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Dexter Avenue Baptist Church (Montgomery, Alabama)
Dexter Avenue Baptist Church (Montgomery, Alabama) Next entry

In 1954, Martin Luther King began his first full-time pastorship at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. While at Dexter, King became president of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) and led his congregation and the black community during the Montgomery bus boycott.

Founded in 1877, Dexter was originally called the Second Colored Baptist Church. Congregants met in a hall that had been used as a slave trader’s pen until 1885, when the first worship service was held in the basement of the current structure. On Thanksgiving Day in 1889, the first service was held in the sanctuary, and the church was renamed Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. The church began its activist tradition under the leadership of King’s predecessor, Vernon Johns, whose militant words and boldness kindled the spirit of resistance for blacks at Dexter and throughout Montgomery.

King accepted the call to pastor Dexter while completing his doctoral studies at Boston University. In his acceptance speech, delivered on 2 May 1954, King admitted to his new congregation: ‘‘I have no pretense to being a great preacher or even a profound scholar. I certainly have no pretence to infallibility—that is reserved for the height of the divine rather than the depth of the human.’’ He continued: ‘‘I come to you with only the claim of being a servant of Christ, and a feeling of dependence on his grace for my leadership. I come with a feeling that I have been called to preach and to lead God’s people’’ (Papers 6:166). Shortly after accepting this position, he proposed a list of recommendations for the revitalization of the church, which were accepted without changes or revisions. King insisted that every church member become a registered voter and a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He also organized a social and political action committee, ‘‘for the purpose of keeping the congregation intelligently informed concerning the social, political, and economic situation’’ (Papers 2:290).

On 2 December 1955, King conducted a meeting in the basement of the Dexter Avenue Church, which resulted in the decision to launch the Montgomery bus boycott, and three days later the MIA was founded. As MIA president, King organized and helped direct the boycott from his office in the lower half of the sanctuary. He continued to serve as president of the MIA after the boycott, a commitment that, at times, compromised his efficacy as Dexter’s pastor.

In November 1959, King resigned from Dexter and joined his father the following February as co-pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in order to more effectively lead the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), headquartered in that city. In his resignation to Dexter’s congregation, King admitted that, ‘‘a multiplicity of new responsibilities poured in upon me in almost staggering torrents. So I ended up futilely attempting to be four or five men in one’’ (Papers 5:329). In 1976, the city of Montgomery added the church, which was renamed the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church in 1973, to a list of designated historic sites.


Evans and Alexander, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, 1877–1977, 1978.

King, Acceptance Speech, 2 May 1954, in Papers 6:166–167.

King, Draft, Resignation from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, 29 November 1959, in Papers 5:328–329.

King, ‘‘Recommendations to the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church for the Fiscal Year 1954–1955,’’ 5 September 1954, in Papers 2:287–294.

SCLC Press Release, ‘‘Dr. King Leaves Montgomery for Atlanta,’’ 1 December 1959, in Papers 5:330–331.

Bates, Daisy (1914-1999)
Bates, Daisy (1914-1999) Next entry

Daisy Lee Gaston Bates, a civil rights advocate, newspaper publisher, and president of the Arkansas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), advised the nine students who desegregated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. King offered encouragement to Bates during this period, telling her in a letter that she was “a woman whom everyone KNOWS has been, and still is in the thick of the battle from the very beginning, never faltering, never tiring” (Papers 4:446).

Bates was born in 1914 in the small town of Huttig, Arkansas. Following the murder of her biological mother and the disappearance of her father, she was raised by family friends, Orlee and Susan Smith. At an early age she developed a disdain for discrimination, recalling in her autobiography The Long Shadow of Little Rock an incident when a local butcher told her, “Niggers have to wait ‘til I wait on the white people” (Bates, 8).

At the age of fifteen she met L.C. Bates, a journalist and insurance salesmen whom she married in 1941. The pair soon founded the Arkansas State Press, an avidly pro-civil rights newspaper. Bates became an outspoken critic of segregation, using the paper to call for an improvement in the social and economic conditions of blacks throughout Arkansas. When the Supreme Court issued its Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 outlawing segregation in public schools, the State Press began clamoring for integration in Little Rock schools. As the state president of the NAACP, a position she had assumed in 1952, Bates worked closely with the black students who volunteered to desegregate Central High School in the fall of 1957. The story of the “Little Rock Nine” quickly became national news when white residents rioted and threatened the physical safety of Bates and the students.

During this time King reached out to the Arkansas civil rights leader. In a 26 September 1957 telegram sent during the Central High School crisis, King urged Bates to “adhere rigorously to a way of non-violence,” despite being “terrorized, stoned, and threatened by ruthless mobs.” He assured her: “World opinion is with you. The moral conscience of millions of white Americans is with you.”  In May 1958 King stayed with the Bates when he spoke at the Arkansas AM&N College commencement, and soon afterward invited her to be the Women’s Day speaker at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church later that year in October. During the same year, Bates was elected to the executive committee of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

The only woman to speak at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Bates later moved to Mitchellville, Arkansas, and became director of the Mitchellville Office of Equal Opportunity Self-Help Project. In 1999, following a series of strokes, she died at the age of 84.


Bates, The Long Shadow of Little Rock, 1962. 

"Dr. King Ask Non-Violence In Little Rock School Crisis," 26 September 1957, in Papers 4:279.

King to Bates, 1 July 1958, in Papers 4:445-446.

Little Rock School Desegregation (1957)
Little Rock School Desegregation (1957) Next entry

Three years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Brown v. Board of Education that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal, nine African American students—Minnijean Brown, Terrance Roberts, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Gloria Ray, Jefferson Thomas, and Carlotta Walls—attempted to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The students, known as the Little Rock Nine, were recruited by Daisy Bates, president of the Arkansas branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). As president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, Martin Luther King wrote President Dwight D. Eisenhower requesting a swift resolution allowing the students to attend school.

On 4 September 1957, the first day of school at Central High, a white mob gathered in front of the school, and Governor Orval Faubus deployed the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the black students from entering. In response to Faubus’ action, a team of NAACP lawyers, including Thurgood Marshall, won a federal district court injunction to prevent the governor from blocking the students’ entry. With the help of police escorts, the students successfully entered the school through a side entrance on 23 September 1957. Fearing escalating mob violence, however, the students were rushed home soon afterward.        

Observing the standoff between Faubus and the federal judiciary, King sent a telegram to President Eisenhower urging him to “take a strong forthright stand in the Little Rock situation.” King told the president that if the federal government did not take a stand against the injustice it would “set the process of integration back fifty years. This is a great opportunity for you and the federal government to back up the longings and aspirations of millions of peoples of good will and make law and order a reality” (King, 9 September 1957). Aware that the Little Rock incident was becoming an international embarrassment, Eisenhower reluctantly ordered troops from the Army’s 101st Airborne Division to protect the students, who were shielded by federal troops and the Arkansas National Guard for the remainder of the school year. In a 25 September telegram, King praised the president’s actions: “I wish to express my sincere support for the stand you have taken to restore law and order in Little Rock, Arkansas. . . .You should know that the overwhelming majority of southerners, Negro and white, stand firmly behind your resolute action” (Papers 4:278).

At the end of the school year, Ernest Green became the first African American to graduate from Central High School. King attended his graduation ceremony. In honor of their momentous contributions to history and the integration of the Arkansas public school system, in 1958 the Little Rock Nine were honored with the NAACP’s highest honor, the Spingarn Medal.

Before schools opened in the fall of 1958, Faubus closed all four of Little Rock’s public high schools rather than proceed with desegregation, but his efforts were short lived. In December 1959, the Supreme Court ruled that the school board must reopen the schools and resume the process of desegregating the city’s schools.


Bates, Long Shadow of Little Rock, 1962.

Hampton, Fayer, and Flynn, Voices of Freedom, 1990.

King to Eisenhower, 9 September 1957, MLKJP-GAMK.

King to Eisenhower, 25 September 1957, in Papers 4:278.

“National Affairs,” Time, 7 October 1957.

Williams, Thurgood Marshall, 1998

Randolph, A. Philip (1889-1979)
Randolph, A. Philip (1889-1979) Next entry

A. Philip Randolph, who Martin Luther King, Jr. called ‘‘truly the Dean of Negro leaders,’’ played a crucial role in gaining recognition of African Americans in labor organizations (Papers 4:527). A socialist and a pacifist, Randolph founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first successful black trade union, and the Negro American Labor Council (NALC).

The youngest son of a poor preacher deeply committed to racial politics, Randolph was born in Crescent City, Florida, on 15 April 1889. He graduated from Jacksonville’s Cookman Institute in 1911, relocating to New York City soon afterward. In 1917 Randolph and Chandler Owen founded the Messenger, an African American socialist journal critical of American involvement in World War I.

After the 1925 founding of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Randolph succeeded in gaining recognition of the union from the Pullman Palace Car Company in 1937. When the union signed its first contract with the company, membership rose to nearly 15,000. In 1941 Randolph threatened a march on Washington, D.C., if the federal government did not address racial discrimination in the defense industry. In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, which banned discrimination in the defense industries and established the Fair Employment Practices Commission. Randolph also helped to form the League for Non-violent Civil Disobedience against Military Segregation, which influenced President Harry S. Truman’s decision to desegregate the armed services in 1948.

After the American Federation of Labor merged with the Congress of Industrial Organizations to form the AFL-CIO in 1955, Randolph was appointed to the new organization’s executive council, when he became one of its first two black vice presidents. As a labor official, Randolph won significant union support for the civil rights movement and allied with King and other organizations on initiatives like the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom.

In 1959 Randolph founded NALC in an effort to effectively present the demands of black workers to the labor movement. Randolph and NALC helped initiate the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, during which King delivered his famous ‘‘I Have a Dream’’ speech.

Randolph devoted his life to the achievement of both racial and economic equality. On the occasion of Randolph’s 70th birthday, King participated in an evening honoring him at New York’s Carnegie Hall. King praised Randolph’s refusal ‘‘to sell his race for a mess of pottage,’’ and credited him with never being ‘‘afraid to challenge an unjust state power’’ or to ''speak out against the power structure'' (Papers 5:350). Randolph died on 16 May 1979 at age 90.


King, Outline of Remarks for ‘‘A Salute to A. Philip Randolph,’’ 24 January 1960, in Papers 5:350.

King to Randolph, 8 November 1958, in Papers 4:527–528.

Pfeffer, A. Philip Randolph, 1990.

Holt Street Baptist Church (Montgomery, Alabama)
Holt Street Baptist Church (Montgomery, Alabama) Next entry

On 5 December 1955, the first day of the Montgomery bus boycott, thousands of Montgomery’s black citizens gathered at Holt Street Baptist Church for the first mass meeting of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA).  Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his first address as MIA president, telling the crowd, “there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression” (Papers 3:72).  

First organized in 1909 as part of Bethel Baptist Church, Holt Street Baptist Church was built in 1913 on the corner of South Holt Street and Bullock Street in Montgomery. Under the pastorship of Rev. A. W. Wilson for more than 50 years, the church was a frequent site of protest meetings during the boycott.

In his memoir Stride Toward Freedom, King recalled that he had “only twenty minutes to prepare the most decisive speech of my life,” before the mass meeting and found himself torn between delivering a speech militant enough to keep the boycotters motivated yet “moderate enough to keep this fervor within controllable and Christian bounds” (King, 59). King spoke of the injustices suffered by black bus passengers like Rosa Parks, and reminded the crowd of its Christian faith that justified protests grounded in nonviolence. He concluded: “When the history books are written in the future, somebody will have to say: ‘There lived a race of people, a black people, "fleecy locks and black complexion,"' a people who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights. And thereby they injected a new meaning into the veins of history and civilization'” (Papers 3:74). Thundering applause followed King's speech and Ralph Abernathy read the resolutions drawn up by Abernathy, King, and others on the resolution committee. The crowd overwhelmingly voted in favor of the resolutions, including not to ride the buses until their demands were met.

Throughout the boycott, Holt Street served as a meeting place for strategic planning sessions as well as other mass meetings. On 25 June 1956, more than 5,000 protesters at Holt Street voted to continue the protest after the federal district court decision in Browder v. Gayle. Holt Street was also the site of the MIA's annual Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change.


Uriah J. Fields, “Minutes of Montgomery Improvement Association Founding Meeting,” 5 December 1955, in Papers 3:68-70.

King, MIA mass meeting at Holt Street Baptist Church, 5 December 1955, in Papers 3:71-79.

King, “The Montgomery Story,” Address Delivered at the 47th Annual NAACP Convention, 27 June 1956, in Papers 3:299-310.

King, Stride Toward Freedom, 1958.

Seay, I Was There by the Grace of God, 1990.

Ebenezer Baptist Church (Atlanta, Georgia)
Ebenezer Baptist Church (Atlanta, Georgia) Next entry
Public Domain, From NPS.GOV

In the fall of 1947, Martin Luther King delivered his first sermon at the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Ebenezer’s congregation voted to license King as a minister soon afterward, and he was ordained in February 1948. King went on to serve as Ebenezer’s associate minister during his breaks from Crozer Theological Seminary and from his doctoral studies at Boston University School of Theology through early 1954. He returned as co-pastor with his father, Martin Luther King, Sr., serving from 1960 until his assassination in 1968.

The church was founded in 1886 by its first minister, John Andrew Parker. In 1894 Alfred Daniel Williams, King, Jr.’s maternal grandfather, became Ebenezer’s second pastor. Under Williams the church grew from 13 members to nearly 750 members by 1913. Williams moved the church twice before purchasing a lot on the corner of Auburn Avenue and Jackson Street and, announced plans to raise $25,000 for a new building that would include an auditorium and gallery seating for 1,250 people. In March 1914 the Ebenezer congregation celebrated the groundbreaking for its new building. After the death of Williams in 1931, King, Sr., who had married Williams’ daughter Alberta in 1926, became pastor.

With King, Sr. as pastor and his wife, Alberta Williams King, serving as musical director, the King family spent much of their time at Ebenezer. King, Jr. later described how his earliest relationships were formed at church: ‘‘My best friends were in Sunday School, and it was the Sunday School that helped me to build the capacity for getting along with people’’ (Papers 1:359). While in seminary, King often preached at Ebenezer. He delivered some of his most enduring sermons for the first time at Ebenezer, including ‘‘The Dimensions of a Complete Life,’’ ‘‘What Is Man?’’ and ‘‘Loving Your Enemies.’’

After King accepted the pastorate at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, members of Ebenezer’s congregation attended his October 1954 installation service, prompting King to express his gratitude: ‘‘Your prayers and words of encouragement have meant a great deal to me in my ministry; and you can never know what your presence in such large numbers meant to me at the beginning of my pastorate. I want you to know Ebenezer, that I feel greatly indebted to you; and that whatever success I might achieve in my life’s work you will have helped to make it possible’’ (Papers 2:314).

In November 1959, King accepted Ebenezer’s call to join his father as co-pastor, a move that brought him closer to the headquarters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. His first sermon as copastor at Ebenezer was ‘‘The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life.’’ After King’s assassination in 1968, his brother, A. D. Williams King, was installed as Ebenezer’s co-pastor. King, Sr. continued as pastor until 1975, and Coretta Scott King continued to attend services at Ebenezer until her death.


Introduction, in Papers 1:6–7, 13, 25–26, 28.

King, ‘‘An Autobiography of Religious Development,’’ 12 September–22 November 1950, in Papers 1:359–363.

King to Ebenezer Baptist Church Members, 6 November 1954, in Papers 2:313–314.

King, Sr., with Riley, Daddy King, 1980.

Lillian D. Watkins, ‘‘Certification of Minister’s License for Martin Luther King, Jr.,’’ 4 February 1948, in Papers 1:150.

Parks, Rosa (1913-2005)
Parks, Rosa (1913-2005) Next entry

On 1 December 1955 local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) leader Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. This single act of nonviolent resistance helped spark the Montgomery bus boycott, a 13-month struggle to desegregate the city’s buses. Under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., the boycott resulted in the enforcement of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that public bus segregation is unconstitutional, and catapulted both King and Parks into the national spotlight.

Born in Tuskegee, Alabama, on 4 February 1913, Rosa Louise McCauley Parks grew up in Montgomery and was educated at the laboratory school of Alabama State College. In 1932 she married Raymond Parks, a barber and member of the NAACP. At that time, Raymond Parks was active in the Scottsboro case. In 1943 Rosa Parks joined the local chapter of the NAACP and was elected secretary. Two years later, she registered to vote, after twice being denied.

By 1949 Parks was advisor to the local NAACP Youth Council. Under her guidance, youth members challenged the Jim Crow system by checking books out of whites-only libraries. The summer before Parks’ arrest, Virginia Durr arranged for Parks to travel to Tennessee’s Highlander Folk School to attend a workshop entitled, ‘‘Racial Desegregation: Implementing the Supreme Court Decision.’’ It was there that Parks received encouragement from fellow participant Septima Clark, who later joined Highlander’s staff in mid-1956.

When Parks was arrested on 1 December 1955, she was not the first African American to defy Montgomery’s bus segregation law. Nine months earlier, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin had been arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger. In October 1955, 18-year-old Mary Louise Smith had been arrested under similar circumstances, but both cases failed to stir Montgomery’s black leadership to help launch a mass protest. King wrote of Parks’ unique local stature in his memoir, Stride Toward Freedom, where he talked of how her character and dedication made her widely respected in the African American community (King, 44).

Although many news accounts depicted Parks as a tired seamstress, Parks explained the deep roots of her act of resistance in her autobiography: ‘‘I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in’’ (Parks, 116).

Parks inspired tens of thousands of black citizens to boycott the Montgomery city buses for over a year. During that period she served as a dispatcher to coordinate rides for protesters and was indicted, along with King and over 80 others, for participation in the boycott. Parks also made appearances in churches and other organizations, including some in the North, to raise funds and publicize the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA).

Parks continued to face harassment following the boycott’s successful conclusion and decided to move to Detroit to seek better employment opportunities. Shortly before her departure, the MIA declared 5 August 1957 ‘‘Rosa Parks Day.’’ A celebration was held at Mt. Zion AME Zion Church, and $800 was presented to Parks. Despite the fanfare, Parks found it hard to believe that her actions launched an entire movement: ‘‘I had no idea when I refused to give up my seat on that Montgomery bus that my small action would help put an end to the segregation laws in the South’’ (Parks, 2).

In 1964 John Conyers, an African American lawyer, received Parks’ endorsement of his campaign to represent Detroit in the U.S. House of Representatives. After he won, he hired Parks as an office assistant. She remained with him until her retirement in 1988.

In 1987 she founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development, which provides learning and leadership opportunities for youth and seniors. She was an active supporter of civil rights causes in her elder years. She died in October 2005, at the age of 92.

Introduction in Papers 3:3, 5.
King, Stride Toward Freedom, 1958.
Parks, Rosa Parks, 1992.
Robinson, Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1987.


Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-1956)
Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-1956) Next entry

Sparked by the arrest of Rosa Parks on 1 December 1955, the Montgomery bus boycott was a 13-month mass protest that ended with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public buses is unconstitutional. The Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) coordinated the boycott, and its president, Martin Luther King, Jr., became a prominent civil rights leader as international attention focused on Montgomery. The bus boycott demonstrated the potential for nonviolent mass protest to successfully challenge racial segregation and served as an example for other southern campaigns that followed. In Stride Toward Freedom, King’s 1958 memoir of the boycott, he declared the real meaning of the Montgomery bus boycott to be the power of a growing self-respect to animate the struggle for civil rights.

The roots of the bus boycott began years before the arrest of Rosa Parks. The Womens’ Political Council (WPC), a group of black professionals founded in 1946, had already turned their attention to Jim Crow practices on the Montgomery city buses. In a meeting with Mayor W. A. Gayle in March 1954, the council's members outlined the changes they sought for Montgomery’s bus system: no one standing over empty seats; a decree that black individuals not be made to pay at the front of the bus and enter from the rear; and a policy that would require buses to stop at every corner in black residential areas, as they did in white communities. When the meeting failed to produce any meaningful change, WPC president Jo Ann Robinson reiterated the council’s requests in a 21 May letter to Mayor Gayle, telling him, ‘‘there has been talk from twenty-five or more local organizations of planning a city-wide boycott of busses’’(‘‘A Letter from the Women’s Political Council’’).

A year after the WPC’s meeting with Mayor Gayle, a 15-year-old named Claudette Colvin was arrested for challenging segregation on a Montgomery bus. Seven months later, 18-year-old Mary Louise Smith was arrested for refusing to yield her seat to a white passenger. Neither arrest, however, mobilized Montgomery’s black community like that of Rosa Parks later that year.

King recalled in his memoir that ‘‘Mrs. Parks was ideal for the role assigned to her by history,’’ and because ‘‘her character was impeccable and her dedication deep-rooted’’ she was ‘‘one of the most respected people in the Negro community’’ (King, 44). Robinson and the WPC responded to Parks’ arrest by calling for a one-day protest of the city’s buses on 5 December 1955. Robinson prepared a series of leaflets at Alabama State College and organized groups to distribute them throughout the black community. Meanwhile, after securing bail for Parks with Clifford and Virginia Durr, E. D. Nixon, past leader of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), began to call local black leaders, including Ralph Abernathy and King, to organize a planning meeting. On 2 December, black ministers and leaders met at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and agreed to publicize the 5 December boycott. The planned protest received unexpected publicity in the weekend newspapers and in radio and television reports.

On 5 December, 90 percent of Montgomery’s black citizens stayed off the buses. That afternoon, the city’s ministers and leaders met to discuss the possibility of extending the boycott into a long-term campaign. During this meeting the MIA was formed, and King was elected president. Parks recalled: ‘‘The advantage of having Dr. King as president was that he was so new to Montgomery and to civil rights work that he hadn’t been there long enough to make any strong friends or enemies’’ (Parks, 136).

That evening, at a mass meeting at Holt Street Baptist Church, the MIA voted to continue the boycott. King spoke to several thousand people at the meeting: ‘‘I want it to be known that we’re going to work with grim and bold determination to gain justice on the buses in this city. And we are not wrong.… If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong’’ (Papers 3:73). After unsuccessful talks with city commissioners and bus company officials, on 8 December the MIA issued a formal list of demands: courteous treatment by bus operators; first-come, first-served seating for all, with blacks seating from the rear and whites from the front; and black bus operators on predominately black routes.

The demands were not met, and Montgomery’s black residents stayed off the buses through 1956, despite efforts by city officials and white citizens to defeat the boycott. After the city began to penalize black taxi drivers for aiding the boycotters, the MIA organized a carpool. Following the advice of T. J. Jemison, who had organized a carpool during a 1953 bus boycott in Baton Rouge, the MIA developed an intricate carpool system of about 300 cars. Robert Hughes and others from the Alabama Council for Human Relations organized meetings between the MIA and city officials, but no agreements were reached.

In early 1956, the homes of King and E. D. Nixon were bombed. King was able to calm the crowd that gathered at his home by declaring: ‘‘Be calm as I and my family are. We are not hurt and remember that if anything happens to me, there will be others to take my place’’ (Papers 3:115). City officials obtained injunctions against the boycott in February 1956, and indicted over 80 boycott leaders under a 1921 law prohibiting conspiracies that interfered with lawful business. King was tried and convicted on the charge and ordered to pay $500 or serve 386 days in jail in the case State of Alabama v. Martin Luther King, Jr. Despite this resistance, the boycott continued.

Although most of the publicity about the protest was centered on the actions of black ministers, women played crucial roles in the success of the boycott. Women such as Robinson, Johnnie Carr, and Irene West sustained the MIA committees and volunteer networks. Mary Fair Burks of the WPC also attributed the success of the boycott to ‘‘the nameless cooks and maids who walked endless miles for a year to bring about the breach in the walls of segregation’’ (Burks, ‘‘Trailblazers,’’ 82). In his memoir, King quotes an elderly woman who proclaimed that she had joined the boycott not for her own benefit but for the good of her children and grandchildren (King, 78).

National coverage of the boycott and King’s trial resulted in support from people outside Montgomery. In early 1956 veteran pacifists Bayard Rustin and Glenn E. Smiley visited Montgomery and offered King advice on the application of Gandhian techniques and nonviolence to American race relations. Rustin, Ella Baker, and Stanley Levison founded In Friendship to raise funds in the North for southern civil rights efforts, including the bus boycott. King absorbed ideas from these proponents of nonviolent direct action and crafted his own syntheses of Gandhian principles of nonviolence. He said: ‘‘Christ showed us the way, and Gandhi in India showed it could work’’ (Rowland, ‘‘2,500 Here Hail’’). Other followers of Gandhian ideas such as Richard Gregg, William Stuart Nelson, and Homer Jack wrote the MIA offering support.

On 5 June 1956, the federal district court ruled in Browder v. Gayle that bus segregation was unconstitutional, and in November 1956 the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed Browder v. Gayle and struck down laws requiring segregated seating on public buses. The court’s decision came the same day that King and the MIA were in circuit court challenging an injunction against the MIA carpools. Resolved not to end the boycott until the order to desegregate the buses actually arrived in Montgomery, the MIA operated without the carpool system for a month. The Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, and on 20 December 1956 King called for the end of the boycott; the community agreed. The next morning, he boarded an integrated bus with Ralph Abernathy, E. D. Nixon, and Glenn Smiley. King said of the bus boycott: ‘‘We came to see that, in the long run, it is more honorable to walk in dignity than ride in humiliation. So … we decided to substitute tired feet for tired souls, and walk the streets of Montgomery’’ (Papers 3:486). King’s role in the bus boycott garnered international attention, and the MIA’s tactics of combining mass nonviolent protest with Christian ethics became the model for challenging segregation in the South.


Joe Azbell, ‘‘Blast Rocks Residence of Bus Boycott Leader,’’ 31 January 1956, in Papers 3:114–115.

Baker to King, 24 February 1956, in Papers 3:139.

Burks, ‘‘Trailblazers: Women in the Montgomery Bus Boycott,’’ in Women in the Civil Rights Movement, eds. Crawford et al., 1990.

‘‘Don’t Ride the Bus,’’ 2 December 1955, in Papers 3:67.

U. J. Fields, Minutes of the MIA Founding Meeting, 5 December 1955, in Papers 3:68–70.

Gregg to King, 2 April 1956, in Papers 3:211–212.

Indictment, State of Alabama v. M. L. King, Jr., et al., 21 February 1956, in Papers 3:132–133.

Introduction, in Papers 3:3–7; 17–21; 29.

Jack to King, 16 March 1956, in Papers 3:178–179.

Judgment and Sentence of the Court, State of Alabama v. M. L. King, Jr., 22 March 1956, in Papers 3:197.

King, To the National City Lines, Inc., 8 December 1955, in Papers 3:80–81.

King, Statement on Ending the Bus Boycott, 20 December 1956, in Papers 3:485–487.

King, Stride Toward Freedom, 1958.

King, Testimony in State of Alabama v. M. L. King, Jr., 22 March 1956, in Papers 3:183–196.

‘‘A Letter from the Women’s Political Council to the Mayor of Montgomery, Alabama,’’ in Eyes on the Prize, eds. Carson et al., 1991.

MIA Mass Meeting at Holt Street Baptist Church, 5 December 1955, in Papers 3:71–79.

Nelson to King, 21 March 1956, in Papers 3:182–183.

Parks and Haskins, Rosa Parks, 1992.

Robinson, Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1987.

Stanley Rowland, Jr., ‘‘2,500 Here Hail Boycott Leader,’’ New York Times, 26 March 1956.

Rustin to King, 23 December 1956, in Papers 3:491–494.

March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom Next entry

On 28 August 1963, more than 200,000 demonstrators took part in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in the nation’s capital. The march was successful in pressuring the administration of John F. Kennedy to initiate a strong federal civil rights bill in Congress. During this event, Martin Luther King delivered his memorable ‘‘I Have a Dream’’ speech.

The 1963 March on Washington had several precedents. In the summer of 1941 A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, called for a march on Washington, D. C., to draw attention to the exclusion of African Americans from positions in the national defense industry. This job market had proven to be closed to blacks, despite the fact that it was growing to supply materials to the Allies in World War II. The threat of 100,000 marchers in Washington, D.C., pushed President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802, which mandated the formation of the Fair Employment Practices Commission to investigate racial discrimination charges against defense firms. In response, Randolph cancelled plans for the march.

Civil rights demonstrators did assemble at the Lincoln Memorial in May 1957 for a Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom on the third anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, and in October 1958, for a Youth March for Integrated Schools to protest the lack of progress since that ruling. King addressed the 1957 demonstration, but due to ill health after being stabbed by Izola Curry, Coretta Scott King delivered his sched¬uled remarks at the 1958 event.

By 1963, the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, most of the goals of these earlier protests still had not been realized. High levels of black unemployment, work that offered most African Americans only minimal wages and poor job mobility, systematic disenfranchisement of many African Americans, and the persistence of racial segrgation in the South prompted discussions about a large scale march for political and economic justice as early as 1962. On behalf of the Negro American Labor Council (NALC), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Randolph wrote a letter on 24 May 1962 to Secretary Stewart Udall of the Department of the Interior regarding permits for a march culminating at the Lincoln Memorial that fall. Plans for the march were stalled when Udall encouraged the groups to consider the Sylvan Theater at the Washington Monument due to the complications of rerouting traffic and the volume of tourists at the Lincoln Memorial.

marchforjobsIn March 1963 Randolph telegraphed King that the NALC had begun planning a June march ‘‘for Negro job rights,’’ and asked for King’s immediate response (Randolph, 26 March 1963). In May, at the height of the Birmingham Campaign, King joined Randolph, James Farmer of CORE, and Charles McDew of SNCC in calling for such an action later that year, declaring, ‘‘Let the black laboring masses speak!’’ (King et al., 7 May 1963) After notifying President Kennedy of their intent, the leaders of the major civil rights organizations set the march date for 28 August. The stated goals of the protest included ‘‘a comprehensive civil rights bill’’ that would do away with segregated public accommodations; ‘‘protection of the right to vote’’; mechanisms for seeking redress of violations of constitutional rights; ‘‘desegregation of all public schools in 1963’’; a massive federal works program ‘‘to train and place unemployed workers’’; and ‘‘a Federal Fair Employment Practices Act barring discrimination in all employment’’ (‘‘Goals of Rights March’’).

As the summer passed, the list of organizations participating in and sponsoring the event expanded to include the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League, the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in America, the United Auto Workers (UAW), and many others.

The March on Washington was not universally embraced. It was condemned by the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X who referred to it as ‘‘the Farce on Washington,’’ although he attended nonetheless (Malcolm X, 278). The executive board of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) declined to support the march, adopting a position of neutrality. Nevertheless, many constituent unions attended in substantial numbers. 

The diversity of those in attendance was reflected in the event’s speakers and performers. They included singers Marian Anderson, Odetta, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan; Little Rock civil rights veteran Daisy Lee Bates; actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee; American Jewish Congress president Rabbi Joachim Prinz; Randolph; UAW president Walter Reuther; march organizer Bayard Rustin; NAACP president Roy Wilkins; National Urban League president Whitney Young and SNCC leader John Lewis.

A draft of John Lewis’ prepared speech, circulated before the march, was denounced by Reuther, Burke Marshall, and Patrick O’Boyle, the Catholic Archbishop of Washington, D.C., for its militant tone. In the speech’s original version Lewis charged that the Kennedy administration’s proposed Civil Rights Act was ‘‘too little and too late,’’ and threatened not only to march in Washington but to ‘‘march through the South, through the heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did. We will pursue our own ‘scorched earth’ policy’’ (Lewis, 221; 224). In a caucus that included King, Randolph, and SNCC’s James Forman, Lewis agreed to eliminate those and other phrases, but believed that in its final form his address ‘‘was still a strong speech, very strong’’ (Lewis, 227).

The day’s high point came when King took the podium toward the end of the event, and moved the Lincoln Memorial audience and live television viewers with what has come to be known as his ‘‘I Have a Dream’’ speech. King commented that ‘‘as television beamed the image of this extraordinary gathering across the border oceans, everyone who believed in man’s capacity to better himself had a moment of inspiration and confidence in the future of the human race,’’ and characterized the march as an ‘‘appropriate climax’’ to the summer’s events (King, ‘‘I Have a Dream,’’ 125; 122).

After the march, King and other civil rights leaders met with President Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House, where they discussed the need for bipartisan support of civil rights legislation. Though they were passed after Kennedy’s death, the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 reflect the demands of the march.


Branch, Parting the Waters, 1988.

Carson, In Struggle, 1981

‘‘Goals of Rights March,’’ New York Times, 29 August 1963.

King, Address at youth march for integrated schools in Washington, D.C., Delivered by Coretta Scott King, 25 October 1958, in Papers 4:514–515.

King, ‘‘Give Us the Ballot,’’ Address at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, 17 May 1957, in Papers 4:208–215.

King, ‘‘I Have a Dream,’’ in A Call to Conscience, Carson and Shepard, eds., 2001.

King, Why We Can’t Wait, 1964.

King, Randolph, Farmer, and McDew, Call for an Emancipation March on Washington for Jobs, 7 May 1963, BRP-DLC.

Lewis, Walking with the Wind, 1998.

Malcolm X with Haley, Autobiography of Malcolm X, 1965.

Randolph to King, 26 March 1963, MLKJP-GAMK.



King, Martin Luther, Jr. (1929-1968)
King, Martin Luther, Jr. (1929-1968) Next entry

Martin Luther King, Jr., made history, but he was also transformed by his deep family roots in the African-American Baptist church, his formative experiences in his hometown of Atlanta, his theological studies, his varied models of religious and political leadership, and his extensive network of contacts in the peace and social justice movements of his time. Although King was only thirty-nine at the time of his death, his life was remarkable for the ways it reflected and inspired so many of the twentieth century’s major intellectual, cultural, and political developments.

The son, grandson, and great-grandson of Baptist ministers, Martin Luther King Jr., named Michael King at birth, was born in Atlanta and spent his first twelve years in the Auburn Avenue home that his parents, the Reverend Michael King and Alberta Williams King, shared with his maternal grandparents, the Reverend Adam Daniel (A. D.) Williams and Jeannie Celeste Williams. After Rev. Williams’ death in 1931, his son-in-law became Ebenezer Baptist Church’s new pastor and gradually established himself as a major figure in state and national Baptist groups. The elder King began referring to himself (and later to his son) as Martin Luther King.

King’s formative experiences not only immersed him in the affairs of Ebenezer but also introduced him to the African-American social gospel tradition exemplified by his father and grandfather, both of whom were leaders of the Atlanta branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Depression-era breadlines heightened King’s awareness of economic inequities, and his father’s leadership of campaigns against racial discrimination in voting and teachers’ salaries provided a model for the younger King’s own politically engaged ministry. He resisted religious emotionalism and as a teenager questioned some facets of Baptist doctrine, such as the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

During his undergraduate years at Atlanta’s Morehouse College from 1944 to 1948, King gradually overcame his initial reluctance to accept his inherited calling. Morehouse president Benjamin E. Mays influenced King’s spiritual development, encouraging him to view Christianity as a potential force for progressive social change. Religion professor George Kelsey exposed him to biblical criticism and, according to King’s autobiographical sketch, taught him “that behind the legends and myths of the Book were many profound truths which one could not escape” (Papers 1:43). King admired both educators as deeply religious yet also learned men and by the end of his junior year, such academic role models and the example of his father led King to enter the ministry. He described his decision as a response to an “inner urge” calling him to “serve humanity” (Papers 1:363). He was ordained during his final semester at Morehouse, and by this time King had also taken his first steps toward political activism. He had responded to the postwar wave of anti-black violence by proclaiming in a letter to the editor of the Atlanta Constitution that African Americans were “entitled to the basic rights and opportunities of American citizens” (Papers 1:121).  During his senior year King joined the Intercollegiate Council, an interracial student discussion group that met monthly at Atlanta’s Emory University.

After leaving Morehouse, King increased his understanding of liberal Christian thought while attending Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania from 1948 to 1951. Initially uncritical of liberal theology, he gradually moved toward Reinhold Niebuhr’s neoorthodoxy, which emphasized the intractability of social evil. Mentored by local minister, J. Pius Barbour, he reacted skeptically to a presentation on pacifism by Fellowship of Reconciliation leader A. J. Muste. Moreover, by the end of his seminary studies King had become increasingly dissatisfied with the abstract conceptions of God held by some modern theologians and identified himself instead with the theologians who affirmed personalism, or a belief in the personality of God. Even as he continued to question and modify his own religious beliefs, he complied an outstanding academic record and graduated at the top of his class.

