And it’s because they marched that the next generation hasn’t been bloodied so much.

It’s because they marched that we elected councilmen, congressmen. It is because they marched that we have Artur Davis and Keith Ellison. It is because they marched that I got the kind of education I got, a law degree, a seat in the Illinois senate and ultimately in the United States senate.

It is because they marched that i stand before you here today. I was mentioning at the Unity Breakfast this morning, my — at the Unity Breakfast this morning that my debt is even greater than that because not only is my career the result of the work of the men and women who we honor here today. My very existence might not have been possible had it not been for some of the folks here today. I mentioned at the Unity Breakfast that a lot of people been asking, well, you know, your father was from Africa, your mother, she’s a white woman from Kansas. I’m not sure that you have the same experience.

And I tried to explain, you don’t understand. You see, my Grandfather was a cook to the British in Kenya. Grew up in a small village and all his life, that’s all he was — a cook and a house boy. And that’s what they called him, even when he was 60 years old. They called him a house boy. They wouldn’t call him by his last name.

Sound familiar?

He had to carry a passbook around because Africans in their own land, in their own country, at that time, because it was a British colony, could not move about freely. They could only go where they were told to go. They could only work where they were told to work.

Yet something happened back here in Selma, Alabama. Something happened in Birmingham that sent out what Bobby Kennedy called, “Ripples of hope all around the world.” Something happened when a bunch of women decided they were going to walk instead of ride the bus after a long day of doing somebody else’s laundry, looking after somebody else’s children. When men who had PhD’s decided that’s enough and we’re going to stand up for our dignity. That sent a shout across oceans so that my grandfather began to imagine something different for his son. His son, who grew up herding goats in a small village in Africa could suddenly set his sights a little higher and believe that maybe a black man in this world had a chance.

What happened in Selma, Alabama and Birmingham also stirred the conscience of the nation. It worried folks in the White House who said, “You know, we’re battling Communism. How are we going to win hearts and minds all across the world? If right here in our own country, John, we’re not observing the ideals set fort in our Constitution, we might be accused of being hypocrites.” So the Kennedy’s decided we’re going to do an air lift. We’re going to go to Africa and start bringing young Africans over to this country and give them scholarships to study so they can learn what a wonderful country America is.

This young man named Barack Obama got one of those tickets and came over to this country. He met this woman whose great great-great-great-grandfather had owned slaves; but she had a good idea there was some craziness going on because they looked at each other and they decided that we know that the world as it has been it might not be possible for us to get together and have a child. There was something stirring across the country because of what happened in Selma, Alabama, because some folks are willing to march across a bridge. So they got together and Barack Obama Jr. was born. So don’t tell me I don’t have a claim on Selma, Alabama. Don’t tell me I’m not coming home to Selma, Alabama.

I’m here because somebody marched. I’m here because you all sacrificed for me. I stand on the shoulders of giants. I thank the Moses generation; but we’ve got to remember, now, that Joshua still had a job to do. As great as Moses was, despite all that he did, leading a people out of bondage, he didn’t cross over the river to see the Promised Land. God told him your job is done. You’ll see it. You’ll be at the mountain top and you can see what I’ve promised. What I’ve promised to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. You will see that I’ve fulfilled that promise but you won’t go there.

We’re going to leave it to the Joshua generation to make sure it happens. There are still battles that need to be fought; some rivers that need to be crossed. Like Moses, the task was passed on to those who might not have been as deserving, might not have been as courageous, find themselves in front of the risks that their parents and grandparents and great grandparents had taken. That doesn’t mean that they don’t still have a burden to shoulder, that they don’t have some responsibilities. The previous generation, the Moses generation, pointed the way. They took us 90% of the way there. We still got that 10% in order to cross over to the other side. So the question, I guess, that I have today is what’s called of us in this Joshua generation? What do we do in order to fulfill that legacy; to fulfill the obligations and the debt that we owe to those who allowed us to be here today?

