Martin Luther King, Jr., was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, the middle child of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King.King's father was born "Michael King", and Martin Luther King, Jr., was originally named "Michael King, Jr.," until the family traveled to Europe in 1934 and visited Germany. His father soon changed both of theirnames to Martin Luther in honor of the German Protestant leader Martin Luther. King, Jr. had an older sister, Willie Christine King, and a younger brother, Alfred Daniel Williams King. King sang with his church choir at the 1939 Atlanta premiere of the movie Gone with the Wind.
King was originally skeptical of many of Christianity's claims. Most striking, perhaps, was his denial of the bodilyresurrection of Jesus during Sunday school at the age of thirteen. From this point, he stated, "doubts began to spring forth unrelentingly."[
Growing up in Atlanta, King attended Booker T. Washington High School. A precocious student, he skipped both the ninth and the twelfth grade and entered Morehouse College at age fifteen without formally graduating from high school. In 1948, he graduated fromMorehouse with a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology, and enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, from which he graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1951. King married Coretta Scott, on June 18, 1953, on the lawn of her parents' house in her hometown of Heiberger, Alabama. They had four children; Yolanda King, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott King,and Bernice King. King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama when he was twenty-five years old in 1954. King then began doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University and received his Doctor of Philosophy on June 5, 1955, with a dissertation on "A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman." A 1980s inquiryconcluded portions of his dissertation had been plagiarized and he had acted improperly but that his dissertation still "makes an intelligent contribution to scholarship."
Civil rights leader, theologian, and educator Howard Thurman was an early influence on King. A classmate of King's father at Morehouse College, Thurman mentored the young King and his friends. Thurman's missionary work hadtaken him abroad where he had met and conferred with Mahatma Gandhi. When he was a student at Boston University, King often visited Thurman, who was the dean of Marsh Chapel. Walter Fluker, who has studied Thurman's writings, has stated, "I don't believe you'd get a Martin Luther King, Jr. without a Howard Thurman".
Gandhi and Rustin
With assistance from the Quaker group the American FriendsService Committee and inspired by Gandhi's success with non-violent activism, King visited Gandhi's birthplace in India in 1959. The trip to India affected King in a profound way, deepening his understanding of non-violent resistance and his commitment to America's struggle for civil rights. In a radio address made during his final evening in India, King reflected, "Since being in India, I am moreconvinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity. In a real sense, Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation." African American civilrights activist Bayard Rustin had studied Gandhi's teachings. Rustin counseled King to dedicate himself to the principles of non-violence, served as King's main advisor and mentor throughout his early activism, and was the main organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. Rustin's open homosexuality, support of democratic socialism, and his former ties to the Communist Party USA caused many...