Migraines, Famous Migraineurs, Martin Luther King Jr.

Nancy Harris Bonk Health Guide
  • I wonder what the impact of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Migraines would have on today's political picture. King, organizer of the modern American civil rights movement was in fact suffering a Migraine on the last day of his life. While King and a few of his friends were on the balcony of his hotel room getting ready to leave for dinner, James Earl Ray shot him. It was April 4, 1968. King was dead at 39-years-old.


    Michael King was born on Tuesday, January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. His parents, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King also had two other children, Christine and Alfred. The King family lived with his maternal grandparents, Adam and Jeannie Williams, in rural Georgia where Adam was a Baptist minister. King's grandfather died in 1931, and his father became pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. It was during this time that King's father changed his name to Martin after the Protestant religious leader Martin Luther. Soon after, Michael Jr. would also change his name to - Martin Luther King, Jr.

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    While King was growing up, his father tired to protect his children from segregation and racism believing that they were disrespectful to God's will. Furthermore, he felt racial discrimination wasn't good for his race and made sure his children never has a sense of superiority or entitlement. Attending Booker T. Washington High School, a segregated public high school, King was a clever student and skipped the ninth and eleventh grades. This allowed him to graduate when he was just 15-years-old. He then entered Morehose College in Atlanta, where both his father and grandfather attended. While at Morehouse, he explored and questioned his spiritual calling and political activism. He became ordained during his last semester and joined the Intercollegiate Council, a racially diverse discussion group at Emory University that met once a month. After graduation he went on to study at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania where he sharpened his theological beliefs, moving toward Reinhold Niebuhr's principles which underscored the inflexibility of social evil. King graduated at the top of his class and in 1951 and began his doctoral studies at Boston University's School of Theology.


    While he was studying in Boston from 1951 to 1955, he had opportunities to refine his preaching manners and views at local Baptist churches and while on school breaks at his father's church in Georgia. King was intrigued by both Thoreau and Gandhi and their perspectives during this time period; favoring Thoreau's thoughts that men shouldn't have to obey unfair or unjust laws and Gandhi's belief that nonviolence was always the answer. He also met and dated Coretta Scott, a music student at the New England Conservatory of Music. They were married on June 18, 1953, in Marion, Alabama, where Scott's family lived. After receiving his doctoral degree in 1955, he became the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. The Kings raised four children; Yolanda Denise, Martin Luther King III in Alabama and Dexter Scott and Bernice Albertine in Georgia.


    One of the turning points in King's life was the Rosa Parks bus incident. On December 1, 1955, Parks was riding the bus after a long day of work. She sat in the front of the section reserved for the "colored" people. In Montgomery, Alabama, the law stated that "whites" sat in the front of the bus and "blacks" sat in the back. As the bus filled with more and more people, the "white" seats were all taken which left some white men standing. The bus driver told Parks and three other black people to move to the back of the bus. Three of the four complied with the bus driver, but Parks said "no," she was not giving up her seat. She was immediately arrested and a few days later found guilty and fined. Outraged, civil rights activists and leaders of the black community met with Martin Luther King, Jr. at his church to formulate a response to Parks arrest. They felt a nonviolent approach was best and decided upon a one-day bus boycott. King led the people of Montgomery through what was to be a one day bus boycott through a 382 day revolt. In 1956, the Supreme Court barred bus segregation.

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    Inspired by this victory, and the growing civil rights movement, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was formed. King was elected president to the group providing new leadership to the movement. Between 1957 and 1968 he traveled and spoke wherever he felt there were injustices, protests or action was needed. King wrote five books, traveled over six million miles and gave at least twenty-five hundred speeches during this time. He went to Ghana, learning about apartheid and then to India where he confirmed his thoughts on nonviolent protest:

    "I left India more convinced than ever before that nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom." 

    In the early 1960's, the King family moved to Atlanta, Georgia to be near the Southern Christian Leadership Council and his father's church. As the civil rights movement gained speed, students had "sit-ins" at lunch counters, used "white" only drinking fountains and restrooms to get their desegregation point across. King protested and was arrested right along with these students. He also led a huge protest in Birmingham, Alabama, where in Kings' mind, was the most racially segregated city. This protest, due to the ugly response from the police, captured the world's attention and encouraged President Kennedy to introduce civil right legislation. King wrote his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" during this period, which was his strategy for the black revolution, and developed a system to encourage black people in Alabama to vote. 250,000 people followed him in a peaceful march in Washington, D. C. where he gave his "I Have a Dream" speech and in 1963 was named "Man of the Year" by Time Magazine. At the age of 35, he was the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.


    In 1968, the daily grind of the civil rights movement - always being on the go, leading marches, going to jail, receiving death threats, was beginning to put a physical strain on King. In fact, he relayed how he was feeling to Jesse Jackson one night. Jackson spent quite a bit of time with King during the civil movement and can recall a time when King was feeling concerned with some troubles the movement was having. Before a meeting, King told Jackson, "I've had a Migraine headache for three days that won't stop hurting." In today's political climate, it makes me wonder what effect King's Migraines would have had on the civil rights movement?


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    "Martin Luther King Jr." Biography.com. January 22, 2012. 


    "About Dr. King."The King Center.com January 23, 2012. 


    "The Nobel Peace Prize 1964". Martin Luther King Jr. Nobelprize.org. January 22, 2012.  


    Video. "Jessie Jackson: MLK's Agony." Discovery Channel. January 20, 2012.


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    © HealthCentral Network, 2012.
    Last updated January 25, 2012.

Published On: January 25, 2012