Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. and His Impact on Education

Photo by James Motter on Unsplash

Martin Luther King, Jr., was born in 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. A minister and civil-rights activist, King is well known for his “I Have a Dream” speech given in 1963, in Washington, D.C., during a Jobs and Freedom March. In many of King’s speeches, while leading the modern American Civil Rights Movement, he focused on education as a key component to equality. In his 13 years advocating for civil rights, he also brought awareness to the importance of education.

In 1947, while a student at Morehouse College, King penned an article for the campus newspaper, The Maroon Tiger. In the piece, King said that “most college men have a misconception of the purpose of education,” and that “most of the ‘brethren’ think education should equip them with the proper instruments of exploitation so that they can forever trample over the masses.” King stresses, “education has a two-fold function to perform in the life of man and in society: the one is utility and the other is culture. Education must enable a man to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate goals of his life.”

It is evident that King valued education. He entered college at 15, after skipping his first and last year at Booker T. Washington High School. After attending Morehouse College, King attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, while also studying at the University of Pennsylvania. King excelled at his studies and was influenced by Plato, Aristotle, Luther, Locke, Kant and Rousseau.

At Crozer, King became the first African American student body president and graduated at the top of his class. King was inspired by the teachings of many past leaders including the reflective teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. King graduated from Crozer with a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1951. After being accepted at several colleges, including Yale, King earned his PhD in theology from Boston University in 1955.

King had other significant accomplishments. In 1964, he became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent resistance to racial prejudice in America, and is still considered to be one of the greatest nonviolent leaders in world history. King spent 13 years advocating for social justice before he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was instituted by Ronald Reagan in 1983. Now, on the third Monday of January each year, the United States celebrates the birthday of King. In addition to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., only two other people have a national holiday observed in their honor: Christopher Columbus and George Washington. Scholars and students worldwide study King’s teachings1. Parades, festivals and other activities mark the occasion across the nation. On this holiday, people can reflect and remember his actions and ponder how their own actions can affect change. To quote King, “What are you doing for others?”

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