Now, I don’t think we could ever fully repay that debt. I think that we’re always going to be looking back; but, there are at least a few suggestions that I would have in terms of how we might fulfill that enormous legacy. The first is to recognize our history. John Lewis talked about why we’re here today. But I worry sometimes — we’ve got black history month, we come down and march every year, once a year, we occasionally celebrate the various events of the civil rights movement, we celebrate Dr. Kings birthday but it strikes me that understanding our history and knowing what it means is an everyday activity.

Now, I don’t think we could ever fully repay that debt. I think that we’re always going to be looking back, but there are at least a few suggestions that I would have in terms of how we might fulfill that enormous legacy. The first is to recognize our history. John Lewis talked about why we’re here today. But I worry sometimes — we’ve got black history month, we come down and march every year, once a year. We occasionally celebrate the various events of the Civil Rights Movement, we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday, but it strikes me that understanding our history and knowing what it means, is an everyday activity.

Moses told the Joshua generation; don’t forget where you came from. I worry sometimes, that the Joshua generation in its success forgets where it came from. Thinks it doesn’t have to make as many sacrifices. Thinks that the very height of ambition is to make as much money as you can, to drive the biggest car and have the biggest house and wear a Rolex watch and get your own private jet, get some of that Oprah money. And I think that’s a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with making money, but if you know your history, then you know that there is a certain poverty of ambition involved in simply striving just for money. Materialism alone will not fulfill the possibilities of your existence. You have to fill that with something else. You have to fill it with the golden rule. You’ve got to fill it with thinking about others. And if we know our history, then we will understand that that is the highest mark of service.

Second thing that the Joshua generation needs to understand is that the principles of equality that were set fort and were battled for have to be fought each and every day. It is not a one-time thing. I was remarking at the unity breakfast on the fact that the single most significant concern that this justice department under this administration has had with respect to discrimination has to do with affirmative action. That they have basically spent all their time worrying about colleges and universities around the country that are given a little break to young African Americans and Hispanics to make sure that they can go to college, too.

I had a school in southern Illinois that set up a program for PhD’s in math and science for African Americans. And the reason they had set it up is because we only had less than 1% of the PhD’s in science and math go to African Americans. At a time when we are competing in a global economy, when we’re not competing just against folks in North Carolina or Florida or California, we’re competing against folks in China and India and we need math and science majors, this university thought this might be a nice thing to do. And the justice department wrote them a letter saying we are going to threaten to sue you for reverse discrimination unless you cease this program.

And it reminds us that we still got a lot of work to do, and that the basic enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, the injustice that still exists within our criminal justice system, the disparity in terms of how people are treated in this country continues. It has gotten better. And we should never deny that it’s gotten better. But we shouldn’t forget that better is not good enough. That until we have absolute equality in this country in terms of people being treated on the basis of their color or their gender, that that is something that we’ve got to continue to work on and the Joshua generation has a significant task in making that happen.

Third thing — we’ve got to recognize that we fought for civil rights, but we’ve still got a lot of economic rights that have to be dealt with. We’ve got 46 million people uninsured in this country despite spending more money on health care than any nation on earth. It makes no sense. As a consequence, we’ve got what’s known as a health care disparity in this nation because many of the uninsured are African American or Latino. Life expectancy is lower. Almost every disease is higher within minority communities. The health care gap.

Blacks are less likely in their schools to have adequate funding. We have less-qualified teachers in those schools. We have fewer textbooks in those schools. We got in some schools rats outnumbering computers. That’s called the achievement gap. You’ve got a health care gap and you’ve got an achievement gap. You’ve got Katrina still undone. I went down to New Orleans three weeks ago. It still looks bombed out. Still not rebuilt. When 9/11 happened, the federal government had a special program of grants to help rebuild. They waived any requirement that Manhattan would have to pay 10% of the cost of rebuilding. When Hurricane Andrew happened in Florida, 10% requirement, they waived it because they understood that some disasters are so devastating that we can’t expect a community to rebuild. New Orleans — the largest national catastrophe in our history, the federal government says where’s your 10%?

There is an empathy gap. There is a gap in terms of sympathizing for the folks in New Orleans. It’s not a gap that the American people felt because we saw how they responded. But somehow our government didn’t respond with that same sense of compassion, with that same sense of kindness. And here is the worst part, the tragedy in New Orleans happened well before the hurricane struck because many of those communities, there were so many young men in prison, so many kids dropping out, so little hope.

