by Kierstin Rhinier
As Black History Month continues, we are going to highlight one of the most important figures in Black History, Martin Luther King Jr. Another important figure in Black History is Angela Davis, who we will also profile.
Martin Luther King Jr., originally born as Michael Luther King Jr., was born on January 15, 1929. His grandfather and father were both pastors of a local church in Atlanta, and King later went on to co-pastor with his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church from 1960 until his death in 1968. Before taking on this role with his father, King studied and graduated from a segregated public high school at the age of 15, going on to study at Morehouse College, considered a “distinguished Negro institution” where he graduated with a B.A. in 1948. After his undergraduate years, he continued with theological study at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, where he was elected president of his mostly white class in 1951. From there he attended Boston University, achieving his Doctorate in 1955.
In Boston, King met his wife Coretta Scott and they had four children, two sons and two daughters: Martin Luther, Dexter, Yolanda, and Bernice Albertine. While finishing his doctorate, King became the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1955 he was named leader of “the first Negro nonviolent demonstration” which was a bus boycott that MLK led for 382 days, leading to his arrest, bombing of his house, and personal abuse. Nothing could stop MLK as he was then elected the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which formed to provide new leadership for the civil rights movement; MLK took ideals for the organization from his belief in Christianity, but its operational techniques were taken from Gandhi.
For the next 11 years, MLK spoke over 2,500 times and traveled over 6 million miles wherever there was injustice, protest and action. While traveling, he wrote five books and many articles. MLK caught the attention of the world when he led a large protest in Birmingham, Alabama; he provided a “coalition of conscience.” He also strived for allowing registration of Negro voters, and his most famous act: the peaceful march on Washington, DC, where he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech to over 250,000 people.
Martin Luther King Jr. was the youngest man ever, at age 35, to receive a Nobel Peace Prize, the $54,123 of prize money he got for the award was turned over to the furtherance of the Civil Rights Movement. He conferred with John F. Kennedy before his death, and campaigned for Lyndon B. Johnson. MLK was arrested over 20 times and assaulted 4 times, named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963, and was named a world figure as well as the symbolic leader of American blacks.
MLK was assassinated on April 4, 1968 while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee.
Angela Davis was born January 26, 1944 in Birmingham, Alabama to college-educated parents. Davis grew up in a segregated neighborhood that was frequently bombed, and attended a segregated school. Her parents chose to teach her about racial injustice and class oppression against minorities, as well as educate her about the struggle black’s faced in the segregated South; along with teaching her themselves, they also stressed the importance of Davis reading everything she could get her hands on to further her education.
Davis did not want to stay in the South, and as high school approached her desire to leave increased. She applied to two schools that would get her out of the Southand was accepted to both, but chose to go to the program in Greenwich Village, New York. This program was experimental and designed to help black students of the South attend the integrated schools of the north. She ended up living with a white family and the school exposed her to Communist and Socialist philosophies. After college she attended the Brandeis University of Waltham in Massachusetts.
In 1968, Davis became a member of the Communist Party, and by 1970 was on America’s Top 10 Most Wanted Criminals list for a crime she did not commit. Jonathan Jackson, a friend of Davis’s, entered the Marin County Civic Center in California armed with a gun owned by Davis, and attempted to take hostages to free his brother and any other prisoners that he could. Because it was Davis’s gun, and she was seen with him days before the event, prosecutors believed she helped engineer the plan. Davis spent 16 months in jail before her trial where her defense attorney’s claimed that she was an activist for prison reform and oppression of the poor. The trial’s all-white jury acquitted her on all accounts in June, 1972.
Davis’s doctorate requirements caused her to teach at the University of California, Los Angeles for one year. She had indicated on her application that she was a Communist, and California regulation was that Communists were not allowed to teach at universities. However, when the Board of Regents and governor, Ronald Reagan attempted to fire her, she waged a court battle and won. She was fired in June, 1970, for political activity. Davis then took on a teaching career at San Francisco State College.
In the elections of 1980 and 1984 Davis ran on the Communist Party ticket for vice president of the United States. She worked with the National Alliance against Racist and Political Repression and was awarded an honorary doctorate from Lenin University in 1983. She taught throughout the 1980s and 1990s at several different universities and in 1997 continued to teach at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She is currently the President Chair of Minority Women’s Studies and is a tenured professor in the History of Consciousness Department.
For more on Angela Davis visit: Angela Davis Biography.