Martin Luther King was a Baptist minister, a well-known social activist, and the most prominent leader in the U.S. civil rights movement; he was assassinated years ago. Please keep reading to learn key facts about his life and how old Martin Luther King was when he died.
Martin Luther King started the fight against poverty and inequality during the U.S. civil rights movement. He was a true leader who put a lot of effort into ending the legal segregation of African Americans; his priority was in the South and other parts of America.
On Thursday, April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King was fatally shot by an assassin’s bullet while standing on a balcony in Memphis. He was standing outside his second-story room at the Lorraine Motel and was on his way to dinner when a bullet struck his jaw and affected his spinal cord.
Martin was in Memphis, Tennessee, to support the sanitation worker’s strike. He was pronounced dead at Memphis Hospital at 39; however, King’s message remains intact. After King’s assassination, there were significant outbreaks of racial violence resulting in substantial deaths nationwide and extensive damage in more than 100 cities in America.
In this write-up below, we will guide you through the various aspects of King’s life, his struggle towards life, his life achievements, how he got national prominence, why he was assassinated, and when did Martin Luther King die?
Early life and education
Martin Luther King came from a reasonable middle-class family, as he was born to Micheal King on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. His family was steeped in the tradition of the Southern Black ministry, and his father and maternal grandfather were Baptist preachers.
King was the son of a prominent local preacher, and civil rights leader, while his mother, Alberta King, was a former school teacher. When King turned 28 years old, his father changed his name to Martin Luther after his trip to Germany, where he took inspiration from Martin Luther, who challenged the Catholic church for the Protestant Reformation.
King got conscious of racism even at the age of six when the father of a white fellow never allowed his kid to play with him. King was one of three children who attended local grammar and high schools. Later on, he enrolled in Morehouse College in Atlanta in 1944.
His parents were college-educated, and King’s father preferred to succeed his father-in-law and became a pastor in the prestigious Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The family lived in Sweet Auburn, famous as the bustling Black Wall Street as the country’s most prosperous Black businesses and churches were there before the civil rights movement.
He had no particular plans to enter the ministry but changed plans when he met Dr. Benjamin Mays, a scholar. King was impressed by Dr. Benjamin, who made him believe that even a religious career could be intellectually satisfying and of equal importance. Benjamin was a heroic figure as he committed to fighting against racial inequality.
At the very initial stage of his school life, he felt discrimination while attending a segregated school and saw that the parents of his white playmates were not allowing their kids to play with him as they did not like him due to being Black.
In his early years, King was near his maternal grandmother, and her death in 1941 was an unbearable loss, affecting him badly while leaving him devastated. He attended a parade without his parent’s permission at 12 when he got the news of her fatal heart attack. This unfortunate news shook him, so he tried suicide by jumping into a second-story window.
King graduated in 1948 and attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, and he won the Plafker award for being an outstanding student among his graduate peers. He also completed actual work for a doctorate in 1953 but got the degree two years after completing his dissertation.
Overall, King received a secure upbringing as he received the proper education and grew up around a generous extended family. However, King’s thoughtful approach helped him experience the prejudice of being Black, which was common in the South.
Marriage and political career of King
While earning a doctorate in systematic theology at Boston University, King married Coretta Scott in 1953. King got attention as a young preacher in the mid-1950s as he led a successful drive to desegregate public buses in Montgomery, Alabama.
Martin Luther King was pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church by then in Montgomery, Ala, and made a first impression on the civil rights movement as he mobilised the Black community during the 382-day boycott of the city’s bus lines and forced the city to end the practice of segregation of Black passengers.
In addition, he organised protests throughout the 1950s and 1960s against Southern segregation to attain Black equality and voting rights in the region. The Montgomery bus boycott was started in 1955 when a Black woman refused to leave her seat for a White passenger on a public bus in Montgomery.
Because of her refusal, Rosa got arrested, which sparked a bus boycott under the leadership of Martin Luther King, which lasted more than a year. During this protest period, King threatened his life significantly; they dynamited his home, compromising his family’s safety.