In 1951 King began doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University’s School of Theology, which was dominated by personalist theologians such as Edgar Brightman and L. Harold DeWolf. The papers (including his dissertation) that King wrote during his years at Boston displayed little originality, and some contained extensive plagiarism; but his readings enabled him to formulate an eclectic yet coherent theological perspective. By the time he completed his doctoral studies in 1955, King had refined his exceptional ability to draw upon a wide range of theological and philosophical texts to express his views with force and precision. His ability to infuse his oratory with borrowed theological insights became evident in his expanding preaching activities in Boston-area-churches and at Ebenezer, where he assisted his father during school vacations.

During his stay in Boston, King also met and courted Coretta Scott, an Alabama-born Antioch College graduate who was then a student at the New England Conservatory of Music. On 18 June 1953 the two students were married in Marion, Alabama, where Scott’s family lived.

Although he considered pursuing an academic career, King decided in 1954 to accept an offer to become the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. In December 1955, when Montgomery black leaders, such as Jo Ann Robinson, E. D. Nixon, and Ralph Abernathy formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) to protest the arrest of NAACP official Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man, they selected King to head the new group. In his role as the primary spokesman of the year-long Montgomery bus boycott, King utilized the leadership abilities he had gained from his religious background and academic training to forge a distinctive protest strategy that involved the mobilization of black churches and skillful appeals for white support. With the encouragement of Bayard Rustin, Glenn Smiley, William Stuart Nelson and other veteran pacifists, King also became a firm advocate of Mohandas Gandhi’s precepts of nonviolence, which he combined with Christian social gospel ideas.

After the United States Supreme Court outlawed Alabama bus segregation laws in Browder v. Gayle in late 1956, King sought to expand the nonviolent civil rights movement throughout the South. In 1957 he joined with C. K. Steele, Fred Shuttlesworth and T .J. Jemison in founding the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) with King as president to coordinate civil rights activities throughout the region. Publication of Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (1958) further contributed to King’s rapid emergence as a national civil rights leader. Even as he expanded his influence, however, King acted cautiously. Rather than immediately seeking to stimulate mass desegregation protests in the South, King stressed the goal of achieving black voting rights when he addressed an audience at the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom.

King’s rise to fame was not without personal consequences. In 1958 King was the victim of his first assassination attempt. Although his house had been bombed several times during the Montgomery bus boycott, it was while signing copies of Stride Toward Freedom that Izola Ware Curry stabbed him with a letter opener. Surgery to remove it was successful, but King had to recuperate for several months, giving up all protest activity.

One of the key aspects of King’s leadership was his ability to establish support from many types of organizations including labor unions, peace organizations, southern reform organizations, and religious groups. As early as 1956, labor unions, such as the United Packinghouse Workers and the United Auto Workers contributed to the MIA and peace activists such as Homer Jack alerted their associates to the activities of the MIA. Activists from southern organizations such as Myles Horton’s Highlander Folk School and Anne Braden’s Southern Conference Education Fund were in frequent contact with King. In addition, his extensive ties to the National Baptist Convention provided support from churches all over the nation; and his advisor, Stanley Levison insured broad support from Jewish groups.

King’s recognition of the link between segregation and colonialism resulted in alliances with groups fighting oppression outside the U.S., especially in Africa. In March 1957, King traveled to Ghana at the invitation of Kwame Nkrumah to attend the nation’s independence ceremony. Shortly after returning from Ghana King joined the American Committee on Africa agreeing to serve as vice chairman of an International Sponsoring Committee for a day of protest against South Africa’s apartheid government. Later at a SCLC sponsored event honoring Kenyan labor leader Tom Mboya, King further articulated the connections between the African-American freedom struggle and those abroad: “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality” (Papers 5:204).

During 1959 he increased his understanding of Gandhian ideas during a month-long visit to India sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee. With Coretta and MIA historian Lawrence D. Reddick in tow, King meet with many Indian leaders, including Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Writing after his return, King stated, “I left India more convinced than ever before that non-violent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom” (Papers 5:233).

Early the following year he moved his family, which now included two children,Yolanda and Martin Luther King, III, to Atlanta in order to be nearer SCLC headquarters in that city and to become co-pastor, with his father, of Ebenezer Baptist Church. (The Kings’ third child, Dexter, was born in 1961; their fourth, Bernice, was born in 1963.) Soon after King’s arrival in Atlanta, the southern civil rights movement gained new impetus from the student-led lunch counter sit-in movement that spread throughout the region during 1960. The sit-ins brought into existence a new protest group, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which would often push King toward greater militancy. King came in contact with students, especially those from Nashville such as John Lewis, James Bevel and Diane Nash who had been trained in nonviolent tactics by James Lawson. In October 1960 King’s arrest during a student-initiated protest in Atlanta became an issue in the national presidential campaign when Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy called Coretta King to express his concern. The successful efforts of Kennedy supporters to secure King’s release contributed to the Democratic candidate’s narrow victory over Republican candidate Richard Nixon.
King’s decision to move to Atlanta was partly caused by SCLC’s lack of success during the late 1950s. Associate director Ella Baker had complained that the SCLC’s Crusade for Citizenship suffered from lack of attention from King. SCLC leaders hoped that with King now in Atlanta, programming would be improved. The hiring of Wyatt T. Walker as executive director in 1960 was also seen as a step toward bringing efficiency to the organization, while the addition of Dorothy Cotton and Andrew Young to the staff infused new leadership after SCLC took over the administration of the Citizenship Education program pioneered by Septima Clark. Attorney Clarence Jones also began to assist King and SCLC with legal matters and to act as King’s advisor.

As the southern protest movement expanded during the early 1960s, King was often torn between the increasingly militant student activists, such as those who participated in the Freedom Rides and more cautious national civil rights leaders. During 1961 and 1962 his tactical differences with SNCC activists surfaced during a sustained protest movement in Albany, Georgia. King was arrested twice during demonstrations organized by the Albany Movement, but when he left jail and ultimately left Albany without achieving a victory, some movement activists began to question his militancy and his dominant role within the southern protest movement.

As King encountered increasingly fierce white opposition, he continued his movement away from theological abstractions toward more reassuring conceptions, rooted in African-American religious culture, of God as a constant source of support. He later wrote in his book of sermons, Strength to Love (1963), that the travails of movement leadership caused him to abandon the notion of God as “theological and philosophically satisfying” and caused him to view God as “a living reality that has been validated in the experiences of everyday life” (Papers 5:424).

During 1963, however, King reasserted his preeminence within the African-American freedom struggle through his leadership of the Birmingham campaign. Initiated by SCLC and its affiliate, the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, the Birmingham demonstrations were the most massive civil rights protest that had yet occurred. With the assistance of Fred Shuttlesworth and other local black leaders and with little competition from SNCC and other civil rights groups, SCLC officials were able to orchestrate the Birmingham protests to achieve maximum national impact. King’s decision to intentionally allow himself to be arrested for leading a demonstration on 12 April prodded the Kennedy administration to intervene in the escalating protests. A widely quoted “Letter from Birmingham Jail” displayed his distinctive ability to influence public opinion by appropriating ideas from the Bible, the Constitution, and other canonical texts. During May, televised pictures of police using dogs and fire hoses against young demonstrators generated a national outcry against white segregationist officials in Birmingham. The brutality of Birmingham officials and the refusal of Alabama governor George C. Wallace to allow the admission of black students at the University of Alabama prompted President Kennedy to introduce major civil rights legislation.

King’s speech at the 28 August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom attended by more than 200,000 people, was the culmination of a wave of civil rights protest activity that extended even to northern cities. In his prepared remarks King announced that African Americans wished to cash the “promissory note” signified in the egalitarian rhetoric of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Closing his address with extemporaneous remarks, he insisted that he had not lost hope: “I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream . . .  that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed:‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” He appropriated the familiar words of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” before concluding, “when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last’” (King, Call, 82, 85, 87).

Although there was much elation after the March on Washington, less than a month later, the movement was shocked by another act of senseless violence. On 15 September 1963 a dynamite blast killed four young school girls at Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. King delivered the eulogy for three of the four girls, reflecting, “They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, and the philosophy which produced the murders” (King, Call, 96).

St. Augustine, Florida became the site of the next major confrontation of the civil rights movement. Beginning in 1963 Robert B. Hayling, of the local NAACP had led sit-ins against segregated businesses. SCLC was called in to help in May 1964, suffering the arrest of King and Abernathy. After a few court victories, SCLC left when a bi-racial committee was formed; however, local residents continued to suffer violence.

King’s ability to focus national attention on orchestrated confrontations with racist authorities, combined with his oration at the 1963 March on Washington, made him the most influential African-American spokesperson of the first half of the 1960s. Named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” at the end of 1963, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1964. The acclaim King received strengthened his stature among civil rights leaders but also prompted Federal Bureau of Investigation director J. Edgar Hoover to step up his effort to damage King’s reputation. Hoover, with the approval of President Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy, established phone taps and bugs. Hoover and many other observers of the southern struggle saw King as controlling events, but he was actually a moderating force within an increasingly diverse black militancy of the mid-1960s. Although he was not personally involved in Freedom Summer (1964), he was called upon to attempt to persuade the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegates to accept a compromise at the Democratic Party National Convention.

As the African-American struggle expanded from desegregation protests to mass movements seeking economic and political gains in the North as well as the South, King’s active involvement was limited to a few highly publicized civil rights campaigns, such as Birmingham and St. Augustine, which secured popular support for the passage of national civil rights legislation, particularly the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Alabama protests reached a turning point on 7 March when state police attacked a group of demonstrators at the start of a march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery. Carrying out Governor Wallace’s orders, the police used tear gas and clubs to turn back the marchers after they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the outskirts of Selma. Unprepared for the violent confrontation, King alienated some activists when he decided to postpone the continuation of the Selma to Montgomery March until he had received court approval, but the march, which finally secured federal court approval, attracted several thousand civil rights sympathizers, black and white, from all regions of the nation. On 25 March King addressed the arriving marchers from the steps of the capitol in Montgomery. The march and the subsequent killing of a white participant, Viola Liuzzo, as well as the earlier murder of James Reeb dramatized the denial of black voting rights and spurred passage during the following summer of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

After the successful voting rights march in Alabama, King was unable to garner similar support for his effort to confront the problems of northern urban blacks. Early in 1966 he, together with local activist Al Raby, launched a major campaign against poverty and other urban problems and moved his family into an apartment in Chicago’s black ghetto. As King shifted the focus of his activities to the North, however, he discovered that the tactics used in the South were not as effective elsewhere. He encountered formidable opposition from Mayor Richard Daley and was unable to mobilize Chicago’s economically and ideologically diverse black community. King was stoned by angry whites in the Chicago suburb of Cicero when he led a march against racial discrimination in housing. Despite numerous mass protests, the Chicago Campaign resulted in no significant gains and undermined King’s reputation as an effective civil rights leader.

King’s influence was damaged further by the increasingly caustic tone of black militancy of the period after 1965. Black radicals increasingly turned away from the Gandhian precepts of King toward the Black Nationalism of Malcolm X, whose posthumously published autobiography and speeches reached large audiences after his assassination in February 1965. Unable to influence the black insurgencies that occurred in many urban areas, King refused to abandon his firmly rooted beliefs about racial integration and nonviolence. He was nevertheless unpersuaded by black nationalist calls for racial uplift and institutional development in black communities.

In June 1966, James Meredith was shot while attempting a “March against Fear” in Mississippi. King, Floyd McKissick of the Congress of Racial Equality and Stokely Carmichael of SNCC decided to continue his march. During the march, the activists from SNCC decided to test a new slogan that they had been using, Black Power. King objected to the use of the term, but the media took the opportunity to expose the disagreements among protestors and publicized the term.

 In his last book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967), King dismissed the claim of Black Power advocates “to be the most revolutionary wing of the social revolution taking place in the United States,” but he acknowledged that they responded to a psychological need among African Americans he had not previously addressed (King, Where Do We Go, 45-46).  “Psychological freedom, a firm sense of self-esteem, is the most powerful weapon against the long night of physical slavery,” King wrote. “The Negro will only be free when he reaches down to the inner depths of his own being and signs with the pen and ink of assertive manhood his own emancipation proclamation” (King, Call, 184).

Indeed, even as his popularity declined, King spoke out strongly against American involvement in the Vietnam War, making his position public in an address, “Beyond Vietnam,” on 4 April 1967 at New York’s Riverside Church. King’s involvement in the anti-war movement reduced his ability to influence national racial policies and made him a target of further FBI investigations. Nevertheless, he became ever more insistent that his version of Gandhian nonviolence and social gospel Christianity was the most appropriate response to the problems of black Americans.

In December 1967 King announced the formation of the Poor People’s Campaign, designed to prod the federal government to strengthen its antipoverty efforts. King and other SCLC workers began to recruit poor people and antipoverty activists to come to Washington, D.C., to lobby on behalf of improved antipoverty programs. This effort was in its early stages when King became involved in the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike in Tennessee. On 28 March 1968, as King led thousands of sanitation workers and sympathizers on a march through downtown Memphis, black youngsters began throwing rocks and looting stores. This outbreak of violence led to extensive press criticisms of King’s entire antipoverty strategy. King returned to Memphis for the last time in early April. Addressing an audience at Bishop Charles J. Mason Temple on 3 April, King affirmed his optimism despite the “difficult days” that lay ahead. “But it really doesn’t matter with me now,” he declared, “because I’ve been to the mountaintop [and] I’ve seen the Promised Land.” He continued, “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” (King, Call, 222-223). The following evening the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. took place as he stood on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. A white segregationist, James Earl Ray, was later convicted of the crime. The Poor People’s Campaign continued for a few months after his death under the direction of Ralph Abernathy, the new SCLC president, but it did not achieve its objectives.

Until his death King remained steadfast in his commitment to the radical transformation of American society through nonviolent activism. In his posthumously published essay, “A Testament of Hope” (1969), he urged African Americans to refrain from violence but also warned, “White America must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society.” The “black revolution” was more than a civil rights movement, he insisted. “It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws-racism, poverty, militarism and materialism” (King, “Testament,” 194).

After her husband’s death, Coretta Scott King established the Atlanta-based Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change (also known as the King Center) to promote Gandhian-Kingian concepts of nonviolent struggle. She also led the successful effort to honor her husband with a federally mandated King national holiday, which was first celebrated in 1986. 


Introduction, in Papers 1:1-57.

King, “An Autobiography of Religious Development,” 12 September-22 November 1950, in Papers 1:359-363.

—, “Eulogy for the Young Victims of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing,” in A Call to Conscience, eds. Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard, New York: Warner Books, 2001, pp. 95-99.

—, “I Have a Dream,” in A Call to Conscience, eds. Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard, New York: Warner Books, 2001, pp. 81-87.

—, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” in A Call to Conscience, eds. Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard, New York: Warner Books, 2001, pp. 207-223.

—, “Kick Up Dust,” Letter to the Editor, Atlanta Constitution, in Papers 1:121.

—, “My Trip to the Land of Gandhi,” in Papers 5:231-238.

—, “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” in Papers 5:419-425.

—, Remarks Delivered at Africa Freedom Dinner at Atlanta University, in Papers 5:203-204.

—, Strength to Love, 1963.

—, “A Testament of Hope,” in Playboy, 16 January 1969, pp. 193-194, 231-236.

—, “Where Do We Go From Here?” in A Call to Conscience, eds. Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard, New York: Warner Books, 2001, pp. 171-199.

—, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, Boston: Beacon Press, 1967.

Youth March for Integrated Schools (25 October 1958 and 18 April 1959)
Youth March for Integrated Schools (25 October 1958 and 18 April 1959) Next entry


In 1958 and 1959, Martin Luther King, Jr., served as an honorary chairman of two youth marches for integrated schools, large demonstrations that took place in Washington, D.C., aimed at expressing support for the elimination of school segregation from American public schools.

In August 1958 a small committee headed by labor leader A. Philip Randolph began organizing the first Youth March for Integrated Schools, to take place on 25 October 1958. Born out of the ‘‘need for a project that would combine a moral appeal, reveal the support of liberal white people and Negroes together, and generally to give people in the North an opportunity to show their solidarity with Negro children in the South who have become the first line of defense in the struggle for integrated schools,’’ the march represented a convergence of organizations and individuals interested in a common cause (Papers 4:484). A diverse group of leaders planned the march; the six honorary chairmen involved in the marches both years were King, Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Ruth Bunche, Jackie Robinson, and Daisy Bates.

On the day of the 1958 march, an integrated crowd of 10,000 marched down Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., to the Lincoln Memorial. There, Coretta Scott King delivered a speech on behalf of her husband, who was recovering from being stabbed by Izola Curry while in New York. Although King could not attend the march, he was enthusiastic about its possibilities, saying that ‘‘such a project will do much to give courage, support, and encouragement to our [beleaguered] children and adults in the south. Simultaneously it will have a profound moral effect upon the nation and world opinion’’ (Papers 4:484–485). During the march, Harry Belafonte led a small, integrated group of students to the White House to meet President Dwight D. Eisenhower, but was unable to meet with the president or any of his assistants. After staging a half-hour picket, the students left a list of demands to be forwarded to the president.

The second youth march was intended to build upon the efforts of 1958 by holding a large event and circulating a petition to urge ‘‘the President and Congress of the United States to put into effect an executive and legislative program which will insure the orderly and speedy integration of schools throughout the United States’’ (Youth March for Integrated Schools, January 1959). On 18 April 1959, an estimated 26,000 participants marched down the National Mall to a program at the Sylvan Theatre, where speeches were given by King, Randolph, Wilkins, and Charles Zimmerman, chairman of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) Civil Rights Committee. A delegation of students again went to the White House to present their demands to Eisenhower, but this time they met with his deputy assistant, Gerald D. Morgan, who reportedly said that ‘‘the president is just as anxious as they are to see an America where discrimination does not exist, where equality of opportunity is available to all’’ (Report on the Youth March on Washington, 18 April 1959).

The 1959 march was marred by accusations of Communist infiltration. The day before the march was to take place, Randolph, Wilkins, and King released a statement denying such involvement: ‘‘The sponsors of the March have not invited Communists or communist organizations. Nor have they invited members of the Ku Klux Klan or the White Citizens’ Council. We do not want the participation of these groups, nor of individuals or other organizations holding similar views’’ (Youth March for Integrated Schools, 17 April 1959).

While Eisenhower and Congress failed to pass additional legislation that would have enhanced the 1957 Civil Rights Act and speeded up school integration, the two marches had symbolic power. King told the 1959 marchers that the events’ successful outcomes were a sign of how, ‘‘in your great movement to organize a march for integrated schools, … you have awakened on hundreds of campuses throughout the land a new spirit of social inquiry to the benefit of all Americans’’ (Papers 5:188).


Introduction, in Papers 5:14–15.

King, Address at the Youth March for Integrated Schools, 18 April 1959, in Papers 5:186–188.

King to Gardner C. Taylor, 2 September 1958, in Papers 4:483–485.

(Scott) King, Address at Youth March for Integrated Schools in Washington, D.C., 25 October 1958, in Papers 4:514–515.

Report on the Youth March on Washington, 20 April 1959, WONS-KAbE.

Youth March for Integrated Schools, ‘‘Anti-American Groups Not Invited to Youth March for Integrated Schools,’’ 17 April 1959, NAACPP-DLC.

Youth March for Integrated Schools, ‘‘A Petition for Integrated Schools,’’ January 1959, GMFDAFL.

Young, Whitney Moore (1921-1971)
Young, Whitney Moore (1921-1971) Next entry

Whitney Young served as the executive director of the National Urban League from 1961 to 1971, the critical years in the civil rights movement. Although the National Urban League was not involved in direct action protests, Young often collaborated with Martin Luther King, who appreciated that each leader played a different role in the movement and praised Young’s ‘‘creative vitality’’ (King, 31 July 1963).

Young was born on 31 July 1921, in Lincoln Ridge, Kentucky. He grew up on the campus of the Lincoln Institute, an black high school where his father served as president. After graduating from the Lincoln Institute he enrolled at the all-black Kentucky State College, becoming president of his senior class and vice president of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, which King would later join. After graduation he enlisted in the Army. Young had his first experience as a racial mediator in France during World War II, a role that inspired him to pursue a career in social work when he was discharged.

Young began to volunteer with the National Urban League while at the University of Minnesota, where he obtained his master’s degree in Social Work in 1947. In 1954 Young moved to Atlanta to become the dean of the School of Social Work at Atlanta University, and also co-chaired the Atlanta Council on Human Relations.

On 21 June 1958 King solicited Young’s suggestions for topics to discuss at a meeting he had requested between President Dwight D. Eisenhower and prominent African American leaders. Young wired King the same day, expressing his ‘‘complete confidence in you representing us’’ (Young, 21 June 1958).

Young was handpicked by a representative of the Rockefeller Foundation, a major donor to the National Urban League, to succeed Lester Granger as the organization’s head. After spending a year at Harvard University on a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation, Young was elected executive director of the National Urban League in February 1961. King congratulated Young, writing: ‘‘I am convinced that they could not have found a better person for the job,’’ and offering his full assistance (King, 13 February 1961).

The following year King invited Young to speak at the annual convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conferences (SCLC). Young’s speech was such a success that SCLC reproduced it for all of the conference participants. In 1963, the instigation of philanthropist Stephen Currier, King, Young, and representatives from 5 other civil rights groups began to meet regularly to discuss the possibility of collaborating in the movement. The group later became known as the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership, or the Unity Council. Although the Urban League was more committed to social service than direct action, Young made the controversial decision to co-sponsor the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom with other Unity Council members.

Like other moderate civil rights leaders, Young did not agree with King’s opposition to the Vietnam War, saying that the first priority of black people was ‘‘survival in this country,’’ and that the issues of civil rights and the war ‘‘should remain separate’’ (King, ‘‘Man’s Relation to Man’’ 1964). King’s opposition to the war led to his alienation from President Lyndon B. Johnson, but Young’s stance brought him closer to the administration. At Johnson’s request, Young traveled to Vietnam twice, returning with positive accounts of race relations in the military. Only after Johnson left office in 1969 did Young begin to call for a speedy withdrawal from Vietnam.

In his mediating role between whites and blacks, Young was often labeled a moderate, despite his own belief that ‘‘nobody who’s working for black people is a moderate. We’re all militants in different ways’’ (Buckley, ‘‘Whitney Young’’). Young’s sudden death in 1971 in Lagos, Nigeria, shocked the nation. President Richard Nixon sent a special Air Force jet to retrieve his body, and his funeral was attended by over 6,000 people, including Coretta Scott King.


Tom Buckley, ‘‘Whitney Young: Black Leader or ‘Oreo Cookie’?’’ New York Times, 20 September 1970.

Dickerson, Militant Mediator, 1998.

King, ‘‘Man’s Relation to Man: Beyond Race and Nation,’’ Current 86 (May 1967): 32–40.

King to Officers and delegates of the National Urban League, 31 July 1963, MLKJP-GAMK.

King to Young, 21 June 1958, in Papers 4:425.

King to Young, 13 February 1961, WMYC-NN-Sc.

Weiss, Whitney M. Young, Jr., 1989.

Young, Draft, Telegram to King, 21 June 1958, WMYC-NN-Sc.

Young, Andrew (1932- )
Young, Andrew (1932- ) Next entry

Andrew Young’s work as a pastor, administrator, and voting rights advocate led him to join Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in the civil rights struggle. Young, who entered electoral politics shortly after King’s assassination, credited King with giving ‘‘purpose and sustenance’’ to his life (Young, 474). ‘‘He left his mark on me, both in indelible memories and in the spiritual and practical lessons of our trials and triumphs,’’ Young recalled. ‘‘It is by the quality of those days that I have come to measure my own continuing journey’’ (Young, 474).

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on 12 March 1932, into a middle-class family, Young earned a BS (1951) in biology from Howard University before studying to become a minister. In 1955 he earned a divinity degree at Hartford Theological Seminary and was ordained as a minister in the United Church of Christ. In 1957, after serving as a pastor at Bethany Congregational Church in Thomasville, Georgia, in 1957 Young joined the National Council of the Churches of Christ in America (NCC) in New York as an associate director of the Youth Division of Christian Education.

In his memoir An Easy Burden (1996), Young recalls meeting King in 1957, when the two shared the podium at the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity’s annual program at Talladega College in Alabama. After the event, King invited Young to visit him in Montgomery. Young was excited about the possibility of speaking with King about his philosophy of nonviolence and ‘‘about how he had applied his academic training to the practical situation in the South,’’ but to Young’s dismay, King was not interested in talking about his academic studies: ‘‘He was mostly interested in talking about Yoki, his and Coretta’s new baby … and he didn’t feel like acting out the role of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’’ (Young, 97).

Moved by the student movement in Nashville in 1960, Young considered relocating to the South to run the Highlander Folk School Citizenship Training Program and solicited King’s advice. Although King had high praise for Highlander’s program, he cautioned Young that Tennessee officials were attempting to close the school. ‘‘Certainly I would not advise you to leave the position that you are now holding unless you can be sure that Highlander will remain open’’ (King, 25 April 1961). Young accepted Highlander’s offer, but, as King warned, Highlander closed in 1961 before Young and his wife, Jean, arrived. The program moved its administrative offices to SCLC headquarters in Atlanta, while the United Church of Christ renovated facilities in Dorchester, Georgia, to host the citizenship schools. Young took over the program, which gradually became an integral part of SCLC. In 1963 Young was a key figure on the biracial negotiating committee that forged the hard-won agreement that ended the Birmingham Campaign.

In 1964 King promoted Young to executive director of SCLC after the departure of the embattled Wyatt Tee Walker. For the next several years Young became one of King’s most trusted advisors and confidantes and worked with him during campaigns in St. Augustine, Selma, and Chicago. He recalled that, in executive meetings, King wanted to hear conservative as well as radical viewpoints, ‘‘and it almost always fell to my lot to express the conservative view’’ (Young, 16 July 1968).

In April 1968 Young was with King at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis when the civil rights leader was slain. Young recalled that King was in a jovial mood on the evening before his assasination, even engaging Ralph Abernathy and Young in a pillow fight. Late in the afternoon of 4 April, shortly after a limousine arrived to pick up King and his entourage for dinner, Young heard a sound like a car backfiring and saw that King was no longer standing on the hotel balcony. Young’s first thought was that King was ‘‘still clowning’’ (Young, 464). Young was devastated by King’s assassination: ‘‘It seemed unfair that he was ‘free’ from innumerable problems, while we, the living, were left to try to cope without him. We had been just getting by with him, how could we get along without him?’’ (Young, 466).

Young left SCLC in 1970 to run for Congress. Although defeated in his first bid, he ran successfully in 1972, and represented his Georgia district for three terms before being appointed ambassador to the United Nations by President Jimmy Carter. Noted for his sympathetic approach in dealing with developing nations, Young was pressured to resign in 1979, after an unauthorized meeting with a representative of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. In 1981 President Carter awarded Young the Congressional Medal of Freedom. Young served as mayor of Atlanta from 1982 to 1990 before launching an unsuccessful bid for governor of Georgia in 1990.


King to Young, 25 April 1961, MLKP-MBU.

Young, An Easy Burden, 1996.

Young, Interview by Katherine Shannon, 16 July 1968, RBOH-DHU.

Wurf, Jerome (1919-1981)
Wurf, Jerome (1919-1981) Next entry

As president of the nation’s largest union of public employees—the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)—Jerome Wurf provided the support of his union to various civil rights causes, including the October 1958 Youth March for Integrated Schools, an event co-chaired by Martin Luther King. In a 4 December 1958 letter to Wurf, King expressed his gratitude: ‘‘The support given to the Youth March by Local 420 and the other local unions of District Council 37, and their success in achieving such wide participation by their members and the children of their members, offers eloquent testimony to the fact of their devotion to the cause of human freedom and the brotherhood of man’’ (Papers 4:544).

The son of immigrants, Wurf was born in New York City in May 1919. Following his graduation from New York University in 1940, he took a job working in a cafeteria. After working in the cafeteria for three years, Wurf organized his fellow workers into Local 448 Hotel and Restaurant Employees. His experience organizing labor convinced AFSCME President Arnold Zander to hire Wurf in 1947 to build District Council 37, the public employee’s union in New York City. In 1964 Wurf defeated Zander for the AFSCME presidency, a position he held for 17 years, until his death in 1981.

Throughout his career, Wurf worked to provide union representation throughout the United States. In 1964 he helped form Local 1733, which included black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, who were protesting racial discrimination and poor job conditions. When Local 1733 went on strike in 1968, Wurf and others attempted to negotiate with city officials refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the union. At the urging of James Lawson and another AFSCME official, King reluctantly agreed to come to Memphis to show his support of the striking workers.

The day before King’s assassination on 4 April 1968, Wurf addressed several thousand people at Mason Temple in Memphis. Nearly two weeks after King’s death, the city council finally recognized that Local 1733 was the rightful bargaining agent of the sanitation workers. At the ratification meeting, Wurf paid homage to King: ‘‘Let us never forget that Martin Luther King, on a mission for us, was killed in this city. He helped bring us this victory’’ (Goulden, 181).

In 1969 Wurf was named American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) vice president despite his sharp criticism of the Vietnam War, which put him at odds with much of domestic labor leadership, including AFL-CIO President George Meany. In 1978 AFSCME became the largest unit of the AFL-CIO when it merged with the Civil Service Employees Association of New York.


Goulden, Jerry Wurf, 1982.

Honey, Going Down Jericho Road, 2007.

King, ‘‘Give Us the Ballot,’’ Address Delivered at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, 17 May 1957, in Papers 4:208–215.

King to Wurf, 4 December 1958, in Papers 4:544.

Wofford, Harris Llewellyn (1926- )
Wofford, Harris Llewellyn (1926- ) Next entry

Harris Wofford was the Kennedy administration’s civil rights expert and an ally of Martin Luther King. Wofford believed in employing a mix of direct action and legal techniques to combat segregation. He applauded King’s leadership in Montgomery: ‘‘You have already proven yourselves master artists of non-violent direct action’’ (Papers 3:226).

Born in New York City to a line of southern aristocrats, Wofford graduated from the University of Chicago in 1948. A lifelong advocate of Gandhian nonviolence, Wofford studied in India before returning to the United States and enrolling at Howard Law School, making him the first white student to do so since the suffragist movement of the early 1900s. While at Howard Wofford toured Alabama doing research on the status of civil rights in the South.

Like many of King’s other advisors, Wofford first heard of King during the Montgomery bus boycott. Wofford wrote to King, sent him a copy of his book, India Afire, and offered his perspectives on the application of the techniques of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi to Montgomery. King recalled reading a copy of a talk on the application of nonviolent tactics against segregation that Wofford gave at Hampton Institute in October 1955. King later stated, ‘‘this talk and other talks … were widely distributed in the South, helping to create better understanding of what we were doing in Montgomery’’ (King, March 1961). Although initially not part of King’s inner circle of advisors, Wofford urged King to go on a trip to India and was instrumental in arranging funding for the trip from the Christopher Reynolds Foundation.

Wofford participated, along with King, in a convocation at Howard University in November 1957. Speaking on ‘‘Non-Violence and the Law,’’ Wofford told the gathering that ‘‘what Martin Luther King has given us is the unadulterated message of nonviolence which Gandhi wanted the Negroes finally to deliver to the world.’’ King used some of the ideas expressed in this speech in his chapter, ‘‘Where Do We Go from Here?’’ in Stride Toward Freedom. King wrote in the preface to this book that he was grateful to Wofford ‘‘for significant suggestions and real encouragement’’ (King, 11).

After several years on the Civil Rights Commission established by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Wofford joined the staff of presidential candidate John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1960. Eager to win the black vote, Wofford managed a meeting between King and Kennedy on 23 June 1960. Several months later, when King was arrested for his participation in a sit-in in Atlanta, Wofford suggested that Kennedy phone Coretta Scott King, an action that made a crucial difference in the election.

Kennedy appointed Wofford as a special assistant on civil rights in his new administration, despite Wofford’s interest in joining the Peace Corps. In his White House role, Wofford recognized the political realities of the day. In a memo sent to Kennedy soon after his 1960 victory, he noted that ‘‘although it is heresy in the civil rights camp to say this … you can do without any substantial civil rights legislation this session of Congress if you go ahead with a substantial executive action program’’ (Wofford, 30 December 1960). Political realities would also force Wofford into uncomfortable situations with old allies, particularly when the Kennedys asked him to inform King of Federal Bureau of Investigation suspicions that longtime King advisor Stanley Levison had Communist affiliations. Wofford later wrote that ‘‘what Kennedy liked best in my role, and I liked least, was my function as a buffer between him and the civil rights forces pressing for presidential action’’ (Wofford, 164).

After two years Wofford left the White House staff to go to Africa with the Peace Corps and then became the group’s associate director, serving until 1966. He participated in the Selma to Montgomery March, and after several university positions and jobs in law, became a senator from Pennsylvania in 1991. He served until 1995.


King, Letter to the editor, March 1961, CSKC.

King, Stride Toward Freedom, 1958.

Wofford, India Afire, 1951.

Wofford, ‘‘Non-Violence and the Law,’’ 7 November 1957, CSKC.

Wofford, Of Kennedys and Kings, 1980.

Wofford to Kennedy, 30 December 1960, JFKPP-MWalK.

Wofford to King, 25 April 1956, in Papers 3:225–226.

Williams, Robert Franklin (1925-1996)
Williams, Robert Franklin (1925-1996) Next entry

Robert F. Williams, president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Monroe, North Carolina, became embroiled in a 1959 controversy surrounding remarks he made following the acquittal of a white man accused of attempting to rape a black woman. An article appearing in the 7 May 1959 New York Times claimed that Williams had asserted that the failure of the courts demanded that African Americans ‘‘meet violence with violence.… We are going to have to try and convict these people on the spot’’ (‘‘N.A.A.C.P. Leader Urges ‘Violence’ ’’). Martin Luther King condemned Williams’ comments, sparking a debate between the two leaders on the efficacy of nonviolence.

Born in Monroe, North Carolina, in February 1925, Williams was the grandson of a former slave. Through his grandmother’s tales and political observations, she made him aware of racial injustice at an early age. As a young man Williams went north to find work. During World War II he was drafted into the Army and served 14 months. He returned to Monroe and married Mabel Robinson in 1947. During the next several years Williams enrolled in various college programs. Unable to secure a job, Williams enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1954, where he was an outspoken opponent of racial segregation in the armed forces. His candor concerned the Marines, who placed Williams under investigation and gave him an ‘undesirable’ discharge.

In 1955 Williams returned to Monroe with a renewed vigor for race relations. He was hopeful about the May 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. ‘‘I was sure that this was the beginning of a new era in American democracy,’’ Williams said (Tyson, 73). With membership dwindling in the Monroe NAACP branch, Williams got involved with the organization and was elected president. In 1956 news of the Montgomery bus boycott bolstered Williams’ spirits. He called those involved with the bus protest the ‘‘patriots of passive revolution’’ (Tyson, 78). Addressing those who attempted to stifle the revolution in Montgomery, Williams quipped: ‘‘Has an American no right to walk when to ride would degrade his dignity? Has our beloved Republic reached the stage that the jails have no room for criminals, because they are filled with liberty-loving citizens whose only crime is that there voices cry out for freedom?’’ (Tyson, 78).

From 6 members at the beginning of Williams’ term, the Monroe NAACP branch grew to 121 members in late 1959. After his controversial statement calling for armed retaliation against racial injustice in May 1959, NAACP Executive Secretary Williams found himself suspended from his post by Roy Wilkins. Williams unsuccessfully appealed his suspension to delegates attending the group’s national convention in July.

In King’s address at the July convention he reaffirmed his commitment to nonviolence: ‘‘We all realize that there will probably be some sporadic violence during this period of transition, and people will naturally seek to protect their property and person, but for the Negro to privately or publicly call for retaliatory violence as a strategy during this period would be the gravest tragedy that could befall us’’ (Papers 5:248). The press quickly seized on ‘‘The Great Debate,’’ and Anne and Carl Braden’s Southern Patriot published King’s and Williams’ views on the role of violence in the struggle for integration in early 1960.