A hope gap. A hope gap that still pervades too many communities all across the country and right here in Alabama. So the question is, then, what are we, the Joshua generation, doing to close those gaps? Are we doing every single thing that we can do in Congress in order to make sure that early education is adequately funded and making sure that we are raising the minimum wage so people can have dignity and respect?

Are we ensuring that, if somebody loses a job, that they’re getting retrained? And that, if they’ve lost their health care and pension, somebody is there to help them get back on their feet? Are we making sure we’re giving a second chance to those who have strayed and gone to prison but want to start a new life? Government alone can’t solve all those problems, but government can help. It’s the responsibility of the Joshua generation to make sure that we have a government that is as responsive as the need that exists all across America. That brings me to one other point, about the Joshua generation, and that is this — that it’s not enough just to ask what the government can do for us– it’s important for us to ask what we can do for ourselves.

One of the signature aspects of the civil rights movement was the degree of discipline and fortitude that was instilled in all the people who participated. Imagine young people, 16, 17, 20, 21, backs straight, eyes clear, suit and tie, sitting down at a lunch counter knowing somebody is going to spill milk on you but you have the discipline to understand that you are not going to retaliate because in showing the world how disciplined we were as a people, we were able to win over the conscience of the nation. I can’t say for certain that we have instilled that same sense of moral clarity and purpose in this generation. Bishop, sometimes I feel like we’ve lost it a little bit.

I’m fighting to make sure that our schools are adequately funded all across the country. With the inequities of relying on property taxes and people who are born in wealthy districts getting better schools than folks born in poor districts and that’s now how it’s supposed to be. That’s not the American way. but I’ll tell you what — even as I fight on behalf of more education funding, more equity, I have to also say that , if parents don’t turn off the television set when the child comes home from school and make sure they sit down and do their homework and go talk to the teachers and find out how they’re doing, and if we don’t start instilling a sense in our young children that there is nothing to be ashamed about in educational achievement, I don’t know who taught them that reading and writing and conjugating your verbs was something white.

We’ve got to get over that mentality. That is part of what the Moses generation teaches us, not saying to ourselves we can’t do something, but telling ourselves that we can achieve. We can do that. We got power in our hands. Folks are complaining about the quality of our government, I understand there’s something to be complaining about. I’m in Washington. I see what’s going on. I see those powers and principalities have snuck back in there, that they’re writing the energy bills and the drug laws.

We understand that, but I’ll tell you what. I also know that, if cousin Pookie would vote, get off the couch and register some folks and go to the polls, we might have a different kind of politics. That’s what the Moses generation teaches us. Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes. Go do some politics. Change this country! That’s what we need. We have too many children in poverty in this country and everybody should be ashamed, but don’t tell me it doesn’t have a little to do with the fact that we got too many daddies not acting like daddies. Don’t think that fatherhood ends at conception. I know something about that because my father wasn’t around when I was young and I struggled.

Those of you who read my book know. I went through some difficult times. I know what it means when you don’t have a strong male figure in the house, which is why the hardest thing about me being in politics sometimes is not being home as much as I’d like and I’m just blessed that I’ve got such a wonderful wife at home to hold things together. Don’t tell me that we can’t do better by our children, that we can’t take more responsibility for making sure we’re instilling in them the values and the ideals that the Moses generation taught us about sacrifice and dignity and honesty and hard work and discipline and self-sacrifice. That comes from us. We’ve got to transmit that to the next generation and I guess the point that I’m making is that the civil rights movement wasn’t just a fight against the oppressor; it was also a fight against the oppressor in each of us.

Sometimes it’s easy to just point at somebody else and say it’s their fault, but oppression has a way of creeping into it. Reverend, it has a way of stunting yourself. You start telling yourself, Bishop, I can’t do something. I can’t read. I can’t go to college. I can’t start a business. I can’t run for Congress. I can’t run for the presidency. People start telling you– you can’t do something, after a while, you start believing it and part of what the civil rights movement was about was recognizing that we have to transform ourselves in order to transform the world. Mahatma Gandhi, great hero of Dr. King and the person who helped create the nonviolent movement around the world; he once said that you can’t change the world if you haven’t changed.