Under the leadership of King, the gigantic struggle of the Black community made the Supreme Court uphold a lower court’s ruling that segregation in bus seating is unconstitutional. King got national attention after leading a series of nonviolent protests against discrimination.
Youngest peace prize winner
King was a vigilant leader who understood that nonviolent behaviour and peaceful strategies would make the civil rights movement successful. He condemned armed uprisings as the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, an Indian leader, inspired him.
During a protest in Birmingham, Alabama, police used attack dogs and fire hoses to disperse the protesters, who were merely schoolchildren, along with the attack in Selma, where a march to the capital was attacked, that day in history named “Bloody Sunday” as police shot nonviolent protests.
In 1964, Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and became the youngest Peace Prize winner at 35. He made an acceptance speech in Norway with a famous statement that portrayed how much he believed in unarmed truth and unconditional love, which proved the final word in reality.
He added, “This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.” He donated his prize money worth $54,123 to the civil rights movement.
Southern Christian Leadership Conference
As a national hero and civil rights fighter, King had witnessed exceedingly growing importance; therefore, he summoned several Black leaders and laid a fundamental work for the organisation known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957.
Martin Luther King was elected President of SCLC and helped other communities organise the prospects against discrimination. He also coordinated protests throughout the South as he now had the national platform to speak about discrimination.
Visit to India
As the thoughts of Gandhi inspired King, he visited India and discussed the Gandhian concepts and his efforts about nonviolence. Circumstances convinced him that nonviolent resistance could be the most potent tool for oppressed people striving for their freedom.
After going to India and finishing his first book, King returned to the United States in 1960 and became a co-pastor with his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. However, he continued the civil rights movement from there.
March on Washington
King’s nonviolent tactics faced more severe resistance in Birmingham during a mass protest for fair hiring practices and the desegregation of department store facilities. Police used violence against the Black marchers and created a drama to disperse people, disturbing the Black nation.
The massacre enormously impacted the Black nation; King was arrested and wrote a “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to reply to his critics. In August 1963, more than 200,000 people travelled to Washington, D.C., to seek equal justice.
Gathering on the National Mall, King delivered an eloquent message, known as the “I Have a Dream” speech, at the Lincoln Memorial that made the Black Southern movement into a nationwide civil rights campaign.
By August 1963, equality had grown significantly across the country, as 250,000 Black and White people travelled to the nation’s capital and participated in the March on Washington on the conditions of economic crises for jobs and freedom. However, the protest was peaceful, with no violence or arrest.
In Selma, King held a voter-registration campaign which ended in the Selma-to-Montgomery freedom march, and he launched programs to rehabilitate the slums while providing housing. King tried to create a coalition to support peace and civil rights.
In the North, King felt that the angry mob of young Blacks does not bother much of his nonviolent and peaceful preachings. His efforts made the Voting Rights Act ban the practices of keeping Black voters from participating in elections, resulting in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passage.
Opposing the Vietnam War
After many years of struggle against discrimination and preaching peace, King broadened his spectrum and showed concerns for things other than racism. At the Riverside Church in New York and then again at a mammoth peace rally in 1967, he talked bluntly against the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
Many times he condemned war, but Washington showed outrage due to this behaviour of him, even though he faced opposition within the Black community. He also talked about economic problems, including poverty and unemployment.
The civil rights movement adversely affected King, especially in the final months of his life. He used to show his pessimism by saying, “I am frankly tired of marching. I am tired of going to jail. Living under the threat of death daily, I feel discouraged now and then and feel my work’s in vain, but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.”
When did Martin Luther King die?
Martin Luther King was shot dead by a White assassin at age 39 as a single gunshot killed him. King went to Memphis to support a movement seeking compensation for Black sanitation workers. He was planning for the Poor People’s March to Washington but was interrupted as he made the trip to Memphis, Tennessee, to favour the strike of the city’s sanitation workers, where he got shot by a sniper.
At that time, he spoke with the audience at Bishop Charles Mason Temple, despite threats to his life. He addressed the people while telling them about his narrow escape in the 1958 assassination attempt by a mentally deranged woman. Many of his followers concluded that King felt earlier that his end was near.
