This week Towne Street Theatre would like to highlight one of the most important figures in African American history: Martin Luther King Jr. As someone who grew up in the 90s, years after the Civil Rights movement, I grew up learning about what an amazing man Martin Luther King Jr. was and the impact he made on history. His “I Have a Dream” speech was read by elementary school children each February at my school.
Because I grew up learning about him, I think that people my age might take him for granted. Many of the things he fought for have come to fruition, but others have not; we have not fully realized his dream of equality for all.
Martin Luther King Jr. was born January 15, 1929 to Martin Luther King Sr. and Alberta Williams King. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were Baptist preachers. King Jr. graduated from high school at fifteen and went on to receive his B.A. degree from Morehouse College. He later received his B.D. from Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. He got his doctorate in 1955 from Boston University.
In 1954, King Jr. became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1955, King Jr. led the “first great Negro nonviolent demonstration of contemporary times in the United States, the bus boycott” which lasted 382 days. During the boycott, King Jr. would face many trials—he was arrested, his home was bombed and he suffered personal abuse. King Jr. remained firm in his leadership during this time and emerged as one of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. From 1957 to 1968 King Jr. wrote five books, numerous articles, traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times. As one of the main leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, King took inspiration from Gandhi and from Christianity, focusing on non-violent forms of protest against injustice and racism. He went on to be the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of thirty-five.
Towne Street Theatre was founded in part because after the LA riots of '92, the LA arts council asked "How can the arts help heal Los Angeles?"
In response, actresses Nancy Cheryll Davis, Nancy Renee, and artist Nathaniel Bellamy, produced a series of readings by multicultural writers centered on universal themes. This series evolved into the Towne Street Theatre (TST) in 1993. As Towne Street Theatre took up the challenge it looked to past civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. as inspiration.