In 1961 a representative of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was sent to Monroe to investigate the racial situation there and to support the early Freedom Rides. When King declined an offer from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to participate in the rides, Williams sent King a scathing telegram: ‘‘No sincere leader asks his followers to make sacrifices that he himself will not endure. You are a phony.… If you lack the courage, remove yourself from the vanguard.… Now is the time for true leaders to take to the field of battle’’ (31 May 1961).

As racial tensions increased in Monroe, the town erupted into violence fueled by white racists. Williams and his wife fled to Cuba in late 1961 to escape the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which sought to arrest them on kidnapping charges related to the violence in Monroe. Once in Cuba Williams wrote his memoir, Negroes with Guns (1962). In the book’s prologue Williams attempted to clarify what he believed was a distortion of his position on violence: ‘‘I do not advocate violence for its own sake, or for the sake of reprisals against whites.… My only difference with Dr. King is that I believe in flexibility in the freedom struggle’’ (Williams, 40).

From Cuba, the couple continued to publish their newspaper, The Crusader, and aired a radio program called Radio Free Dixie. In 1965 they moved to China, returning to the United States in 1969. While in exile Williams was elected president of the Republic of New Africa, a revolutionary organization aimed at establishing a separate black nation in the southern U.S. He resigned from the organization after his return to the U.S.

In 1976 North Carolina dropped remaining criminal charges against Williams. In 1996, he died of Hodgkin’s Disease at age 71.


Introduction, in Papers 5:2, 17.

‘‘The Great Debate: Is Violence Necessary to Combat Injustice?’’ January 1960, in Papers 5:300.

King, Address at the Fiftieth Annual NAACP Convention, 17 July 1959, in Papers 5:245–250.

King, ‘‘The Social Organization of Nonviolence,’’ October 1959, in Papers 5:299–304.

‘‘N.A.A.C.P. Leader Urges ‘Violence,’’’ New York Times, 7 May 1959.

Tyson, Radio Free Dixie, 1999.

Williams, Negroes with Guns, 1962.

Williams to King, 31 May 1961, MLKP-MBU.

Williams, Hosea (1926-2000)
Williams, Hosea (1926-2000) Next entry

Hosea Williams described himself as the ‘‘thug’’ of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Martin Luther King affectionately called him ‘‘my wild man, my Castro,’’ in recognition of Williams’ skills as a protest organizer (Branch, 124).

Williams was born 5 January 1926, in Attapulgus, Georgia. His mother, a blind, unmarried teenager, died soon after, leaving Williams to be raised by his grandparents. At age 14, Williams moved on his own to Tallahassee, Florida, where he worked odd jobs for three years before returning to Georgia. When the United States entered World War II, Williams enlisted in the Army, working his way up to staff sergeant in an all-black unit. He was wounded by shrapnel and spent over a year recovering in a British hospital. Once back in the United States, Williams completed high school, earned a bachelor’s degree at Morris Brown College in Atlanta, and a master’s from Atlanta University. He worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Savannah, Georgia, from 1952 to 1963.

Upon moving to Savannah Williams joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and began grassroots organizing. He became widely known for giving speeches against segregation in a public park during his daily lunch break. By 1960 he had become the president of the Southeastern Georgia Crusade for Voters, an affiliate of SCLC. The following year he spoke on the power of the ballot at SCLC’s annual meeting. At SCLC’s board meeting in 1962 King personally recommended that Williams join the SCLC executive board, an honor Williams accepted.

In 1962 Williams began positioning for a seat on the Georgia NAACP national board. When NAACP director Roy Wilkins told Williams that he could advance no further in the NAACP because of his family background, Williams complained to King. King supported Williams and when he was arrested in Savannah the following summer, offered SCLC’s backing ‘‘100 percent’’ (King, 11 June 1963). In 1964, SCLC voted Williams ‘‘Man of the Year,’’ and King hired him on a trial basis to work in St. Augustine, Florida, where on the eve of the city’s 400th anniversary, SCLC was collaborating with local activists to protest segregation. There, Williams taught nonviolence to volunteers, led marches, and was arrested along with his wife and two of their five children.

Later that year Williams formally joined SCLC staff as the director of voter registration. King personally raised funds for his salary, writing a potential donor that Williams’ ‘‘talents need a broader horizon [than Savannah, Georgia], and his energies need to be made available to other communities across this nation’’ (SCLC, 9  November 1964). One such community was Selma, Alabama, where SCLC began work in January 1965, supporting local voting rights activists. After three months of groundwork, Williams and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee leader John Lewis jointly led the first attempt at a Selma to Montgomery March. This effort became known as ‘‘Bloody Sunday’’ after state troopers and local law enforcement officers brutally beat the demonstrators as they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. King came to Selma to lead a successful march three days later.

In March 1965 King named Williams the head of SCLC’s Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) Project, where he oversaw a half-million-dollar budget and several thousand volunteers. Promoted to the role of southern project director by 1966, Williams toured projects, often rallying supporters with King, and walked in the March against Fear to protest the shooting of James Meredith.

In November 1966 King asked Williams to come to Chicago, where SCLC was working with the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations on the Chicago Campaign. Although Williams did not want to leave the South, he grudgingly complied and moved north to run the campaign’s voter registration project.

Williams returned to the South to work as field director for SCLC’s Poor People’s Campaign in early 1968. He attended multiple rallies a day, flying with King from town to town to build support for the Washington campaign. At King’s urging, Williams and other SCLC staff joined King in Memphis to support the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike that April. He was with King at the Lorraine Motel when King’s assassination took place on 4 April 1968.

After King’s death Williams became executive director of SCLC, a position he held until 1979, when he was forced to leave because of differences within SCLC. Williams entered mainstream politics, winning election to the Georgia General Assembly in 1974. After a decade of service, he resigned and his wife Juanita won his seat. Williams was later elected to the Atlanta City Council and then became the De Kalb County commissioner. In 1987 Williams led the largest civil rights march in Georgia history into all-white Forsyth County, approximately 30 miles north of Atlanta. Hundreds of Ku Klux Klan members and white supremacists greeted an estimated 20,000 marchers, including King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, and veteran civil rights colleagues Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy, Dick Gregory, and Benjamin Hooks. Williams died of cancer in 2000.


Branch, Pillar of Fire, 1998.

Carson, In Struggle, 1981.

Dudley Clendinen, ‘‘Thousands in Civil Rights March Jeered by Crowd in Georgia Town,’’ New York Times, 25 January 1987.

‘‘Hosea Williams, a civil-rights campaigner, died on November 16th, aged 74,’’ The Economist, 25 November 2000.

King to Williams, 11 June 1963, MLKJP-GAMK.

Daniel Lewis, ‘‘Hosea Williams, 74, Rights Crusader, Dies,’’ New York Times, 17 November 2000.

SCLC, ‘‘Proposal to the United Presbyterian Church, 9 November 1964, NCCP-PPPrHi.

Wilkins, Roy Ottaway (1901-1981)
Wilkins, Roy Ottaway (1901-1981) Next entry

As executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1955 to 1977, Roy Wilkins collaborated with Martin Luther King on many of the major campaigns of the civil rights movement. Although Wilkins favored a legal approach to achieving racial equality over King’s nonviolent direct action campaigns, the two leaders recognized that both methods were critical to advancing the civil rights cause. On the occasion of Wilkins’ 30th anniversary with the NAACP, King wrote to him: ‘‘You have proved to be one of the great leaders of our time. Through your efficiency as an administrator, your genuine humanitarian concern, and your unswerving devotion to the principles of freedom and human dignity, you have carved for yourself an imperishable niche in the annals of contemporary history’’ (King, 3 January 1962).

Wilkins was born on 30 August 1901, in St. Louis, Missouri. Raised in St. Paul, Minnesota, Wilkins attended an integrated high school and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1923. While in college he was shocked to learn of the lynching of three black men in nearby Duluth, and became dedicated to the cause of civil rights. Wilkins joined the NAACP, and after graduating, took a job at the Kansas City Call, an influential black newspaper. His editorial work captured the attention of then NAACP executive secretary Walter White, who brought him to New York as his chief assistant in 1931. In this capacity Wilkins investigated working conditions for southern blacks in Mississippi River levee labor camps and advocated anti-lynching laws. In 1934 Wilkins succeeded W. E. B. Du Bois as editor of The Crisis, the NAACP’s magazine. Later Wilkins served as the NAACP’s administrator of internal affairs. When White died in 1955, Wilkins was selected to replace him.

In the second month of the Montgomery bus boycott, Wilkins sent King a donation to aid the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) in its efforts. By February 1956, three months into the boycott, the NAACP had offered the MIA legal counsel and urged chapters to raise funds for the boycott. King was ‘‘quite conscious of [the MIA’s] dependence on the NAACP,’’ whose legal support was instrumental in allowing the boycott to continue (Papers 3:244). King wrote to Wilkins, ‘‘I have said to our people all along that the great victories of the Negro have been gained through the assiduous labor of the NAACP’’ (Papers 3:244).

Wilkins took pride in his organization’s diligent legal work and institutional presence. Although he recognized that ‘‘the Montgomery protest … caught the eyes and hearts of the world and probably stirred more unity and pride among Negroes than anything that has happened in a quarter-century,’’ he believed that ‘‘the thing which won the Montgomery case was not the walking of the brave people, but a decision in the Supreme Court … secured through the skill of [an] NAACP lawyer’’ (Wilkins, 14 February 1957). In 1963, following the assassination of NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers, Wilkins was angered by King’s decision to launch a fundraiser for his own organization as a memorial to the slain civil rights leader. King’s plans for the fundraiser were dropped, and the two men were able to make common cause to help organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom several weeks later.

Despite their private struggles, the two leaders were always careful to publicly stress their cooperation and mutual admiration. King told one reporter: ‘‘I think we can work together in a very cooperative and creative manner. There need be no conflict’’ (King, ‘‘TV Interview’’). Wilkins similarly praised King’s work, acknowledging that King’s Birmingham Campaign had ‘‘made the nation realize that at last the crisis had arrived’’ (Wilkins, 23 July 1963).

Like many moderate civil rights leaders, Wilkins disagreed with King’s decision to speak out against the Vietnam War, and went as far as to send a memorandum to NAACP chapters instructing them not to use the NAACP’s name during demonstrations against he war. Despite tensions over the war, the two leaders remained closely aligned in their commitment to integration and fought to counter rising calls for ‘‘Black Power.’’

In 1967 Wilkins was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to serve on his National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, which was charged with investigating the causes of urban riots. The commission’s report, released 29 February 1968, warned: ‘‘Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal’’ (Herbers, ‘‘Panel on Civil Disorders’’). Although King called the commission’s findings ‘‘timely,’’ he argued that the recommendations ‘‘have been made before almost to the last detail and have been ignored almost to the last detail’’ (Zion, ‘‘Rights Leaders’’).

In the last two months of King’s life, King and Wilkins both lent their support to the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike. Wilkins’ speech to the workers drew a crowd of several thousand people. After King’s assassination, Wilkins continued to lead the NAACP for nearly a decade. Throughout the 1970s he was critical of Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, writing in his autobiography: ‘‘I thought Mr. Nixon would try to be President of all the people; instead, he allied himself with the worst enemies of black children’’ (Wilkins, Standing, 339). The 1970s were also turbulent times for the NAACP, as several key national staff passed away or retired. Wilkins retired from the NAACP in 1977, and died in September 1981.


John Herbers, ‘‘Panel on Civil Disorders Calls for Drastic Action to Avoid 2-Society Nation,’’ New York Times, 1 March 1968.

King, Address at the Fiftieth Annual NAACP Convention, 17 July 1959, in Papers 5:245–250.

King, ‘‘Remarks in Acceptance of the Forty-Second Spingarn Medal at the Forty-Eighth Annual

NAACP Convention, in Papers 4:228–233.

King, ‘‘TV interview with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.,’’ Afro American, 4 March 1961.

King to Wilkins, 28 January 1956, in Papers 3:108–109.

King to Wilkins, 1 May 1956, in Papers 3:243–244.

King to Wilkins, 3 January 1962, MLKJP-GAMK.

Roger Wilkins, A Man’s Life, 1982.

Wilkins, Interview on ‘‘For Freedom Now,’’ 23 July 1963, MLKJP-GAMK.

Wilkins and Mathews, Standing Fast, 1982.

Wilkins to Barbee William Dunham, 14 February 1957, NAACPP-DLC.

Wilkins to King, 22 February 1956, in Papers 3:134–135.

Sidney E. Zion, ‘‘Rights Leaders Support Criticism of Whites,’’ New York Times, 2 March 1968.

Why We Can’t Wait (1964)
Why We Can't Wait Next entry

After the conclusion of the Birmingham Campaign and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, Martin Luther King commenced work on his third book, Why We Can’t Wait, which told the story of African American activism in the spring and summer of 1963.

In July 1963 King published an excerpt from his ‘‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’’ in the Financial Post, entitling it, ‘‘Why the Negro Won’t Wait.’’ King explained why he opposed the gradualist approach to civil rights. Referring to the arrival of African Americans in the American colonies, King asserted that African Americans had waited over three centuries to receive the rights granted them by God and the U.S. Constitution. King developed these ideas further in Why We Can’t Wait, his memoir of what he termed ‘‘The Negro Revolution’’ of 1963 (King, 2).

With the aid of his advisors Clarence Jones and Stanley Levison, King began work on the book in the fall of 1963. To explain what King called the ‘‘Negro Revolution,’’ he drew on the history of black oppression and current political circumstances to articulate the growing frustration of many African Americans with the slow implementation of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the neglect of civil rights issues by both political parties, and the sense that the liberation of African peoples was outpacing that of African Americans in the United States (King, 2). King pointed in particular to President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, observing that the ‘‘milestone of the centennial of emancipation gave the Negro a reason to act—a reason so simple and obvious that he almost had to step back to see it’’ (King, 13).

Several chapters detailed the costs and gains of the ‘‘nonviolent crusade of 1963’’ (King, 30). In a chapter titled ‘‘The Sword That Heals,’’ King wrote that nonviolent direct action was behind the victory in Birmingham. Later in the book, King reflected on the sight of hundreds of thousands participating in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, commenting: ‘‘The old order ends, no matter what Bastilles remain, when the enslaved, within themselves, bury the psychology of servitude’’ (King, 121). King concluded the book by calling for a ‘‘Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged’’ that would affect both blacks and poor whites (King, 151).

Harper & Row published the book in June 1964. New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller told King the volume was ‘‘an incisive, eloquent book,’’ and King’s mentor Benjamin Mays called it ‘‘magnificently done. In fact the last chapter alone is worth the book’’ (Rockefeller, 23 May 1964; Mays, 20 July 1964). Other reviewers applauded the book as ‘‘a straightforward book that should be read by both races,’’ and ‘‘one of the most eloquent achievements of the year,—indeed of any year’’ (Hudkins, ‘‘Foremost Spokesman for Non-Violence’’; Poling, Book review).


Lonnie Hudkins, ‘‘Foremost Spokesman for Non-violence,’’ Houston Post, June 1964.

King, ‘‘Why the Negro Won’t Wait,’’ Financial Post, 27 July 1963.

King, Why We Can’t Wait, 1964.

Mays to King, 20 July 1964, MLKJP-GAMK.

Daniel A. Poling, Book review of Why We Can’t Wait, for Christian Herald, 12 May 1964, MLKJP-GAMK.

Rockefeller to King, 23 May 1964, MLKJP-GAMK.

Women’s Political Council (WPC)
Women’s Political Council (WPC) Next entry

The Women’s Political Council (WPC) of Montgomery, Alabama, was established in 1946 by Mary Fair Burks to inspire African Americans to ‘‘live above mediocrity, to elevate their thinking … and in general to improve their status as a group’’ (Robinson, 23). The WPC sought to increase the political leverage of the black community by promoting civic involvement, increasing voter registration, and lobbying city officials to address racist policies. The group’s work expanded to include public protest in 1955, when it helped initiate the Montgomery bus boycott, the event that brought Martin Luther King and the civil rights struggle into the national spotlight.

The original WPC chapter was made up of middle class professionals, most of whom were educators and taught at the all-black Alabama State College or in the city’s public schools. Burks, who was head of Alabama State’s English Department, served as WPC president until 1950, when she was succeeded by Jo Ann Robinson. By 1955 the WPC counted over 200 members in three neighborhood chapters.

The WPC had been planning for a citywide boycott of buses long before the historic boycott of 1955. In 1953 the WPC approached Montgomery city commissioners about unfair practices, such as having African Americans enter through the back of the bus after paying their fare up front. On 21 May 1954 Robinson sent a letter suggesting a city law, much like the one already implemented in other cities, in which black passengers would be seated from back to front and white passengers seated from front to back, until all seats were filled. The WPC’s concerns were consistently dismissed by city commissioners, even following Robinson’s statement that ‘‘even now plans are being made to ride less, or not at all, on our busses’’ (Robinson, 21 May 1954). After the March 1955 arrest of Claudette Colvin for refusing to give up her seat, King, Rufus Lewis, E. D. Nixon, Robinson, Irene West, and Burks met with the city commissioners but made little headway.

On 1 December 1955, the arrest of Rosa Parks gave the WPC the opportunity it had been waiting for. After Nixon, with the help of Virginia and Clifford Durr, gained Parks’ release from jail and secured her approval to use her arrest as a test case to challenge bus seating policies, Nixon called King and other black leaders to inform them of the effort, already under way, to boycott Montgomery’s buses. By this time Robinson and the WPC had already drafted, mimeographed, and begun circulating leaflets across the city, announcing the boycott. Throughout the boycott the WPC engaged in the daily activities of driving in the carpools, organizing mass meetings, and communicating with protesters.

Burks later stated that ‘‘members of the Women’s Political Council were trailblazers’’ and credited the WPC for its ability ‘‘to arouse black middle-class women to do something about the things they could change in segregated Montgomery’’ (Burks, ‘‘Trailblazers,’’ 76). Their role in the boycott, however, was not without consequences. Many WPC members were also teachers at Alabama State College, where officials closely investigated everyone involved in the boycott and in other student demonstrations. Tensions on the campus, especially after the sit-ins of 1960, caused many of the women, including Robinson and Burks, to resign from the college and find employment elsewhere, an event that dispersed key members throughout the nation.


Burks, ‘‘Trailblazers: Women in the Montgomery Bus Boycott,’’ in Women in the Civil Rights Movement, 1990.

Garrow, Walking City, 1989.

Introduction in Papers 3:3.

Robinson, Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1987.

Robinson to W. A. Gayle, 21 May 1954, MCDA-AMC.

Williams, Jennie Celeste Parks (1873-1941)
Williams, Jennie Celeste Parks (1873-1941) Next entry

Jennie Celeste Parks Williams, maternal grandmother of Martin Luther King, Jr., was born in Atlanta in April 1873. One of 13 children, her father, William Parks, supported the family by working as a carpenter. At the age of fifteen, Jennie began taking classes at Spelman Seminary. She left Spelman in 1892 before completing her degree.

On 29 October 1899, Jennie married A. D. Williams, the pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. Deeply pious, Jennie "was a model wife for a minister." The couple's only surviving child, Alberta Christine Williams (the mother of Martin Luther King, Jr.), was born on 13 September 1903, and married Martin Luther King, Sr. in 1924.

Jennie moved into the King home when her husband died in 1931. As grandmother to the King’s three children, Jennie displayed the same level of devotion that she demonstrated as a wife and as the "First Lady" of Ebenezer Church. Known as "Mama,” Jennie was especially protective of her first grandson, claiming that she "could never bear to see him cry." King, Jr. felt a comparable closeness to his grandmother, characterizing her as "saintly" and commenting, "She was very dear to each of us, but especially to me. I sometimes think that I was her favorite grandchild."

When Jennie died of a heart attack on 18 May 1941 , King, Jr. was attending a parade without his parents' permission. Grief-stricken by the death of his beloved "Mama" and ashamed of his transgression, King, Jr. reacted by jumping from the second-floor window of his house. He was uninjured, but according to his father, "cried off and on for several days afterward, and was unable to sleep at night." Years later, while studying at Crozer Seminary, King, Jr. wrote an essay entitled "An Autobiography of Religious Development" in which he discussed the impact of his grandmother's death. "One or two incidents happened in my late childhood and early adolescence that had tremendous effect on my religious development. The first was the death of my grandmother when I was about nine years old. I was particularly hurt by this incident mainly because of the extreme love I had for her. . . . She assisted greatly in raising all of us. It was after this incident for the first time I talked at any length on the doctrine of immortality. My parents attempted to explain it to me and I was assured that somehow my grandmother still lived. I guess this is why today I am such a strong believer in personal immortality."


Clayborne Carson, Ralph Luker & Penny Russell, eds., The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Volume I: Called to Serve, January 1929–June 1951 (University of California Press, 1992)

Clayborne Carson, ed., The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Warner Books, 1998)

Williams, Adam Daniel (A. D.) (1861-1931)
Williams, Adam Daniel (A. D.) (1861-1931) Next entry

Although likely born in 1861, A. D. Williams, the grandfather of Martin Luther King, Jr., celebrated 2 January 1863, the day after the effective date of the Emancipation Proclamation, as his birthday. Williams was one of the pioneers of a distinctive African American version of the social gospel, endorsing a strategy that combined elements of Booker T. Washington’s emphasis on black business development and W. E. B. Du Bois’ call for civil rights activism. As pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church for over 25 years, Williams infused his ministry with social activism by helping found the Atlanta chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Born in Greene County, Georgia, to slaves Willis and Lucretia Williams, A. D. spent his childhood on the William N. Williams plantation. After the death of his father in 1874, he and his family moved to nearby Scull Shoals, a rural community on the Oconee River. Williams’ desire to follow his father, ‘‘an old slavery time preacher’’ into the ministry was evident even as a child, when ‘‘it was his greatest pleasure to preach the funeral of snakes, cats, dogs, horses, or any thing that died. The children of the community would call him to preach the funeral and they would have a big shout’’ (Papers 1:1; 4). Although he was unable to attend school because of the demands of sharecropping, the seven-year-old Williams reportedly ‘‘attracted the people for miles around with his ability to count’’ (Papers 1:4). Taught by several ministers in the community, Williams earned his license to preach in April 1888.

During the late 1880s and early 1890s A. D. Williams tried to make a living as an itinerant preacher while supplementing his income with other work. An injury in a sawmill accident left him with only the nub of a thumb on his right hand. Seeking better opportunities elsewhere Williams joined the black exodus from Greene County. In January 1893 he left for Atlanta, where he was called to the pastorate of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Although Ebenezer had only 13 members when he arrived, the congregation grew to 400 members by 1903. Recognizing that his long-term success as an urban minister required that he overcome his academic limitations, Williams enrolled at Atlanta Baptist College (later named Morehouse College) and in May 1898, received his certificate from the ministerial program. While in Atlanta Williams met Jennie Celeste Parks. The two were married on 29 October 1899. On 13 September 1903 she gave birth at home to their only surviving child, Alberta Christine Williams, the mother of Martin Luther King, Jr.

In September 1895 Williams joined 2,000 other delegates and visitors at Friendship Baptist Church to organize the National Baptist Convention, the largest black organization in the United States. By 1904 Williams was president of the Atlanta Baptist Ministers’ Union and chairman of both the executive board and finance committee of the General State Baptist Convention.

In 1906 Williams helped organize the Georgia Equal Rights League to protest the white primary system. Early in 1917 he became involved in an effort to organize a local branch of the NAACP. Williams— described in one account as ‘‘a forceful and impressive speaker, a good organizer and leader, a man of vision and brilliant imagination, which he sometimes finds it necessary to curb’’ (Papers 1:15)—experienced early success as an NAACP leader, becoming branch president in 1918. During his tenure the branch grew to 1,400 members within five months, and the newly invigorated NAACP spearheaded a major effort to register black voters. In a speech to the NAACP national convention the following year, he convinced the delegates to meet in Atlanta in 1920, the first national NAACP convention to meet in the South.

In 1926 Williams’ daughter Alberta Christine married Martin Luther King, Sr., who eventually succeeded him as pastor of Ebenezer. When Williams died in 1931, his obituary was effusive: ‘‘‘A. D.’ was a sign post among his neighbors, and a mighty oak in the Baptist forest of the nation.… He was a preacher of unusual power, an appealing experimentalist, a persuasive evangelist, and a convincing doctrinarian’’ (Papers 1:28).


Introduction in Papers 1:1–4; 6–7; 9–11; 15; 25–26; 28.


Where Do We Go From Here (1967)
Where Do We Go From Here (1967) Next entry

While vacationing in the Caribbean in January and February 1967, King wrote the first draft of his final book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Accompanied by Coretta Scott King, Bernard Lee, and Dora McDonald, King rented a secluded house in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, with no telephone. This was one of the very few times in King’s adult life that he was completely isolated from the demands of the movement and could focus entirely on his writing. He labored on the initial manuscript for a month, sending chapters to Stanley Levison in New York for his revisions.

Where Do We Go from Here was King’s analysis of the state of American race relations and the movement after a decade of U.S. civil rights struggles. ‘‘With Selma and the Voting Rights Act one phase of development in the civil rights revolution came to an end,’’ he observed (King, 3). King believed that the next phase in the movement would bring its own challenges, as African Americans continued to make demands for better jobs, higher wages, decent housing, an education equal to that of whites, and a guarantee that the rights won in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would be enforced by the federal government. He warned that ‘‘The persistence of racism in depth and the dawning awareness that Negro demands will necessitate structural changes in society have generated a new phase of white resistance in North and South’’ (King, 12).

King assessed the rise of black nationalism and the increasing use of the slogan ‘‘Black Power’’ in the movement. While he praised the slogan as ‘‘a call to black people to amass the political and economic strength to achieve their legitimate goals,’’ he also recognized that its implied rejection of interracial coalitions and call for retaliatory violence ‘‘prevent it from having the substance and program to become the basic strategy for the civil rights movement in the days ahead’’ (King, 36; 44). Condemning the advocacy of black separatism, King maintained that there would be no genuine progress for African Americans ‘‘unless the whole of American society takes a new turn toward greater economic justice’’ (King, 50). Despite King’s impatience with Black Power proponents, he ended the book on an optimistic note, calling for continued faith in ‘‘mass nonviolent action and the ballot’’ and including his own ‘‘Program and Prospects’’ for black advancement (King, 129; 193–202).

After the book’s publication in June 1967, King used its promotional tour to reinforce points raised in its pages, speaking out on the living conditions of many black Americans and against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. At a luncheon in his honor, King chided the nation for doing nothing to eradicate slum conditions: ‘‘Everyone is worrying about the long hot summer with its threat of riots. We had a long cold winter when little was done about the conditions that create riots’’ (‘‘Dr. King Deplores’’). During a July television appearance, King repeated his assertion, made in the book and in his April 1967 speech ‘‘Beyond Vietnam,’’ that ‘‘the war in Vietnam is clearly an unjust war’’ (King, 6 July 1967).

Where Do We Go from Here received mixed reviews. One critic called the book ‘‘incisive,’’ while another hailed it for its ability to speak ‘‘to the inner man’’ in a ‘‘moderate, judicious, constructive, pragmatic tone’’ (Where Do We Go from Here?, ad). One of the most scathing reviews appeared in the 24 August 1967 New York Review of Books: ‘‘Martin Luther King once had the ability to talk to people, the power to change them by evoking images of revolution,’’ the author said. ‘‘But the duty of a revolutionary is to make revolutions (say those who have done it), and King made none.’’ The review asserted that the Chicago Campaign was King’s last as a national leader. King has been ‘‘outstripped by his times, overtaken by the events which he may have obliquely helped to produce but could not predict. He is not likely to regain command’’ (Kopkind, ‘‘Soul Power’’).


Garrow, Bearing the Cross, 1986.

King, Where Do We Go from Here, 1967.

Display ad, Where Do We Go from Here?, New York Times, 11 July 1967.

‘‘Dr. King Deplores ‘Long Cold Winter’ on the Rights Front,’’ New York Times, 20 June 1967.

King, Interview on the Merv Griffin Show, 6 July 1967, MLKJP-GAMK.

Milton R. Konvitz, Review of Where Do We Go from Here, Saturday Review (July 1967), 28–29.

Andrew Kopkind, ‘‘Soul Power,’’ The New York Review of Books (24 August 1967): 3–6.

White Citizens’ Councils (WCC)
White Citizens’ Councils (WCC) Next entry

In response to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision ending school segregation, white segregationists throughout the South created the White Citizens’ Councils (WCC). These local groups typically drew a more middle and upper class membership than the Ku Klux Klan and, in addition to using violence and intimidation to counter civil rights goals, they sought to economically and socially oppress blacks. Martin Luther King faced WCC attacks as soon as the Montgomery bus boycott, began and was a target of these groups throughout his career.

In January 1956, a month after the start of the boycott, W. A. Gayle, the mayor of Montgomery, joined the WCC, publicly declaring, ‘‘I think every right-thinking white person in Montgomery, Alabama and the South should do the same. We must make certain that Negroes are not allowed to force their demands on us.…’’ (Azbell, ‘‘Council Official Says’’). By the next month WCC membership had doubled. The WCC attempted multiple strategies to stop the boycott, from prosecuting the boycott organizers to pressuring insurance agencies throughout the South to cancel policies for church-owned vehicles. King appealed to President Dwight D. Eisenhower to investigate violence perpetrated by WCC members after Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) members’ homes were bombed, and an effigy of a black man and a white man ‘‘who ‘talked integration’’’ were hung in downtown Montgomery (Papers 3:357). The attorney general responded to King’s appeal, writing that ‘‘the activities of the White Citizens Council … [do] not appear to indicate violations of federal criminal statutes’’ (Papers 3:365).

In a 1956 New York speech, King described the WCC as a modern Ku Klux Klan, targeting black and white people supportive of civil rights. ‘‘They must be held responsible for all of the terror, the mob rule, and brutal murders that have encompassed the South over the last several years,’’ King said. ‘‘It is an indictment on America and democracy that these ungodly and unethical and un-Christian and un-American councils have been able to exist all of these months without a modicum of criticism from the federal government’’ (Papers 3:475).

King encountered WCC groups all over the South, from Selma, Alabama—the first Alabama town to create a White Citizens’ Council—to Jackson, Mississippi, where Medgar Evers, the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chairman, was killed by a WCC member. King feared that WCC activities would prevent white moderates from becoming involved in desegregation issues. WCC groups, King argued, ‘‘demand absolute conformity from whites and abject submission from Negroes.… What channels of communication had once existed between whites and Negroes have thus now been largely closed’’ (King, 16 October 1959).

As late as 1966, the White Citizens’ Council teamed up with the virulently anti-Communist John Birch Society to petition the federal government to investigate whether King and over 100,000 other rights activists had Communist connections. Yet King believed that their power was fading: ‘‘Two years ago Americans, in a presidential election, overwhelmingly rejected representatives of Birchism and the White Citizens Council,’’ he said, referring to Barry Goldwater’s defeat by Lyndon B. Johnson. ‘‘It is my honest opinion that this same majority still finds repulsive persons who strive to impose 19th Century standards upon our society’’ (King, 26 May 1966).


Joe Azbell, ‘‘Council Official Says Negro ‘Bloc’ No Longer Threat in Elections Here,’’ Montgomery Advertiser, 26 January 1956.

King, ‘‘Desegregation and the Future,’’ 15 December 1956, in Papers 3:471–479.

King, ‘‘The Future of Integration,’’ 16 October 1959, MLKP-MBU.

King, Statement on petition sponsored by the John Birch Society and the White Citizens’ Council, 26 May 1966, MLKJP-GAMK.

King to Dwight D. Eisenhower, 27 August 1956, in Papers 3:357–358

Warren Olney, III, to King, 7 September 1956, in Papers 3:364–365.

West, Irene (1890-1975)
West, Irene (1890-1975) Next entry

Irene West was an active participant in the African American freedom struggle who, according to Jo Ann Robinson, dedicated her life to ‘‘fighting for the cause of first-class citizenship’’ for blacks (Robinson, 70). A prominent woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who was married to Dr. A. W. West, Sr., a wealthy dentist. Martin Luther King referred to West as ‘‘the real mother of the Movement’’ (Seay, i).

West was born in 1890, and raised in Perry County, Alabama. She graduated from Alabama State College, which is now called Alabama State University. She also attended Tuskegee and Hampton Institutes. West was a member of numerous civic organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Women’s League for Peace and Freedom. She joined the Women’s Political Council (WPC) shortly after it was founded in 1946, and became its treasurer. As a WPC organizer, West was involved in voter registration projects, educational issues, efforts to improve the treatment of African Americans on city buses, and efforts to improve the poor quality of segregated parks and recreational facilities.

Although West was in her sixties at the start of the Montgomery bus boycott, she was one of the most involved activists—distributing information about the boycott, calling civic leaders to meetings, and driving in the carpool. In Stride Toward Freedom, King’s memoir of the boycott, he recalled West’s enthusiasm for the campaign and how she spent the days driving people to work and home again. Interviewed early in the boycott, West was already impressed with the youthful King and Montgomery Improvement Association lawyer Fred Gray, stating: ‘‘Their minds are much older than they are biologically’’ (West, 23 January 1956).

West and several others, including E. D. Nixon, were appointed to the executive board of the MIA because, according to Robinson, ‘‘MIA members felt [they] would speak out without fear and speak with authority as representatives of the black protesters’’ (Robinson, 65). She, King, Robinson, and several other MIA members made up a special delegation of representatives who met with city commissioners and bus company officials during the boycott to resolve concerns about the treatment of African Americans on transportation. West was secretary of the MIA Transportation Committee and was also one of the MIA members arrested for operating the carpool on 22 February 1956, along with her friend, Robinson. Robinson later recalled that during the fingerprinting at the jail, Mrs. West joked with the officers and: ‘‘The interchange was good for all of us, and we felt wonderful, relaxed, at peace with ourselves’’ (Robinson, 151).


King, Stride Toward Freedom, 1958.

Robinson, Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1987.

Seay, I Was There by the Grace of God, 1990.

West, Interview by Willie Mae Lee, 23 January 1956, PV-ARC-LNT.

Watts Rebellion (Los Angeles, 1965)
Watts Rebellion (Los Angeles, 1965) Next entry

On Wednesday, 11 August 1965, Marquette Frye, a 21-year-old black man, was arrested for drunk driving on the edge of Los Angeles’ Watts neighborhood. The ensuing struggle during his arrest sparked off 6 days of rioting, resulting in 34 deaths, over 1,000 injuries, nearly 4,000 arrests, and the destruction of property valued at $40 million. On 17 August 1965, Martin Luther King arrived in Los Angeles in the aftermath of the riots. His experiences over the next several days reinforced his growing conviction that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) should move north and lead a movement to address the growing problems facing black people in the nation’s urban areas.

Frye had been drinking, and was driving with his brother, Ronald, in the car, when the two were pulled over two blocks from their home. While Marquette was being  arrested, Ronald retrieved their mother from her house. When Mrs. Frye saw her son being forcibly arrested, she fought with the arresting officers, tearing one officer’s shirt. An officer then struck Marquette’s head with his nightstick, and all three of the Fryes were arrested.

By the time the Fryes were arrested, hundreds of onlookers had been drawn to the scene. Anger and rumors spread quickly through the black community, and residents stoned cars and beat white people who entered the area. A neighborhood meeting called by the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission the following day failed to quell the mounting tension, and that evening rioting resumed. Firemen attempting to put out blazes were shot at by residents, and looting was rampant. All day Friday the riots intensified, prompting the California lieutenant governor to call in the National Guard. By Saturday night a curfew had been set, and nearly 14,000 National Guard troops were patrolling a 46-mile area. By the time King arrived on Tuesday, having cut short his stay in Puerto Rico, the riots were largely over and the curfew was lifted. Fueling residual anger, however, police stormed a Nation of Islam mosque the next night, firing hundreds of rounds of ammunition into the building and wounding 19 men.

While deploring the riots and their use of violence, King was quick to point out that the problems that led to the violence were ‘‘environmental and not racial. The economic deprivation, social isolation, inadequate housing, and general despair of thousands of Negroes teeming in Northern and Western ghettos are the ready seeds which give birth to tragic expressions of violence’’ (King, 17 August 1965). Although California Governor Edmund Brown hoped King would not go to Watts, King went to support those living in the ghetto who, he claimed, would be pushed further into ‘‘despair and hopelessness’’ by the riot (King, 17 August 1965). He also hoped to bolster the frayed alliance between blacks and whites favoring civil rights reform. He offered to mediate between local people and government officials, and pushed for systematic solutions to the economic and social problems plaguing Watts and other black ghettos.

