“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 – 1968)
A native of Atlanta and the son of a preacher, King developed a non-violent response to racism that was heavily influenced by Tolstoy, Thoreau, Niebuhr, and especially Gandhi. His doctoral thesis (at Boston University) was on the writings of Paul Tillich. Though he was a Baptist, the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization, made it possible for him to visit India to further his studies in 1959. A leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he was a key player in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Selma protests and the 1963 March on Washington, at which he delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. Though he was the target of FBI investigations for his anti-segregation work and anti-Vietnam War position, he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He was assassinated while in Memphis supporting a black sanitation workers strike. Just days later Congress passed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1968 which, among other advances, prohibited discrimination in housing based on race, religion, or national origin. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter in 1977.