Born Michael Luther King Jr on 15 January 1929, he was the son and grand-son of Baptist pastors in Atlanta. He attended segregated public schools and high school in Georgia, mentored by Baptist minister Benjamin Mays. He studied theology in Pennsylvania - where he was elected president of a predominantly white senior class - then completed a doctorate at Boston University in 1955, after having married Coretta Scott.
The previous year he was called as pastor in Montgomery, Alabama. He was a member of the executive committee of the leading organization for civil rights equality. In 1955, Rosa Parks, a black woman who refused to give up her seat in a bus to a white person, was arrested. King accepted to lead the first great Black nonviolent demonstration, the bus boycott which lasted 382 days. In 1956, the Supreme Court declared that the laws requiring segregation on buses were unconstitutional. During the boycott, MLK was arrested and subjected to personal abuse, his house bombed, but he reached his goal.
He agreed to lead the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, founded in 1957, and the "Gandhi Society for Human Rights". King rightly believed that non-violent protest for black equality would lead to important media coverage which would influence the public opinion positively: he organized and led marches for black people civil rights. Most of the rights were successfully enacted into the US Law.
Between 1957 and 1968, he travelled all over the country, giving hundreds of speeches, writing books and articles, fighting peacefully against injustice. Some of his most famous campaigns are the Albany Movement, Birmingham campaign, St. Augustine movement. He was assaulted several times, frequently arrested, fined with the choice to be jailed instead. On one occasion, he had accepted to be jailed, but he was finally freed - apparently his friend the white Baptist minister Billy Graham had discreetly paid the fine. But the causes he defended made progress.
In 1963, after the massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama, he directed the peaceful March for jobs and freedom on Washington with 250,000 persons, and he delivered his famous speech "l Have a Dream". More actions took place the following years in Selma, Chicago, Washington... King also expressed his opposition to the American involvement in the Vietnam War.
In 1964 he was the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He gave the prize money to the civil rights movement. On 4 April 1968, he was murdered in Memphis, where he was to lead a protest march. His courage and actions have led to massive changes in the American society.