King told reporters that the Watts riots were ‘‘the beginning of a stirring of those people in our society who have been by passed by the progress of the past decade’’ (King, 20 August 1965). Struggles in the North, King believed, were really about ‘‘dignity and work,’’ rather than rights, which had been the main goal of black activism in the South (King, 20 August 1965). During his discussions with local people, King met black residents who argued for armed insurrection, and others who claimed that ‘‘the only way we can ever get anybody to listen to us is to start a riot’’ (King, 19 August 1965). These expressions concerned King, and before he left Los Angeles he spoke on the phone with President Lyndon B. Johnson about what could be done to ease the situation. King recommended that Johnson roll out a federal anti-poverty program in Los Angeles immediately. Johnson agreed with the suggestion, telling King: ‘‘You did a good job going out there’’ (Branch, 308).

Later that fall, King wrote an article for the Saturday Review in which he argued that Los Angeles could have anticipated rioting ‘‘when its officials tied up federal aid in political manipulation; when the rate of Negro unemployment soared above the depression levels of the 1930s; when the population density of Watts became the worst in the nation,’’ and when the state of California repealed a law that prevented discrimination in housing (King, ‘‘Beyond the Los Angeles Riots’’).

After SCLC initiated its Chicago Campaign that fall, King asked an audience there: ‘‘What did Watts accomplish but the death of thirty-four Negroes and injury to thousands more? What did it profit the Negro to burn down the stores and factories in which he sought employment? The way of riots is not a way of progress, but a blind ally of death and destruction which wrecks its havoc hardest against the rioters themselves’’ (King, 12 March 1966).


Branch, At Canaan’s Edge, 2006.

King, Address at the Chicago Freedom Festival, 12 March 1966, CULC-ICIU.

King, ‘‘Beyond the Los Angeles Riots: Next Step, The North,’’ Saturday Review (13 November 1965): 33–35, 105.

King, Statement on Los Angeles, 20 August 1965, MMFR.

King, Statement on riots in Watts, Calif., 17 August 1965, SCLCR-GAMK.

King, Statement to the people of Watts, 19 August 1965, MLKJP-GAMK.

Watson, Melvin Hampton (1908-2006)
Watson, Melvin Hampton (1908-2006) Next entry

A long-standing friend of the King family, Melvin Watson was one of a group of ministers in Atlanta, Georgia, committed to preaching the social gospel.

The son of Peter O. Watson, clerk and Sunday school superintendent of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Watson graduated in 1930 from Morehouse College with Martin Luther King, Sr. Encouraged to continue his religious education by theologian Howard Thurman, he studied at the Oberlin College Graduate School of Theology, where he received his BD (1932) and his MA in Sacred Theology (1934). Watson went on to obtain his doctorate in Theology (1948) at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. He was dean of men and professor of Religion at Shaw and Dillard Universities before returning to Morehouse as dean and professor of Philosophy and Religion in the School of Religion, where he remained for many years. Praised by King, Sr., as someone who was ‘‘among the few teachers who are able to preach and carry a Church with ease,’’ Watson became pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Atlanta in 1958, where he served until his retirement in 1990 (King, Sr., 5 August 1955).

Watson’s support of a socially and politically involved ministry was evident early in his career. Watson believed that the church could ‘‘provide the spiritual dynamics for social action’’ (Watson ‘‘The Church and Political Action’’). Reverend Calvin O. Butts, III, one of Watson’s students, reminisced after Watson’s death: ‘‘He was preparing us to go out and disturb the conscience and rebel against injustice’’ (Henry, ‘‘Melvin H. Watson’’).

As a young preacher King, Jr., looked to Watson’s ministry for guidance. When King delivered the sermon ‘‘Communism’s Challenge to Christianity’’ in August 1952, at Ebenezer, Watson was sitting in the congregation. Two days later Watson critiqued the sermon on communism in a letter to King. Disagreeing with King’s interpretation of the concept of materialism, Watson cautioned him to differentiate between the Marxist and ancient Greek meanings of the term, but praised him generally for doing a ‘‘fine job’’ (Papers 2:157). After visiting the Kings in 1954 Watson praised King’s pastorate: ‘‘You are definitely off to a promising start, and I believe the Lord is with you. You have my prayers and best wishes for continued growth in spiritual stature and in the capacity to serve the people’’ (Papers 2:321).


Derrick Henry, ‘‘Melvin H. Watson, 98, Trained Civil Rights Leader,’’ Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 24 June 2006.

King, Sr., to Watson, 5 August 1955, EBCR.

Watson, ‘‘The Church and Political Action,’’ Journal of Religious Thought 8, no. 2 (Spring/Summer 1951): 114–124.

Watson to King, 14 August 1952, in Papers 2:156–157.

Watson to King, 15 December 1954, in Papers 2:321.

Wachtel, Harry H. (1917-1997)
Wachtel, Harry H. (1917-1997) Next entry

Harry Wachtel, a prominent New York lawyer, began working for Martin Luther King in 1962. With King’s endorsement, Wachtel co-founded the Gandhi Society for Human Rights, which, as a tax-exempt charitable organization, effectively raised substantial funds for the civil rights movement. In subsequent years King came to rely on Wachtel’s legal advice and moral support, as Wachtel arranged meetings with prominent donors and government officials and met with King regularly.

Wachtel was born in New York City on 26 March 1917. A self-described student radical, Wachtel received his law degree from Columbia University in 1940. With the exception of his military service during World War II, Wachtel practiced continuously in New York firms throughout his career.

King was introduced to Wachtel through Clarence B. Jones, King’s trusted legal advisor. Jones had contacted Wachtel because he represented the parent company of several segregated lunch counters and Jones was interested in pursuing back-channel negotiations on desegregation. Jones found a willing and able ally in Wachtel, who immediately offered his legal services directly to King. After a series of letter exchanges in late 1961, King and Wachtel met in early 1962 when King was in town for a fundraiser for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Soon after, Wachtel wrote King: ‘‘I must confess that before our meeting I had a deep respect for your historic and selfless fight against encrusted injustice and inhumanity. The several hours spent with you stirred me and afforded me new perspectives’’ (Wachtel, 16 February 1962). The two immediately began collaborating on the formation of the Gandhi Society for Human Rights.

In 1963 Wachtel joined Jones in defending Ralph Abernathy and three other ministers in a libel suit stemming from an advertisement in the New York Times. Wachtel quickly became part of King’s inner circle, and was jokingly referred to as the twin of King’s confidante Stanley Levison, also a Jewish lawyer from New York. In 1964 Wachtel formed a small advisory group for King that they called the Research Committee, which met regularly at Wachtel’s office and included Jones, union leader Ralph Helstein, Bayard Rustin, and others. Later that year, Wachtel joined a group accompanying King to Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.

Wachtel remained King’s close advisor until his death in 1968, guiding him through matters ranging from interaction with Federal Bureau of Investigation director J. Edgar Hoover, to gaining support from religious conservatives, to taking a public stance against the Vietnam War. Wachtel’s Wall Street and legal connections gave King access to potential donors and high-level government and business contacts. Wachtel also played a key role in arranging meetings for King with Vice President Hubert Humphrey and President Lyndon B. Johnson. After King’s assassination, Wachtel became Coretta Scott King’s personal lawyer. He also served as a trustee of SCLC and vice president and legal counsel for the King Center from 1969 to 1982. Wachtel died of Parkinson’s disease in 1997.


Branch, At Canaan’s Edge, 2006.

Branch, Pillar of Fire, 1998.

Jones, Interview by King Papers Project staff, 7 March 2007.

Wachtel  to King, 16 February 1962, MLKJP-GAMK.

Wallace, George Corley (1919-1998)
Wallace, George Corley (1919-1998) Next entry

After pledging, ‘‘Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!’’ in his 1963 inaugural address, Alabama Governor George Wallace gained national notoriety by standing at the entrance to the University of Alabama to denounce the enrollment of two African American students. Martin Luther King described Wallace as ‘‘perhaps the most dangerous racist in America today’’ (King, ‘‘Interview’’). In a 1965 interview King said: ‘‘I am not sure that he believes all the poison that he preaches,’’ King said in 1965, ‘‘but he is artful enough to convince others that he does’’ (King, ‘‘Interview’’).

Wallace was born on 25 August 1919, in Clio, Alabama. The son of a farmer, he worked his way through the University of Alabama, earning his law degree in 1942. After a brief time in the Air Force, Wallace returned to Alabama to work as the state’s assistant attorney general. He was elected to the state legislature in 1947, and served as a district judge from 1953 to 1959. In his early political career he maintained a moderate stance on integration; but after losing his first gubernatorial campaign to a candidate who was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, Wallace became an outspoken defender of segregation. In 1962 Wallace won the governorship on a segregationist platform, receiving the largest vote of any gubernatorial candidate in Alabama’s history until that time.

In June 1963 Wallace fulfilled a campaign promise to stand in the schoolhouse door rather than accede to federal orders to integrate Alabama schools. Wallace blocked black students Vivian Malone and James Hood from entering the University of Alabama, but yielded when President John F. Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard to ensure their entrance. Three months later violence in the city erupted, concluding in the murder of four young black girls in a bombing at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. King, who had been in Birmingham to desegregate public facilities, felt that Wallace’s actions contributed to the violence in the city. Writing to President Kennedy in September 1963, King lamented: ‘‘A reign of terror continues in Birmingham. The atmosphere of violence and lawlessness has been fomented and created by the irresponsible actions of Governor George Wallace who persists in violating federal fiat in arrogant and blatant defiance.’’ King warned Kennedy that if he did not ‘‘use the influence of [his] high office,’’ Birmingham would ‘‘see the worst race riot in our [nation’s] history’’ (King, 5 September 1963). Similar confrontations, repeated in other cities, bolstered Wallace’s reputation. His first term was also marked by the violent responses of Alabama authorities to voting rights demonstrations in Selma, Alabama.

Wallace’s position on civil rights and his anti-Washington rhetoric appealed not only to southern segregationists, but also to voters in other parts of the country. In 1964 he entered the Democratic Party’s presidential primaries in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Maryland and made a strong showing in all three states, drawing up to 43 percent of the vote. In 1968 he launched a full-fledged national campaign for the presidency. Running as a third-party candidate, he won five southern states and 10 million votes, half of them from outside the South.

During Wallace’s third bid for the presidency in 1972, an assassination attempt left him paralyzed below the waist and ended his campaign. He was eventually able to return to his duties as governor, and was reelected to a third term in 1974. As the black vote became more influential in Alabama, Wallace began to shift his stance on racial issues. After renouncing his former views on segregation and seeking reconciliation with civil rights leaders such as Ralph Abernathy, Jesse Jackson, and John Lewis, he won a fourth term as governor in 1982 with substantial support from African Americans. Wallace died in Montgomery on 13 September 1998 at the age of 79.


Carter, Politics of Rage, 2000.

King, ‘‘Interview with Martin Luther King, Jr.,’’ Playboy (January 1965): 65–68, 70–74, 76–78.

King to Kennedy, 5 September 1963, DJG-GEU.

Lesher, George Wallace, 1994.

Walker, Wyatt Tee (1929- )
Walker, Wyatt Tee (1929- ) Next entry

Described by Martin Luther King as ‘‘one of the keenest minds of the nonviolent revolution,’’ Wyatt Tee Walker served as executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) from 1960 to 1964 (Press release, 23 June 1964).

Walker was born 16 August 1929, in Brockton, Massachusetts, to John Wise and Maude Pinn Walker. Walker graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1950 from Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia, with a BS in both Chemistry and Physics. He then entered Virginia Union’s Graduate School of Religion, serving as student body president before receiving his BD in 1953. At a meeting of the Inter-Seminary Movement, Walker met King, then a student at Crozer Theological Seminary.

In 1953 Walker accepted a position as minister at Gillfield Baptist Church in Petersburg, Virginia. Walker also held a number of leadership roles with local civil rights organizations. He served as president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and as state director of the Congress of Racial Equality. He was also a founder of the Virginia Council on Human Relations, a biracial group working for desegregation, and led the Petersburg Improvement Association, which was modeled after the Montgomery Improvement Association.

In 1959 Walker organized and led the first local Prayer Pilgrimage for Public Schools, an event that protested Virginia state officials’ attempts to block public school integration. The same year, Walker also joined the board of SCLC. In January 1960 King spoke at the second annual Prayer Pilgrimage and in March of that year Walker decided to remain in jail after being arrested protesting segregation in the Petersburg Library. Meanwhile, King had mailed him an offer to become SCLC’s new executive director. King expressed confidence that Walker, ‘‘would bring into full grown maturity an organization that is presently a sleeping giant’’ (Papers 5:385). Walker replaced Ella Baker, who had served as interim director since John Lee Tilley’s resignation in 1959. Walker subsequently moved to Atlanta with his family. He brought Dorothy Cotton and James R. Wood, two of his closest assistants from the Petersburg Improvement Association, with him to SCLC.

A firm administrator, Walker worked to bring order to the organization’s fundraising efforts and the wide-ranging activities of its staff. Walker was also a key tactician, authoring and evaluating protest strategies, including ‘‘Project C,’’ the basis for SCLC’s Birmingham Campaign in 1963. SCLC benefited from Walker’s advice on organizational structure and strategy. Walker described himself as someone ‘‘who didn’t care about being loved to get it done—I didn’t give a damn about whether people liked me, but I knew I could do the job,’’ an attitude exemplary of a heavy handed leadership style that occasionally fueled SCLC staff tensions (Eskew, 37). Walker’s leadership style also alienated some young activists affiliated with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Such conflicts were the motivating forces behind Walker’s eventual resignation from SCLC in 1964. When Walker was replaced by SCLC staff member Andrew Young, he went on to work as vice president of a new publishing venture, the Negro Heritage Library. In 1965 he became president of the organization, which sought to increase the attention paid to black history in school curricula. Walker and King maintained contact in the years following Walker’s resignation, and King preached at his 1968 installation service at Canaan Baptist Church, praising Walker as ‘‘a tall man, tall in stature, tall in courage,’’ who contributed significantly to SCLC (King, 24 March 1968).

Walker remained active in religion and social change activities after leaving SCLC. In 1975 he received his D.Min. from Colgate-Rochester Divinity School. Walker also served as New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s special assistant on urban affairs and held visiting professorships at Princeton Theological Seminary and New York University. An expert on gospel music, Walker published several books on the role music has played in the black religious tradition, including Somebody’s Calling My Name: Black Sacred Music and Social Change (1979).


Eskew, But for Birmingham, 1997.

King, ‘‘A Knock at Midnight,’’ 24 March 1968, MLKJP-GAMK.

King to Walker, 5 March 1960, in Papers 5:384–385.

Press release, Statement on Walker’s appointment at Educational Heritage, 23 June 1964, SCLCR-GAMK.

Young, An Easy Burden, 1996.

Voting Rights Act (1965)
Voting Rights Act (1965) Next entry

On 6 August 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, calling the day ‘‘a triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has ever been won on any battlefield’’ (Johnson, ‘‘Remarks in the Capitol Rotunda’’). The law came seven months after Martin Luther King launched a Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) campaign based in Selma, Alabama, with the aim of pressuring Congress to pass such legislation.

‘‘In Selma,’’ King wrote, ‘‘we see a classic pattern of disenfranchisement typical of the Southern Black Belt areas where Negroes are in the majority’’ (King, ‘‘Selma— The Shame and the Promise’’). In addition to facing arbitrary literacy tests and poll taxes, African Americans in Selma and other southern towns were intimidated, harassed, and assaulted when they sought to register to vote. Civil rights activists met with fierce resistance to their campaign, which attracted national attention on 7 March 1965, when civil rights workers were brutally attacked by white law enforcement officers on a march from Selma to Montgomery.

Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act that same month, ‘‘with the outrage of Selma still fresh’’ (Johnson, ‘‘Remarks in the Capitol Rotunda’’). In just over four months, Congress passed the bill. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 abolished literacy tests and poll taxes designed to disenfranchise African American voters, and gave the federal government the authority to take over voter registration in counties with a pattern of persistent discrimination. ‘‘This law covers many pages,’’ Johnson said before signing the bill, ‘‘but the heart of the act is plain. Wherever, by clear and objective standards, States and counties are using regulations, or laws, or tests to deny the right to vote, then they will be struck down’’ (Johnson, ‘‘Remarks in the Capitol Rotunda’’).

On the same day Johnson signed the bill, he announced that his attorney general, Nicholas Katzenbach, would initiate lawsuits against four states that still required a poll tax to register. Although King called the law ‘‘a great step forward in removing all of the remaining obstacles to the right to vote,’’ he knew that the ballot would only be an effective tool for social change if potential voters rid themselves of the fear associated with voting (King, 5 August 1965.) To meet this goal and ‘‘rid the American body politic of racism,’’ SCLC developed its Political Education and Voter Registration Department (King, ‘‘Annual Report’’).


Carson, In Struggle, 1981.

John Herbers, ‘‘Alabama Vote Drive Opened by Dr. King,’’ New York Times, 3 January 1965.

Johnson, ‘‘Remarks in the Capitol Rodunda at the Signing of the Voting Rights Act,’’ 6 August 1965, in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, 1966.

E. W. Kenworthy, ‘‘Johnson Signs Voting Rights Bill, Orders Immediate Enforcement; 4 Suits Will Challenge Poll Tax,’’ New York Times, 7 August 1965.

King, ‘‘Annual Report Delivered at SCLC’s Ninth Annual National Convention, 11 August 1965,’’ MLKPP.

King, Press conference after meeting with Lyndon B. Johnson, 5 August 1965, MLKJP-GAMK.

King, ‘‘Selma—The Shame and the Promise,’’ IUD Agenda 1 (March 1965). ‘‘Provisions of Voting Bill,’’ New York Times, 7 August 1965.


Voter Education Project
Voter Education Project Next entry

The Voter Education Project (VEP) coordinated the voter registration campaigns of five civil rights groups—the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the National Urban League—under the auspices of the Southern Regional Council (SRC), a non-profit research organization. The creation of the VEP enabled foundations to make tax-free donations directly to voter registration efforts, which were then coordinated by SRC to prevent duplicate coverage areas. Martin Luther King believed the VEP to be a success, pledging to ‘‘continue to participate personally’’ in its registration efforts (King, 5 April 1962).

Established in April 1962, the VEP originated in discussions between U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Burke Marshall, the SRC’s Harold C. Fleming, and philanthropist Stephen R. Currier. They believed that the creation of a nonpartisan, tax-exempt, and centrally organized agency would attract private contributions to the civil rights struggle and improve the efficiency of voter registration efforts already underway. In addition, they hoped the VEP would shift the efforts of civil rights groups away from confrontational direct action methods toward less controversial voter registration drives. Although civil rights groups were well aware of this motivation for advocating the VEP, they welcomed the additional funding and viewed participation in the project as a way to continue their work with increased federal protection.

VEP-funded projects had early successes in communities such as Albany, Georgia, where a VEP grant helped the Albany Movement register more than 500 new voters in two weeks during 1962. However, in early 1963 the VEP threatened to suspend SCLC from the program because of inadequate reporting on the use of grant funds. King hastily called a conference between VEP leadership and SCLC, during which he acknowledged that SCLC had to work harder to reach its reporting obligations and asked the VEP to renew its support. The VEP agreed, and SCLC continued its VEP-sponsored projects.

Although many registration campaigns achieved success, in some areas, notably Mississippi, the VEP concluded that discrimination was so entrenched that only fed¬eral intervention could significantly increase the number of black voters. By the end of 1964 VEP grants totaled almost $900,000, and nearly 800,000 new black southern voters had been added to the rolls since the VEP began. In October 1965, a few months after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, King told an SCLC administrative committee that more than 175,000 new black voters had been registered since the act passed, and that SCLC registration and canvassing was responsible for more than half of that increase.

In 1967 the VEP began a third operational phase that focused on channeling grants to local voter leagues. The VEP separated from the SRC in 1970, but continued voter education and registration work until it closed in 1992.


Fairclough, Race & Democracy, 1995.

King, Press conference after meeting with Lyndon B. Johnson, 5 August 1965, MLKJP-GAMK.

King, ‘‘Statement on intensified voter registration drive,’’ 5 April 1962, MLKJP-GAMK.

Navasky, Kennedy Justice, 1971.

Parker, Black Votes Count, 1990.

Vivian, Cordy Tindell (1924- )
Vivian, Cordy Tindell (1924- ) Next entry

As a minister, educator, and community organizer, C. T. Vivian has been a tenacious advocate for civil rights since the 1940s. After joining the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in the early 1960s, he became the Director of Affiliates and participated in numerous protests. Known for his sharp tongue and unflinching courage, Vivian recalled what movement veterans felt after serving time in jail: ‘‘They had triumphed, that they had achieved, that they were now ready, they could go back home, they could be a witness to a new understanding. Nonviolence was proven in that respect’’ (Hampton and Fayer, 96).

Vivian, who was born on 28 July 1924, in Boonville, Missouri, relocated with his family to Macomb, Illinois, when he was six years old. After graduating from Macomb High School in 1942, he enrolled at Western Illinois University. Upon moving to Peoria, Illinois, Vivian worked as assistant boys’ director at Carver Community Center, and later participated in a successful lunch counter sit-in in 1947. He served as pastor of the First Community Church in Nashville from 1956 to 1961, while completing his BD at American Baptist Theological Seminary and editing the Baptist Layman, a journal of the National Baptist Convention (NBC).

While organizing in Nashville, he became acquainted with James Lawson. Together with Kelly Miller Smith, they founded the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference. In early 1960 Vivian joined Diane Nash, James Bevel, John Lewis, and other students from local universities as they staged sit-ins and other nonviolent protests throughout the city. Nash recalled Vivian’s presence: ‘‘He was an eloquent spokesperson. His fire was very much in evidence. He has a certain commitment in his personality that really pervades the things he does and says’’ (Hampton and Fayer, 66). In 1961 Vivian was among the Nashville activists who replaced injured freedom riders in Montgomery, Alabama. At the conclusion of the Freedom Rides in Jackson, Mississippi, police arrested Vivian and sent him to Parchman Prison, where he was brutally beaten by guards.

In 1963 King invited Vivian to join the executive staff of SCLC as the Director of Affiliates. In this capacity Vivian coordinated the activities of local civil rights groups nationwide. He also advised King and organized demonstrations during campaigns in Birmingham, St. Augustine, Florida and Selma, Alabama. Vivian attracted national media attention in February 1965, when he was struck by Sheriff Jim Clark while leading a group attempting to register to vote at the Selma courthouse. The event was captured by television cameras and increased support for the protest.

In 1966 Vivian left SCLC and moved to Chicago to direct the Urban Training Center for Christian Mission. Two years later he organized the Coalition for United Community Action, a group of 61 black organizations aimed at ending racism in building trade unions. He later founded the Black Action Strategies and Information Center, and the Center for Democratic Renewal, formerly known as the National Anti-Klan Network. His book, Black Power and the American Myth was published in 1970.


Halberstam, Children, 1998.

Hampton, Fayer, with Flynn, Voices of Freedom, 1990.

Vietnam War (1961-1975)
Vietnam War (1961-1975) Next entry

Four years after President John F. Kennedy sent the first American troops into Vietnam, Martin Luther King issued his first public statement on the war. Answering press questions after addressing a Howard University audience on 2 March 1965, King asserted that the war in Vietnam was ‘‘accomplishing nothing’’ and called for a negotiated settlement (Schuette, ‘‘King Preaches on Non-Violence’’).

While King was personally opposed to the war, he was concerned that publicly criticizing U.S. foreign policy would damage his relationship with President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had been instrumental in passing civil rights legislation and who had declared in April 1965 that he was willing to negotiate a diplomatic end to the war in Vietnam. Though he avoided condemning the war outright, at the August 1965 annual Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) convention King called for a halt to bombing in North Vietnam, urged that the United Nations be empowered to mediate the conflict, and told the crowd that ‘‘What is required is a small first step that may establish a new spirit of mutual confidence … a step capable of breaking the cycle of mistrust, violence and war’’ (King, 12 August 1965). He supported Johnson’s calls for diplomatic negotiations and economic development as the beginnings of such a step. Later that year King framed the issue of war in Vietnam as a moral issue: ‘‘as a minister of the gospel,’’ he said, ‘‘I consider war an evil. I must cry out when I see war escalated at any point’’ (‘‘Opposes Vietnam War’’).

King’s opposition to the war provoked criticism from members of Congress, the press and from his civil rights colleagues who argued that expanding his civil rights message to include foreign affairs would harm the black freedom struggle in America. Fearful of being labeled a Communist, which would diminish the impact of his civil rights work, King tempered his criticism of U.S. policy in Vietnam through late 1965 and 1966. His wife, Coretta Scott King, took a more active role in opposing the war, speaking at a rally at the Washington Monument on 27 November 1965 with Benjamin Spock, the renowned pediatrician and anti-war activist and joined in other demonstrations.

In December 1966, testifying before a congressional subcommittee on budget priorities, King argued for a ‘‘rebalancing’’ of fiscal priorities away from America’s ‘‘obsession’’ with Vietnam and toward greater support for anti-poverty programs at home (Semple, ‘‘Dr. King Scores Poverty’’). King led his first anti-war march in Chicago on 25 March 1967, and reinforced the connection between war abroad and injustice at home: ‘‘The bombs in Vietnam explode at home—they destroy the dream and possibility for a decent America’’ (‘‘Dr. King Leads Chicago’’). A few days later, King made it clear that his peace work was not undertaken as the leader of the SCLC, but ‘‘as an individual, as a clergyman, as one who is greatly concerned about peace’’ (‘‘Dr. King to Weigh Civil Disobedience’’).

Less than two weeks after leading his first Vietnam demonstration, on 4 April 1967, King made his best known and most comprehensive statement against the war. Seeking to reduce the potential backlash by framing his speech within the context of religious objection to war, King addressed a crowd of 3,000 people at Riverside Church in New York City, King delivered a speech entitled ‘‘Beyond Vietnam.’’ pointing out that the war effort was ‘‘taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem’’ (King, ‘‘Beyond Vietnam,’’ 143).

Although the peace community lauded King’s willingness to take a public stand against the war in Vietnam, many within the civil rights movement further distanced themselves from his stance. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, for example, issued a statement against merging the civil rights and peace movements. Undeterred, King, Spock, and Harry Belafonte led 100,000 demonstrators on an anti-war march to the United Nations on 15 April 1967.

During the last year of his life, King worked with Spock to develop ‘‘Vietnam Summer,’’ a volunteer project to increase grassroots peace activism in time for the 1968 elections. King linked his anti-war and civil rights work in speeches throughout the country, where he described the three problems he saw plaguing the nation: racism, poverty, and the war in Vietnam. In his last Sunday sermon, delivered at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on 31 March 1968, King said that he was ‘‘convinced that [Vietnam] is one of the most unjust wars that has ever been fought in the history of the world’’ (King, ‘‘Remaining Awake,’’ 219). Nearly five years after King’s assassination, American troops withdrew from Vietnam and a peace treaty declared South and North Vietnam independent of each other.

Branch, At Canaan’s Edge, 2006.
‘‘Dr. King Leads Chicago Peace Rally,’’ New York Times, 26 March 1967.
‘‘Dr. King to Weigh Civil Disobedience If War Intensifies,’’ New York Times, 2 April 1967.
‘‘Dr. Martin Luther King: Beyond Vietnam and Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution,’’ 90th Cong., 2d sess. Congressional Record 114 (9 April 1968): 9391–9397.
Garrow, Bearing the Cross, 1986.
King, ‘‘Beyond Vietnam,’’ in A Call to Conscience, Carson and Shepard, eds., 2001.
King, Excerpts, Address at mass rally during the 1965 SCLC convention, 12 August 1965, MLKJP-GAMK.
King, My Life with Martin, 1969.
King, ‘‘Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,’’ in A Knock at Midnight, Carson and Holloran, eds., 1998.
‘‘Opposes Vietnam War,’’ New York Times, 11 November 1965.
Paul A. Schuette, ‘‘King Preaches on Non-Violence at Police-Guarded Howard Hall,’’ Washington Post, 3 March 1965.
Robert B. Semple, Jr., ‘‘Dr. King Scores Poverty Budget,’’ New York Times, 16 December 1966.


Vandiver, Samuel Ernest, Jr. (1918-2005)
Vandiver, Samuel Ernest, Jr. (1918-2005) Next entry

Upon learning of Martin Luther King’s proposed move to Atlanta in December 1959, Georgia’s Governor, Ernest Vandiver, declared that King was disruptive to the state’s ‘‘good relations between the races’’ and vowed that the civil rights leader would be kept under surveillance. Vandiver claimed that ‘‘wherever M. L. King, Jr., has been there has followed in his wake a wave of crimes including stabbings, bombings, and inciting riots, barratry, destruction of property, and many others’’ (‘‘Vandiver Says’’).

Vandiver was born in Canon, Georgia, on 3 July 1918. After graduating from Darlington Preparatory School in Rome, Georgia, he earned both his AB and LLB degrees at the University of Georgia. Vandiver served during World War II and, after returning to Georgia, he was elected mayor of Lavonia, Georgia, in 1946. Utilizing his father’s connections to the Talmadge family’s Democratic Party political machine, he then moved on to other positions within state government. In 1948 he managed Herman Talmadge’s successful gubernatorial campaign, and went on to become both adjutant general and state director of selective service of Georgia. Vandiver was elected lieutenant governor under Marvin Griffin in 1954, and subsequently ran for and won Griffin’s office in 1958.

Once elected, Vandiver proposed successful legislation requiring the withdrawal of state funds from public schools ordered to desegregate by federal courts, and preventing local property tax revenue from funding integrated schools. In January 1961, upon word that Vandiver planned to enforce Georgia law and close the University of Georgia, an additional federal injunction prevented him from doing so. At a special joint session of the Georgia Assembly, Vandiver urged the legislature to alter state law to authorize local communities to integrate or close their own public schools, warning that the issue would otherwise ‘‘blight our state. … Like a cancerous growth, it will devour progress … denying the youth of Georgia their proper educational opportunity’’ (Sitton, ‘‘Vandiver Offers’’).

Tensions between King and Vandiver peaked upon news of King’s relocation to Atlanta in early 1960. Vandiver expressed his discontent publicly, maintaining that King was not welcome in Georgia. In response to the governor’s statement that King’s arrival would bring violence to Atlanta, King wrote to a supporter: ‘‘Why Governor Vandiver made such an extreme accusation I do not know, other than the fact that he probably felt the need to appeal to some of the reactionaries who vote to keep him in office’’ (King, 23 December 1959).

Following King’s arrest in October 1960 for his participation in a sit-in at a department store restaurant in Atlanta, Democratic Party presidential candidate John F. Kennedy made a phone call to Coretta Scott King expressing his concern for her jailed husband. Publicly, Vandiver told reporters: ‘‘It is a sad commentary on the year 1960 and its political campaign when the Democratic nominee for the presidency makes a phone call to the home of the foremost racial agitator in the country’’ (‘‘King Hurt Demos’’). Privately, Vandiver had suggested to Robert F. Kennedy that he make the personal phone call to DeKalb County Judge J. Oscar Mitchell, that led Mitchell to free King on bail. Vandiver’s tactical recommendation was kept quiet.

Georgia’s restrictions on serving consecutive terms forced Vandiver to leave office in 1963, and a heart attack during his 1966 reelection campaign forced him to withdraw from the race. Vandiver resumed his legal practice, and in 1971 served as Governor Jimmy Carter’s adjutant general. He later held leadership positions with several institutions, including Atlanta’s Rapid Transit Committee and the Lavonia Development Corporation. Vandiver died in 2005 at the age of 86.


Branch, Parting the Waters, 1988.

Bradford Daniel, ‘‘Martin Luther King says: ‘I’d Do It All Again,’’’ Sepia, December 1961.

Henderson, Ernest Vandiver, 2000.

Introduction, in Papers 5:20–21; 36–40.

King, Address at NAACP Mass Rally for Civil Rights, 10 July 1960, in Papers 5:485–487.

‘‘King Hurt Demos, Vandiver Asserts,’’ Atlanta Journal, 31 October 1960.

King to Lee Perry, 23 December 1959, MLKP-MBU.

Claude Sitton, ‘‘Vandiver Offers Integration Plan,’’ New York Times, 19 January 1961.

‘‘Vandiver Says Reverend King Not ‘Welcome’ Here,’’ Atlanta Daily World, 2 December 1959.

United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA)
United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) Next entry

An early supporter of the Montgomery bus boycott, the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) raised funds for civil rights groups and participated in civil rights campaigns throughout the country during the 1950s and 1960s. At the 1962 UPWA Annual Convention, King told union members, ‘‘if labor as a whole, if the administration in Washington matched your concern and your deeds, the civil rights problem would not be a burning national issue, but a problem long solved, and in its solution a luminous accomplishment in the best tradition of American principles’’ (King, 21 May 1962).

The UPWA was created in 1943 from the Congress of Industrial Organizations’ Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee. In contrast to its rival union, the more conservative Amalgamated Meat Cutters, the UPWA was aligned with the radical Left and committed to interracial cooperation. In 1949 the union began pursuing anti-discrimination activities. The following year it created an Anti-Discrimination Department, dedicated to ending racial discrimination in meat packing plants and working against segregation in local communities.

In February 1956, two months after the start of the Montgomery bus boycott, the UPWA arranged a meeting in Chicago for King to address supporters of the boycott. UPWA local and district conventions passed resolutions in support of the boycott, arguing that ‘‘the enemies of Negroes are also the enemies of organized labor’’ (Russell Bull, 13 March 1956). The head of the Anti-Discrimination Department, UPWA Vice President Russell Lasley, attended the founding meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in January 1957, calling it ‘‘an extreme honor and privilege to represent UPWA in a conference of leaders who have dedicated their lives to the cause of freedom and the establishment of a society free of racial injustice and second class citizenship’’ (Lasley, 11 January 1957).

SCLC members promised to help the UPWA organize in southern plants, and the union launched a Fund for Democracy in the South, which raised $11,000 in local union contributions to SCLC. Presenting King with the check at the Anti-Discrimination Department’s annual convention in October 1957, UPWA president Ralph Helstein told King that the union had joined the ‘‘battle for civil rights’’ because its members ‘‘have felt that freedom, like peace, is indivisible’’ (Helstein, 2 October 1957).

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the U.S. Congress accused the UPWA of being a Communist dominated organization. The union set up a Public Advisory Review Commission to oversee the UPWA’s compliance with the AFL-CIO’s Ethical Practices Code, which banned Communists from holding union offices and prohibited the union from adopting communist doctrine. King sat on the commission.

The union’s contribution to the movement went beyond financial donations to SCLC. The UPWA donated scholarship funds to support students involved in civil rights, and became a key benefactor of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The union also wrote telegrams and letters of support during SCLC’s various campaigns, and UPWA members participated directly in civil rights actions including the 1963 March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom and the 1966 Chicago Campaign. Even after his controversial statements about the Vietnam War in 1967, the UPWA continued to support King.

In 1968, suffering from massive job cuts in the packinghouse industry due to technological changes, the UPWA was forced to merge with its old rival, Amalgamated Meat Cutters, forcing the organization to tone down its radical activism. During King’s life, however, the union served as a role model for organized labor and a pioneer in the civil rights movement.


Russell Bull to Richard Durham, 13 March 1956, UPWP-WHi.

Halpern, Down on the Killing Floor, 1997.

Halpern and Horowitz, Meatpackers, 1996.

Helstein, Remarks at the UPWA conference, 2 October 1957, UPWP-WHi.

Horowitz, ‘‘Negro and White, Unite and Fight!’’, 1997.

King, Address at the Thirteenth Constitutional Convention of the UPWA, 21 May 1962,UPWP-WHi.

Lasley, ‘‘Report on the Southern Leaders Conference on Transportation and Non-violent Integration,’’ 11 January 1957, UPWP-WHi.

Trumpet of Conscience, The (1968)
The Trumpet of Conscience Next entry

The Trumpet of Conscience features five lectures that Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered in November and December 1967 for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Massey Lectures. Founded in 1961 to honor Vincent Massey, former Governor General of Canada, the annual Massey Lectures served as a venue for earlier speakers such as John Kenneth Galbraith and Paul Goodman. The event, sponsored by the University of Toronto’s Massey College, is broadcast each year on the CBC Radio One show ‘‘Ideas.’’ Prior to King’s assassination, the book was released under the title Conscience for Change through the CBC. After King’s death in 1968, the book was republished as The Trumpet of Conscience, and included a foreword written by Coretta Scott King. The book reveals some of King’s most introspective reflections and his last impressions of the movement.

