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Saturday, April 4, 1998 Published at 19:44 GMT 20:44 UK

World: Americas

A martyr for justice
image: [ King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his revolutionary preaching ]
King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his revolutionary preaching

Dr Martin Luther King, one of history's most revered advocates of non-violent social change, was shot as he stood on the balcony of a hotel in Tennessee.

Thirty years on, his legacy remains as strong as ever. Described by President Bill Clinton as "the most eloquent voice for freedom and justice in my lifetime", King is the only American to be honoured with a holiday in his name.

He received the Nobel Peace prize in 1964.

Influence and inspiration

Born in 1929 in Atlanta, the heart of the American South, King grew up in a strictly segregated town where schools, buses and even sandwich counters were either black or white.

His father was a pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, who believed that through religion the lives of African Americans could be improved.

Influenced by his father's work, King went to university and trained as a minister. He took his first pastoral post in Montgomery, Alabama, after marrying Coretta Scott.

In 1955 when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, King was elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association which organised the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

[ image: One of the many protests for civil rights in the 1960s]
One of the many protests for civil rights in the 1960s
King and other southern black ministers set up the Southern Christian Leadership Conference two years later from which the civil rights movement was born.

The movement eventually succeeded in persuading President John F Kennedy to champion civil rights from the White House.

Peace and courage

King who called himself "a drum major for justice" believed in non-violent confrontation and adopted the Christian pacifist approach to bring about social change.

He organised campaigns for equal rights throughout the 1960s. He was jailed 19 times for opposing segregation and white supremacy.

His intelligence, charisma and impressive vocabulary made him a popular figure and the strength of his leadership led to thousands of black people marching in dignified silence without responding to taunts or violence.

In August 1963, King organised a march on Washington. It became the largest protest rally in American history attracting more than 250,000 demonstrators.

It provided the platform for King's famous speech, "I have a dream", used to summon the nation's sense of injustice.

In his speech, King described the grim realities of racial discrimination and revealed his dream of a country where freedom would ring "from every mountainside".

He talked of a nation where "black men and white men, Jews, Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of that old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'"

King achieved international status when he became Time Magazine's Man of the Year and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

He started to preach a broader agenda of justice. He opposed American involvement in the Vietnam War and began addressing the plight of working American people of all backgrounds.

End of an extraordinary life

[ image: King: freedom fighter to the end]
King: freedom fighter to the end
King's last protest took place on March 28, 1968, when he led a march of around 6,000 protesters in support of striking Memphis sanitation workers.

A week later King was assassinated in Memphis at the age of 39. Millions of people mourned his death and riots broke out.

James Earl Ray, who was arrested at Heathrow Airport, London, in 1968, has served 29 years of a 99-year sentence for King's murder.

Ray has repeatedly protested his innocence and appealed for a new trial, supported by Martin Luther King's family.

After King was shot, his body was taken back to Atlanta. The shrine where he is buried is America's third most visited historic monument.

As a tribute to his achievements, Martin Luther King Day is a bank holiday held in January. The anniversary of his death is also marked by religious services, honorary marches and demonstrations.

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