FILE - In this May 17, 1967 file photo, Dr. Martin Luther King speaks at the University of California administration building in Berkeley, Calif. More than years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. asked Americans, "Where do we go from here?" His warning of chaos or community squarely confronted racism, and marked a shift from his emphasis on nonviolence to a demand for full economic and political equality. Younger generations of black activists say they prefer the pointed, more forceful King to the Nobel Peace Prize-winning pacifist who preached love over hate. (AP Photo, File)

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an accomplished theologian, was the son, grandson and great-grandson of Baptist ministers. He preached with power from the pulpit and turned to the Black church throughout the Civil Rights Movement:


  • Maternal great-grandfather, Willis Williams, was “a slavery time preacher” in Greene County, Ga. in the mid-1800s.
  • Maternal grandfather, Rev. Adam Daniel Williams, was pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Auburn, Ga.
  • Father, Rev. Martin Luther King. Sr., became pastor of Ebenezer when Rev. Williams died in 1931.


  • Entered Morehouse College in 1944; majored in sociology and had an interest in law and medicine.
  • Influenced by Morehouse President Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, a noted minister, educator and activist, who encouraged him to view Christianity as a force for progressive social change.
  • Ordained his final year at Morehouse and graduated with a B.A. in Sociology; named assistant pastor of his father’s church.
  • Enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, Penn. and earned Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1951.
  • Earned PhD in Systematic Theology from Boston University in 1955.


  • Became pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. in 1954 while working on his dissertation.
  • Led his congregation and the community during the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56.
  • Co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957 to harness the moral authority and organizing power of Black churches.
  • Returned to Atlanta in 1960 to become co-pastor with his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church. 
  • Worked closely with other activist-ministers, including Revs. Ralph David Abernathy, Hosea Williams, Fred Shuttlesworth, Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young.