Martin Luther King was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of an African-American Baptist pastor. He studied at Morehouse College in Atlanta and Crozier Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, and earned a PhD from Boston University in 1955. Shortly after he had become pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, the arrest of Rosa Parks sparked off the Montgomery bus boycott (1955-56), and King came to national prominence as its eloquent and courageous leader.
In 1957 he founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which organized civil rights activities throughout the country. A brilliant orator, he galvanized the movement and in 1963 led the great march on Washington, where he delivered his memorable 'I have a dream' speech. Inspired by the example of Mahatma Gandhi, he espoused a philosophy of non-violence and passive resistance which proved effective as the spectacle of unarmed black demonstrators being harassed and attacked by white segregationists and police exposed the moral shabbiness of the opposing side.
King's efforts were instrumental in securing passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and in 1964 he received an honorary doctorate from Yale, the Kennedy Peace Prize, and the Nobel Peace Prize. He was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, while on a civil rights mission. His white assassin, James Earl Ray, was apprehended in London, and in 1969 was sentenced in Memphis to 99 years. King's widow Coretta Scott King has carried on his work. The third Monday in January is celebrated as Martin Luther King Day in the USA.