January 15th, 1929 Michael King, Jr. was born to parents Michael Sr. and Alberta King in Atlanta, Georgia. Around 1934 Michael King, Sr. changed his name to Martin Luther King, Sr. in honor of the German Martin Luther who championed the Protestant Reformation, soon after young Michael changed his name to Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1939 King was becoming interested in singing after his performance in his church’s choir at the Atlanta premier of Gone with the Wind; he gained some notoriety for his singing and even joined his church’s choir. King would often witness the oppression black Americans faced in the South, he even witnessed his own father take a stand against racism which would help shape him as an opponent of injustice against African-Americans. King attended Booker T. High School and became known as a great public speaker as a member of the schools debate team. He became the assistant manager of a newspaper station for the Atlanta Journal at the age of 13; this made him the youngest person to hold that position. As a junior in high school King traveled to Dublin, Georgia to compete in a public speaking contest, he outshined the competition to take home the first place prize.
As King and his teacher were returning to Atlanta from the public speaking contest they were forced to give up their seats for two white passengers. King stated that the anger he felt during this incident was one of the angriest moments of his life. Despite the constant racism he witnessed he didn’t allow himself to underachieve in his studies. He was brilliant enough to only attend the tenth and eleventh grades at Booker T. Washington High School. Morehouse College was excepting applications from high school juniors across the country that could pass their entrance exam, King being the brilliant student he was passed the exam and entered Morehouse at the age of fifteen. As a student King was heavily influenced by then President of Morehouse Benjamin E. Mays and his professor George Kelsey. They helped him to develop himself spiritually and follow his true calling. King began to view Christianity as a force he could use to help uplift his fellow man. At the age of eighteen King decided to accept his calling and enter the ministry, a year later he began using his voice to fight injustices and became an ordained minister. Being a young activist and wordsmith King would write a letter to the editor of the Atlanta Journal as a response to the violence blacks faced after World War II, he stated in his letter that black’s deserved equal rights as American citizens.
King would graduate from Morehouse College in 1948 with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and continued progressing with his spiritual studies. He began studying at Crozer Theological Seminary in 1948 where he would further develop his critical thinking skills as he challenged the concepts of God he was taught while examining his own beliefs. He would attend the Seminary for two years before graduating at the top of his class. Next he attended Boston University’s School of Theology to earn his doctoral degree, as well as the heart of a young woman named Coretta Scott. King and Scott were married in 1953 and would begin to build a legacy that would ultimately gain the respect of the world. In 1954 he became the Pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, and by 1955 King would earn his doctoral degree from Boston University. 1955 was also the year the Montgomery Bus Boycott began. Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks refusing to give up their seats to white passengers lead to the planning of the boycott. Jo Ann Robinson, E.D. Nixon and Ralph Abernathy organized the citizens of Montgomery before founding the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). The purpose of the organization was to protest the racism black citizens of Montgomery faced using the city’s bus systems. King was appointed the spokesman of the Boycott by the founders of the MIA and under the leadership of the founders and King the Boycott lasted for 385 days. It also lead to the Montgomery bus systems to being desegregated via the United States District Court ruling in the Browder v. Gayle case. During the boycott King’s home was bombed and he was arrested, these events put a national spotlight on the boycott and King as a civil right figure. Under the mentorship of Bayard Rustin, Glenn Smiley and William Stuart Nelson, King was introduced to the non-violent philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi which he incorporated into his strategies for combating racism.
In 1957 the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was formed by King, C. K. Steele, Fred Shuttlesworth and T .J. Jemison to organize non-violent protest and bring more attention to the plight of African-Americans. He used his voice to address the issue of racism in front of a national audience for the first time during his “Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom” speech. In 1958 King published his book Stride toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story; his new book and his popular speech helped to push King into the national spotlight as a major civil rights leader. During a book signing in Harlem, New York at the Blumstein’s department store he was stabbed in the chest with a letter opener by a black woman named Izola Curry. In 1958 King became a published author again with the release of his book The Measure of a Man. His activism would lead him to becoming the president of the Gandhi Society for Human Rights. The organization drafted a letter to President John F. Kennedy to issue an executive order to end racism against African-Americans. To the disappointment of the Gandhi Society for Human Rights Kennedy did not execute an executive order to help protect its African-American citizens. The organizations actions caused the FBI to wiretap Kings Phone along with other members; they were accused of housing communist within their organization. J. Edgar Hoover was determined to derail King and the civil rights movement by using the wiretaps and other means. In 1961 King led the SCLC into the Albany Movement which was a mass nonviolent protest against segregation, they organized the citizens of Albany and attempted to patronize white businesses in the city. The Albany Movement garnered national attention which led to the arrest of King and other protestors, the protestors were jailed until the city of Albany decided to release them. In 1962 King returned to Albany and was sentenced to be jailed for forty-five days; three days into his sentence he was released and continued his activism.
