The Queen of American Folk Music: MLK and the Civil Rights Movement

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


The Queen of American Folk Music: MLK and the Civil Rights Movement tells the story of how the music of one woman helped fuel a social justice movement.

The early life of MLK

Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15th, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. King’s father was the minister of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and his grandfather was also a minister. King’s mother was a schoolteacher. From a young age, King was exposed to the racial discrimination that was commonplace in the American South.

His family

Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on January 15, 1929. His father, also named Martin Luther King, was a minister at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. His grandfather began the church in 1886. Young Martin’s maternal grandfather was also a minister. His mother, Alberta Williams King, played the piano in the church.

King’s parents had high expectations for their son. They stressed the importance of education and discouraged him from spending time with neighborhood children who they felt were a bad influence. Instead, they encouraged him to play with cousins his own age.

King displayed an early interest in becoming a minister like his father and grandfather. When he was just five years old, he attended his father’s church services and helped out by handing out programs to the congregation.

His education

King started school at the age of five. Because his father, Martin Luther King Sr., was a minister, he was expected to follow in his footsteps and become a clergyman. However, King developed a love for reading and eventually decided to become a lawyer. He excelled in school, skipping both the ninth and twelfth grades. In 1944, he enrolled at Morehouse College, an all-male historically black institution in Atlanta. There he met George W. Lee, one of the first African American graduates of Boston University Law School. Lee’s success as an attorney and civil rights activist inspired King, who eventually decided to pursue a career in law.

The Civil Rights Movement

The American Civil Rights Movement was a mass protest movement against racial segregation and discrimination in the United States that came to prominence during the mid-1950s. The main aim of the movement was to secure equal rights for African Americans. The movement had its roots in the resistance to slavery and in the struggle to achieve full citizenship rights for African Americans after the American Civil War.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott

The Montgomery bus boycott was a civil rights protest that started in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, United States, following the arrest of Rosa Parks, an African American woman who refused to surrender her bus seat to a white person. The boycott resulted in a 381-day economic boycott of the Montgomery Public Transit System, founded and led by Jo Ann Robinson and fellow activists of the Women’s Political Council (WPC). It ended with the successful integration of the buses by court order after a yearlong campaign of nonviolent resistance mostly by African Americans.

The Selma to Montgomery marches

On March 7, 1965, some 600 demonstrators set out from Selma, Alabama, on a 54-mile hike to the state capital of Montgomery to protest the arrest and beating of voting rights activist John Lewis and to call for an end to the discrimination that prevented blacks from voting. The group was attacked by state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, an act of violence captured on television and in newspapers across the country. The Selma to Montgomery marches were some of the most visible demonstrations of the civil rights movement and helped lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a major turning point in American history, outlawing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. This act provided for equal access to public facilities, ended segregation in education, and prohibited employment discrimination. The act also set up enforcement mechanisms, including the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

MLK’s assassination

The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. King was an advocate for non-violent protest and his murder sent shockwaves throughout the country. The civil rights movement was left without one of its key leaders, but it did not stop fighting for equality.

The reaction of the public

The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968 sent shockwaves through the United States. King was one of the most important and influential leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, and his death was a devastating blow to the cause of equality.

The public reaction to King’s assassination was disbelief and outrage. Riots and protests erupted in cities across the country, and many people felt that the dream of racial equality had been dashed. In the weeks and months after King’s death, Congress would pass several important pieces of legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which aimed to protect the rights of minorities.

King’s legacy continues to inspire people today, and his work for equality is remembered as some of the most important in American history.

The effect on the Civil Rights Movement

The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968 dealt a devastating blow to the Civil Rights Movement. King was the Movement’s brightest star, a man who had been hailed as a national leader and who had won the Nobel Peace Prize. His murder sent shockwaves through the black community and rocked the nation as a whole.

In the wake of King’s death, many people feared that race riots would break out across the country. But instead of violence, the reaction to King’s death was largely peaceful. In cities across America, blacks held vigil for their fallen leader and mourned his loss.

The death of Martin Luther King, Jr. was a turning point for the Civil Rights Movement. The loss of such a powerful and influential leader dealt a serious blow to the progress that had been made. But even in death, Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired people to continue fighting for equality and justice.

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