Each of the five orations encompasses a distinct theme pertinent to the African American civil rights struggle. In his first talk, ‘‘Impasse in Race Relations,’’ King notes that although ‘‘the white backlash declared true equality could never be a reality in the United States,’’ he felt that ‘‘mass civil disobedience as a new stage of struggle can transmute the deep rage of the ghetto into a constructive and creative force’’ (King, Trumpet, 10; 15). The second lecture, ‘‘Conscience and the Vietnam War,’’ is a close parallel to the ‘‘Beyond Vietnam’’ speech that King gave at New York City’s Riverside Church in April 1967, in opposition to the war. ‘‘Youth and Social Action,’’ King’s third lecture, envisions the mobilized power of a united youth front in which ‘‘hippies,’’ ‘‘radicals,’’ and other youth activists work in tandem to combine their strengths (King, Trumpet, 49). In ‘‘Nonviolence and Social Change,’’ King defends nonviolent resistance as a political tool to convince ‘‘the wielders of power’’ to respond to national poverty (King, Trumpet, 62).

King’s concluding speech was a live broadcast of his 1967 Christmas Eve sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, ‘‘A Christmas Sermon on Peace.’’ The sermon illuminates King’s long-term vision of nonviolence as a path to world peace, and contains many of King’s classical oratorical set pieces, including his description of agape. In his concluding remarks, King refers to his remarks at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and admits, ‘‘not long after talking about that dream I started seeing it turn into a nightmare’’ (King, Trumpet, 76). He reviews the recent setbacks the movement faced, including violence during the Birmingham Campaign, persistent poverty, urban race riots, and an escalation of the war in Vietnam, and notes, ‘‘I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes’’ (King, Trumpet, 76). In spite of these hurdles, King reassures his congregation: ‘‘I still have a dream. I have a dream that one day men will rise up and come to see that they are made to live together as brothers’’ (King, Trumpet, 76–77).


King, Call to Conscience, eds. Carson and Shepard, 2001.

King, Conscience for Change, 1967.

King, Trumpet of Conscience, 1968.

Truman, Harry S. (1884-1972)
Truman, Harry S. (1884-1972) Next entry

Following the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in April 1945, Harry S. Truman became the 33rd president of the United States, after serving only 83 days as vice president. Martin Luther King had admired Truman’s record on civil rights until 1960, when Truman made defamatory statements linking the sit-in demonstrations with communism.

Truman was born 8 May 1884, in Lamar, Missouri. After graduating from high school in 1901, when his family could not afford to send him to college, Truman worked a variety of jobs before enlisting in the Missouri National Guard in 1907. He was discharged as a corporal in 1911, and shortly after the United States entered World War I Truman enlisted in the Missouri Field Artillery, serving in France and later achieving the rank of colonel in the reserves. Returning to Missouri after the war, in 1922 Truman was elected judge of the Jackson County Court, a position he held for two years. He later served as presiding judge of the same court from 1926 to 1934.

Following his judgeship, Truman was elected to the U.S. Senate to represent Missouri. During his 10 years in the Senate, Truman supported Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, as well as legislation that aided farmers and labor unions. Although he was openly racist when among his Senate peers, he lobbied for an end to legalized racial discrimination because it violated basic American ideals. Truman served as Roosevelt’s running mate in the 1944 election, and the two men won 53 percent of the popular vote. After Roosevelt’s death Truman assumed the presidency, and served until 1953.

During his presidency, Truman issued Executive Order 9808 (1946), which established the President’s Committee on Civil Rights; Executive Order 9980 (1948), which established a fair employment board to eliminate discriminatory hiring within the federal government; and Executive Order 9981, which desegregated the U.S. armed forces. Truman’s civil rights record was well received by African Americans, including King, who sent Truman an autographed copy of his first book, Stride Toward Freedom in 1958.

A few years later Truman made public accusations that southern lunch counter demonstrations were orchestrated by Communists, and argued that: ‘‘If anyone came into my store and tried to stop business I’d throw him out. The Negro should behave himself and show he’s a good citizen’’ (Papers 5:437). In response to Truman’s comments, King wrote him, acknowledging his previous admiration for Truman’s civil rights record and expressing his confusion and disappointment over the former president’s statement. King stated: ‘‘It is a sad day for our country when men come to feel that oppressed people cannot desire freedom and human dignity unless they are motivated by Communism.… When the accusations come from a man who was once chosen by the American people to serve as the chief custodian of the nation’s destiny then they rise to shocking and dangerous proportions’’ (Papers 5:438). King then asked Truman for a public apology, but no reply from Truman has been located. Following his tenure as president, Truman retired to Independence, Missouri. He died on 26 December 1972.


King to Truman, 19 April 1960, in Papers 5:437–439.

Miller, Truman, 1986.

Tillich, Paul (1886-1965)
Tillich, Paul (1886-1965) Next entry

A theologian who had a major influence on Martin Luther King’s religious ideas, Paul Tillich is considered one of the foremost thinkers of Protestantism. In response to Tillich’s death in October 1965, King commented: ‘‘He helped us to speak of God’s action in history in terms which adequately expressed both the faith and the intellect of modern man’’ (King, October 1965).

Paul Tillich was born on 20 August 1886, in the province of Brandenburg, Germany, to Johannes Tillich, a Lutheran pastor, and his wife Wilhelmina Mathilde. He studied at a number of German universities before obtaining his PhD at Breslau in 1911. In 1912 he was ordained as a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brandenburg. After serving as a chaplain in the German Army during World War I, he taught Theology at the Universities of Berlin, Marburg, Dresden, Leipzig, and Frankfort. Removed from his Frankfort post due to his public support of leftist intellectuals and Jews during the early Nazi regime, Tillich accepted Reinhold Niebuhr’s invitation to teach at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Tillich served on the faculty as a Professor of philosophical Theology from 1933 until his retirement in 1955, and went on to join the faculty at Harvard University. In 1962 he accepted a post as the Nuveen Professor of Theology at the University of Chicago, where he remained until his death.

King first encountered Tillich’s writings as a student at Crozer Theological Seminary and Boston University, but he did not substantively study Tillich’s work until choosing his dissertation topic, ‘‘A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman,’’ in early 1953. In his dissertation, King expressed disagreement with both men’s disavowal of personalism, and criticized Tillich’s abstract notion of God as ‘‘little more than a sub-personal reservoir of power’’ and ‘‘a pure absolute devoid of consciousness and life’’ (Papers 2:534). King did, however, praise both men’s ‘‘cry against the humanism of our generation … that has had all too much faith in man and all too little faith in God’’ (Papers 2:519).

King later credited Tillich’s work as a major influence on his religious thinking, having convinced him that ‘‘existentialism, in spite of the fact that it has become all too fashionable, had grasped certain basic truths about man and his condition that could not be permanently overlooked’’ (Papers 5:421). He frequently used Tillich’s cautioning view that ‘‘sin is separation’’ to illustrate the inherently evil nature of segregation in speeches in his later years (King, ‘‘The Negro Is Your Brother’’). Commenting on Tillich’s view of God in this context of modern alienation, King observed: ‘‘His Christian existentialism gave us a system of meaning and purpose for our lives in an age when war and doubt seriously threatened all that we had come to hold dear’’ (King, October 1965).


King, ‘‘A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman,’’ 15 April 1955, in Papers 2:339–544.

King, ‘‘The Negro Is Your Brother,’’ Atlantic Monthly 212 (August 1963): 78–81; 86–88.

King, ‘‘Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,’’ 13 April 1960, in Papers 5:419–425.

King, Statement on death of Tillich, October 1965, MLKJP-GAMK.

Macleod, Paul Tillich, 1973.

Pauck and Pauck, Paul Tillich, 1976.

Tillich, My Search for Absolutes, 1967.

Tilley, John Lee (1898-1971)
Tilley, John Lee (1898-1971) Next entry

In April 1958 the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) asked John Lee Tilley, pastor of New Metropolitan Baptist Church in Baltimore, to become the organization’s first executive director. Responding to Tilley’s appointment, Martin Luther King described him as a ‘‘very able man with a great deal of experience and know-how in the area of Human Relations’’ (King, 9 July 1958). Within one year of Tilley’s selection, however, King asked the minister to submit his resignation.

Born in Stem, North Carolina, Tilley received his AB (1925) from Shaw University  and his PhB (1927) from the University of Chicago. He later received his MA (1933) at the University of Chicago and his DD (1933) from Shaw, before being named the first dean of Shaw’s School of Religion. He left Shaw in 1944, when he became president of Florida Normal and Industrial College in St. Augustine, a position he held until 1951, when he became pastor of New Metropolitan Baptist Church. Before his appointment to serve as SCLC executive director, Tilley chaired both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Register and Vote Campaign and the Baltimore NAACP’s Labor Committee. Because of his many commitments, Tilley initially accepted the SCLC position on a part-time basis.

In Tilley’s first year as executive director, tensions rose when an SCLC supporter complained of Tilley’s inability to devote sufficient time to Atlanta’s voter registration drive. Knowing of Tilley’s part-time status with SCLC, King defended his executive director. ‘‘Dr. Tilley is a man of wide experience,’’ King boasted, ‘‘having [led] the city of Baltimore in one of the most successful voting drives to date’’ (Papers 5:115). Three months later, on 3 April 1959, King asked for Tilley’s resignation because SCLC’s Crusade for Citizenship program was stalled and its treasury overextended. Writing on behalf of SCLC’s administrative committee, King noted: ‘‘We had hoped that our program would be well developed by now, and that the aims and purposes of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference would have been well established in the minds and hearts of the people all over the nation by this time’’ (Papers 5:180). In closing, King thanked Tilley and hoped that the ‘‘present crisis, will not in any way cause you to sever your interest and affection from our conference’’ (Papers 5:180).

On 13 April 1959 Tilley complied with King’s request, reminding the SCLC president of his initial agreement to serve as executive director on a temporary and part-time basis. Calling his work with SCLC a ‘‘privilege and pleasure,’’ Tilley suggested that ‘‘fear and apathy … in regard to voting, jealousies, and the attitude of competition on the part of many individuals and organizations,’’ as well as a lack of sufficient funds and staffing, posed barriers to SCLC’s success. In closing, Tilley offered his services to SCLC at a later date if the organization so desired.

In 1961 Tilley returned to Shaw University as the director of public relations and alumni affairs. From 1964 to 1970 he was a visiting lecturer at Howard University’s School of Religion. He died on 28 April 1971 in Baltimore.


King to Jesse Hill, Jr., 28 January 1959, in Papers 5:114–115.

King to Myles Horton, 9 July 1958, MLKP-MBU.

King to Tilley, 3 April 1959, in Papers 5:179–181.

Tilley to King, 26 June 1958, in Papers 4:441–443.

Tilley to King, 13 April 1959, in Papers 5:182–184.

Till, Emmett Louis (1941-1955)
Till, Emmett Louis (1941-1955) Next entry

The 1955 abduction and murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till helped ignite the civil rights movement. A month after the Till lynching, Martin Luther King stated that it ‘‘might be considered one of the most brutal and inhuman crimes of the twentieth century’’ (Papers 6:232). Just three months after Till’s body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River, the Montgomery bus boycott began. For most of his life, King would use the Till murder as an example of ‘‘the evil of racial injustice,’’ preaching about ‘‘the crying voice of a little Emmett Till, screaming from the rushing waters in [Mississippi]’’ (King, 12 May 1963).

Emmett Till was born in Chicago on 25 July 1941. At the age of 14, he was sent by his parents to visit relatives in LeFlore County, Mississippi. Till was reportedly dared by some local boys to enter Bryant’s Grocery and talk to the white woman behind the counter, who owned the store. According to William Bradford Huie, a journalist who later interviewed the accused, Till entered and touched Carol Bryant and whistled at her as his friends rushed him away. Four days later, on 28 August, he was abducted from his uncle’s home by Bryant’s husband, Roy, and Roy’s half brother, J. W. Milam. Till’s mangled body was found three days later in the Tallahatchie River, with a large cotton-gin fan tied around his neck. He had been brutally beaten and shot through the head.

Till’s body was returned to Chicago, where his mother insisted on an open-casket funeral so everyone could see the brutality of her son’s death. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other organizations planned demonstrations following the publication of photos of Till’s corpse in Jet magazine. On 19 September the kidnapping and murder trial of Bryant and Milam began. Till’s uncle, Moses Wright, identified the two men as the assailants; but the all-white jury acquitted Bryant and Milam of Till’s murder.

On 24 January 1956, Look magazine published ‘‘The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi,’’ in which the killers gave details of their crime. The U.S. Department of Justice reopened the case in 2004.


Huie, ‘‘The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi,’’ Look 2, no. 2 (24 January 1956): 46–48, 50.

King, ‘‘Pride Versus Humility: The Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican,’’ Sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, 25 September 1955, in Papers 6:230–234.

King, ‘‘What a Mother Should Tell Her Child,’’ 12 May 1963, MLKJP-GAMK.

Thurman, Howard (1899-1981)
Thurman, Howard (1899-1981) Next entry

During his tenure as dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University, theologian and minister Howard Thurman sent Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King his 1955 volume on spirituals, Deep River. He inscribed the book: ‘‘To the Kings—The test of life is often found in the amount of pain we can absorb without spoiling our joy" (Papers 6:299).’’ Thurman’s commitment to a spiritually and physically integrated society, and to the methods of Gandhian nonviolence, served as major influences in King’s life.

Born in Daytona, Florida, Thurman attended Morehouse College, earning a BA in 1923. After receiving his BD from Rochester Theological Seminary (1926), he did further graduate work at the Oberlin School of Theology and at Haverford College, where he studied under Quaker philosopher Rufus Jones. He returned to Morehouse in 1929, as a philosophy and religion professor. In 1932 he married Sue Bailey, a contemporary of King’s mother, Alberta Williams King, when both women attended Spelman College. The couple relocated to Washington, D.C., when Thurman joined Howard University’s faculty. Three years later, he became dean of Howard’s Rankin Memorial Chapel, a position he held until 1943.

In 1935 the Thurmans traveled with Reverend Edward and Phenola Carroll on a ‘‘Pilgrimage of Friendship’’ to Burma, Ceylon, and India at the invitation of the Student Christian Movements of the United States of America and India. The delegation met with Mohandas K. Gandhi in February 1936, and discussed the status and history of African Americans and questions of nonviolence. Upon their return to the United States, the Thurmans toured and spoke of their experiences with Gandhi.

In 1943 Thurman resigned his position at Howard to help found an integrated church in San Francisco. The doors of the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples opened for the first time in October 1944, for an inaugural multi-faith service with Thurman and white clergyman Alfred G. Fisk as co-pastors. Thurman remained there as minister until 1953, when he accepted the post of dean of Marsh Chapel and professor of Spiritual Disciplines and Resources at Boston University. According to Thurman, he and King met ‘‘informally’’ during King’s last years as a doctoral student: ‘‘We watched the World Series on television at our house. Sue and Martin discussed very seriously the possibility of his coming to Fellowship Church; it was then she discovered his commitment to Montgomery’’ (Thurman, 254). In a 1955 letter written less than a month before the Montgomery bus boycott, Thurman communicated his regret that he would not be able to preach at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church’s Men’s Day Service, and passed on ‘‘special greetings’’ from his wife (Papers 2:588). During the bus boycott, King’s friend and biographer, Lerone Bennett, reported that King ‘‘read or reread’’ Thurman’s 1949 work, Jesus and the Disinherited, which interprets Jesus’ teachings through the experience of the oppressed and the need for a nonviolent response to such oppression (Bennett, 74).

According to Thurman’s autobiography, the only time that he and King were able to arrange a ‘‘serious talk’’ came in the fall of 1958, when King was recovering in New York after being stabbed by Izola Curry at a book signing (Thurman, 254). The day before their meeting, Thurman recalled having a ‘‘vibrant sensation’’ in which ‘‘Martin emerged in my awareness and would not leave’’ (Thurman, 255). When he met alone with King the following day, he asked how long King’s doctor had given him for his convalescence.

When he told me, I urged him to ask them to extend the period by an additional two weeks. This would give him time away from the immediate pressure of the movement to reassess himself in relation to the cause, to rest his body and mind with healing detachment, and to take a long look that only solitary brooding can provide. The movement had become more than an organization; it had become an organism with a life of its own to which he must relate in fresh and extraordinary ways or be swallowed up by it (Thurman, 255).

Thurman retired from Boston University in 1965. He directed the Howard Thurman Educational Trust until his death in 1981.


Bennett, Jr., What Manner of Man, 1968.

Kapur, Raising Up a Prophet, 1992.

King to Thurman, 31 October 1955, in Papers 2:583–584.

Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, 1949.

Thurman, With Head and Heart, 1979.

Thurman, Inscription to King, 1955, in Papers 6:229.

Thurman to King, 14 November 1955, in Papers 2:588.

Thomas, Norman Mattoon (1884-1968)
Thomas, Norman Mattoon (1884-1968) Next entry

When Norman Thomas died in 1968, the New York Times called him ‘‘the nation’s conscience for social justice and social reform’’ (Whitman, ‘‘Norman Thomas’’). On the occasion of Thomas’ 80th birthday, Martin Luther King wrote: ‘‘I can think of no man who has done more than you to inspire the vision of a society free of injustice and exploitation’’ (King, ‘‘The Bravest’’). King praised Thomas for speaking out on behalf of oppressed peoples of all kinds, including black sharecroppers, interned Japanese Americans during the Second World War, and imprisoned conscientious objectors.

Thomas was born in Marion, Ohio, in 1884, into a family of Presbyterian ministers and abolitionists. After graduating from Princeton in 1905, Thomas became a settlement worker in New York City. Ordained in 1910, he became pastor to an East Harlem church serving poor immigrants. At the outbreak of World War I, Thomas joined the nascent Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and the American Union Against Militarism. By 1918, he was secretary of FOR, editor of FOR’s journal The World Tomorrow, and served on the executive board of the American Union. During his tenure with the American Union he co-founded its civil liberties bureau, which later became the American Civil Liberties Union.

Thomas’ anti-war activism led to his involvement with the Socialist Party of America. Thomas resigned from his church and FOR positions, and became associate editor of The Nation magazine. In 1922 he co-directed the League for Industrial Democracy, the education wing of the Socialist Party. Four years later he was spokesman for the party and campaigned for office 15 times between 1924 and 1948, including 6 bids for the presidency.

In the 1950s Thomas denounced with equal vehemence communism and the methods of Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose investigations of alleged Communist influence in the American Left threatened activist groups throughout the country. In the first weeks of the Montgomery bus boycott, Thomas met with civil rights and union leaders to explore the possibility of organizing northern support for King’s movement. Thomas wrote King in March 1956: ‘‘I am of the opinion that the intrusion of Northerners in Montgomery will do more harm than good but if there is any help that I can give in the country, I should like to know it’’ (Papers 3:206).

In the following years King and Thomas collaborated on many projects. After King was arrested on a minor tax charge in 1960, Thomas cosigned a fundraising advertisement that eventually led to the landmark New York Times v. Sullivan case. Thomas testified before the Senate in support of the 1963 civil rights bill, which became the Civil Rights Act of 1964. King and Thomas worked together on the board of the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy.

In 1965 King chronicled Thomas’ career in an article titled ‘‘The Bravest Man I Ever Met.’’ In the article, King recounted an anecdote from the March on Washington: ‘‘a little Negro boy listened at the Washington Monument to an eloquent orator. Turning to his father, he asked, ‘Who is that man?’ Came the inevitable answer; ‘That’s Norman Thomas. He was for us before any other white folks were’’’ (King, ‘‘The Bravest’’).

King considered it his ‘‘good fortune’’ to work with Thomas both in the cause of racial equality and in the attainment of social justice for all minorities everywhere (King, ‘‘The Bravest’’). Throughout his many years of activism, Thomas published more than 20 books and authored hundreds of articles. His 70th, 75th, and 80th birthday gatherings were gala events for the American Left.


Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom in the South, ‘‘Heed Their Rising Voices,’’ 29 March 1960, in Papers 5:381.

King, ‘‘The Bravest Man I Ever Met,’’ Pageant (June 1965): 23–29.

Thomas to King, 23 March 1956, in Papers 3:206.

Alden Whitman, ‘‘Norman Thomas: The Great Reformer, Unsatisfied to the End,’’ New York Times, 22 December 1968.

Taylor, Gardner C. (1918- )
Taylor, Gardner C. (1918- ) Next entry

An eloquent Baptist minister and civil rights proponent, Gardner Taylor was a close friend and political ally of Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as his father, Martin Luther King, Sr. In a 1958 telegram to King, Jr., Taylor wrote: ‘‘No public position [is] as important to me as our struggle’’ (Taylor, 6 September 1958).

The son of Reverend Washington and Selina Taylor, Gardner was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and received his AB from Louisiana’s Leland College in 1937. Although Taylor was accepted to the University of Michigan Law School, a serious car accident served as ‘‘the defining moment’’ of his life, and instead of attending law school he answered the call to the ministry, becoming the pastor at Concord Baptist Church in the Bedford–Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn (Gilbreath, "The Pulpit King").

Taylor and King became better acquainted when King preached at Concord Baptist shortly before he began his postgraduate work at Boston University in 1951. King named Taylor as one of the African American Baptist church’s great preachers during a student discussion in those years. Taylor was often at King’s side during and after the Montgomery bus boycott, hosting King’s 1956 New York rally during the boycott, and making that evening’s fundraising speech. He visited King at the home of Sandy Ray during King’s recovery from his stabbing in 1958. He also participated in the 1958 Youth March for Integrated Schools at King’s behest.

At the 1961 annual convention of the National Baptist Convention (NBC), Taylor challenged the legitimacy of conservative incumbent J. H. Jackson’s presidency and noted his lackluster support of the civil rights movement. A shoving match over the convention’s speaking platform resulted in the injury of one of Jackson’s supporters, Reverend Arthur G. Wright, who later died. Jackson charged King with masterminding the turmoil and removed him from the vice-presidency of NBC’s National Sunday School and Baptist Training Union. Taylor conceded defeat. The confrontation led to a split by Taylor, King, and others who left the NBC and formed the Progressive National Baptist Convention.

Dubbed ‘‘the dean of the nation’s black preachers’’ Taylor remained at Concord Baptist Church, one of the largest black churches in New York, until his retirement in 1990 (‘‘American Preaching’’). One of the first African Americans elected to the New York City Board of Education in 1958, he was also the first black and first Baptist president of the New York City Council of Churches. Taylor delivered the benediction at President Bill Clinton’s 1997 inauguration, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000. He authored How Shall They Preach? (1977), The Scarlet Thread (1981), and Chariots Aflame (1988).


‘‘American Preaching: A Dying Art?’’ Time, 31 December 1979, 67.

Michael Eric Dyson, ‘‘Gardner Taylor: Poet Laureate of the Pulpit,’’ Christian Century 112, no. 1 (1995): 12–16.

Edward Gilbreath, ‘‘The Pulpit King,’’ Christianity Today 39, no. 14 (11 December 1995): 25–28.

Taylor, Black Churches of Brooklyn, 1994.

Taylor to King, 6 September 1958, MLKP-MBU.

Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (1958)
Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (1958) Next entry

According to Martin Luther King, Stride Toward Freedom, his memoir of the Montgomery bus boycott, is ‘‘the chronicle of 50,000 Negroes who took to heart the principles of nonviolence, who learned to fight for their rights with the weapon of love, and who in the process, acquired a new estimate of their own human worth’’ (King, 9).

In early 1957 numerous publishers began encouraging King to write a book about the boycott. By October of that year, he signed a contract with Harper & Brothers that was negotiated by his new literary agents, Joan Daves and Marie Rodell, and began work on the manuscript.

In Stride Toward Freedom, King delineates racial conditions in Montgomery before, during, and after the bus boycott. He discusses the origin and significance of the boycott, the roles that residents, civic leaders, and community organizations played in organizing and sustaining the movement, and the reactions of white Montgomery officials and residents. According to King, before the boycott African Americans in Montgomery were victims of segregation and poverty, but after the boycott, when bus desegregation was achieved, they evidenced a new level of self-respect (King, 28; 187). King points out that most African Americans in Montgomery accepted a nonviolent approach because they trusted their leaders when they told them that nonviolence was the essence of active Christianity.

In the chapter ‘‘Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,’’ King delves into the intellectual influences that led him to accept a philosophy of nonviolence. He discusses the impact made upon his thinking by the works of Thoreau, Marx, Aristotle, Rauschenbusch, and Gandhi. King also outlines his understanding of nonviolence, which seeks to win an opponent to friendship, rather than to humiliate or defeat him (King, 102).

Throughout the writing process, King was dependent on friends and colleagues who supplied text to aid him in meeting publishing deadlines. Stanley Levison, Bayard Rustin, and Harris Wofford provided significant guidance. In fact, King’s discussion of nonviolence draws from an address by Wofford. King also received editorial help from Lawrence D. Reddick, a professor at Alabama State College, Hermine I. Popper, a freelance editor, and Melvin Arnold, of Harper & Brothers.

In revisions of King’s manuscript, the meticulous editors from the press made ‘‘every effort to see that not even a single sentence can be lifted out of context and quoted against the book and the author’’ (Papers 4:404). For instance, they were extremely cautious about King’s discourse on communism, and they suggested changes, such as using the phrase ‘‘social cooperation’’ instead of ‘‘collectivism’’ and calling Marxism ‘‘a partial truth’’ instead of ‘‘a half truth’’ (Papers 4:405).

Stride Toward Freedom was officially released on 17 September 1958. It was lauded by both the general public and literary critics, who labeled it ‘‘‘must’ reading’’ (Mays, ‘‘My View’’). In describing the book in 1958, Benjamin Mays wrote, ‘‘Americans who believe in justice and equality for all cannot afford to miss the book. Negroes can not afford to miss it because it tells us again how we can work against evil with dignity, pride and self-respect’’ (‘‘My View’’).


Introduction, in Papers 4:29–33.

King, Stride Toward Freedom, 1958.

Mays, ‘‘My View,’’ Pittsburgh Courier, 25 October 1958.

Arnold to King, 5 May 1958, in Papers 4:404–405.

Strength to Love (1963)
Strength to Love (1963) Next entry

As Martin Luther King prepared for the Birmingham Campaign in early 1963, he drafted the final sermons for Strength to Love, a volume of his most well known homilies that would be published later that year. He originally proposed the book in early 1957 to Melvin Arnold, head of Harper & Brothers’ Religious Books Department. Arnold welcomed King’s ‘‘proposed collection of sermons; we hope that they will have a heavy emphasis on permanent religious values, rather than on topical events’’ (Arnold, 5 February 1957). Despite King’s best intentions and Arnold’s repeated urging for a manuscript, however, King had not produced the promised sermon book by mid-1962.

Although circumstances were far from ideal, King was finally able to start working on the sermons during a fortnight in jail in July 1962, during the Albany Movement. Having been arrested for holding a prayer vigil outside Albany City Hall, King and Ralph Abernathy shared a jail cell for 15 days that was, according to King, ‘‘dirty, filthy, and ill-equipped’’ and ‘‘the worse I have ever seen’’ (King, ‘‘Reverend M. L. King’s Diary’’). While behind bars, he was able to spend a fair amount of uninterrupted time preparing the drafts for the sermons ‘‘Loving Your Enemies,’’ ‘‘Love in Action,’’ and ‘‘Shattered Dreams,’’ and continued to work on the volume after his release. King sent the first part of the manuscript to his publisher in the early fall,  including several sermons that had become King standards, such as ‘‘Paul’s Letter to American Christians’’ and ‘‘What Is Man?’’

His editors praised the first results, seeing Strength to Love as the words of a minister who addressed his congregation with messages of ‘‘warmth, immediate application, and poetic verve’’ (Wallis, 3 October 1962). In the process of editing the book, however, many familiar King phrases were removed by Arnold and Charles Wallis. King’s assessment of segregation as one of ‘‘the ugly practices of our nation,’’ his call that capitalism must be transformed by ‘‘a deep-seated change,’’ and his depiction of colonialism as ‘‘evil because it is based on a contempt for life’’ were stricken from the text (Papers 6:480; Papers 6:471; Papers 6:530). In particular, many of King’s vivid anti-military and anti-war statements were deleted. In his draft sermon of ‘‘Transformed Nonconformist,’’ for example, he characterized the early Christian church as anti-war: ‘‘Its views on war were clearly known because of the refusal of every Christian to take up arms’’ (Papers 6:473). These statements were absent in the sermons’ published versions.

King worried that the force of his spoken words would not make the transition to the printed page and wrote in the book’s preface that his reservations had ‘‘grown out of the fact that a sermon is not an essay to be read but a discourse to be heard. It should be a convincing appeal to a listening congregation.’’ Even as the book went to press, he conceded: ‘‘I have not altogether overcome my misgivings’’ (King, x).

As the first volume of sermons by an African American preacher widely available to a white audience, Strength to Love was a landmark work. Despite omissions and changes to the original manuscript, Strength to Love remains a concrete testament to King’s lifelong commitment to preach the social gospel. His fusion of Christian teachings and social consciousness remains in print and continues to promote King’s vision of love as a potent social and political force for change, the efficacy of religious faith in surmounting evil, and the vital need for true human integration, or, as he defined it, ‘‘genuine intergroup and interpersonal living’’ (King, 23). This volume brought to the forefront King’s identity as a compelling, well educated, and compassionate preacher at a time when many whites knew him only as a civil rights leader.


Arnold to King, 5 February 1957, MLKP-MBU.

King, Draft of Chapter II, ‘‘Transformed Nonconformist,’’ July 1962–March 1963, in Papers

King, Draft of Chapter III, ‘‘On Being a Good Neighbor,’’ July 1962–March 1963, in Papers

King, Draft of Chapter XIII, ‘‘Our God Is Able,’’ July 1962–March 1963, in Papers 6:527–534.

King, ‘‘Reverend M. L. King’s Diary in Jail,’’ Jet (23 August 1962).

King, Strength to Love, 1963.

Charles L. Wallis, Editorial notes, 3 October 1962, CSKC.

Steele, Charles Kenzie (1914-1980)
Steele, Charles Kenzie (1914-1980) Next entry

The first vice president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Reverend C. K. Steele shared Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, vision of social equality through nonviolent means. As president of the Inter-Civic Council, Steele led a successful bus boycott in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1956, based on the example set by the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). Although not widely noted, the efforts of the Inter-Civic Council offered hope to those engaged in what Steele described as ‘‘the pain and the promise’’ of the civil rights movement (Steele, 27 September 1978). He later stated: ‘‘Where there is any power … as strong [and] as eternal as love using nonviolence, the promise will be fulfilled’’ (Steele, 27 September 1978).

Born on 7 February 1914, Steele was raised in the predominantly African American town of Gary, West Virginia, by his parents Lyde Bailor and Henry L. Steele, a miner with the United States Steel and Coal Corporation. Steele began preaching at the young age of 15. He was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1935, and three years later earned his BA degree from Morehouse College. After nearly a year of service at Friendship Baptist Church in northeast Georgia, Steele was called to Hall Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, during the spring of 1939. In 1941 he married Lois Brock. Steele spent 9 years in Montgomery and 4 at Springfield Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia, before accepting the pastorate at Bethel Baptist Church in Tallahassee in 1952.

While serving as head of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter, Steele was also elected president of the Inter Civic Council (ICC), an organization formed in May 1956, to direct a bus boycott initiated by black students at Florida A & M University. The ICC absorbed members from all walks of life within the black community, involving laborers, domestic workers, ministers, professionals, businessmen, and teachers. As in Montgomery, the ICC held mass meetings and organized a carpool. Unlike the MIA, which sought to modify existing seating rules, the ICC demanded the full integration of passengers on city buses.

After months of police harassment of the ICC carpool, city officials charged 22 organizers and drivers with operating a transportation system without a franchise, and a municipal judge levied an $11,000 fine against the ICC. In response boycott participants began walking, and the ICC welcomed the Supreme Court’s November 1956 decision in Browder v. Gayle, which declared bus segregation unconstitutional. Following the decision the ICC called an end to the seven-month boycott. As blacks attempted to ride the buses, violence and intimidation of boycott leaders heightened. Eventually, Tallahassee’s bus company did not enforce desegregated seating rules, and the ICC shifted its attention to voter registration and to the desegregation of local stores.

In 1956 Steele joined King as a speaker at nonviolence workshops held at the Tuskegee Institute, the annual meeting of the National Baptist Convention (NBC), and MIA’s Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change. At SCLC’s founding meeting in 1957, Steele was elected the organization’s vice president. In March 1960 Steele’s son, Henry, was among eight students who chose to go to jail after a demonstration at a Tallahassee chain store. King, evidently pleased by Henry’s actions, sent the elder Steele a telegram that read: ‘‘Going to jail for a righteous cause is a badge of honor and a symbol of dignity’’ (Papers 5:391).

Although SCLC never launched a major campaign in Tallahassee, Steele supported its efforts in other cities. In Albany, Georgia (see Albany Movement), in 1962, Steele led demonstrations while King was incarcerated. Steele also contributed to the Poor People’s Campaign. After King’s assassination, Steele and other ICC members organized a “‘Vigil for Poverty’’ in Tallahassee to recognize individuals who lacked the basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, education, and employment. C. K. Steele continued his civil rights activism and his ministry at Bethel Baptist Church until he lost his battle with cancer on 19 August 1980.


Branch, Parting the Waters, 1988.

Fendrich, Ideal Citizens, 1993.

Introduction, in Papers 3:27, 30–31.

King to Steele, 19 March 1960, in Papers 5:391–392.

Gregory B. Padgett, ‘‘C. K. Steele, A Biography.’’ Ph.D. diss., Florida State University, 1994.

Rabby, Pain and the Promise, 1999.

Steele, ‘‘Non-Violent Resistance: The Pain and the Promise,’’ 27 September 1978, FTaSU.

State of Alabama V. M. L. King, Jr. (1956 and 1960)
State of Alabama V. M. L. King, Jr. (1956 and 1960) Next entry

White officials in Alabama conducted two concerted efforts to defeat Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement legally, by indicting King for violating an anti-boycotting law during the Montgomery bus boycott and for income tax fraud, in 1956 and 1960, respectively.

On 21 February 1956 King was indicted by the Montgomery County Grand Jury for his boycott of the Montgomery City Lines, Inc. According to the State of Alabama, King and 89 others violated a 1921 statute that outlawed boycotts against businesses. During the four-day trial, which began on 19 March 1956, eight lawyers, led by local attorney Fred Gray, defended King by presenting the evils of bus segregation and the abuse that Montgomery blacks had suffered for years from Montgomery bus drivers. Thirty-one witnesses testified to the harassment they had suffered while riding the city buses. Stella Brooks revealed that she stopped riding the buses in 1950, after her husband was killed by Montgomery police. According to Brooks, her husband was shot after demanding a fare refund following a confrontation with the bus driver.

On the final day of the trial, Judge Eugene W. Carter found King guilty and fined him $500 plus an additional $500 for court costs. Rather than pay the fine, King chose to appeal the verdict, and the sentence was converted to 386 days of jail time. Responding to the verdict, King said: ‘‘I was optimistic enough to hope for the best but realistic enough to prepare for the worst. This will not mar or diminish in any way my interest in the protest. We will continue to protest in the same spirit of nonviolence and passive resistance, using the weapon of love’’ (Phillips, ‘‘Negro Minister Convicted’’). Outside the courthouse, King was greeted by a crowd of 300 cheering supporters. The Court of Appeals rejected King’s appeal on 30 April 1957, maintaining that his lawyers missed the 60-day deadline. King paid the fine in December 1957.

King’s second indictment came in February 1960, after an Alabama grand jury issued a warrant for his arrest on two counts of felony perjury. The state charged that King had signed fraudulent tax returns for 1956 and 1958. A state audit of King’s returns the previous month claimed that he had not reported funds he received on behalf of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and still owed the state more than $1,700. In late February a group of King’s supporters met in the New York home of Harry Belafonte and formed the Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom in the South. The committee issued press releases denouncing the charges against King as a ‘‘gross misrepresentation of fact’’ because King’s income had never ‘‘even approached’’ the $45,000 that Alabama officials claimed King received in 1958 (Papers 5:25–26).

