Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, to Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. His legal name at birth was "Michael King". King's father was also born Michael King. The father “changed” both names on his own during a 1934 trip to Nazi Germany to attend the Fifth Baptist World Alliance Congress in Berlin. It was during this time he chose to be called Martin Luther King in honor of the great German reformer Martin Luther.
Martin, Jr., was a middle child, between an older sister, Willie Christine King, and a younger brother, Alfred Daniel Williams King.
Growing up in Atlanta, King attended Booker T. Washington High School. A precocious student, he skipped both the ninth and the twelfth grades and entered Morehouse College at age fifteen without formally graduating from high school.In 1948, he graduated from Morehouse with a B.A. degree in sociology, and enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, from which he graduated with a B.Div. degree in 1951. King married Coretta Scott, on June 18, 1953, on the lawn of her parents' house in her hometown of Heiberger, Alabama. They became the parents of four children: Yolanda King, Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott King, and Bernice King.
King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, when he was twenty-five years old, in 1954. King then began doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University and received his Ph.D. degree on June 5, 1955, with a dissertation on "A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman". An academic inquiry concluded in October 1991 that portions of his dissertation had been plagiarized and he had acted improperly, but that his dissertation still "makes an intelligent contribution to scholarship"; the committee recommended that his degree not be revoked.
King's main legacy was to secure progress on civil rights in the U.S. Just days after King's assassination, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Title VIII of the Act, commonly known as the Fair Housing Act, prohibited discrimination in housing and housing-related transactions on the basis of race, religion, or national origin (later expanded to include sex, familial status, and disability). This legislation was seen as a tribute to King's struggle in his final years to combat residential discrimination in the U.S.
Internationally, King's legacy included influences on the Black Consciousness Movement and Civil Rights Movement in South Africa.King's work was cited by and served as an inspiration for South African leader Albert Lutuli, another black Nobel Peace prize winner who fought for racial justice in his country. The day following King's assassination, school teacher Jane Elliott conducted her first "Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes" exercise with her class of elementary school students in Riceville, Iowa. Her purpose was to help them understand King's death as it related to racism, something they little understood from having lived in a predominately white community.
King's wife, Coretta Scott King, followed in her husband's footsteps and was active in matters of social justice and civil rights until her death in 2006. The same year that Martin Luther King was assassinated, she established the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia, dedicated to preserving his legacy and the work of championing nonviolent conflict resolution and tolerance worldwide.Their son, Dexter King, currently serves as the center's chairman. Daughter Yolanda King, who died in 2007, was a motivational speaker, author and founder of Higher Ground Productions, an organization specializing in diversity training.
There are opposing views, even within the King family, of the slain civil rights leader's religious and political views about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. King's widow Coretta said publicly that she believed her husband would have supported gay rights. However, his daughter Bernice believed he would have been opposed to gay marriage. The King Center includes discrimination, and lists homophobia as one of its examples, in its list of "The Triple Evils" that should be opposed.