King and the SCLC became involved in many more civil rights campaigns to fight racism against his people, they organized, marched, protested and used other political tactics to help further their cause. In 1964 Birmingham, Alabama, St. Augustine, FL, Selma, Alabama and New York City were places where King met racism head on. 1964 was also the year that King became the youngest person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize since 1901. In 1963 the March on Washington was organized by the “Big Six” who were various leaders of civil rights organizations. The “big Six” consisted of King, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, A. Phillip Randolph, John Lewis and James L. Farmer, Jr. The March on Washington is where King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. March 7, 1965 in Selma, Alabama is known as “Bloody Sunday” because the local police force attached the peaceful protestors. March 9th another march was attempted but it was denied by a federal court ruling. Despite the ruling King led protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge but turned the people around before they fully violated the ruling. On March 25th King and the SCLC was able to lead a successful march to the state capital in Montgomery, Alabama, there he delivered his “How Long, Not Long” speech at the close of the march. King’s opposition to the Vietnam War was a secret until his public address in 1967 where he gave his “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence” speech. King’s opposition to the war made him a hero to some and an enemy of the state to others. In 1968 King called for a march against the war as an aide to his anti-war efforts. That same year King and the SCLC organized the “Poor People’s Campaign” to help fight against the economic inequalities blacks and other Americans faced. King and his camp were settled in Memphis, Tennessee to support the black sanitary public workers strike, King was lodged at the Lorraine Motel, King was later murdered by James Earl Ray at 6:01 p.m. The death of Martin Luther King, Jr. was not the death of his legacy or the fight for civil rights. King literally dedicated his life to the advancement and freedom of his people from the clutches of racism in America. Coretta Scott King and other civil rights leaders led the charge to make Martin Luther King Day a nationally recognized holiday to honor the bravery and accomplishments of King. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
January 7, 1891 in Notasulga, Alabama John and Lucy Ann Hurston gave birth to their fifth child Zora Neal Hurston. John and Lucy Ann were former slaves who went on to create a life for their family; John was a Preacher, carpenter, tenant farmer while Lucy Ann was a school teacher. While Hurston was a very young girl around the age of three her family moved to Eatonville, Florida, one of the first incorporated all-black towns within the United States. Hurston was known for declaring Eatonville as her place of birth because it captured a special place in her heart. This was a town where black excellence was on display at all times; even her father John Hurston even became Mayor of Eatonville around 1897. In 1901 Hurston was introduced to new types of literature as school teachers from the North visited Eatonville; this was the beginning of Zoran Neal Hurston becoming a literary giant. Her mother would die in 1904, shortly after her father remarried a woman named Matte Moge who Hurston was not very fond of. Zora and Moge engaged in a physical altercation, shortly after Hurston was sent to a Baptist boarding school in Jacksonville, Florida.
While attending the boarding school Hurston’s parents could not afford to continue paying her tuition, she eventually left school to become a maid for the lead singer of the Gilbert & Sullivan traveling troupe. By 1917 Hurston was 26 years old and wanted to earn her high school diploma, she reduced her age by ten years and enrolled into the High School of Morgan State University. She earned her diploma within a year then attended Howard University; she was also one of the initial women to become a part of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. As a student at Howard Hurston founded a school newspaper called the Hilltop, studied Greek, Spanish, English and public speaking. She would earn her associates degree in 1920 from Howard University, she then attending Barnard College at Columbia University in 1925 as the only black student. In 1921 Zora would be admitted into the Alaine Locke literary club, The Stylus after writing her short story titled John Redding Goes to Sea. In 1928 at the age of thirty seven Hurston completed her studies and earned a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Barnard College.