If you want to change the world, the change has to happen with you first and that is something that the greatest and most honorable of generations has taught us, but the final thing that I think the Moses generation teaches us is to remind ourselves that we do what we do because God is with us. You know, when Moses was first called to lead people out of the Promised Land, he said I don’t think I can do it, Lord. I don’t speak like Reverend Lowery. I don’t feel brave and courageous and the Lord said I will be with you. Throw down that rod. Pick it back up. I’ll show you what to do. The same thing happened with the Joshua generation.

Joshua said, you know, I’m scared. I’m not sure that I am up to the challenge, the Lord said to him, every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon, I have given you. Be strong and have courage, for I am with you wherever you go. Be strong and have courage. It’s a prayer for a journey. A prayer that kept a woman in her seat when the bus driver told her to get up, a prayer that led nine children through the doors of the little rock school, a prayer that carried our brothers and sisters over a bridge right here in Selma, Alabama. Be strong and have courage.

When you see row and row of state trooper facing you, the horses and the tear gas, how else can you walk? Towards them, unarmed, unafraid. When they come start beating your friends and neighbors, how else can you simply kneel down, bow your head and ask the Lord for salvation? When you see heads gashed open and eyes burning and children lying hurt on the side of the road, when you are John Lewis and you’ve been beaten within an inch of your life on Sunday, how do you wake up Monday and keep on marching?

Be strong and have courage, for I am with you wherever you go. We’ve come a long way in this journey, but we still have a long way to travel. We traveled because God was with us. It’s not how far we’ve come. That bridge outside was crossed by blacks and whites, northerners and southerners, teenagers and children, the beloved community of God’s children, they wanted to take those steps together, but it was left to the Joshua’s to finish the journey Moses had begun and today we’re called to be the Joshua’s of our time, to be the generation that finds our way across this river.

There will be days when the water seems wide and the journey too far, but in those moments, we must remember that throughout our history, there has been a running thread of ideals that have guided our travels and pushed us forward, even when they’re just beyond our reach, liberty in the face of tyranny, opportunity where there was none and hope over the most crushing despair. Those ideals and values beckon us still and when we have our doubts and our fears, just like Joshua did, when the road looks too long and it seems like we may lose our way, remember what these people did on that bridge.

Keep in your heart the prayer of that journey, the prayer that God gave to Joshua. Be strong and have courage in the face of injustice. Be strong and have courage in the face of prejudice and hatred, in the face of joblessness and helplessness and hopelessness. Be strong and have courage, brothers and sisters, those who are gathered here today, in the face of our doubts and fears, in the face of skepticism, in the face of cynicism, in the face of a mighty river.

Be strong and have courage and let us cross over that Promised Land together. Thank you so much everybody.
God bless you.

Montgomery Alabama on the Civil Rights Trail

The city that had been known as the “Cradle of the Confederacy” has the dual distinction of being the “Birthplace of Civil Rights.”

Shortly after marrying his college sweetheart in marion, Alabama, 24 year old martin Luther King Jr., preached his first sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, a block from the Alabama State Capitol where Southern secessionists had formed the Confederacy in 1861.

The next year in 1955, 42 year old seamstress Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to relinquish her seat on a city bus to whites as required by city ordinance.  Negro ministers and lawyers, who had been waiting for a test case on the constutionality of the law, recruited the reluctant young minister to lead a boycott of city buses.

King’s stirring oratory galzvanized the black community and made him the spokesman for the fledgling movement.  Some 50,000 Negroes refused to ride the city’s buses for 381 days until the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws segregating public transportation.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott was the first major victory in the modern Civil Rights Movement.  Dr. King became the acknowledged leader of the movement.  His increased responsibilities prompted him to resign from church duties after four years.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Parks and her husband moved north to establish an educational program for young people.

After “Freedom Rider” college students were attacked in Montgomery in 1964, for the first time federal authorities provided protection for civil rights demonstrators.  King’s non violent leadership was recognized with the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.

