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Happy Birthday to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Happy Birthday to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Happy Birthday to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

On Monday, 20 January 2014, the federal government will close to honor the life and work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but the actual date of his birth is today, 15 January.

Dr. King, a clergyman and leading civil rights activist, was born on this day in Atlanta, GA, in 1929 to Rev. Martin Luther, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. He was their middle child. His older sister was Willie Christine King and his younger brother was Alfred Daniel Williams King.

Dr. King received his undergraduate degree from Morehouse College, and he attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, where he received a bachelor's degree in divinity in 1951.

He married Coretta Scott in 1953, and they had four children; Yolanda, Martin Luther III, Dexter and Bernice.

In 1955, Dr. King received his Ph.D. from Boston University, and in 1954 he became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

To get a thorough understanding of Dr. King's contributions to the civil rights movement, an excellent book to read is Taylor Branch's "Parting the Waters."

Many people are of the opinion that Dr. King spearheaded the Civil Rights Movement, but Taylor Branch puts Dr. King in his proper place in history and explains how Dr. King was a reluctant participant in a lot of the historical moments with which he was involved. For the most part, Dr. King just wanted to spend his time shepherding and meeting the needs of his congregation. There were actually other people behind the scenes who pushed Dr. King forward as the face of the movement because of his youth and oratorical abilities.

For instance, some people would be surprised to know that Dr. King was not as instrumental in planning the March on Washington as people think he was. His biggest role in that event was his "I Have A Dream" speech. It was Dr. King's close friends, Bayard Rustin, an African-American man, who was a homosexual and a member of the Communist party, who did much of the leg work to make the March on Washington a success.

This is not to suggest that Dr. King didn't play a major role in the Civil Rights Movement. It's just that "Parting the Waters" does a good job of toning down the god-like qualities that some people have ascribed to Dr. King during and after his life.

So, on this day in African-American, American and world history, Happy Birthday, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who stood for non-violent, social change and equality for all people, regardless of race, creed, color, gender, political affiliation, sexual orientation and any of the other things that we use to label and separate ourselves from one another.