During the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s Hurston found herself within the mix mingling with figures such as Langston Hughes, Ethel Waters, Countee Cullen and many more. She was the Southern woman in the big Northern city who attracted the giants of the Harlem Renaissance to her tiny apartment for laughs and friendship. She was also beginning to make a name for herself as a writer; she placed in a play-writing contest for Opportunity Magazine which helped her to gain notoriety. She was also publishing short-stories, articles and novels such as Jonah’s Gourd Vine and Mules and Men. In 1927 Hurston married Jazz musician turned physician Herbert Sheen, the couple divorced in 1931. She would marry a man named Albert Price in 1939 which only lasted seven months. She wrote literary masterpiece’s during the 1930’s and 40’s which included but are not limited to, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Jonah’s Gourd Vine, Tell My Horse, Moses, Man of the Mountain, and Dust Tracks on a Road. She lived in Westfield, New Jersey during the 1930’s but her community involvement was not limited to her state. She established School of Dramatic Arts at Bethune-Cookman College; the school was designed to be “based on pure negro expressions.” In 1942, she received critical acclaim for her writings and was profiled in publications such as Who’s Who in America, Current Biography and Twentieth Century Authors. Hurston added an additional masterpiece to her catalog in 1948 by writing the novel Seraph on the Suwanee.
Hurston immersed herself in anthropological studies during college which helped her gain a sponsorship from a well-known anthropologist Charlotte Osgood Mason. Conducting these studies allowed her to travel the globe during the 1930’s, those travels profoundly impacted her writings. She was able to study the cultures of the Caribbean and South America which inspired her to write Jonah’s Gourd Vine in 1934 and Mules and Men in 1935. With funding from the Guggenheim Foundation Hurston traveled to Jamaica and Haiti on an anthropological mission but once again found inspiration for her writings; that inspiration lead to book Tell My Horse in 1938. Hurston spent her time in South America during the 1940’s living in Puerto Cortes, Honduras studying the diversity of the Miskito Zambu and Garifuna cultures; both cultures have their ancestral lineages in Africa. While in Puerto Cortes she would write Seraph on the Suwanee, a book based in the Suwanee regions of Central Florida. Before leaving Honduras Hurston was falsely accused of molesting a 10 year old boy, the accusation was found to be false but her reputation was tainted.
1952 was the year that Hurston was contacted by a man named Sam Nunn who was the editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, Nunn wanted Hurston to travel to Florida to report about Ruby McCollum who was accused of murdering a white doctor and politician. Ruby McCollum was a black woman who stated that the doctor forced her to have sex with him and bear his child. Hurston was familiar with these stories; she learned about white men forcing themselves on helpless black women under the “paramour rights.” The paramour rights gave the women who were preyed upon the status of a slave which also included sexual violence. Hurston and Nunn were determined to expose these inhumane conditions, but not without being met with resistance.
Hurston next traveled to Live Oak, Florida to gain more evidence from the residence to help her story; little did she know the residents of the town were not willing to speak to her. Some residents were threatened and the others followed the code of silence. She eventually was able to gather information and published her articles but Ruby McCollum was convicted by an all-white jury of only men and sentenced to death. Her relationship with Nunn ended when they disagreed upon Hurston’s payments for her research. She later contacted a journalist named William Bradford Huie, she needed help to cover the appeal and second trail of Ruby McCulum. Huie agreed to help Hurston but Huie covered the story himself. He used the information he collected and the data Hurston collected to write the bestselling book Ruby McCollum: Woman in the Suwannee Jail. One major problem with the success of the book is Hurston was barley acknowledge for the information she provided Huie. Even though Hurston did not receive the credit she deserved she was happy the book helped to end the “paramour rights.”
Hurston was awarded the Bethune- Cookman College Award for Higher Education and Human Relations in 1956. The English department of Bethune-Cookman College used its resources to preserve the legacy of Zora Neal Hurston in honor of her achievements. Later in 1956 she served as a faculty member of the North Carolina College for Negros. In 1957 Hurston was fired from her job at the Pan American World Airways Technical Library at Patrick Air Force Base because she was too educated for a black person. She would move to Fort Pierce, Florida later in life looking for work to sustain herself, she worked as a substitute teacher before turning to public assistance. Despite all of the literary contributions Hurston made she never received the financial compensations she deserved. January 28, 1960 Zora Neal Hurston died of a stroke but helped to lay the groundwork for other African American authors such as Alice Walker to follow her. Hurston was a woman who learned to use her experiences, intelligence and creativity to turn the American literary world on its head. Zora Neal Hurston, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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