Born Michael King
In Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was born Michael King, the second of three children born to Micheal King Sr., and Alberta Christine on January 15, 1929. Micheal Jr. was born and raised on 501 Auburn Avenue in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood, then home to some of the country’s most prominent and prosperous African Americans and now part of the MLK Birth Home Tour of the National Historical Park. The house was purchased by King’s grandfather Reverend Adam Daniel Williams, Alberta’s father, in 1909.
Michael King Sr. changed his and his son’s name to Martin after Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, which led to a split with the Catholic Church. He did this after touring Germany and witnessing the beginnings of Nazi Germany while in Berlin (Adolf Hitler had become chancellor the year before King’s arrival), according to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford.
The Poor People’s Campaign
Dr. King founded a program called The Poor People’s Campaign, a movement that “sought to bring a multiracial coalition of religious leaders, workers, and the poor together to fight poverty in a way that intentionally centered the voices of the marginalized.” Officially commencing in December 1967, Dr. King wanted to bring together poor people from across the country to demand better jobs, homes, education, and better lives. The purpose behind the campaign was to “dramatize the plight of America’s poor of all races and make very clear that they are sick and tired of waiting for a better life.”
“If you are, let’s say, from rural Mississippi and have never had medical attention, and your children are undernourished and unhealthy, you can take those little children into the Washington hospitals and stay with them there until the medical workers cope with their needs. And in showing it your children, you will have shown this country a sight that will make it stop in its busy tracks and think hard about what it has done.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Ultimately, King put together a plan that he thought would help solve poverty so that every American had a guaranteed income. Dr. King set his program to begin on April 22 but was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
Fought for Better Schools for Children in the Cabrini Green Projects
In 1966, Dr. King moved into an apartment on Chicago’s West Side as part of the Freedom Movement. He was less interested in Civil Rights by then and more interested in Human Rights, including fair housing in Northern cities. Chicago in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s was a segregated city plagued with a system of redlining that prevented blacks from purchasing property in their own communities. Not only was the rent high, but run-down apartments were divided into Kitchenettes that split six-family apartments in half, so they became one-room apartments.
“The Kitchenette is our prison, our death sentence without a trial, the new form of mob violence that assaults not only the lone individual but all of us in its ceaseless attacks.” – Richard Wright.
The Projects were the answer to the slums but did not fare much better. People eventually abandoned public housing for the suburbs, offended that blacks were “being treated as whites.” Newspapers and Ads boasted Blacks and Italians living side by side, happy and positive. The public did not have it. Riots broke out as whites pulled blacks out of their cars, beating them. Middle-class blacks were forced out as the screening process got more and more relaxed. Eventually, they put up gates, which made residents feel imprisoned. The once “promised land,” that was the newly established public housing program, became just another ghetto. Black schools also suffered.
One elementary school was overcrowded, and King fought with residents to get a racist teacher fired. “The people from Mississippi ought to come to Chicago to learn how to hate,” he said after being stoned by angry white residents in the then all-white Marquette Park on the city’s Southwest Side. When parents were in their third day of a planned strike, Dr. King met with them, saying, “Should you in any way be persecuted or prosecuted for attempting to seek the best education possible for your children, I can assure you that thousands of parents from all over the city will come to your aid and together we will join you in jail if necessary.”
Campaigned for Black Sanitation Workers in Memphis
Dr. King helped black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, in March and April of 1968. He compared their struggle with the poor people’s campaign, saying, “A fight by capable, hard workers against dehumanization, discrimination and poverty wages in the richest country in the world.” The deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker brought the issue of sanitation workers into the public eye. These men were crushed to death by a trash compensation mechanism on a garbage truck that malfunctioned on February 1, 1968. Dr. Martin Luther King was in Memphis for that strike when he was murdered at the Lorraine Motel.
The deaths of these men highlighted the dangerous conditions under which these men worked. The strike brought it to the attention of Civil Rights leaders like Dr. King, who “saw the Memphis strike and the workers’ demand for union rights as embodying the goals and values of his fledgling Poor People’s Campaign.”