Born 85 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. fueled change

Martin Luther King Jr.'s boyhood home. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In the winter of 1929, Martin Luther King Jr. was born on Auburn Avenue across the street from shotgun homes in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood outside of downtown Atlanta, Ga. He grew up a block from Ebenezer Baptist Church where he was ordained a minister as a teenager. Over a decade later, he returned to co-pastor the church, becoming his family’s third generation of pastors there and leading the African American Civil Rights movement.

Rapid accomplishments filled his short life. By his mid-20s, he had enrolled in Boston College University as a doctoral fellow, married Coretta Scott, became pastor of his own Baptist church in Montgomery, Ala., and started his public work toward racial equality after Rosa Parks defied segregation on public buses and protests followed.

He was 34 during the March on Washington when he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, 35 when he received the Nobel Peace Prize, and 39 when he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. Years prior when he recognized his work was putting his life at risk, he said: “Well, if physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.”

Today, Doctor King would be celebrating his 85th birthday. Parts of Sweet Auburn are now protected as a national historic site in order to preserve King’s legacy there and the area’s heritage as a thriving African American neighborhood.

What exists that would reveal what growing up on Auburn Avenue was like for a young, formative King? Searching ArchiveGrid’s “collection” of collection descriptions for keywords “Sweet Auburn” and “Auburn Avenue” lead to oral history interviews with neighborhood residents and papers of well-known names in the area. A 1992 oral history interview at Georgia State University with the former head librarian of the Auburn Branch Library covers an array of topics and would be a great source to help answer that question because she talks about Martin Luther King Jr. and Maynard Jackson as youths at the library. It’s no surprise that one of the greatest leaders in American History grew up going to the library, where great minds are fueled.

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2 Responses to Born 85 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. fueled change

  1. Steve says:

    Actually, Dr. King enrolled in and received his doctorate from Boston University. Boston College, a Jesuit school, also has a theological faculty but in those pre-Vatican II days, it would have been highly unlikely for a Baptist minister to study there.

  2. Ellen says:

    Great correction, thank you Steve. The mention of Boston College came from Dr. King’s April 5, 1968 obituary in the New York Times:
    http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/0115.html
    His Wikipedia entry shows the correct alma mater, Boston University:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King,_Jr.
    In this case, Wikipedia beat NYT as a more reliable source.

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