King’s trial began in Montgomery, Alabama, on 25 May 1960. His lawyers effectively poked holes in the prosecution’s case, calling attention to the vagueness of the indictment and arguing that any expense reimbursements King may have received from SCLC were nontaxable income. Testifying in his own defense, King asserted that the tax examiner had revealed that he was ‘‘under pressure by his supervisors’’ to find fault with his returns (Papers 5:30). The all-white jury deliberated nearly four hours before returning a ‘‘not guilty’’ verdict. In a statement following the verdict King said: ‘‘This represents to my mind great hope, and it reveals that said on so many occasions, that there are hundreds and thousands of people, white people of goodwill in the South’’ (Papers 5:462). Although neither case posed a serious threat to King or the movement, these cases show the extent to which white officials in Alabama went to thwart civil rights gains in the state.


Burns, Daybreak of Freedom, 1997.

Indictment, State of Alabama v. M. L. King, Jr., et. al., in Papers 3:132–133.

Introduction, in Papers 3:14–16; 24–26; 30.
‘‘Judgment and Sentence of the Court,’’ State of Alabama v. M. L. King, Jr., et al., in Papers 3:197.

King, Statement on Perjury Acquittal, 28 May 1960, in Papers 5:462.

King, Stride Toward Freedom, 1958.

Wayne Phillips, ‘‘Negro Minister Convicted of Directing Bus Boycott,’’ New York Times, 23 March 1956.

‘‘Rev. King Tells Why He Paid Fine,’’ Afro-American, 7 December 1957.

Testimony in State of Alabama v. M. L. King, Jr., et al., 22 March 1956, in Papers 3:183–196.

Spock, Benjamin (1903-1998)
Spock, Benjamin (1903-1998) Next entry

Pediatrician and author Benjamin Spock used his fame to bring attention to the Vietnam War and nuclear proliferation. In 1965 he encouraged Martin Luther King to join him in criticizing United States policy in Vietnam. King participated in his first anti-war demonstration in March 1967, alongside Spock.

Born in 1903, Spock trained as a pediatrician and psychoanalyst. His influential book, Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, sold over 50 million copies and helped revolutionize parenting. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Spock taught child development, wrote extensively, lectured around the world, and had his own television program. In 1963 he became the co-chair of the National Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy.

Coretta Scott King joined Spock as a featured speaker at a major demonstration against the war in Vietnam in Washington, D.C., in November 1965. There, Spock urged her to pressure her husband to join the peace movement, arguing that ‘‘he could become the most important symbol for peace in this country, as well as for world peace’’ (Scott King, 293). King, Jr., admired Spock’s dedication to the peace movement, even suggesting to the World Council of Peace that Spock be awarded the organization’s Frederic Joliet-Curie Award. 

In January 1967 Ramparts magazine published a photo essay on the impact of the war on Vietnamese children, with an introduction written by Spock. The essay deeply affected King; just three months later, he made his most public and comprehensive address against the war, ‘‘Beyond Vietnam,’’ at Riverside Church. Three weeks later, both men led a march to United Nations Plaza in New York. King and Spock collaborated on ‘‘Vietnam Summer,’’ a project to mobilize grassroots peace activists in preparation for the 1968 elections.

Members of the peace movement encouraged Spock and King to compete in the 1968 presidential race on a third-party ticket. Although they declined, Spock did run for president in 1972. In January 1968, Spock, William Sloane Coffin, and three others were indicted for conspiring to counsel young men to violate the draft laws. Spock asked, ‘‘What is the use of physicians like myself trying to help parents bring up children, healthy and happy, to have them killed in such numbers for a cause that is ignoble?’’ (‘‘Baby Doctor for the Millions Dies’’). King submitted a statement of complicity supporting those who had been indicted. Spock was tried and found guilty, but the verdict was overturned on appeal. Spock continued his writing and political activity throughout his life. In 1985 he and his second wife wrote a memoir, Spock on Spock. He died at the age of 94.


‘‘Baby Doctor for the Millions Dies,’’ Los Angeles Times, 17 March 1998.

King, ‘‘Beyond Vietnam,’’ in A Call to Conscience, eds. Carson and Shepard, 2001.

(Scott) King, My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr., 1969.

William F. Pepper, ‘‘The Children of Vietnam,’’ Ramparts (January 1967): 44–67.

‘‘What Are You Doing during Vietnam Summer 1967?’’ New York Times, 30 April 1967.

Songs and the Civil Rights Movement
Songs and the Civil Rights Movement Next entry

Music and singing played a critical role in inspiring, mobilizing, and giving voice to the civil rights movement. ‘‘The freedom songs are playing a strong and vital role in our struggle,’’ said Martin Luther King, Jr., during the Albany Movement. ‘‘They give the people new courage and a sense of unity. I think they keep alive a faith, a radiant hope, in the future, particularly in our most trying hours’’ (Shelton, ‘‘Songs a Weapon’’).

The evolution of music in the black freedom struggle reflects the evolution of the movement itself. Calling songs ‘‘the soul of the movement,’’ King explained in his 1964 book Why We Can’t Wait that civil rights activists ‘‘sing the freedom songs today for the same reason the slaves sang them, because we too are in bondage and the songs add hope to our determination that ‘We shall overcome, Black and white together, We shall overcome someday’’’ (King, Why, 86).

‘‘We Shall Overcome,’’ a song with its roots in the Highlander Folk School during the labor struggles of the 1940s, became the unofficial anthem of the movement. Wyatt T. Walker, executive director of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), said, ‘‘One cannot describe the vitality and emotion this one song evokes across the Southland. I have heard it sung in great mass meetings with a thousand voices singing as one; I’ve heard a half-dozen sing it softly behind the bars of the Hinds County prison in Mississippi; I’ve heard old women singing it on the way to work in Albany, Georgia; I’ve heard the students singing it as they were being dragged away to jail. It generates power that is indescribable’’ (Carawan, 11).

Professional singers such as Mahalia Jackson and Harry Belafonte were early and consistent supporters of civil rights reform efforts, but group singing was the most prominent music in the movement. As a community-based campaign led by church leaders, the music of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955–1956 consisted of Baptist and Methodist hymns and traditional Negro spirituals. As King recalled in his memoir of the boycott, Stride Toward Freedom, ‘‘One could not help but be moved by these traditional songs, which brought to mind the long history of the Negro’s suffering’’ (King, Stride, 86). In contrast, beginning with the sit-in movements of 1960, black students throughout the South began to take leadership roles in the broader movement. The songs of campaigns led by student activists moved beyond traditional church music. Younger activists made up new lyrics, giving new life to many traditional songs.

In the 1961 Freedom Rides songs played a critical role in sustaining morale for those serving time in Mississippi’s Hinds County Jail. James Farmer, national director of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and a Freedom Ride participant, recalled one night when a voice called from the cell block below to the freedom riders: ‘‘Sing your freedom song.… We sang old folk songs and gospel songs to which new words had been written, telling of the Freedom Ride and its purpose’’ (Wexler, 134). The female freedom riders in another wing of the jail joined in, ‘‘and for the first time in history, the Hinds County jail rocked with unrestrained singing of songs about Freedom and Brotherhood’’ (Wexler, 134).

For many on the staff of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the protests in Albany, Georgia, proved an important training ground in which to learn the techniques for mobilizing the dormant black populace of the Deep South. Perhaps of greatest importance, they became more aware of the cultural dimensions of the black struggle, quickly recognizing the value of freedom songs to convey the ideas of the southern movement and to sustain morale. Bernice Reagon, an Albany student leader who joined SNCC’s staff, described the Albany Movement as ‘‘a singing movement.’’ Singing had special importance at mass meetings, Reagon observed: ‘‘After the song, the differences among us would not be as great’’ (Reagon, ‘‘In Our Hands’’).


Carawan and Carawan, We Shall Overcome, 1963.

Carson, In Struggle, 1981.

King, Stride Toward Freedom, 1958.

King, Why We Can’t Wait, 1964.

Reagon, ‘‘In Our Hands: Thoughts on Black Music,’’ Sing Out! 24 (January/February 1976): 1–2, 5.

Reagon, ‘‘Songs of the Civil Rights Movement 1955–1965: A Study in Culture History.’’ PhD diss., Howard University, 1975.

Robert Shelton, ‘‘Songs a Weapon in Rights Battle,’’ New York Times, 20 August 1962.

Werner, Change Is Gonna Come, 1998.

Wexler, Civil Rights Movement, 1993.

Social Gospel
Social Gospel Next entry

In an 18 July 1952 letter, Martin Luther King wrote to his future wife, Coretta Scott, about his beliefs as a minister and proclaimed: ‘‘Let us continue to hope, work, and pray that in the future we will live to see a warless world, a better distribution of wealth, and a brotherhood that transcends race or color. This is the gospel that I will preach to the world’’ (Papers 6:126). As a self-described ‘‘advocator of the social gospel,’’ King’s theology was concerned ‘‘with the whole man, not only his soul but his body, not only his spiritual well-being, but his material well-being’’ (Papers 6:72; Papers 5:422). His ministry built upon the social gospel of the Protestant church at the turn of the twentieth century and his own family’s practice of preaching on the social conditions of parishioners.

The early social gospel movement emerged during the rapidly industrializing American society following the Civil War. Recognizing the injustices of ‘‘triumphant capitalism,’’ some progressive ministers prescribed a large dose of ‘‘practical Christianity’’ to right these wrongs and directly address the social needs of the era (Hopkins, 121). One of the most prominent was Walter Rauschenbusch, a German-American who pastored a church in the Hell’s Kitchen district of New York in the late nineteenth century. In Christianity and the Social Crisis, Rauschenbusch traced the social gospel back to the lives of the Hebrew prophets. He stated that rather than ritualistic ceremonies, the prophets ‘‘insisted on a right life as the true worship of God’’ (Rauschenbusch, 5). This ‘‘right life’’ included the belief that ‘‘social problems are moral problems on a large scale’’ (Rauschenbusch, 6). King read Christianity and the Social Crisis at Crozer Theological Seminary and wrote that its message ‘‘left an indelible imprint on my thinking by giving me a theological basis for the social concern which had already grown up in me’’ (Papers 4:474).

Social gospel proponent Henry Emerson Fosdick, popular pastor of New York’s Riverside Church during the 1930s and 1940s, was an early influence on King’s preaching. Fosdick felt that a church ‘‘that pretends to care for the souls of people but is not interested in the slums that damn them, the city government that corrupts them, the economic order that cripples them, and international relationships that, leading to peace or war, determine the spiritual destiny of innumerable souls’’ would receive divine condemnation (Fosdick, 25). He also emphasized that ‘‘the saving of society does depend on things which only high, personal religion can supply’’ (Fosdick, 38).

King’s family put him on a social gospel path, one that had already been cleared by his grandfather, A. D. Williams, and father, King, Sr. Williams, who was minister of Ebenezer Baptist Church at the turn of the twentieth century, helped form the Georgia Equal Rights League in February 1906, and was a founding member of Atlanta’s branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. King, Sr., succeeded Williams at Ebenezer and, in a 1940 address to the Atlanta Missionary Baptist Association, he envisioned a ‘‘time when every minister will become a registered voter and a part of every movement for the betterment of our people’’ (Papers 1:34). In his unpublished 1973 autobiography, King, Sr., asserted that his ministry was never ‘‘solely oriented toward life and death. It has been equally concerned with the here and now, with improving man’s lot in this life. I have therefore stressed the social gospel’’ (‘‘A Black Rebel’’). Other influences on King’s social gospel included Morehouse College president and minister Benjamin Mays, who regularly spoke against segregation in Tuesday morning chapel at the college during King’s years there. He chastised both African Americans who favored a gradualist approach to civil rights and whites who did not ‘‘want democracy to function in certain areas: especially in areas that involve Negroes’’ (Mays, ‘‘Three Great Fears’’).

King’s studies of Reinhold Niebuhr’s writings at Crozer and Boston University tempered his belief in the social gospel’s typical confidence in liberal theology and its reliance on human agency as a primary force for change. ‘‘While I still believed in man’s potential for good, Niebuhr made me realize his potential for evil as well,’’ King later recalled (King, Stride, 99). He also appreciated Niebuhr’s assertion that ‘‘the glaring reality of collective evil’’ was one explanation for racial hatred (King, Stride, 99).

King arrived as pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church still ‘‘a firm believer in what is called the ‘social gospel’’’ (Papers 6:141). King tied this faith to the nonviolent protest that characterized the Montgomery bus boycott, noting that ‘‘Christ furnished the spirit and motivation’’ for the boycott (Papers 5:423).

King took to task those churches that separated the secular realities of daily life from spiritual needs. His vision of the church’s role in social concerns was based on the early church’s identity, in his mind, as an institution that shaped social mores and conditions. King believed that God would harshly judge the church’s apathy on these matters and, conversely, praise those clergy who would take public stands on issues confronting their parishioners’ everyday lives.

King remained a proponent of the social gospel despite the many setbacks the civil rights movement suffered in the later 1960s. In a speech delivered the day before his death, King asserted that ‘‘somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones, and whenever injustice is around he must tell it’’ (King, ‘‘I’ve Been,’’ 213).


Fosdick, Hope of the World, 1933.

Hopkins, Rise of the Social Gospel, 1940.

Introduction, in Papers 1:1, 10, 14, 34, 38.

Introduction, in Papers 6:2.

King, ‘‘Accepting Responsibility for Your Actions,’’ 26 July 1953, in Papers 6:139–142.

King, ‘‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,’’ in Call to Conscience, eds. Carson and Shepard, 2001.

King, ‘‘Letter from Birmingham Jail,’’ in Why We Can’t Wait, 1964.

King, ‘‘My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,’’ 1 September 1958, in Papers 4:473–481.

King, ‘‘Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,’’ 13 April 1960, in Papers 5:419–425.

King, ‘‘Preaching Ministry,’’ in Papers 6:69–72.

King, Stride Toward Freedom, 1958.

King to Coretta Scott, 18 July 1952, in Papers 6:123–126.

King. Sr., ‘‘A Black Rebel: The Autobiography of M. L. King, Sr.,’’ 1973, MLKJP-GAMK.

Mays, ‘‘Three Great Fears,’’ Pittsburgh Courier, 17 April 1948.

Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis, 1907.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Next entry

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded in April 1960, by young people who had emerged as leaders of the sit-in protest movement initiated on February 1 of that year by four black college students in Greensboro, North Carolina. Although Martin Luther King, Jr. and others had hoped that SNCC would serve as the youth wing of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the students remained fiercely independent of King and SCLC, generating their own projects and strategies. Although ideological differences eventually caused SNCC and SCLC to be at odds, the two organizations worked side by side throughout the early years of the civil rights movement.

The idea for a locally based, student-run organization was conceived when Ella Baker, a veteran civil rights organizer and an SCLC official, invited black college students who had participated in the early 1960 sit-ins to an April 1960 gathering at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. Baker encouraged the more than 200 student attendees to remain autonomous, rather than affiliate with SCLC or any of the other existing civil rights groups. King issued a press statement on the first day of the conference, characterizing the time as ‘‘an era of offensive on the part of oppressed people’’ (Papers 5:426). He called on the students to form ‘‘some type of continuing organization’’ and ‘‘to delve deeper into the philosophy of nonviolence,’’ advising: ‘‘Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community’’ (Papers 5:427).

At the Raleigh Conference the students were generally reluctant to compromise the independence of their local protest groups, and voted to establish only a temporary coordinating body. Vanderbilt University theology student James Lawson, whose workshops on nonviolent direct action served as a training ground for many of the Nashville student protesters, drafted an organizational statement of purpose that reflected the strong commitment to Gandhian nonviolence that characterized SNCC’s early years: ‘‘We affirm the philosophical or religious ideal of nonviolence as the foundation of our purpose, the presupposition of our faith, and the manner of our action. Nonviolence as it grows from Judaic-Christian traditions seeks a social order of justice permeated by love’’ (Lawson, 17 April 1960). In May 1960 the group constituted itself as a permanent organization and Fisk University student Marion Barry was elected SNCC’s first chairman.

SNCC’s emergence as a force in the southern civil rights movement came largely through the involvement of students in the 1961 Freedom Rides, designed to test a 1960 Supreme Court ruling that declared segregation in interstate travel facilities unconstitutional. The Congress of Racial Equality initially sponsored the Freedom Rides that began in May 1961, but segregationists viciously attacked riders traveling through Alabama. Students from Nashville, under the leadership of Diane Nash, resolved to finish the rides. Once the new group of freedom riders demonstrated their determination to continue the rides into Mississippi, other students joined the movement.

By the time the Interstate Commerce Commission began enforcing the ruling mandating equal treatment in interstate travel in November 1961, SNCC was immersed in voter registration efforts in McComb, Mississippi, and a desegregation campaign in Albany, Georgia, known as the Albany Movement. King and SCLC later joined with SNCC in Albany, but tensions arose between the two civil rights groups. The Albany effort, although yielding few tangible gains, was an important site of development for SNCC.

At the August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, SNCC chairman John Lewis was one of those scheduled to speak. He intended to criticize John F. Kennedy’s proposed civil rights bill as ‘‘too little, and too late,’’ and to refer to the movement as ‘‘a serious revolution’’ (Lewis, 28 August 1963). Lewis softened the tone of the delivered speech to appease A. Philip Randolph and other march organizers, but, remained adamant that SNCC had ‘‘great reservations’’ regarding Kennedy’s proposed civil right legislation (Carson, 94). He warned his audience: ‘‘We want our freedom and we want it now’’ (Carson, 95).

In 1961 organizer Bob Moses moved to Jackson, Mississippi, and began organizing young Mississippi residents. Moses, who was firmly committed to non-hierarchical grassroots organizing, joined the SNCC staff, and became voter registration director of Mississippi’s Council of Federated Organizations the following year. He encountered considerable resistance to civil rights reform efforts, but the Mississippi voter registration effort created conditions for racial reform by bringing together three crucial groups: dynamic and determined SNCC field secretaries, influential regional and local civil rights leaders from Mississippi, and white student volunteers who participated in the ‘‘Freedom Vote’’ mock election of October 1963 and the Freedom Summer (1964). Early in 1964, SNCC supported the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in an effort to challenge the legitimacy of the state’s all-white Democratic Party.

The voting rights demonstrations that began in 1965 in Selma, Alabama, sparked increasingly bitter ideological debates within SNCC, as some workers openly challenged the group’s previous commitment to nonviolent tactics and its willingness to allow the participation of white activists. Distracted by such divisive issues, the day-to-day needs of the group’s ongoing projects suffered. In many Deep South communities, where SNCC had once attracted considerable black support, the group’s influence waned. Nevertheless, after the Selma to Montgomery March, Stokely Carmichael and other SNCC organizers entered the rural area between Selma and Montgomery and helped black residents launch the all-black Lowndes County Freedom Organization, later known as the Black Panther Party. Meanwhile, several SNCC workers established incipient organizing efforts in volatile urban black ghettos.

In May 1966 a new stage in SNCC’s history began with Carmichael’s election as chairman. Because Carmichael identified himself with the trend away from nonviolence and interracial cooperation, his election compromised SNCC’s relationships with more moderate civil rights groups and many of its white supporters. During the month following his election, Carmichael publicly expressed SNCC’s new political orientation when he began calling for ‘‘Black Power’’ during a voting rights march through Mississippi. The national exposure of Carmichael’s Black Power speeches brought increased notoriety to SNCC, but the group remained internally divided over its future direction. King responded directly to Carmichael’s and SNCC’s appeal for Black Power in his 1967 book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? King argued, ‘‘effective political power for Negroes cannot come through separatism’’ (King, 48). Opposing exclusive support of black electoral candidates, King continued: ‘‘SNCC staff members are eminently correct when they point out that in Lowndes County, Alabama, there are no white liberals or moderates and no possibility for cooperation between the races at the present time.
But the Lowndes County experience cannot be made a measuring rod for the whole of America’’ (King, 49).

Even after the dismissal of a group of SNCC’s Atlanta field workers who called for the exclusion of whites, the organization was weakened by continued internal conflicts and external attacks, along with a loss of northern financial backing. The election in June 1967 of H. ‘‘Rap’’ Brown as SNCC’s new chair was meant to reduce the controversy surrounding the group. Brown, however, encouraged militancy among urban blacks, and soon a federal campaign against black militancy severely damaged SNCC’s ability to sustain its organizing efforts. SNCC became a target of the Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in a concerted effort at all levels of government to crush black militancy through both overt and covert means.

The spontaneous urban uprisings that followed the assassination of King in April 1968 indicated a high level of black discontent. However, by then, SNCC had little ability to mobilize an effective political force. Its most dedicated community organizers had left the organization, which changed its name to the Student National Coordinating Committee. Although individual SNCC activists played significant roles in politics during the period after 1968, and many of the controversial ideas that once had defined SNCC’s radicalism had become widely accepted among African Americans, the organization disintegrated. By the end of the decade, FBI surveillance of SNCC’s remaining offices was discontinued due to lack of activity.


Carson, In Struggle, 1981.

James E. Clayton, ‘‘Some in South Defy ICC Order on Depot Signs,’’ Washington Post, 2 November 1961.

Introduction in Papers 5:26–28.

King, ‘‘Statement to the Press at the Beginning of the Youth Leadership Conference,’’ 15 April 1960, in Papers 5:426–427.

King, Where Do We Go from Here, 1967.

Lawson, ‘‘Statement of Purpose,’’ 17 April 1960, SNCCP-GAMK.

Lewis, Press release, ‘‘Text of speech to be delivered at Lincoln Memorial,’’ 28 August 1963, NAACPP-DLC.

Smith, Lillian Eugenia (1897-1966)
Smith, Lillian Eugenia (1897-1966) Next entry

Renowned for her controversial books exploring segregation, white supremacy, and other social mores, author Lillian Smith was an advocate of racial reform in the South. In a 1956 letter to Martin Luther King, Smith expressed a ‘‘profound sense of fellowship and admiration’’ for King’s efforts and his commitment to nonviolence and asked him to pass along a message to the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA): ‘‘Tell them, please, that I am deeply humbled by the goodwill, the self discipline, the courage, the wisdom of this group of Montgomery Negroes’’ (Papers 3:170).

One of 9 children in an affluent family, Smith was born on 12 December 1897, in Jasper, Florida. She attended Piedmont College, studied music at the Peabody Conservatory, and took classes at Columbia University. In 1922 she became head of the Music Department at an American Methodist school for Chinese girls in Huchow, China, where she developed an aversion to the arrogance of white colonialism and drew parallels to similar behavior in the segregated South. From 1925 to 1948, Smith managed the Laurel Falls Camp for Girls, founded by her parents in Clayton, Georgia. In 1936 she launched a literary magazine with Paula Snelling. Eventually titled The South Today, the magazine was devoted to Southern politics and culture and included works written by African Americans and women.

Smith’s first novel, Strange Fruit (1944), dealt with the taboo subject of an interracial love affair and was banned in Boston, Massachusetts, as obscene. The controversial bestseller was the first of her several books addressing issues of social change, including Killers of the Dream (1949), The Journey (1954), and Now Is the Time (1955).

Smith’s outspoken advocacy in support of the civil rights struggle made her a target for segregationists. In the winter of 1955, two young white boys burned down her house, destroying her correspondence, manuscripts, and works in progress. In a letter to King, Smith wrote, ‘‘It is hard to believe they did it because of race. But this lawlessness of the young is a direct result of the lawlessness of their elders, many of whom do not hesitate to say they will not obey the highest law of our land when that law does not suit them’’ (Smith, 3 April 1956).

Smith wrote a positive review of King’s Montgomery bus boycott memoir, Stride Toward Freedom (1958), predicting that it would become ‘‘a classic story—as has Gandhi’s salt march—of man demanding justice and discovering that justice first begins in his own heart’’ (Smith, ‘‘And Suddenly Something Happened’’). In January 1959 King wrote to Smith: ‘‘Of all the reviews that I have read on Stride Toward Freedom, I still consider yours the best’’ (King, 23 January 1959).


King to Smith, 23 January 1959, LSP-GU.

Loveland, Lillian Smith, 1986.

Smith, ‘‘And Suddenly Something Happened,’’ Saturday Review (20 September 1958): 21.

Smith to King, 10 March 1956, in Papers 3:168–170.

Smith to King, 3 April 1956, MLKP-MBU.

Smith, Kelly Miller (1920-1984)
Smith, Kelly Miller (1920-1984) Next entry

As a social gospel minister, Kelly Miller Smith believed in using his pastorate to promote activism. Smith participated in the founding meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, and co-founded the Nashville Christian Leadership Council (NCLC) a year later. In a 1961 telegram Smith described Martin Luther King as the ‘‘embodiment of the message you bear’’ (Smith, 19 December 1961).

Smith and his six siblings were raised in a Christian household in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. In 1938 Smith entered Tennessee State University as a music major. Two years later he decided to focus on religious studies and received his BA in religion and music from Morehouse College (1942) and his Master of Divinity from Howard University Divinity School (1945).

Smith first served as pastor of Mount Heroden Baptist Church in Vicksburg, Mississippi, before being called to First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1951. Upon his arrival in Nashville Smith became extremely active in the civil rights struggle. In 1955 he and 12 other parents filed a lawsuit against the Nashville Board of Education for failing to implement the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling. With this case, his eldest daughter Joy, then six years old, became one of the first African American children to integrate Nashville’s public schools in December 1957.

As president of the Nashville chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1956 to 1959, Smith coordinated a voter registration drive that resulted in the addition of hundreds of new African American voters to the rolls. Smith also served on SCLC’s executive board from 1957 to 1969. His affiliate organization, NCLC, held workshops directed by James Lawson to train students in the use of nonviolent protest techniques. In a June 1960 letter congratulating the students for their nonviolent protest of lunch counter segregation, King wrote that ‘‘Nashville provided the best organized and best disciplined group in the whole southern student movement,’’ and acknowledged Smith’s ‘‘magnificent leadership’’ (Papers 5:466).

Smith was assistant dean of Vanderbilt University Divinity School from 1968 to 1984, and a member of the Morehouse School of Religion’s board of directors from 1975 until his death. In 1983 Smith was selected to give the Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale Divinity School, one of the highest honors in theological education.

Smith remained pastor of First Baptist Church until his death in 1984. Four years before his death, the congregation honored his activism with the establishment of Kelly Miller Smith Towers, Nashville’s first minority-owned housing project for the elderly and disabled.


King to Smith, 9 June 1960, in Papers 5:466.

Leila A. Meier, ‘‘‘A Different Kind of Prophet’: The Role of Kelly Miller Smith in the Nashville Civil Rights Movement, 1955–1960’’ (Master’s thesis, Vanderbilt University, 1991).

Smith to King, 19 December 1961, MLKJP-GAMK.

Smiley, Glenn E. (1910-1993)
Smiley, Glenn E. (1910-1993) Next entry

Smiley, who rode alongside Martin Luther King on Montgomery’s first desegregated bus, served as an advisor to King and the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) during the Montgomery bus boycott. A southern white minister and national field secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), Smiley helped solidify King’s understanding of Gandhian nonviolence. After interviewing King during the first few months of the boycott, Smiley wrote a colleague: ‘‘I believe that God has called Martin Luther King to lead a great movement here, and in the South. But why does God lay such a burden on one so young, so inexperienced, so good? King can be a Negro Gandhi, or he can be made into an unfortunate demagogue destined to swing from a lynch mob’s tree’’ (Smiley, 28 February 1956).

Smiley was born in Loraine, Texas, on 19 April 1910. He studied at McMurry College, Southwestern University, University of Arizona, and University of Redlands. Smiley worked for 14 years as a Methodist preacher in Arizona and California before joining the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and FOR in 1942. In 1945 he served time in prison as a conscientious objector.

As national field secretary for FOR, Smiley arrived in Montgomery on 27 February 1956, and was introduced to King by Bayard Rustin. He was impressed with King’s leadership, but criticized King’s willingness to accept a bodyguard. He gave King some books on nonviolence, including The Power of Nonviolence, by Richard Gregg. In a letter to friends, Smiley wrote, ‘‘If [King] can really be won to a faith in non-violence there is no end to what he can do. Soon he will be able to direct the movement by the sheer force of being the symbol of resistance’’ (Smiley, 29 February 1956).

Smiley emphasized to King the need to create dialogue between white and black ministers in the South. In an April 1956 letter to King, Smiley described a prayer meeting of Alabama white ministers who supported a liberal approach to racial issues as something that could ‘‘very easily be the most significant thing [he had] done, in that it stands a good chance of being the beginning of a rebuilt ‘middle ground’ in Alabama’’ (Papers 3:214). Smiley also hoped to establish joint prayer meetings with Montgomery’s white and black ministers.

After the court found segregation on buses unconstitutional in Browder v. Gayle on 17 December 1956, the MIA released a set of guidelines for riding on newly integrated buses. Smiley helped develop these guidelines with King and other MIA leaders. In a 1986 draft of his autobiography, Smiley recalled that he approached King the night before they rode an integrated Montgomery bus for the first time and asked ‘‘to collect [his] salary’’ by being ‘‘the first white man to ride by you tomorrow when we ride the bus for the first time’’ (Smiley, 1986). Smiley rode alongside King, Ralph Abernathy, E.D. Nixon, and Fred Gray on the first integrated bus in Montgomery on 21 December 1956.

From 1956 to the early 1960s, Smiley organized a number of nonviolence training workshops and conferences with others, including King, Rustin, James Lawson, Abernathy, and A. J. Muste. Smiley believed nonviolent direct action was essential in the South, calling it ‘‘the most promising and adequate tool available’’ to the movement (Smiley, 11 July 1958). Smiley was also a strong supporter of the student sit-in movement in 1960, urging students to attend the Shaw University conference in April that became the birthplace of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

The extent to which FOR and Smiley claimed credit for the adoption of nonviolence in the Montgomery bus boycott became an issue of contention in the late 1950s. According to Smiley, Abernathy reportedly felt that: ‘‘We could never have achieved the success we did in Montgomery had it not been for the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Glenn Smiley’’ (Smiley, 1986). Smiley stated his own position in a 1957 letter: ‘‘It seems clear to me that the F.O.R. has developed in the south a self-conscious, nonviolent movement with King at the head’’ (Papers 5:218n). King acknowledged Smiley’s role, noting ‘‘his contribution in our overall struggle has been of inestimable value’’ (Papers 4:111). However, he challenged the notion that FOR was responsible for the nonviolent campaign. He wrote to a colleague: ‘‘I fear that this impression has gotten out in many quarters because members of the staff of the FOR have spread the idea’’ (Papers 5:218).

In the 1960s, Smiley founded Justice-Action-Peace Latin America, a Methodist-inspired group that organized seminars on nonviolence in Latin American countries from 1967 through the early 1970s. Smiley continued to work with FOR in the 1980s, receiving FOR’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Award in 1991.


King to Alfred Hassler, 18 January 1957, in Papers 4:111.

King to Hilda Proctor, 1 June 1959, in Papers 5:218.

Smiley, Autobiography draft, 1986, GESP.

Smiley to King, 13 April 1956, in Papers 3:214.
Smiley to Muriel Lester, 28 February 1956, FORP-PSC-P.

Smiley to William Stuart Nelson, 11 July 1958, GESP.

Smiley to John Swomley, 29 February 1956, FORP-PSC-P.

Sit-ins Next entry

The sit-in campaigns of 1960 and the ensuing creation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) demonstrated the potential strength of grassroots militancy and enabled a new generation of young people to gain confidence in their own leadership. Martin Luther King, Jr. described the student sit-ins as an ‘‘electrifying movement of Negro students [that] shattered the placid surface of campuses and communities across the South,’’ and he expressed pride in the new activism for being ‘‘initiated, fed and sustained by students’’ (Papers 5:368).

The sit-ins started on 1 February 1960, when four black students from North Carolina A&T College sat down at a Woolworth lunch counter in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. The students—Joseph McNeil, Izell Blair, Franklin McCain, and David Richmond—purchased several items in the store before sitting at the counter reserved for white customers. When a waitress asked them to leave, they politely refused; to their surprise, they were not arrested. The four students remained seated for almost an hour until the store closed.

The following morning about two dozen students arrived at Woolworth’s and sat at the lunch counter. Although no confrontations occurred, the second sit-in attracted the local media. By day three of the campaign, the students formed the Student Executive Committee for Justice to coordinate protests. The Greensboro protesters eventually agreed to the mayor’s request to halt protest activities while city officials sought ‘‘a just and honorable resolution,’’ but black students in other communities launched lunch counter protests of their own (Carson, 10). By the end of the month, sit-ins had taken place at more than 30 locations in 7 states, and by the end of April over 50,000 students had participated.

The sustained student protests in Nashville, Tennessee, were particularly well organized. Vanderbilt University student James Lawson led workshops on Gandhian nonviolence that attracted a number of students from Nashville’s black colleges. Many of them, including John Lewis, Diane Nash, and Marion Barry, would later become leaders of the southern civil rights struggle. The Nashville movement proved successful, and the students grew ever more confident in their ability to direct campaigns without adult leadership.

Nonviolence was a central component of the student-led demonstrations, however many protesters were not met with peaceful responses from the public. Although protesters were routinely heckled and beaten by segregationists and arrested by police, their determination was unyielding. King wrote: ‘‘The key significance of the student movement lies in the fact that from its inception, everywhere, it has combined direct action with non-violence. This quality has given it the extraordinary power and discipline which every thinking person observes’’ (Papers 5:450).

Although many of the student sit-in protesters were affiliated with National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) youth groups, the new student movement offered an implicit challenge to the litigation strategy of the nation’s oldest civil rights group. NAACP leaders, for their part, gave public support to the sit-ins, although some privately questioned the usefulness of student-led civil disobedience.

On 16 April, the leaders of the various sit-in campaigns gathered at a conference called by Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) executive director Ella Baker. This meeting became the founding conference of SNCC. In a statement prior to the opening of the conference, King emphasized the ‘‘need for some type of continuing organization’’ and expressed his belief that ‘‘the youth must take the freedom struggle into every community in the South’’ (Papers 5:427). The 120 students representing 12 southern states voted to establish a youth centered organization without formal affiliation with any other civil rights group.

In October 1960 Atlanta student leaders convinced King to participate in a sit-in at Rich’s, a local department store. King and about 300 students were arrested. The students were later released, but King remained in jail while Georgia officials determined whether his sit-in arrest violated parole conditions King had received a month earlier after driving with a suspended license. After being sentenced to six months of hard labor at Georgia State Prison at Reidsville, presidential hopeful John F. Kennedy and his campaign manager and brother, Robert Kennedy, helped secure King’s release. Their intervention in the case helped contribute to Kennedy’s narrow victory over Richard Nixon in the presidential election.

By fall 1960, there were signs that the southern civil rights movement had been profoundly transformed by the fiercely independent student protest movement. Those who had participated in the sit-in campaign were determined to continue the direct action tactics that were seizing the initiative from more cautious organizations made up of older people, such as King’s SCLC.

Carson, In Struggle, 1981.
Introduction in Papers 5:23–40.
King, ‘‘The Burning Truth in the South,’’ in Papers 5:447–451.
King, ‘‘A Creative Protest,’’ 16 February 1960, in Papers 5:367–370.
King, ‘‘Statement to the Press at the Beginning of the Youth Leadership Conference,’’ 15 April 1960, in Papers 5:426–427.

Shuttlesworth, Fred Lee (1922-2011 )
Shuttlesworth, Fred Lee (1922-2011 ) Next entry

One of the founding members of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Fred Shuttlesworth brought a militant voice to the struggle for black equality. He drew Martin Luther King, Jr. and the SCLC to Birmingham in 1963 for a historic confrontation with the forces of segregation. The scale of protest and police brutality of the Birmingham Campaign created a new level of visibility for the civil rights movement and contributed to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Born in Mount Meigs, Alabama, Shuttlesworth was licensed and ordained as a preacher in 1948. He earned an A.B. (1951) from Selma University and a B.S. (1953) from Alabama State College. Shuttlesworth served as minister at First Baptist Church in Selma until 1952, and the following year he was called to Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham.