Voting rights advocates in Selma decided to take action by presenting their grievances to the governor, walking 54 miles along U.S. 80 to the State Capitol in Montgomery.  After police halted the first attempt, the federal courts became involved and provided protection to marchers so that they could go forward and finish their landmark journey.

As the Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights march, which began March 21, 1965, streamed into downtown Montgomery five days later en route to the Capitol, marchers passed the bus stop where Mrs. Parks had been arrested a decade earlier.


Civil Rights Overview – A Legacy of Change

During the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, amendments to the U.S. Constitution allowed freed slaves the right to vote and own property, leading to the election of Negroes to local offices and even Congress.  By the end of the 19th century, however, Southern states passed laws limiting those freedoms and segregating Negroes from whites.

The conviction of nine Negro boys on rape charges involving two white girls aboard a freight train in north Alabama became an international sensation in the 1930′s.  The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction of the Scottsboro Boys because Negroes had been excluded from the jury.  It was one of the court’s first civil rights decisions.

During World War II, Negro pilots who trained at Tuskegee’s Moton Field achieved hero status for their skill and bravery over European skies.  Although President Truman integrated the military, the Tuskegee Airmen returned to a segregated America as second-class citizens.

A decade later, congregations in Negro churches — virtually the only institution not controlled by whites — conducted  peaceful protests to overturn laws allowing segregation.  In 1955, seamstress Rosa Parks was arrested after boarding a Montgomery bus at Court Square and refusing to give up her seat to whites.

A new Montgomery minister, Martin Luther King Jr., was recruited to organize a boycott of city buses.  This began the modern Civil Rights Movement.  A year later, the Montgomery Bus Boycott ended when a U.S. Supreme Court decisions ended segregated public transportation in in 1956.

In Birmingham, Negroes were frustrated at not being allowed to vote, drink from teh same water fountains as whites or eat in white-owned cafes.  After a series of protests in 1963 when the city’s police clashed violently with marchers, racists bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and killed four black girls.

Two years later, Negroes in Selma tried to march to the State Capitol to present their grievances.  As the group left downtown, police attacked them at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  Undeterred, they completed their journey 18 days later.  Worldwide coverage of the Selma-to-Montgomery march motivated Congress to pass the Voting Rights Bill.

As African-Americans gained the ability to vote and impact local ordinances, they swept their old foes from office and gained control of some local governments.  Governor George Wallace received their support in 1982, and he appointed many blacks to public offices and boards.  African-Americans, 27 percent of the state’s population, now occupy many positions of leadership in state and local government.

Many of the movement’s foot soldiers today volunteer as guides at Alabama’s museums devoted to civil rights .  They bear witness to how the struggles of the past have improved their lives and those of their families in present-day Alabama.


Alabama Civil Rights Trail

Obama Selma 2007
The Alabama Civil Rights Trail has become a major international destination.  The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has selected Alabama churches as future World Heritage Sites.  Two Baptist churches in Birmingham and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s church in Montgomery will be the first World Heritage Sites in America linked to the struggle for civil rights.

“What happened in Selma and Birmingham stirred the conscience of the nation.” — Barack Obama

Walk along the civil rights trail and follow the footsteps of the civil rights pioneers – from Birmingham to Greensboro, Slema, Montgomery and Tuskegee — who triumphed in the struggle for racial equality in America.

Without the struggles for voting rights in the 1960′s, Barack Obama could not have become president.  A few weeks after announcing his candidacy, he spoke in Selma in 2007 and paid tribute to leaders of the Civil Rights Movement who survived attacks and arrests during the violent demonstrations.  ”I stand on the shoulders of giants.  What happened in Selma and Birmingham stirred the conscience of the nation.”

The night he accepted the Democratic nomination in Denver, he mentioned  a 106-year-old woman who had seen great change in America.

“She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that ‘We Shall Overcome.’  Yes we can.”

The Alabama Civil Rights Trail includes Birmingham, Tuskegee, Montgomery and Selma.

“Alabama bears the scars of the civil rights era, and the monuments to that struggle inspire the courage to face new challenges.” — The Washington Post