By: Mark Young -

Below is original Time "Man Of The Year" story from Jan. 3, 1964.

The jetliner left Atlanta and raced through the night toward Los Angeles. From his window seat, the black man gazed down at the shadowed outlines of the Appalachians, then leaned back against a white pillow. In the dimmed cabin light, his dark, impassive face seemed enlivened only by his big, shiny, compelling eyes. Suddenly, the plane spuddered in a pocket of severe turbulence. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. turned a wisp of a smile to his companion and said: "I guess that's Birmingham down below."

It was, and the reminder of Vulcan's city set King to talking quietly of the events of 1963. "In 1963," he said, there arose a great Negro disappointment and disillusionment and discontent. It was the year of Birmingham, when the civil rights issue was impressed on the nation in a way that nothing else before had been able to do. It was the most decisive year in the Negro's fight for equality. Never before had there been such a coalition of conscience on this issue."

Symbol of Revolution. In 1963, the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that coalition of conscience insatiably changed the course of U.S. life. Nineteen million Negro citizens forced the nation to take stock of itself in the Congress as in the corporation, in factory and field and pulpit and playground, in kitchen and classroom. The U.S. Negro, shedding the thousand fears that have encumbered his generations, made 1963 the year of his outcry for quality, of massive demonstrations, of wins and speeches and street fighting, of soul searching in the suburbs and psalm singing in the jail cells.

And there was Birmingham with its bombs and snarling dogs; its shots in the night and death in the streets and in the churches; its lashing fire hoses at washed human beings along slippery avenues without washing away the dignity; its men and women pinned to the ground by officers of the law ... this was the Negro revolution. Birmingham was its main battleground, and Martin Luther King Jr., the leader of the Negroes in Birmingham, became millions, black and white, in South and North, the symbol of that revolution -- and the Man of the Year.

King is in many ways the unlikely leader of an unlikely organization -- the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a loose alliance of 100 or so church-oriented groups. King has neither the quiet brilliance nor the sharp administrative capabilities of the N.A.A.C.P.'s Roy Wilkins. He has none of the sophistication of the National Urban League's Whitney Young Jr., lacks Young's experience in dealing with high echelons of the U.S. business community. He has neither the inventiveness of CORE's James Farmer nor the raw militancy of SNICK's John Lewis nor the bristling wit of Author James Baldwin. He did not make his mark in the entertainment field, where talented Negroes have long been prominent, or in the sciences and professions where Negroes have, almost unnoticed, been coming into their own. He earns no more money than some plumbers ($10,000 a year), and possesses little in the way of material things.

He presents an unimposing figure: he is 5 ft. 7 in., weighs a heavy-chested 173 lbs., dresses with funereal conservatism (five of six suits are black, as are most of his neckties). He has very little sense of humor. He never heard of Y.A. Tittle or George Shearing, but he can discourse by the hour about Thoreau, Hegel, Kant and Gandhi.

King preaches endlessly about nonviolence, but his protest movements often lead to violence. He himself has been stabbed in the chest, and physically attacked three more times; his home has been bombed three times, and he has been pitched into jail 14 times. His mail brings him a daily dosage of opinion in which he is by turn vilified and glorified. One letter says: "This isn't a threat but a promise -- your head will be blown off as sure as Christ made green apples." But another ecstatically calls him a "Moses, sent to lead his people to the Promised Land of first-class citizenship."

Cadence. Some cynics call King "De Lawd." He does have an upper-air way about him, and, for a man who has earned fame with speeches, his metaphors can be downright embarrassing. For Negroes, he says, "the word 'wait' has been a tranquilizing Thalidomide," giving "birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration." Only by "following the cause of tender-heartedness" can man "matriculate into the university of eternal life." Segregation is "the adultery of an illicit intercourse between injustice and immorality," and it "cannot be cured by the Vaseline of gradualism."

Yet when he mounts the platform or pulpit, the actual words seem unimportant. And King, by some quality of that limpid voice or by some secret of cadence, exercises control as can few others over his audiences, black or white. He has proved this ability on countless occasions, ranging from the Negroes' huge summer March on Washington to a little meeting one recent Friday night in Gadsden, Ala. There, the exchange went like this:

King: I hear they are beating you!

