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Martin Luther King, Jr.: Studying the Early Years

written by: Bruno Kos • edited by: Noreen Gunnell • updated: 1/10/2013

He was a "young man with a dream," as someone said. The life of Martin Luther King Jr., prominent leader of the African American civil rights movement, was far from ordinary. Find out some lesser known facts about the early life of Martin Luther King Jr.

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    First Incident of Prejudice

    Well known person of American history, Martin Luther King Jr. began experiencing racial prejudice at an early age. There is a short story about how young Martin encountered racism. One sunny day, while going out to play with his friends, He went to a friend's house, knocked on the door, and asked for his friend. But his friend's mother told him that he was too old to play with her boys. Naturally, Martin rushed home and explained to his mother what had just happened. She comforted him and told him that “many people don't consider African Americans as good as white people.”

    The early life of Martin Luther King Jr. was marked with numerous such situations. One thing is certain: It will never be revealed which, if any, of these experiences was actually a “trigger” for his later actions - the ones for which he eventually became known.

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    Birth

    Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15th, 1929, the second child of Alberta and Michael Luther King Sr. Although he was named Michael, (Michael was also his father’s name), at age 6, his father decided to rename Michael Jr. and himself Martin Jr. and Martin respectively.

    The Luther King family lived in downtown Atlanta, Georgia and the family was respected within the local African-American community. Martin Luther King Sr. was a Baptist minister who, during his sermons, encouraged African-American people to remain strong and brave, regardless of what was happening in American society at the time. He encouraged them to deal with the numerous infamous racial laws and rules.

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    Growing Older

    As Martin Jr. grew older, he became angrier and angrier about how African Americans were treated, especially where he lived. At home, he had a rather good life since his family was a member of the middle class. He never lacked food or the basic neccessities, and while he was young he enjoyed playing basketball and baseball. Since his father was a Baptist minister, Martin Jr. regularly attended church services, listened to his father’s sermons and studied the Bible.

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    Experiences in Connecticut

    In 1944, during the summer holidays and alongside his brother, Martin Jr. worked at a tobacco plantation in Connecticut. There, he experienced different laws than the ones that were valid in Atlanta. Actually, there weren't racial laws of any kind at all in all the northern states. Therefore, he could ride in the front of the bus, enter any shop he wished to, and so forth.

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    Attitudes

    Even as a teenager, Martin Jr. had strong attitudes and beliefs toward the view that all people are equal. He also believed that all people, regardless of racial, religious or any other status, were supposed to work together, and live together… without any stereotypes. Thankfully, he had much support from his college professors with whom he discussed these topics on several occasions.

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    School

    Martin Luther King Jr. was an excellent student and skipped grades in school. He began reading at an early age and read mostly African-American history books. In 1944, at the age of 15, Martin Jr. enrolled at Morehouse College in Atlanta. Despite his talents, Martin Luther King Jr. was a "regular“ teenager; he liked girls, loud music and dance (his father didn't approve dance, though).

    He continued excelling in college, studying late into the night each day. He graduated in 1948 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

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    References

    Jean Darby: Martin Luther King Jr., Lerner Publications, 2005

    Dharathula H. Millender: Martin Luther King, Jr: young man with a dream, Aladdin Books, 1986.