On April 3, back in Memphis, King gave his last sermon, where he prophetically anticipated some problematic days but was boosted enough to deal with them. He was optimistic about achieving some promised land that would be peaceful and free of racism. He said, “I have looked over and seen the promised land. I may not be there with you, but I want you to know my people tonight that we will get to the promised land.
Right after one day of the speech, on April 4, 1968, a sniper shot King dead while standing on a balcony with his fellows outside his room at the Lorraine Motel. He was shot dead on the motel balcony where he and his associates stayed. A rifle bullet hit King in the neck while standing outside with Jesse Jackson and Ralph Abernathy.
The killing news of the King sparked riots and disturbances across the country, affecting over a hundred cities due to a severe wave of violence. The government deployed National Guard troops in Memphis and Washington D.C. to deal with the grieved protestors.
By the evening of King’s murder, police found a Remington .30-60 hunting rifle on the sidewalk one block away from the Lorraine Motel. In the coming weeks, the gun and the fingerprints took the conviction of James Earl Ray.
Ray was a two-bit criminal who escaped Missouri in April 1967, where he was serving a sentence for some crime. The authorities organised a massive chase for Ray in May 1968, and the FBI eventually figured out he was holding a Canadian passport under some false identity.
After a month, on June 8, Scotland Yard arrested James Earl Ray at a London airport when he was trying to fly to Belgium. He had further plans to reach Rhodesia, currently Zimbabwe, as it was under the rule of an oppressive and internationally cursed white minority government.
Ray stood before a Memphis judge and pleaded guilty to King’s murder to avoid an electric chair in March 1969. Ray pleaded guilty, lost a trial, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced for the rest of his life years in prison. After a few months, he denied his confession without any effect.
Again in June 1977, Ray escaped from a Tennessee prison and disappeared for 54 hours; however, recaptured in a massive chase. In renouncing his guilt and admitting the conspiracy behind’s King’s murder had bare evidence to support and put people again thinking about why Martin Luther King was assassinated.
There was plenty of evidence against Ray, such as his fingerprints on the rifle and his presence in the rooming house with a definite motive to shoot the King. In addition, he was an outspoken racist who intended to kill Dr. Martin Luther King.
King was laid to rest on April 9 in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. At his burial, tens of thousands lined the streets to pay tribute to King’s casket in a wooden farm to acknowledge his distinctive leadership role and charismatic guidance.
King’s family’s role in keeping his legacy
We know well that after the assassination of King, police caught a white man, an accused assassin James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to the murder and was eventually sentenced to prison for the rest of his life. Later, Ray recanted his confession and repented that lawyers had pressured him to confess the false allegations, and he became the victim of a conspiracy.
After some dramatic events, the King’s family members came forward to defend Ray. King’s son Dexter met Ray in March 1997 and joined Ray’s plea to reopen the case, but Ray died on April 23, 1998.
His children worked tirelessly to preserve his legacy and sharply move according to the situation. However, they believe that James Earl Ray did not kill their father. For the King’s family and friends, the FBI had an obsession with King leading to his assassination in Memphis.
His family believes that King was the plot’s target as they have gone through pervasive surveillance, a wicked disinformation campaign, and public condemnation by the FBI director.
Bernice, the youngest of Martin Luther King, also director of the King Center in Atlanta, said, “It pains my heart that James Earl Ray had to spend his life in prison paying for things he did not do.”
Wife of King, Coretta Scott King, passed away in 2006 and was pretty open in her belief that her husband’s assassination was a conspiracy. Even the family filed a civil suit in 1999 to force more information into the public’s eye. The Memphis jury ordered that the local, state, and federal governments were responsible for Martin Luther King’s death. One can check the full transcript of the trial on the King Center’s website.
After the verdict, Coretta King said, “There is abundant evidence of a major, high-level conspiracy in the assassination of my husband. The jury found that the mafia and various government agencies might be deeply involved in the assassination. Mr. Ray was set up to take the blame.”
