Martin Luther King, Jr. drove into an unfamiliar Boston without skyscrapers or the Massachusetts Turnpike in a new, green Chevrolet truck given to him by his father as a gift from graduating Crozer Theological Seminary.
He was a 22-year-old ordained minister with a sociology undergraduate degree from Morehouse College – he planned to work toward a doctorate degree from Boston University in either theology or another academic field.
King enjoyed activities that many college students participate in today – in addition to the developing city of Boston, the university lifestyle for King and his colleagues was much different than it is today – mainly due to issues of race that divided society.
In 1951, King was among a cluster of students from the southern states to attend BU, as it was one of the few universities at the time that would accept African American students into their graduate or doctorate program.
These students were invited to parties and places that accepted integrated activities; it included a mixture of people involved in local campus life as well as surrounding colleges.
According to information from the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Archive at BU, local people in the city at that time would silence any discrimination. Although there was not visible segregation outside of the college community, people would largely ignore African Americans.
As King began to discover his calling, he continued with his studies in the BU School of Theology.
He also served at his father’s church as an associate pastor. He made a large salary for that time — $4,000 a year. With his stable finances and need to observe social activity in Boston, he decided to live in apartment rather than a dorm.
He faced discrimination while searching for an apartment in the city, one complex had a “for rent” sign in window until the landlord discovered who wanted to rent the apartment. Suddenly, the vacancy was “filled.”
Eventually, King found an apartment near the corner of Massachusetts Ave. and Columbus, directly across from a nightclub on a strip known as “Boston’s Little Harlem.” It was from this location that he got a direct window in Boston’s culture and was able to get a different perspective on world and racial issues.
King’s social life and observation on public interaction in Boston were important to him as he developed as a civil rights leader — the ideas and leaders he studied in college and at BU were vital in shaping his intellectual character.
King had already adopted Mahatma Gandhi’s approach to nonviolent resistance at Crozer Theological Seminary, and applied it to his studies of theology at BU while taking supplemental classes of philosophy at Harvard.
“It was this university that meant so much to me in terms of my formulation of my thinking and the ideas that have guided my life,” King said of his time at BU and of the vibrant university culture of Boston.
Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Archive has a collection of official MLK documents and interviews available to the public for educational and research purposes.
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