Response: Yes, yes.

King: I hear they are cursing you.

Response: Yes, yes.

King: I hear they are going into your homes and doing nasty things and beating you!

Response: Yes, yes.

King: Some of you have knives, and I ask you to put them up. Some of you may have arms, and I ask you to put them up. Get the weapon of nonviolence, the breastplate of righteousness, the armor of truth, and just keep marching.

Few can explain the extraordinary King mystique. Yet he has an indescribable capacity for empathy that is the touchstone of leadership. By deed and by preachment, he has stirred in his people a Christian forbearance that nourishes hope and smothers injustice. Says Atlanta's Negro Minister Ralph D. Abernathy, whom King calls "my dearest friend and cellmate": "The people make Dr. King great. He articulates the longings, the hopes, the aspirations of his people in a most earnest and profound manner. He is a humble man, down to earth, honest. He has proved his commitment to Judaeo-Christian ideals. He seeks to save the nation and its soul, not just the Negro."

Angry Memories. Whatever his greatness, it was thrust upon him. He was born on Jan. 15 nearly 35 years ago, at a time when the myth of the subhuman Negro flourished, and when as cultivated an observer as H.L. Mencken could write that "the educated Negro of today is a failure, not because he meets insuperable difficulties in life, but because he is a Negro. His brain is not fitted for the higher forms of mental effort; his ideals, no matter how laboriously he is trained and sheltered, remain those of a clown."

Mencken had never met the King family of Atlanta. King's maternal grandfather, the Rev. A.D. Williams, was one of Georgia's first N.A.A.C.P. leaders, helped organize a boycott against an Atlanta newspaper that had disparaged Negro voters. His preacher father was in the forefront of civil rights battles aimed at securing equal salaries for Negro teachers and the abolition of Jim Crow elevators in the Atlanta courthouse.

As a boy, Martin Luther King Jr. suffered those cumulative experiences in discrimination that demoralize and outrage human dignity. He still recalls the curtains that were used on the dining cars of trains to separate white from black. "I was very young when I had my first experience in sitting behind the curtain," he says. "I felt just as if a curtain had come down across my whole life. The insult of it I will never forget." On another occasion, he and his schoolteacher were riding a bus from Macon to Atlanta when the driver ordered them to give up their seats to white passengers. "When we didn't move right away, the driver started cursing us out and calling us black sons of bitches. I decided not to move at all, but my teacher pointed out that we must obey the law. So we got up and stood in the aisle the whole 90 miles to Atlanta. It was a night I'll never forget. I don't think I have ever been so deeply angry in my life."

Ideals & Technique. Raised in the warmth of a tightly knit family, King developed from his earliest years a raw-nerved sensitivity that bordered on self-destruction. Twice, before he was 13, he tried to commit suicide. Once his brother, "A.D.," accidentally knocked his grandmother unconscious when he slid down a banister. Martin thought she was dead, and in despair ran to a second-floor window and jumped out -- only to land unhurt. He did the same thing, with the same result, on the day his grandmother died.

A bright student, he skipped through high school and at 15 entered Atlanta's Negro Morehouse College. His father wanted him to study for the ministry. King himself thought he wanted medicine or the law. "I had doubts that religion was intellectually respectable. I revolted against the emotionalism of Negro religion, the shouting and the stamping. I didn't understand it and it embarrassed me." At Morehouse, King searched for "some intellectual basis for a social philosophy." He read and reread Thoreau's essay, "Civil Disobedience," concluded that the ministry was the only framework in which he could properly position his growing ideas on social protest.

At Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pa., King built the underpinnings of his philosophy. Hegel and Kant impressed him, but a lecture on Gandhi transported him, sent him foraging insatiably into Gandhi's books. "From my background," he says, "I gained my regulating Christian ideals. From Gandhi I learned my operational technique."

Montgomery. The first big test of King's philosophy -- or of his operating technique -- came in 1955, after he had married a talented young soprano named Coretta Scott and accepted the pastorate of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.