Martin Luther King’s other children, Dexter and Martin III, fully agree that Ray is innocent. Another Black leader said, “I think there was a major conspiracy to remove Doctor King from the American scene. I don’t know what happened, but what happened to Dr. King should be made available for history’s sake.”
Moreover, the former U.N. ambassador and Atlanta mayor at the Lorraine Motel with King when that incident happened stated, “I would not accept the fact that James Earl Ray pulled the trigger, and that’s all that matters. We were living in the period of assassinations.”
Significance and Legacy of Martin Luther King
After his death, King remained a famous figure in African American history and a widely-known leader of his era. We can assess how popular and a historical figure he was as there was a successful campaign to establish a national holiday in the United States in his honour. In addition, the building of a King memorial on a mall in Washington D.C. near the Lincoln Memorial.
King’s memorial was right there where King made his historic speech “I Have a Dream.” Many municipalities and states announced King’s holidays and a lot of public statues and paintings of him as a civil rights advocate. His popularity peaked due to his controversial speeches, opposing America for intervention in Vietnam and calling for the Poor People’s campaign in his final years.
The King Holiday campaign faced strong opposition from FBI critics as they blamed King as an adulterous radical badly influenced by communists. They released his information 1970 under the Freedom of Information Act to defame him while offering comprehensive perspectives.
There were two notable books published after his death, and biographers even won Pulitzer prizes, showing the significance of King while showing him a fallible, complex, and sometimes left control over mass movements; however, he was entirely committed to achieving social justice peacefully without provoking any violence.
King’s national holiday never caught any congressional support; even later the Congressional Black Caucus put the holiday on the reform agenda. Coretta Scott King played a central role in supporting King’s holiday campaign as she was serving as the president of the Atlanta-based King Center.
King Holiday’s advocates gained political support and were convinced that he was the symbol of the country’s progress in terms of race regulations. A musician, Steve, contributed by singing a song for the late King; and participating with Coretta Scott King in the 20th Anniversary March on Washington, which drew a bigger crowd.
The House and Senate largely voted in favour of the King holiday bill and signed the legislation while establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the third Monday in January. Coretta Scott King succeeded in gaining Congressional approval to establish the King Federal Holiday Commission for annual celebrations, to encourage racial equality and nonviolent social change introduced by Dr. King.
We can not deny his status as an American icon but a revelation about the plagiarised academic writings and occasional controversies undermined his recognition as an enduring leader of the country. Martin’s national memorial project foundation raised over $100 million to build and maintain the King’s memorial.
King’s writings and legacy
According to the King Center, he wrote five books and a great collection of letters and sermons he gave throughout his life. His book, “Why We Can’t Wait,” 1964, recounted a series of events, with the details of his landmarks in Birmingham, Alabama, and his segregation campaign.
King’s legacy lived in the form of Martin Luther King Jr. Centre reserved for Nonviolent Social Change. His birthday is a national holiday celebrated with educational programs, concerts, and artwork displays across the United States. Additionally, he stands next to his favourite Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Last, the Lorraine Hotel, where King was assassinated, became the National Civil Rights Museum.
Martin Luther King was among the prominent historical figures as a popular Black leader in African American protest movements in the 1950s and 1960s. Due to his services, King gained national prominence due to his charismatic guidance, and people acknowledged his unique leadership role, so everyone wanted to know how old was Martin Luther King when he died.
Martin Luther King significantly contributed to the modern African American freedom struggle, making his Black aspirations prominent among democratic and Christian ideals. A fantastic leader who mobilised African Americans for sustained efforts and supported civil rights reforms which made it essential to know when did Martin Luther King die.
King’s strategy of emphasising nonviolent protests and work to attain racial significance made him a prominent warrior, fighting against the Southern system of legalised segregation and discrimination.
Here we got the correct findings of how old was Martin Luther King when he died, as he was 39 years old when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Dr. King spent less than 13 years in the public eye campaigning for upholding civil rights and racial equality. Still, in this short period, he brought more progress in racial equality in the United States compared to the previous 350 years