Shuttlesworth became involved in the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1955. When circuit judge Walter B. Jones, at the urging of Alabama attorney general, John Patterson, banned the NAACP from activity in the state in 1956, Shuttlesworth presided over a 4 June planning meeting for a new organization that became the ACMHR. Shuttlesworth lead a mass meeting at Sardis Church the next evening and was declared president by acclamation, a post he held until 1969.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that bus segregation in Montgomery was unconstitutional in November 1956, Shuttlesworth and the ACMHR made plans to challenge segregation on Birmingham’s buses. The night before their campaign was to begin, a bomb exploded under Shuttlesworth’s parsonage at Bethel Baptist. The house was destroyed but Shuttlesworth escaped unharmed. The following day, several hundred protesters sat in the sections reserved for whites on Birmingham buses. Twenty-one of the participants were arrested and convicted, and the ACMHR filed suit in federal court to strike down the law mandating segregation.

Shuttlesworth joined King and C. K. Steele in issuing a call for a conference of southern black leaders in January 1957 “in an effort to coordinate and spur the campaign for integrated transportation in the South” (Papers 4:94). Held at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the meeting laid the foundation for the group that would become the SCLC. At a later meeting in August of that year, Shuttlesworth became SCLC’s first secretary.

As the SCLC struggled through its early years, Shuttlesworth urged the organization to aggressively confront segregation. “I feel that the leadership in Alabama among Negroes is, at this time, much less dynamic and imaginative than it ought to be,” he wrote to King in April 1959. “Even in our Southern Christian Leadership Conference, I believe we must move now, or else [be] hard put in the not too distant future, to [justify] our existence” (Papers 5:189-190).  

In 1963, the SCLC joined forces with the ACMHR to protest segregation in Birmingham. SCLC leaders met secretly in January of that year to draw up initial plans for the Birmingham Campaign, known as “Project C” – C for confrontation. Shuttlesworth issued the “Birmingham Manifesto,” which explained the black community’s decision to act: “We act today in full concert with our Hebraic-Christian tradition, the laws of morality and the Constitution of our nation,” Shuttlesworth proclaimed. “We appeal to the citizenry of Birmingham, Negro and white, to join us in this witness for decency, morality, self-respect and human dignity” (Shuttlesworth, “Birmingham Manifesto,” 3 April 1963).  On 6 April, Shuttlesworth led the campaign’s first march on city hall.

As the campaign continued, tensions between King and Shuttlesworth increased. Shuttlesworth was in the hospital during negotiations that produced a one-day halt to demonstrations. In addition to his opposition to the resolution, Shuttlesworth resented being left out of the decision. King, however, was able to convince him to publicly support the decision. The Birmingham campaign ended two days later with an agreement between the city’s business community and SCLC that included  a commitment to the desegregation of public accommodations, a committee to ensure nondiscriminatory hiring practices in Birmingham, and cooperation in releasing jailed protesters.

Shuttleworth’s confrontational style provided a counterbalance to King’s more measured approach and served to inspire people to action. In his memoir of the Birmingham campaign King praised “the fiery words and determined zeal of Fred Shuttlesworth, who had proved to his people that he would not ask anyone to go where he was not willing to lead” (King, 61).  Shuttleworth passed away in Birmingham, Ala. 5 October 2011.


Eskew, But for Birmingham, 1997. 

King, Why We Can’t Wait, 1964.

Shuttlesworth to King, 24 April 1959, in Papers 5:189-190.

Manis, A Fire You Can’t Put Out, 1999.  

MIA, Montgomery Improvement Association Press Release, Bus Protesters Call Southern Negro Leaders Conference on Transportation and Nonviolent Integration, 7 January 1957, in Papers 4:94.

Shuttlesworth, ‘‘Birmingham Manifesto,’’ 3 April 1963, MLKJP-GAMK. 

Selma to Montgomery March (1965)
Selma to Montgomery March (1965) Next entry

On 25 March 1965, Martin Luther King led thousands of nonviolent demonstrators to the steps of the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, after a 5-day, 54-mile march from Selma, Alabama, where local African Americans, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) had been campaigning for voting rights. King told the assembled crowd: ‘‘There never was a moment in American history more honorable and more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every race and faith pouring into Selma to face danger at the side of its embattled Negroes’’ (King, ‘‘Address at the Conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery March,’’ 121).

On 2 January 1965 King and SCLC joined the SNCC, the Dallas County Voters League, and other local African American activists in a voting rights campaign in Selma where, in spite of repeated registration attempts by local blacks, only two percent were on the voting rolls. SCLC had chosen to focus its efforts in Selma because they anticipated that the notorious brutality of local law enforcement under Sheriff Jim Clark would attract national attention and pressure President Lyndon B. Johnson and Congress to enact new national voting rights legislation.

The campaign in Selma and nearby Marion, Alabama, progressed with mass arrests but little violence for the first month. That changed in February, however, when police attacks against nonviolent demonstrators increased. On the night of 18 February, Alabama state troopers joined local police breaking up an evening march in Marion. In the ensuing melee, a state trooper shot Jimmie Lee Jackson, a 26-year-old church deacon from Marion, as he attempted to protect his mother from the trooper’s nightstick. Jackson died eight days later in a Selma hospital.

In response to Jackson’s death, activists in Selma and Marion set out on 7 March, to march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery. While King was in Atlanta, his SCLC colleague Hosea Williams, and SNCC leader John Lewis led the march. The marchers made their way through Selma across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where they faced a blockade of state troopers and local lawmen commanded by Clark and Major John Cloud who ordered the marchers to disperse. When they did not, Cloud ordered his men to advance. Cheered on by white onlookers, the troopers attacked the crowd with clubs and tear gas. Mounted police chased retreating marchers and continued to beat them.

Television coverage of ‘‘Bloody Sunday,’’ as the event became known, triggered national outrage. Lewis, who was severely beaten on the head, said: ‘‘I don’t see how President Johnson can send troops to Vietnam—I don’t see how he can send troops to the Congo—I don’t see how he can send troops to Africa and can’t send troops to Selma,’’ (Reed, ‘‘Alabama Police Use Gas’’).

That evening King began a blitz of telegrams and public statements, ‘‘calling on religious leaders from all over the nation to join us on Tuesday in our peaceful, nonviolent march for freedom’’ (King, 7 March 1965). While King and Selma activists made plans to retry the march again two days later, Federal District Court Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr. notified the movement attorney Fred Gray that he intended to issue a restraining order prohibiting the march until at least 11 March, and President Johnson pressured King to call off the march until the federal court order could provide protection to the marchers.

Forced to consider whether to disobey the pending court order, after consulting late into the night and early morning with other civil rights leaders and John Doar, the deputy chief of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, King proceeded to the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the afternoon of 9 March. He led more than 2,000 marchers, including hundreds of clergy who had answered King’s call on short notice, to the site of Sunday’s attack, then stopped and asked them to kneel and pray. After prayers they rose and turned the march back to Selma, avoiding another confrontation with state troopers and skirting the issue of whether to obey Judge Johnson’s court order. Many marchers were critical of King’s unexpected decision not to push on to Montgomery, but the restraint gained support from President Johnson, who issued a public statement: ‘‘Americans everywhere join in deploring the brutality with which a number of Negro citizens of Alabama were treated when they sought to dramatize their deep and sincere interest in attaining the precious right to vote’’ (Johnson, ‘‘Statement by the President,’’ 272). Johnson promised to introduce a voting rights bill to Congress within a few days.

That evening, several local whites attacked James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister who had come from Massachusetts to join the protest. His death two days later contributed to the rising national concern over the situation in Alabama. Johnson personally telephoned his condolences to Reeb’s widow and met with Alabama Governor George Wallace, pressuring him to protect marchers and support universal suffrage.

On 15 March Johnson addressed the Congress, identifying himself with the demonstrators in Selma in a televised address: ‘‘Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome’’ (Johnson, ‘‘Special Message’’). The following day Selma demonstrators submitted a detailed march plan to federal Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr., who approved the demonstration and enjoined Governor Wallace and local law enforcement from harassing or threatening marchers. On 17 March President Johnson submitted voting rights legislation to Congress.

The federally sanctioned march left Selma on 21 March. Protected by hundreds of federalized Alabama National Guardsmen and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, the demonstrators covered between 7 to 17 miles per day. Camping at night in supporters’ yards, they were entertained by celebrities such as Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne. Limited by Judge Johnson’s order to 300 marchers over a stretch of two-lane highway, the number of demonstrators swelled on the last day to 25,000, accompanied by Assistant Attorneys General John Doar and Ramsey Clark, and former Assistant Attorney General Burke Marshall, among others.

During the final rally, held on the steps of the capitol in Montgomery, King proclaimed: ‘‘The end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man’’ (King, ‘‘Address,’’ 130). Afterward a delegation of march leaders attempted to deliver a petition to Governor Wallace, but were rebuffed. That night, while ferrying Selma demonstrators back home from Montgomery, Viola Liuzzo, a housewife from Michigan who had come to Alabama to volunteer, was shot and killed by four members of the Ku Klux Klan. Doar later prosecuted three Klansmen conspiring to violate her civil rights.

On 6 August, in the presence of King and other civil rights leaders, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Recalling ‘‘the outrage of Selma,’’ Johnson
called the right to vote ‘‘the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men’’ (Johnson, ‘‘Remarks’’). In his annual address to SCLC a few days later, King noted that ‘‘Montgomery led to the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and 1960; Birmingham inspired the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Selma produced the voting rights legislation of 1965’’ (King, 11 August 1965).


Garrow, Protest at Selma, 1978.

Johnson, ‘‘Remarks in the Capitol Rotunda at the Signing of the Voting Rights Act,’’ 6 August 1966, in Public Papers of the Presidents: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, bk.2, 1966.

Johnson, ‘‘Special Remarks to the Congress: The American Promise,’’ 15 March 1965, in Public Papers of the Presidents: Lyndon B. Johnson, bk. 1, 1966.

Johnson, ‘‘Statement by the President on the Situation in Selma, Alabama,’’ 9 March 1965, in Public Papers of the Presidents: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, bk. 1, 1966.

King, ‘‘Address at Conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery March,’’ in A Call to Conscience, Carson and Shepard, eds., 2001.

King, Annual report at SCLC convention, 11 August 1965, MLKJP-GAMK.

King, Statement on violence committed by state troopers in Selma, Alabama, 7 March 1965, MLKJP-GAMK.

King to Elder G. Hawkins, 8 March 1965, NCCP-PPPrHi.

Lewis, Walking with the Wind, 1998.

Roy Reed, ‘‘Alabama Police Use Gas and Clubs to Rout Negroes,’’ New York Times, 8 March 1965.

Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) Project
Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) Project Next entry

On 15 June 1965 Martin Luther King addressed the opening orientation session for student volunteers in Atlanta’s Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) Project of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He told the assembled volunteers: ‘‘This generation of students is found where history is being made’’ (King, 15 June 1965).

SCOPE took place during the summer of 1965, growing out of SCLC’s participation in the Voter Education Project, the momentum following the Selma to Montgomery March, and SCLC’s desire to highlight the voter registration process for blacks while the Voting Rights Act was pending before Congress. SCOPE was also inspired by the 1964 Freedom Summer, a Council of Federated Organizations initative that mobilized hundreds of white college students to work in the South against segregation and black disenfranchisement. SCLC’s Voter Registration and Political Education Director Hosea Williams was selected to manage the effort. On 30 April King and SNCC’s John Lewis announced that the two organizations would work cooperatively to implement programs designed to carry out a program of voter education and political organization across the South (King and Lewis, 30 April 1965).

Despite promises that the Voting Rights Act would be enacted by June 1965, SCOPE began that summer as the bill wended its way through Congress. Its three objectives were local recruitment and community grass-roots organization, voter registration, and political education. Over 1,200 SCOPE workers, including 650 college students from across the nation, 150 SCLC staff members, and 400 local volunteers, served in 6 southern states to register African Americans to vote.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on 6 August 1965, three days after its enactment in Congress. SCOPE ended only three weeks later, depriving the SCLC workers, students, and local volunteers of federal support during most of the program. King reported that the project’s goals had been achieved and projected success in SCLC’s future registration efforts.


King, ‘‘Let My People Vote,’’ 19 June 1965, New York Amsterdam News.

King, ‘‘Meaning of Georgia Elections,’’ 3 July 1965, New York Amsterdam News.

King, Why Are You Here?, Address delivered at the Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) orientation, 15 June 1965, MLKEC.

King and Lewis, Statement on cooperation between Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, 30 April 1965, SCLCR-GAMK.

Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)
Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Next entry

With the goal of redeeming ‘‘the soul of America’’ through nonviolent resistance, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was established in 1957, to coordinate the action of local protest groups throughout the South (King, ‘‘Beyond Vietnam,’’ 144). Under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., the organization drew on the power and independence of black churches to support its activities. ‘‘This conference is called,’’ King wrote, with fellow ministers C. K. Steele and Fred Shuttlesworth in January 1957, ‘‘because we have no moral choice, before God, but to delve deeper into the struggle—and to do so with greater reliance on non-violence and with greater unity, coordination, sharing, and Christian understanding’’ (Papers 4:95).

The catalyst for the formation of SCLC was the Montgomery bus boycott. Following the success of the boycott in 1956, Bayard Rustin wrote a series of working papers to address the possibility of expanding the efforts in Montgomery to other cities throughout the South. In these papers, he asked whether an organization was needed to coordinate these activities. After much discussion with his advisors, King invited southern black ministers to the Southern Negro Leaders Conference on Transportation and Nonviolent Integration (later to be renamed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference) at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The ministers who attended released a manifesto in which they called upon white southerners to ‘‘realize that the treatment of Negroes is a basic spiritual problem.… Far too many have silently stood by’’ (Papers 4:105). In addition, they encouraged black Americans ‘‘to seek justice and reject all injustice’’ and to dedicate themselves to the principle of nonviolence ‘‘no matter how great the provocation’’ (Papers 4:104; 105).

SCLC differed from organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in that it operated as an umbrella organization of affiliates. Rather than seek individual members, it coordinated with the activities of local organizations like the Montgomery Improvement Association and the Nashville Christian Leadership Council. ‘‘The life-blood of SCLC movements,’’ as described in one of its pamphlets, ‘‘is in the masses of people who are involved—members of SCLC and its local affiliates and chapters’’ (‘‘This is SCLC,’’ 1971). To that end, SCLC staff such as Andrew Young and Dorothy Cotton trained local communities in the philosophy of Christian nonviolence by conducting leadership training programs and opening citizenship schools. Through its affiliation with churches and its advocacy of nonviolence, SCLC sought to frame the struggle for civil rights in moral terms.

SCLC’s first major campaign, the Crusade for Citizenship began in late 1957, sparked by the civil rights bill then pending in Congress. The idea for the crusade was developed at SCLC’s August 1957 conference, where 115 African American leaders laid the groundwork for the crusade. The campaign’s objective was to register thousands of disenfranchised voters in time for the 1958 and 1960 elections, with an emphasis on educating prospective voters. The crusade sought to establish voter education clinics throughout the south, raise awareness among African Americans that ‘‘their chances for improvement rest on their ability to vote,’’ and stir the nation’s conscience to change the current conditions (SCLC, 9 August 1957). Funded by small donations from churches, and large sums from private donors, the crusade continued through the early 1960s.

SCLC also joined local movements to coordinate mass protest campaigns and voter registration drives all over the South, most notably in Albany, Georgia, Birmingham and Selma, Alabama, and St. Augustine, Florida. The organization also played a major role in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where King delivered his ‘‘I Have a Dream’’ speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The visibility that SCLC brought to the civil rights struggle laid the groundwork for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. By the latter half of the decade, tensions were growing between SCLC and more militant protest groups such as SNCC and the Congress of Racial Equality. Amid calls for ‘‘Black Power,’’ King and SCLC were often criticized for being too moderate and overly dependent on the support of white liberals.

As early as 1962 SCLC began to broaden its focus to include issues of economic inequality. Seeing poverty as the root of social inequality, in 1962 SCLC began Operation Breadbasket in Atlanta to create new jobs in the black community. In 1966 the program spread to Chicago as part of the Chicago Campaign. A year later planning began for a Poor People’s Campaign to bring thousands of poor people to Washington, D.C., to push for federal legislation that would guarantee employment, income, and housing for economically marginalized people of all ethnicities. The assassination of King on 4 April 1968 crippled SCLC’s momentum and undermined the success of the Poor People’s Campaign. The organization, which had often been overshadowed by its leader’s prominence, resumed plans for the Washington demonstration as a tribute to King. Under the leadership of SCLC’s new president, Ralph Abernathy, 3,000 people camped in Washington from 13 May to 24 June 1968.

Headquartered in Atlanta, SCLC is now a nationwide organization with chapters and affiliates located throughout the United States. It continues its commitment to nonviolent action to achieve social, economic, and political justice and is focused on issues such as racial profiling, police brutality, hate crimes, and discrimination.

Fairclough, To Redeem the Soul of America, 1987.
King, ‘‘Beyond Vietnam,’’ in A Call to Conscience, Carson and Shepard, eds., 2001.
King, MIA Press release, 7 January 1957, in Papers 4:94–95.
King, ‘‘A Statement to the South and the Nation,’’ Issued by the Southern Negro Leaders Conference on Transportation and Nonviolent Integration, 10 January–11 January 1957, in Papers 4:103–106.
SCLC, Press release, 9 August 1957, MLKP-MBU.
‘‘This Is SCLC,’’ 1971, MLKJP-GAMK.

Seay, Solomon Snowden, Sr. (1899-1988)
Seay, Solomon Snowden, Sr. (1899-1988) Next entry

In his memoir, Stride Toward Freedom, Martin Luther King described Solomon Seay as one of the few African American clergymen who, in the years before the Montgomery bus boycott, denounced injustice and encouraged blacks to have greater confidence in themselves. Seay observed King’s unique contribution to the movement, stating: ‘‘He’s a Ph.D. with common sense and humility, and not many people have both’’ (Ferron, 1 March 1956).

Seay was born 25 January 1899, in Macon County, Alabama, to Hagger Warren Seay and Isaac Seay, a railroad tie cutter. He studied at Alabama State College and Talladega College, and began his ministry in 1916. Seay preached at several AME Zion churches in the South before becoming pastor at Mount Zion AME Zion Church in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1947.

As one of the central pastors working to sustain the Montgomery bus boycott, Seay served on the executive board and the negotiating committee of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). He believed in social change through nonviolence grounded in Christian principles, proclaiming at one mass meeting that ‘‘with love in our hearts and God on our side, there are no forces in hell or on earth that can mow us down’’ (Ferron, 1 March 1956). He called the MIA his ‘‘dream organization—one that would really champion the cause of the forgotten masses of our group,’’ and wrote in a letter to MIA board members, ‘‘We have, voluntarily or involuntarily, been catapulted into a position of responsibility in the world’s struggle for human rights and justice’’ (Seay, 2 April 1958; Seay, 1957).

Seay continued his involvement in civil rights issues after the boycott came to an end. In 1961 Seay’s house served as a safe haven for freedom riders beaten by violent mobs in Montgomery. Seay was also one of four pastors sued for libel in the New York Times Co. v. Sullivan case. The subsequent trial continued for years before the U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled in the pastors’ favor in 1964.

In 1962 Seay was elected MIA president, after King and Ralph Abernathy left Montgomery for Atlanta to be closer to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In a statement at the time of his election, Seay declared: ‘‘‘I have come this far by faith.’ Faith in God; faith in the hidden goodness of mankind, and faith in my own outlook on life’’ (Seay, 25 January 1962). During King’s imprisonment in Albany, Georgia, Seay wrote to him that he was ‘‘as ever with Martin with all that I have’’ (Seay, 1 August 1962).

In 1972 Seay moved to southern Alabama, where he served as presiding Elder of the Greenville District of the AME Zion church. He retired from the ministry in 1982. His autobiography, I Was There by the Grace of God, was published posthumously in 1990.


Donald T. Ferron, Notes on MIA Executive Board meeting, 30 January 1956, in Papers 3:109– 112.

Donald T. Ferron, Notes on MIA mass meeting, 1 March 1956, PV-ARC-LNT.

King, Stride Toward Freedom, 1958.

Manis, A Fire You Can’t Put Out, 1999.

Seay, I Was There by the Grace of God, 1990.

Seay, ‘‘My Faith in the Possibility,’’ 25 January 1962, HG-GAMK.

Seay to King, 1 August 1962, MLKJP-GAMK.

Seay to Members of the MIA board, 2 April 1958, RGP.

Seay to Members of the MIA Executive Board, 1957, MLKP-MBU.

St. Augustine Movement
St. Augustine Movement Next entry

In the spring of 1964, as St. Augustine, Florida, prepared to celebrate its 400th anniversary, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) launched a massive campaign supporting the small local movement to end racial discrimination in the nation’s oldest city. King hoped that demonstrations there would lead to local desegregation and that media attention would garner national support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was then stalled in a congressional filibuster.

Organized demonstrations reached St. Augustine in the summer of 1963, when Robert B. Hayling, a local dentist and advisor to the Youth Council of the city’s branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), led pickets and sit-ins against segregated businesses. The Ku Klux Klan and other whites responded with violence against demonstrators, which escalated through the fall of 1963, when Hayling and three other NAACP members were severely beaten at a Klan rally, then arrested and convicted of assaulting their attackers. In December 1963, after a grand jury blamed the racial crisis on Hayling and other activists, the NAACP asked for Hayling’s resignation. St. Augustine activists then turned to SCLC for support. 

SCLC had been aware of events in St. Augustine as early as July 1963, when King wrote to the White House questioning federal funding for the city’s 400th anniversary celebration. The following spring, after witnessing the activity of white supremacists and the absence of ministerial leadership in the city, SCLC board member C. T. Vivian recommended SCLC’s support. SCLC recruited white northern college students to participate in demonstrations and sit-ins during Easter week of 1964, and hundreds were jailed. Some were made to stand in a cramped outdoor overflow pen in the summer heat, while others were put into a concrete ‘‘sweatbox’’ overnight. Bail rose from $100 per person up to $1,000.

King visited St. Augustine for the first time on 18 May 1964. Speaking at a Baptist church on 27 May, he told the congregation that segregation would soon be over in St. Augustine ‘‘because trouble don’t last always’’ (King, 27 May 1964). In the early morning of 29 May, the house SCLC rented for King in St. Augustine was sprayed by gunfire. On June 11, the day after the Senate voted to end the filibuster of the Civil Rights Act, King, Ralph Abernathy, and several others were arrested when they requested service at a segregated restaurant. Throughout June, SCLC led evening marches to the Old Slave Market, often facing counter demonstrations by the Klan, and provoking violence that garnered national media attention.

As the violence continued, King appealed to the federal government for assistance, asking the White House to pressure prominent white citizens to negotiate in good faith. Although by late June 1964 King was eager to leave St. Augustine and focus SCLC efforts on Alabama, he did not want to negatively affect the passage of the Civil Rights Act. When, on 18 June 1964 a Grand Jury called on King and SCLC to leave St. Augustine for one month to diffuse the situation, claiming that they had disrupted ‘‘racial harmony’’ in the city, King replied that the Grand Jury’s request was ‘‘an immoral one,’’ as it asked ‘‘the Negro community to give all, and the white community to give nothing.’’ ‘‘St. Augustine,’’ they insisted, had ‘‘never had peaceful race relations’’ (King and Hayling, 19 June 1964).

As the Senate debated the Civil Rights Act, SCLC lawyers began to win court victories in St. Augustine. Judge Bryan Simpson continually ruled in favor of civil rights activists and encouraged SCLC to bring cases against the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist organizations. On 30 June 1964 Florida Governor C. Farris Bryant announced the formation of a biracial committee to restore interracial communication in St. Augustine. Although matters were far from resolved, national SCLC leaders left St. Augustine on 1 July, the day before President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law.

Despite this national success, black residents in St. Augustine continued to face violence and intimidation. Consistent threats and picketing by the Klan led many of the town’s businesses to remain segregated. Although SCLC continued to provide some financial support to activists in St. Augustine beyond July 1964, the organization never returned to the city. King observed that St. Augustine had been made to ‘‘bear the cross,’’ suffering violence and brutality that helped prompt Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Colburn, 113).


Colburn, Racial Change and Community Crisis, 1985.

King, Address to Baptist Church rally, 27 May 1964, MLKJP-GAMK.

King, ‘‘Answer to the Presentment of Grand Jury,’’ 19 June 1964, PGC-GEU.



Rustin, Bayard (1910-1987)
Rustin, Bayard (1910-1987) Next entry

A close advisor to Martin Luther King and one of the most influential and effective organizers of the civil rights movement, Bayard Rustin was affectionately referred to as ‘‘Mr. March-on-Washington’’ by A. Philip Randolph (D’Emilio, 347). Rustin organized and led a number of protests in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, including the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. While Rustin’s homosexuality and former affiliation with the Communist Party led some to question King’s relationship with him, King recognized the importance of Rustin’s skills and dedication to the movement. In a 1960 letter, King told a colleague: ‘‘We are thoroughly committed to the method of nonviolence in our struggle and we are convinced that Bayard’s expertness and commitment in this area will be of inestimable value’’ (Papers 5:390).

Born on 17 March 1912, Rustin was one of 12 children raised by his grandparents, Janifer and Julia Rustin, in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Rustin’s life-long commitment to nonviolence began with his Quaker upbringing and the influence of his grandmother, whose participation in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) resulted in leaders of the black community, such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Mary McLeod Bethune, visiting the Rustin home during Rustin’s childhood. After graduating from West Chester High School, Rustin studied intermittently at Wilberforce University, Cheyney State Teachers College, and the City College of New York.

While a student at City College of New York in the 1930s, Rustin joined the Young Communist League (YCL). Drawn to what he believed was the Communists’ commitment to racial justice, Rustin left the organization when the Communist Party shifted their emphasis away from civil rights activity in 1941. Shortly after his YCL departure, Rustin was appointed youth organizer of the proposed 1941 March on Washington, by trade union leader A. Philip Randolph. During this period he joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and co-founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Rustin organized campaigns and led workshops on nonviolent direct action for both organizations, serving as field secretary and then race relations director for FOR. During World War II he spent more than two years in prison as a conscientious objector. In 1947 Rustin was arrested with other participants of CORE’s Journey of Reconciliation, a test of the Supreme Court rulings barring segregation in interstate travel that provided a model for the Freedom Rides of 1961. After spending 22 brutal days on a North Carolina chain gang, Rustin published a report in several newspapers that lead to reform of the practice of prison chain gangs.

In 1948 Rustin went to India for seven weeks to study the Gandhian philosophy of nonviolence. Several years later, he traveled to Africa on a trip sponsored by FOR and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), where he worked with West African independence movements. Despite his successful tenure with FOR, Rustin was asked to resign from the organization in 1953, after his arrest and conviction on charges related to homosexual activity. The following year he was appointed executive secretary of the War Resisters League, a position he held until January 1965.

Rustin became a key advisor to King during the Montgomery bus boycott. He first visited Montgomery in February 1956, and published a ‘‘Montgomery Diary,’’ in which, upon observing a meeting of the Montgomery Improvement Association, he wrote: ‘‘As I watched the people walk away, I had a feeling that no force on earth can stop this movement. It has all the elements to touch the hearts of men’’ (Rustin, ‘‘Montgomery Diary,’’ 10).

Rustin provided King with a deep understanding of nonviolent ideas and tactics at a time when King had only an academic familiarity with Gandhi. Rustin later recalled: ‘‘The glorious thing is that he came to a profoundly deep understanding of nonviolence through the struggle itself, and through reading and discussions which he had in the process of carrying on the protest’’ (D’Emilio, 230–231). King recognized the advantages of Rustin’s knowledge, contacts, and organizational abilities, and invited him to serve as his advisor, well aware that Rustin’s background would be controversial to other civil rights leaders. As King’s special assistant, Rustin assumed a variety of roles, including proofreader, ghostwriter, philosophy teacher, and nonviolence strategist.

Rustin was also instrumental in the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), proposing to King in December 1956 that he create a group that would unite black leaders in the South who possess ‘‘ties to masses of people so that their action projects are backed by broad participation of people’’ (Papers 3:493). Rustin developed the guidelines for discussion for the founding meeting of SCLC in January 1957. Although Rustin helped draft much of King’s memoir, Stride Toward Freedom, Rustin would not allow his name to be credited in the book, telling an associate: ‘‘I did not feel that he should bear this kind of burden’’ (Papers 4:380n).

Rustin was instrumental in organizing the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom. He authored several memos to King outlining the goals of the march and advised King on what topics he should cover in his address. With Randolph, he also coordinated the 25 October 1958 and 18 April 1959 Youth Marches for Integrated Schools.

In 1963 Randolph began organizing the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Despite the concerns of many civil rights leaders, Rustin was appointed deputy director of the march. In less than two months Rustin guided the organization of an event that would bring over 200,000 participants to the nation’s capital.

From 1965 until 1979, Rustin served as president, and later as co-chair, of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, an organization of black trade unionists dedicated to racial equality and economic justice. From this position, Rustin promoted his view that future progress for African Americans rested on alliances between blacks, liberals, labor, and religious groups.


Anderson, Bayard Rustin, 1998.

D’Emilio, Lost Prophet, 2003.

King to Edward Gotlieb, 18 March 1960, in Papers 5:390–391.

Rustin, ‘‘Montgomery Diary,’’ Liberation (April 1956): 7–10.

Rustin to King, 23 December 1956, in Papers 3:491–494.

Rothschild, Jacob Mortimer (1911-1973)
Rothschild, Jacob Mortimer (1911-1973) Next entry

Jacob Mortimer Rothschild was a steadfast supporter of the civil rights movement and racial equality. As a rabbi, he spread ideals of peace and unity to his Atlanta congregation,
despite hostile public responses. Rothschild described Martin Luther King as a ‘‘spokesman who—like a prophet of ancient Israel—had fearlessly confronted the society of his day with its failures; had sought to rouse men to a vision of their own nobility,’’ and who ‘‘has earned his place as the moral leader of our social revolution’’ (Rothschild, 20 November 1963).

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on 4 August 1911, Rothschild received his AB from the University of Cincinnati and completed his rabbinical studies at Hebrew Union College. He was ordained in 1936, and became the first Jewish chaplain to go into combat during World War II. In 1946 he was offered the pulpit at Atlanta’s Hebrew Benevolent Congregation, where he remained until his death in 1973. As early as 1948 Rothschild unsettled congregants and aggravated Atlanta’s white community with sermons calling for racial tolerance. Due to his outspokenness, his synagogue was bombed in October 1958. Responding to the bombing, King urged President Dwight D. Eisenhower to ‘‘convene a White House conference’’ that ‘‘could help recommit our nation to the peaceful settling of differences’’ (Papers 4:509).

King and Rothschild first met through membership in an interracial dinner group in Atlanta, and over the next several years they developed a close relationship. When King wrote ‘‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’’ after his April 1963 arrest, Rothschild praised the civil rights leader for his eloquence: ‘‘To my mind, it is without question the most moving and significant document I have yet read. May I congratulate you not only on the cogency of its position but on the power of its language and the beauty of its imagery as well’’ (Rothschild, 10 June 1963).

In 1964, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and Rothschild organized a dinner honoring King. Over 1,400 people, both white and black, gathered at Atlanta’s Dinkler Hotel to congratulate the city’s native son in the largest biracial gathering in the history of Atlanta at the time. Many of Atlanta’s elite attended, including Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr., Georgia Senator Leroy Johnson, and Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan.

In September 1967 King’s friendship with Rothschild was tested, after Rothschild confronted him about ‘‘scurrilous’’ and ‘‘untrue’’ anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli comments reportedly made by staff members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). ‘‘Do they really represent the position of the organization which you head and they serve?’’ Rothschild asked King. ‘‘I cannot believe so, particularly in the light of your many speeches in which you have publicly made clear not only the complete absence of any prejudice in your own heart but an empathy and a sympathy for Jews whether in the United States, in the Soviet Union, or in Israel’’ (Rothschild, 7 September 1967). In a five-page response to Rothschild, King confirmed that SCLC denounced anti-Semitism. He acknowledged that Hosea Williams had made the comment attributed to him out of anger, and assured Rothschild that, although he was unaware of any past negative comments made about Jews by James Bevel or Andrew Young, ‘‘I am sure that they were misquoted if any anti-Semitic impressions were given’’ (King, 28 September 1967).

After King’s death, Rothschild delivered the eulogy at a memorial service held for him at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta. Rothschild died 31 December 1973, after suffering a heart attack. Following his death Coretta Scott King called Rothschild a ‘‘true neighbor,’’ who would ‘‘risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others’’ (Greene, 435).


Blumberg, One Voice, 1985.

Greene, Temple Bombing, 1996.

King to Eisenhower, 13 October 1958, in Papers 4:509.

King to Rothschild, 28 September 1967, JMRP-GEU.

Rothschild, As but a Day, 1967.

Rothschild, ‘‘Introduction of Martin Luther King, Jr.,’’ 20 November 1963, JMRP-GEU.

Rothschild to King, 10 June 1963, MLKJP-GAMK.

Rothschild to King, 7 September 1967, JMRP-GEU.

Roosevelt, (Anna) Eleanor (1884-1962)
Roosevelt, (Anna) Eleanor (1884-1962) Next entry

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was an advocate for civil rights and an ardent supporter of Martin Luther King from his Montgomery bus boycott days until her death six years later. King called Mrs. Roosevelt ‘‘perhaps the greatest woman [of] our time,’’ praising ‘‘the courage she displayed in taking sides on matters considered controversial’’ and her ‘‘unswerving dedication to high principle and purpose’’ (King, ‘‘Epitaph for Mrs. FDR’’).

Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York City on 11 October 1884. Although born into a privileged family, she was orphaned when she was 10 years old and was raised by her maternal grandmother. Sent to school in England at age 15, she learned a sense of public service that compelled her to work in New York City settlements when she returned in 1902. She married her distant cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1905 and initially devoted her time to childrearing and supporting her husband’s work. In 1920 Roosevelt began working on efforts to expand women’s political and economic opportunities. After her husband became president of the United States in 1933, Roosevelt began to hold weekly women-only press conferences, and started a syndicated newspaper column, ‘‘My Day,’’ which was published for nearly three decades.

As first lady, Roosevelt championed many social justice causes. In the 1930s she joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), pressuring her husband to pass anti-lynching laws, and gave up her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution after that organization denied black singer Marion Anderson the right to use their segregated concert hall. She was present at the founding meeting of the Southern Conference on Human Welfare in 1938, and defied Bull Connor’s orders when she sat in the aisle rather than submit to segregated seating in the Birmingham, Alabama, auditorium. She advocated against the poll tax and, as World War II began, campaigned to end racial discrimination in the armed forces. Following her husband’s death in 1945, Roosevelt joined the board of directors of both the NAACP and the Congress of Racial Equality. That same year, President Harry S. Truman appointed her one of five delegates to the first United Nations (UN) General Assembly. Roosevelt became the chair of the UN Human Rights Commission, and was critical to the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Roosevelt met Montgomery NAACP activists Rosa Parks and E. D. Nixon during the Montgomery bus boycott, and also sent King a telegram inviting him to meet with her. She wrote about the bus boycott in her column, saying, ‘‘There must be great pride, not only among the Negroes but among white people all over the country, in the remarkable restraint and courage shown by the Negroes in their struggle for their rights in Montgomery, Ala., and other places in the South." King’s ‘‘insistence that there be no hatred in this struggle,’’ in Roosevelt’s view, was "almost more than human beings can achieve’’ (Roosevelt, 22 March 1957).

For the next several years, Roosevelt and King enjoyed frequent correspondence. When King was arrested for perjury on his income taxes in February 1960, Roosevelt joined the Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom in the South. Several months later, in October 1960, King was again arrested for his participation in a sit-in in downtown Atlanta. Of King’s arrest Roosevelt wrote: ‘‘The people of the world will condemn—not Georgia, unfortunately—the United States for treating as a criminal a man who is looked upon with respect’’ (Roosevelt, 28 October 1960). In her column, she continued to write in support of the sit-ins, commending the students’ ‘‘determination to do away with inequality between races and to have real democracy in the United States’’ (Roosevelt, 6 February 1961). King expressed his appreciation, writing: ‘‘Once again, for all you have done, and I’m sure will continue to do to help extend the fruits of Democracy to our southern brothers, please accept my deep and lasting gratitude’’ (Papers 5:517).

Roosevelt’s health began to decline in the fall of 1962. In September, she invited King to be a guest on the first episode of her new television series, ‘‘The American Experience,’’ which would focus on civil rights. However, she entered the hospital just before it was scheduled to be taped. Roosevelt died on 7 November 1962. King wrote her family a condolence telegram, reflecting: ‘‘Her life was one of the bright interludes in the troubled history of mankind’’ (King, 8 November 1962).


Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom in the South, ‘‘Heed Their Rising Voices,’’ in Papers 5:382.

King, ‘‘Epitaph for Mrs. FDR,’’ New York Amsterdam News, 24 November 1962.

King to Roosevelt, 6 October 1960, in Papers 5:516–517.

King to Roosevelt Family, 8 November 1962, MLKJP-GAMK.

Roosevelt, ‘‘My Day,’’ 22 March 1957, ERC-NHyF.

Roosevelt, ‘‘My Day,’’ 28 October 1960, ERC-NHyF.

Roosevelt, ‘‘My Day,’’ 6 February 1961, ERC-NHyF.

Roosevelt to King, 17 October 1956, in Papers 3:400.

Rogers, Theopholius Yelverton, Jr. (1935-1971)
Rogers, Theopholius Yelverton, Jr. (1935-1971) Next entry

In 1956 T. Y. Rogers became Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assistant at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. King described Rogers as ‘‘one of the most promising young men in the Christian Ministry,’’ possessing ‘‘a keen and analytical mind’’ (King, 29 September 1960; King, 25 April 1959).

Rogers was born in Sumter County, Alabama, on 8 October 1935. He graduated from Sumter County Training School in May 1952 before completing a BS at Alabama State College in 1955. In November 1956 Rogers became King’s assistant at Dexter. In 1957 Rogers was ordained into the Baptist ministry in a special ceremony at Dexter. He later enrolled at Crozer Theological Seminary, where he earned his BD in 1960. During his summer and winter breaks from Crozer, Rogers returned to Dexter to preach.

In 1960 King resigned from Dexter and returned to Atlanta to be closer to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) headquarters. Upon his departure, Rogers expressed interest in the vacant pulpit at Dexter. King cautioned Rogers on the difficulty of gaining respect from the congregation: ‘‘It is one of the most difficult things in the world for a group of people who once taught you to accept you as their spiritual shepherd’’ (Papers 5:474). Dexter hired a different preacher in late 1960, and Rogers answered the call to Galilee Baptist Church in Philadelphia. He stayed there until 1964, when he returned to the South as pastor of First African Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. King spoke at his installation service in March 1964.

For the next several years, Rogers continued to work closely with SCLC. At the  time of his death in 1971, he was serving as SCLC’s director of affiliates.


King to Rogers, 31 August 1957, in Papers 4:266–267.

King to Rogers, 18 June 1960, in Papers 5:474–475.

King to Register at Boston University School of Theology, 25 April 1959, MLKP-MBU.

King to Phinehas Smith, 19 September 1960, MLKP-MBU.

‘‘T. Y. Rogers, Member of SCLC Board,’’ Washington Post, 27 March 1971.

Rodell, Marie Freid (1912-1975)
Rodell, Marie Freid (1912-1975) Next entry

Marie F. Rodell served as Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s literary agent for the publication of his first book, Stride Toward Freedom. Inundated with offers to produce books and films about the Montgomery bus boycott, King hired Rodell and Joan Daves, Inc., in October 1957. Rodell corresponded with King regarding contract negotiations, editorial decisions, and publicity for Stride Toward Freedom.

Born in New York City on 31 January 1912, to Isadore and Elizabeth Freid, Rodell received her BA in 1932 from Vassar College. Following a nine-year career as associate editor in the Mystery Department at Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, Rodell launched her own literary agency with Joan Daves in 1948.

Extensive demands on King’s time made it difficult for him to make significant progress on his first book, however Rodell was adamant that the book be published by the fall of 1958. In a letter to King she conveyed her dissatisfaction with his lack of progress: ‘‘The fact that the first draft is still not completed is most disquieting to all of us’’ (Rodell, 13 March 1958). Despite much difficulty, Stride was publicly available by September 1958.

Rodell later became director of the Rachel Carson Trust for Living Environment. The author of three mystery novels, she was the founding secretary of the Mystery Writers of America. Rodell died in New York City in November 1975.


Advertisement for Stride Toward Freedom, August 1958, in Papers 4:466.

Daves to King, 18 October 1957, in Papers 4:286–287.

Rodell to King, 13 March 1958, MLKP-MBU.

Rockefeller, Nelson Aldrich (1908-1979)
Rockefeller, Nelson Aldrich (1908-1979) Next entry

Politician and philanthropist Nelson A. Rockefeller was an outspoken supporter of the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King once said of the four-term governor of New York: ‘‘If we had one or two governors in the Deep South like Nelson Rockefeller, many of our problems could be readily solved’’ (Walker, 19 October 1962).

Rockefeller was born 8 July 1908, in Bar Harbor, Maine, into one of the wealthiest families in the country. Concern for the lives of African Americans went back at least three generations to his grandfather, Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller, who, with his wife, Laura Spelman Rockefeller, had endowed Spelman College and King’s alma mater, Morehouse College. Rockefeller graduated from Dartmouth in 1930, and joined the State Department the following year to oversee relations with Latin America. He left five years later to found his own nonprofit organization promoting development in the region. Rockefeller moved in and out of government for the next decade, taking roles in both the Harry S. Truman and the Dwight D. Eisenhower administrations, and then ran for governor of the state of New York in 1958.

Rockefeller’s support for King began during that election year, when the two appeared together, along with baseball star Jackie Robinson and president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, A. Phillip Randolph, at a rally sponsored by the Youth March for Integrated Schools. After Rockefeller was elected, he used his position to advocate civil rights in the South. When King was arrested at a sit-in demonstration in Atlanta in October 1960, Rockefeller used the pulpit of a Brooklyn, New York, church to applaud King’s ideals: ‘‘We’ve got to make love a reality in our own country. When the great spiritual leader, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, finds himself in jail today because he had the courage to love, we have a long way to go in America’’ (Dales, ‘‘Governor Turns to Lay Preaching’’).

In early 1962, Rockefeller offered to help King set up a New York office of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and after King was arrested while supporting the Albany Movement, he expressed appreciation for Rockefeller’s supportive response at a dinner he co-chaired honoring Robinson’s Hall of Fame induction. ‘‘Governor Rockefeller probed clearly to the point of our crusade and asked the Federal Government … whether or not the city of Albany, Georgia infringes upon the constitutional rights of Negro citizens with impunity’’ (King, 20 July 1962).

Rockefeller’s financial largesse helped rebuild several bombed churches in the South, and he matched the $25,000 donation King made of his Nobel Peace Prize award to the Gandhi Society for Human Rights. During the Birmingham Campaign, Rockefeller secretly gave Clarence Jones money from his family’s Chase Manhattan bank to bail local protesters out of jail. King wrote in his New York Amsterdam News column that Rockefeller had ‘‘a real grasp and understanding of what the Negro revolution is all about, and a commitment to its goals’’ (King, ‘‘The Presidential Nomination’’).

Although Rockefeller could not join King during his 1965 Selma to Montgomery March, Rockefeller wrote that he had ‘‘the most profound sympathy and respect for the purpose of this historic mission’’ (Rockefeller, 18 March 1965). That fall, the governor raveled to Atlanta to join King as the featured speaker at Ebenezer Baptist Church’s annual Men’s Day celebration.

The following year Rockefeller won his third term as governor of New York. He later appointed Wyatt Tee Walker, SCLC’s executive director from 1960 to 1964, as his special assistant for urban affairs.

After King’s assassination, Rockefeller asked the New York legislature to pass ‘‘a series of measures vitally affecting the lives of all our Negro citizens: jobs and health, housing, education, and training’’ (Witkin, ‘‘Rockefeller Asks ‘Memorial’ Laws’’). He flew to Atlanta in a chartered jet to attend King’s funeral.

Rockefeller announced his third and final bid for the Republican presidential nomination on 30 April 1968, later losing to Richard Nixon. Although he was reelected governor of New York in 1970, he resigned in 1973 to devote himself to his charitable work. After Nixon resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal, President Gerald Ford asked Rockefeller to serve as Vice President of the United States. Rockefeller served the two-year term and then retired from public life. He died of a heart attack on 26 January 1979.


Douglas Dales, ‘‘Governor Turns to Lay Preaching,’’ New York Times, 24 October 1960.

King, Address at Jackie Robinson Hall of Fame Dinner, 20 July 1962, MLKJP-GAMK.

King, ‘‘The Presidential Nomination,’’ New York Amsterdam News, 25 April 1964.

Rockefeller to King, 18 March 1965, MLKJP-GAMK.

Wyatt Tee Walker to Hugh Morrow, 19 October 1962, MLKJP-GAMK.

Richard Witkin, ‘‘Rockefeller Asks ‘Memorial’ Laws,’’ New York Times, 6 April 1968.

Robinson, Jo Ann Gibson (1912-1992)
Robinson, Jo Ann Gibson (1912-1992) Next entry

An instrumental figure in initiating and sustaining the Montgomery bus boycott, Jo Ann Robinson was an outspoken critic of the treatment of African Americans on public transportation. In his memoir, Stride Toward Freedom, Martin Luther King said of Robinson: ‘‘Apparently indefatigable, she, perhaps more than any other person, was active on every level of the protest’’ (King, 78).

Born on 17 April 1912, in Culloden, Georgia, Robinson was the youngest of 12 children. After her father’s death, her family sold their farm and moved to Macon, Georgia. Robinson graduated as valedictorian of her high school class and went on to earn her BS from Fort Valley State College, becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college. Robinson taught for five years in Macon’s public school system before moving to Atlanta, Georgia, to earn her MA in English from Atlanta University. Following a year of study at Columbia University, she taught briefly at Mary Allen College in Crockett, Texas, before moving to Montgomery in 1949 to teach English at Alabama State College.

In Montgomery Robinson was active in the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and the Women’s Political Council (WPC). In 1949 Robinson suffered a humiliating experience on a nearly empty public bus, when the driver ordered her off for having sat in the fifth row. When she became WPC president in 1950, Robinson made the city’s segregated bus seating one of the top priorities of the organization. The WPC made repeated complaints about seating practices and driver conduct to the Montgomery City Commission. After the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, Robinson informed the city’s mayor that a bus boycott might ensue if bus service did not improve, but negotiations had yielded little success by late 1955. After Rosa Parks’ arrest in December 1955, Robinson seized the opportunity to put the long-considered protest into motion. Late that night, she, two students, and John Cannon, chairman of the Business Department at Alabama State, mimeographed and distributed approximately 52,500 leaflets calling for a boycott of the buses.

As King and other civic and religious leaders established the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) to oversee organization of the boycott, Robinson chose not to accept an official MIA position for fear of jeopardizing her job at Alabama State College. She was, however, named to the executive board because of her WPC position, and King personally asked her to write and edit the weekly MIA Newsletter.

Despite Robinson’s efforts to work behind the scenes, she was the target of several acts of intimidation. In February 1956 a local police officer threw a stone through her window.
Two weeks later, a police officer poured acid on her car. Eventually, the governor ordered state police to guard the homes of boycott leaders.

Robinson took great pride in the eventual success of the boycott. In her memoir, Robinson wrote: ‘‘An oppressed but brave people, whose pride and dignity rose to the occasion, conquered fear, and faced whatever perils had to be confronted. The boycott was the most beautiful memory that all of us who participated will carry to our final resting place’’ (Robinson, 11).

Following the student sit-ins at Alabama State in early 1960, Robinson and other supporters of the students resigned their faculty positions rather than endure the tensions that Robinson called ‘‘a constant threat to our peace of mind’’ (Robinson, 169). After teaching for a year at Grambling College in Louisiana, Robinson moved to Los Angeles, where she taught until her retirement in 1976., Her memoir, The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It, was published in 1987.


King, Stride Toward Freedom, 1958.

Robinson, Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1987.

Robinson, Jackie (1919-1972)
Robinson, Jackie (1919-1972) Next entry

Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play major league baseball, used his prestige as a star athlete to garner support for the civil rights movement. Following his retirement from baseball in 1957, Robinson often appeared with Martin Luther King at rallies, fundraising events, and demonstrations. King told Robinson, ‘‘You have made every Negro in America proud through your baseball prowess and your inflexible demand for equal opportunity for all’’ (King, 14 May 1962).

Born 31 January 1919, in Cairo, Georgia, Robinson grew up in Pasadena, California. After graduating from high school he attended Pasadena Junior College and the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), where he excelled in baseball, football, basketball, and track. In 1942 Robinson was drafted into the Army. Initially informally barred from Officer Candidate School because of his race, he eventually graduated as a second lieutenant. In July 1944 Robinson was court martialed for resisting a demand to move to the back of an Army bus. Eventually acquitted of the charges, he later received an honorable discharge from the Army.

Robinson was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946, and 15 April 1947 Robinson broke the color line in major league baseball when he took the field as first baseman for the Dodgers. Despite enduring insults, threats, isolation and aggression on the playing field Robinson eventually won over teammates and fans with his skill and competitive drive. He was named Rookie of the Year after his first season, and two years later he won the National League batting title and was named Most Valuable Player.

After leaving baseball in 1957, Robinson became an executive at Chock Full O’Nuts Corporation. Robinson also served as chairman of the National Association for the Advancement Colored People (NAACP) Freedom Fund Drive, and later joined its Board of Directors.

In October 1958 Robinson and King served as honorary chairmen of the Youth March for Integrated Schools in Washington, D.C. Two years later Robinson raised concerns with King that some people affiliated with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) were claiming that the NAACP had outlived its usefulness, but King reassured Robinson that he had, ‘‘always stressed the need for great cooperation between SCLC and the NAACP’’ (Papers 5:477).

Robinson continued to work with King, and when he became the first African American to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, Robinson donated the proceeds of a dinner in his honor to SCLC’s voter registration project. In an article King wrote for the New York Amsterdam News upon this occasion, King applauded Robinson for choosing ‘‘truth’’ rather than ‘‘repose,’’ because ‘‘back in the days when integration wasn’t fashionable, he underwent the trauma and the humiliation and the loneliness which comes with being a pilgrim walking the lonesome byways toward the high road of Freedom. He was a sit-inner before the sit-ins, a freedom rider before the Freedom Rides’’ (King, ‘‘Hall of Famer’’).

The following year, Robinson joined the platform guests at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In 1964 he co-founded the interracial Freedom National Bank in Harlem, and served as chairman until his death in 1972. In 1966 New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller hired him as a Special Assistant for Community Affairs.

Robinson disagreed with King’s opposition to the Vietnam War and his calls for the United States to stop its bombing campaigns. In an open letter published in his regular Chicago Defender newspaper column in May 1967, Robinson questioned King’s stance: ‘‘I am confused Martin, because I respect you deeply. But I also love this imperfect country’’ (Robinson, ‘‘An Open Letter’’). After King called Robinson to elaborate on his beliefs, Robinson replied that despite disagreeing with King, he still saw King as ‘‘the finest leader the Negro people have and one of the most magnificent leaders the world has today’’ (Robinson, ‘‘What I Think’’). Robinson died of a heart attack in 1972 at the age of 53.


King, ‘‘Hall of Famer,’’ New York Amsterdam News, 4 August 1962.

King, ‘‘The Measure of a Man,’’ New York Amsterdam News, 29 September 1962.

King to Robinson, 19 June 1960, in Papers 5:475–478.

King to Robinson, 14 May 1962, MLKJP-GAMK.

Rachel Robinson, Jackie Robinson, 1996.

Robinson to King, 5 May 1960, in Papers 5:454–455.

Robinson, I Never Had It Made, 1972.

Robinson, ‘‘An Open Letter to Dr. Martin L. King,’’ Chicago Defender, 13 May 1967.

Robinson, ‘‘What I Think of Dr. Martin L. King,’’ Chicago Defender, 1 July 1967.

Robinson, Cleveland Lowellyn (1914-1995)
Robinson, Cleveland Lowellyn (1914-1995) Next entry

In late 1958 Martin Luther King declined an invitation by union official Cleveland Robinson to speak in New York during Negro History Week. In his written response, he noted, ‘‘I want you to know that I have been deeply moved by your dedication and your humanitarian concern. You are doing a grand job for all of us’’ (King, 15 November 1958). Robinson served as one of King’s advisors on the labor movement and as a force against racism in labor unions.

Robinson was born on 12 December 1914, in Swabys Hope, a rural parish of Manchester, Jamaica. He immigrated to the United States in 1944 and began working in a Manhattan dry goods store. He soon became active in District 65, Distributive Workers Union of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, and in 1947, after organizing the store where he worked, he became a full-time organizer with the union. He rose swiftly in the union, becoming vice president in 1950 and secretary-treasurer in 1952. He remained in that position until his retirement from the union in 1992.

In 1960, Robinson joined with A. Philip Randolph to form the Negro American Labor Council (NALC), an organization that aimed to end discrimination in organized labor. He was elected vice president at the NALC’s founding convention that year and, after Randolph’s tenure, served as president from 1966 to 1972, when the NALC became the Council of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU).

Robinson participated in the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in May 1957, joining King on the event’s platform with other labor, civil rights, and religious leaders. The following year, while King convalesced from a stabbing, Robinson and District 65’s President David Livingston wrote King, declaring that: ‘‘Your suffering will inspire us to renewed determination and greater efforts to fight segregation and discrimination’’ (Livingston and Robinson, 29 September 1958). Robinson worked as a member of the Board of Directors of the Gandhi Society for Human Rights, the fundraising arm of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and often solicited donations for King from the unions. He was involved in the earliest NALC meetings to plan the 1963 March on Washington and acted as the administrative chairman for the march. When King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1964 Robinson was the event coordinator for the gala honoring King’s return to the United States. The event was attended by such notables as Nelson A. Rockefeller, Whitney Young, James Farmer, Dorothy Height, and Jackie Robinson.

After membership in the NALC declined in the early 1970s, Robinson began working with the CBTU, the successor to the NALC. In addition to union organizing, Robinson was appointed to the New York City Commission of Human Rights. At the time of his death, Robinson was the chairman of the New York State Martin Luther King, Jr., Commission.


King to Robinson, 15 November 1958, MLKP-MBU.

Livingston and Robinson to King, 29 September 1958, BSCP-DLC.

Pfeffer, A. Philip Randolph, 1990.

Reuther, Walter Philip (1907-1970)
Reuther, Walter Philip (1907-1970) Next entry

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the United Auto Workers (UAW), Martin Luther King wrote a letter to union president Walter Reuther, congratulating him and observing: ‘‘More than anyone else in America, you stand out as the shining symbol of democratic trade unionism’’ (King, 17 May 1961). King had a stalwart ally in Reuther, who gave critical backing to the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and was a supporter of King’s civil rights tactics.

Reuther was born on 1 September 1907, in Wheeling, West Virginia, one of four sons of labor official Valentine Reuther and his wife, Anna. At age 15 Reuther went to work at the Wheeling Steel Corporation, serving as an apprentice tool and die maker. In 1927 he went to Detroit, and by 1931 he was a foreman supervising 40 other tool and die workers at the Ford Motor Company. During these years he completed his high school education, and attended Wayne State University for three years.

Reuther left Ford in 1932, and in 1933 he and his brother Victor embarked on a three-year, around-the-world trip, traveling through England, Russia, Central Asia, China, and Japan and observing auto work and the labor movement in these countries. Reuther organized, and became the first president of, West Side Local 174 of the newly formed UAW, increasing membership from 78 to 30,000 members between 1936 and 1937, which were a precursor to the civil rights sit-ins of the 1960s.

Reuther was elected national UAW president in 1946, a position he held until his death. That year, also became vice president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), ascended to that body’s presidency in 1952, and was at the forefront of the effort to merge the CIO with the American Federation of Labor, forming the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) in 1955. With the amalgamation of the two bodies, Reuther became an AFL-CIO vice president and also served as president of its Industrial Union Department. His tenure in these positions ended when the UAW withdrew from the AFL-CIO in 1968.

During his years as a top labor leader, Reuther took forceful positions inside and outside the labor movement with regard to civil rights. He sat on the national advisory boards of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Congress of Racial Equality, urged union locals to participate in the May 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, joined the call for protests later that year against South Africa’s apartheid regime, and was a scheduled speaker at the May 1960 founding convention of the Negro American Labor Council. Reuther invited King to be a speaker at the 25th anniversary celebration of the UAW the following year, and in 1965 marched with King in the Selma to Montgomery March.

Reuther mobilized the UAW and other unions on behalf of the August 1963 March on Washington. He attempted to obtain the AFL-CIO’s endorsement for the march, but president George Meany’s tepid support caused Reuther to remark: ‘‘The statement is so anemic that you’d have to give it a blood transfusion to keep it alive on its way to the mimeograph machine’’ (Pomfret, ‘‘AFL-CIO Aloof’’). Reuther spoke at the event, and later that day said the event ‘‘proves beyond doubt … that free men despite their different points of view, despite their racial and religious differences, can unite on a great moral question like civil rights and the quest for equal opportunity and full citizenship rights’’ (King, et al., 28 August 1963). In March 1965 Reuther marched with King in Selma, Alabama.

After King’s assassination, Reuther marched with Coretta Scott King in Memphis on 8 April, in support of the peaceful resolution of that city’s sanitation strike, and donated the largest check from any outside source, $50,000, to the striking sanitation workers. When he and his wife were killed in a 1970 plane crash, Coretta Scott King eulogized Reuther, saying, ‘‘He was there in person when the storm clouds were thick’’ (Flint, ‘‘Reuther Praised’’).


Jerry Flint, ‘‘Reuther Praised in Funeral Rites,’’ New York Times, 16 May 1970.

King, Reuther, et al., ‘‘Transcript of ‘March on Washington … Report by the Leaders,’’’ 28 August 1963, WHCF-MWalK.

King to Reuther, 17 May 1961, MLKP-MBU.

Lichtenstein, Walter Reuther, 1995.

John D. Pomfret, ‘‘AFL-CIO Aloof on Capital March,’’ New York Times, 14 August 1963.

Reeb, James (1927-1965)
Reeb, James (1927-1965) Next entry

James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister, became nationally known as a martyr to the civil rights cause when he died on 11 March 1965, in Selma, Alabama, after being attacked by a group of white supremacists. Reeb had traveled to Selma to answer Martin Luther King’s call for clergy to support the nonviolent protest movement for voting rights there. Delivering Reeb’s eulogy, King called him ‘‘a shining example of manhood at its best’’ (King, 15 March 1965).

Reeb was born on New Year’s Day 1927, in Wichita, Kansas. He was raised in Kansas and Casper, Wyoming. After a tour of duty in the Army at the end of World War II, Reeb became a minister, graduating first from a Lutheran college in Minnesota, and then from Princeton Theological Seminary in June 1953. Although ordained a Presbyterian minister, Reeb transferred to the Unitarian Church and became assistant minister at All Souls Church in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 1959. In September 1963 Reeb moved to Boston to work for the American Friends Service Committee. He bought a home in a slum neighborhood and enrolled his children in the local public schools, where many of the children were black.

On 7 March 1965, Reeb and his wife watched television news coverage of police attacking demonstrators in Selma as they attempted to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on what became known as ‘‘Bloody Sunday.’’ The following day, King sent out a call to clergy around the country to join him in Selma in a second attempt at a Selma to Montgomery March that Tuesday, 9 March. Reeb heard about King’s request from the regional office of the Unitarian Universalist Association on the morning of 8 March, and was on a plane heading south that evening.

As Reeb was flying toward Selma, King was considering whether to disobey a pending court order against the Tuesday march to Montgomery. In the end he decided to march, telling the hundreds of clergy who had gathered at Brown’s Chapel, ‘‘I would rather die on the highways of Alabama, than make a butchery of my conscience’’ (King, 9 March 1965). King led the group of marchers to the far side of the bridge, then stopped and asked them to kneel and pray. After prayers, they rose and retreated back across the bridge to Brown’s Chapel, avoiding a violent confrontation with state troopers and skirting the issue of whether or not to obey the court order.

Several clergy decided to return home after this symbolic demonstration. Reeb, however, decided to stay in Selma until court permission could be obtained for a full scale march, planned for the coming Thursday. That evening, Reeb and two other white Unitarians dined at an integrated restaurant. Afterward they were attacked by several white men and Reeb was clubbed on the head. Several hours elapsed before Reeb was admitted to a Birmingham hospital where doctors performed brain surgery. While Reeb was on his way to the hospital in Birmingham, King addressed a press conference lamenting the ‘‘cowardly’’ attack and asking all to pray for his protection (King, 10 March 1965). Reeb died two days later.

Reeb’s death provoked mourning throughout the country, and tens of thousands held vigils in his honor. President Lyndon B. Johnson called Reeb’s widow and father to express his condolences, and on 15 March he invoked Reeb’s memory when he delivered a draft of the Voting Rights Act to Congress. That same day King eulogized Reeb at a ceremony at Brown’s Chapel in Selma. ‘‘James Reeb,’’ King told the audience, ‘‘symbolizes the forces of good will in our nation. He demonstrated the conscience of the nation. He was an attorney for the defense of the innocent in the court of world opinion. He was a witness to the truth that men of different races and classes might live, eat, and work together as brothers’’ (King, 15 March 1965).

In April 1965 three white men were indicted for Reeb’s murder; they were acquitted that December. The Voting Rights Act was passed on 6 August 1965.


Garrow, Protest at Selma, 1978.

Howlett, No Greater Love, 1966.

Johnson, "Special Message to Congress: The American Promise," 15 March 965, in Public Papers of the Presidents: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, bk. 1, 1966.

King, Address to Selma marchers, 9 March 1965, MLJKP-GAMK.

King, Eulogy for James Reeb, 15 March 1965, CBC.

King, Statement on the beating of Orloff Miller, James Reeb, and Clark Olsen, 10 March 1965, MLKJP-GAMK.

King to Elder G. Hawkins, 8 March 1965, NCCP-PPPrHi.

Reddick, Lawrence Dunbar (1910-1995)
Reddick, Lawrence Dunbar (1910-1995) Next entry

On 5 December 1955, Lawrence Reddick attended the first mass meeting of the Montgomery bus boycott. Although he recalled feeling ‘‘baffled’’ by what was taking place, he did ‘‘realize that something socially significant was happening’’ and began to take copious notes (Reddick, 235). Throughout 1956 and 1957, as his notes materialized into a manuscript for a book, Reddick became friends with Martin Luther King, Jr., while conducting interviews with the bus boycott leader. In his biography of King, Crusader without Violence (1959), Reddick called King a ‘‘national asset,’’ claiming that King ‘‘symbolizes an idea that meets a fundamental need of our times. His way is needed in the painful transition through which the South is presently passing, and his way is needed by the American nation in a divided world’’ (Reddick, 233–234). For more than a decade, Reddick chronicled the events of the civil rights movement and assisted King in writing many of his public statements and speeches.

Born in Jacksonville, Florida, Reddick received his BA (1932) and MA (1933) from Fisk University, and his PhD (1939) in History from the University of Chicago. Upon earning his PhD, Reddick was named curator of the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature of the New York Public Library. Before joining the faculty at Alabama State College in 1956, Reddick taught at a number of colleges, including Atlanta University and the New School for Social Research.

In 1956 King appointed Reddick chairman of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) History Committee, to record the events of the bus protest. Having completed his own account of the bus boycott for the spring 1956 issue of Dissent, Reddick later agreed to help King recount the events for Stride Toward Freedom (1958).

Reddick accompanied King and his wife Coretta Scott King on their month-long India trip in 1959. On the way the group stopped briefly in Paris, where Reddick introduced the Kings to Richard Wright. Of that meeting, Reddick wrote: ‘‘Coretta and I threw in a point now and then but we were content to observe the giants in intellectual action. Both were short and brown-skinned but Dick was intense, always reaching for a thought or phrase while Martin was relaxed and un-spirited’’ (Papers 5:4). Once they arrived in India Reddick meticulously recorded the events of the trip. The publication of Crusader without Violence, followed the trip.

In January 1960 King praised Reddick for being a ‘‘friend, not only to me and to Coretta, but to our total movement’’ (Papers 5:356). Reddick, however, paid a high price for supporting the movement, when he was fired from his post as chair of the Alabama State College History Department by President Councill Trenholm at the request of Governor John Patterson. In Reddick’s defense, King released a statement extolling the historian’s ‘‘unswerving devotion to the ideals of American democracy, and his basic commitment to the ethical principles of the Christian faith.’’ He further admonished Governor Patterson and the State of Alabama for sinking to ‘‘a new low’’ by ‘‘seeking to bring a halt to the creative movement for human rights by making an example of a man who has committed no crime’’ (King, 16 June 1960). Reddick was fired in June 1960. His colleagues English teachers and MIA stalwarts Mary Fair Burks and Jo Ann Robinson, resigned at the close of the spring semester.

The following fall Reddick began teaching at Coppin State Teachers College in Baltimore, Maryland. Although no longer in Alabama, Reddick continued to work with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), providing content for the organization’s newsletter. In addition, Reddick continued to offer King suggestions on his public statements. After it was announced that King would receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Reddick wrote King, offering ideas for his acceptance speech. ‘‘I believe that you would want to say that you accept the award for the thousands of Negro Americans and their white friends who have struggled for equality and democracy in America but have resolutely done so nonviolently’’ (Reddick, 25 November 1964). Reddick further suggested that King connect the civil rights struggle with the international liberation struggle by referring to the peace work in South Africa done by Nobel laureate Albert Lutuli. In the handwritten draft of his acceptance speech, King wrote: ‘‘You honor the dedicated pilots of our struggle, who have sat at the controls as the freedom movement soared into orbit. You honor, once again, Chief Lutuli of South Africa, whose struggles with and for his people, are still met with the most brutal expression of man’s inhumanity to man’’ (King, Acceptance Address For Nobel Peace Prize, 108).

In 1978 Reddick accepted a position teaching African American history at Dillard University in New Orleans. He retired in 1987, after 40 years of teaching. Following his death in 1995 the Association of Third World Studies honored Reddick’s academic contributions by establishing the Lawrence Dunbar Reddick Memorial Scholarship Award.


Introduction, in Papers 4:31; 5:3, 4, 25.

King, ‘‘Acceptance Address for the Nobel Peace Prize,’’ in Call to Conscience, eds.Carson and Shepard, 2001.

King, Address Delivered during ‘‘A Salute to Dr. and Mrs. Martin Luther King,’’ Dexter Avenue
Baptist Church, 31 January 1960, in Papers 5:351–357.

King, Statement on the firing of Reddick, 16 June 1960, MLKP-MBU.

King to Mary Fair Burks, 5 April 1960, in Papers 5:406–408.

Reddick, ‘‘The Bus Boycott in Montgomery,’’ Dissent 3 (Spring 1956): 1–11.

Reddick, Crusader without Violence, 1959.

Reddick to King, 25 November 1964, MLKJP-GAMK.

Ray, Sandy Frederick (1898-1979)
Ray, Sandy Frederick (1898-1979) Next entry

Named by Martin Luther King, Jr., as one of the strongest orators in the African American church, Sandy Ray was one of many talented ministers who, through his association with Martin Luther King, Sr., served as a role model for King, Jr.

Born in Texas, Ray was King, Sr.’s closest friend while they attended Morehouse College’s three-year minister’s degree program. After graduating in 1930, Ray served Baptist churches in LaGrange, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Columbus, Ohio; and Macon, Georgia, before being called to Brooklyn, New York’s Cornerstone Baptist Church in 1944, where he served as pastor until his death. Ray was one of six candidates nominated for president of the National Baptist Convention (NBC) in 1953. Beginning in 1954, he presided over New York’s Empire Missionary Baptist Convention for many years.

Throughout his life, Ray remained close to the Kings. King, Jr., remarked during a March 1956 speech in New York, ‘‘I’m glad to see Rev. Sandy Ray out there.… You know, for years he was ‘Uncle Sandy’ to me. In fact, I did not know he was not related to me by blood until I was 12 years old’’ (Herndon, ‘‘Sidelights of a ‘Kingly’ Meeting’’). Earlier in the month Ray had attended a Montgomery Improvement Association mass meeting in support of the Montgomery bus boycott. It was at Ray’s parsonage at Cornerstone Baptist that King recuperated after being stabbed in September 1958 by Izola Ware Curry.

Ray supported the efforts of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by serving as a member of the steering committee for a June 1961 fundraising effort in New York City. He was also a founding member of the board of directors of the Gandhi Society for Human Rights. On the afternoon that Ray dedicated Cornerstone Baptist’s community center in 1966, King delivered the sermon ‘‘Guidelines for a Constructive Church’’ there. Ray delivered the eulogy at the funeral of King’s mother, Alberta Williams King, in 1974.


Donald T. Ferron, Notes on MIA mass meeting at Hutchinson Street Baptist Church, in Papers 3:150–151.

Cholly Herndon, ‘‘Sidelights of a ‘Kingly’ Meeting in Brooklyn,’’ New York Amsterdam News, 31 March 1956.

King, Guidelines for a Constructive Church, Sermon Delivered at Cornerstone Baptist Church, 29 May 1966, CBCR.

King, Sr., with Riley, Daddy King, 1980.

Ramachandran, G. (1904-1995)
Ramachandran, G. (1904-1995) Next entry

G. Ramachandran, a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, served as the secretary of the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi (Gandhi National Memorial Fund), which co-sponsored Martin Luther King’s 1959 India trip. King thanked Ramachandran for his hospitality during his trip to India, writing that Ramachandran’s interpretations of Gandhi ‘‘left an indelible imprint on my thinking’’ (Papers 5:212).

Born in 1904, in Perumthanni, Kerala, India, Ramachandran graduated from the Visva-Bharati at Santiniketan in 1925. As a disciple of Gandhi, Ramachandran helped lead and the salt march in Tamil Nadu and the movement against the treatment of untouchables. In 1947 Ramachandran founded the Gandhigram at Madurai, a rural college based on Gandhian principles.

On 27 December 1958 Ramachandran wrote King, inviting him and Coretta Scott King to spend a month in India. ‘‘We in India have watched with sympathy and admiration the nonviolent movements of the Negroes in America to achieve their full equality, in law and in spirit,’’ Ramachandran wrote. ‘‘It would be good if you could share with the Indian people your own experiences and thoughts,’’ and ‘‘study how Mahatma Gandhi evolved the techniques of peaceful action to solve innumerable social and national problems in India’’ (Papers 4:553). King accepted the invitation, visiting India in February and March 1959. King and his party dined with Ramachandran in New Delhi on 6 March.

King remained in contact with Ramachandran for several years after his trip to India. In 1961 Ramachandran asked King to write a statement on the application of Gandhian principles to nuclear disarmament for publication in Gandhi Marg, a quarterly journal of Gandhian thought. King complied and composed a bold statement, arguing that the ‘‘civilized world stands on the brink of nuclear annihilation. No longer can any sensible person talk glibly about preparation for war. The present crisis calls for sober thinking, reasonable negotiation and moral commitment.’’ Without this kind of nonviolent direct action, King wrote: ‘‘The choice is no longer between violence and nonviolence, it is either nonviolence or nonexistence’’ (King, 23; 24).

Ramachandran remained committed to Gandhian ideals throughout his life, founding the Madhavi Mandiram Loka Seva Trust in 1980, by donating his property to support a self-sustaining village for women and children. He died on 17 January 1995 at the age of 91.


Introduction, in Papers 5:2–12.

King, ‘‘Gandhi and the World Crisis: A Symposium,’’ Gandhi Marg 6, no.1 (January 1962): 23–24.

King to Ramachandran, 19 May 1959, in Papers 5:211–212.

Ramachandran to King, 27 December 1958, in Papers 4:552–553.

Ramachandran to King, 6 December 1961, MLJJP-GAMK.

Ramachandran, Gandhi, 1967.

Raby, Albert (1933-1988)
Raby, Albert (1933-1988) Next entry

Albert Raby, convener of the coalition of Chicago civil rights groups known as the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO), worked closely with Martin Luther King from 1965 to 1967. After King brought the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) north to launch its Chicago Campaign in January 1966, he told an Ebony reporter that he had chosen to come to that city, ‘‘mainly because of Al Raby. I had been watching Al for some time and I must say that I became enormously impressed with his work and with the sincerity of his commitment’’ (‘‘Dr. King Carries Fight,’’ 102).

Raby was born in Chicago in 1933. After his father died when he was still a baby, his mother struggled to raise four children on her own. Before and after school Raby delivered groceries and sold newspapers, before dropping out entirely without finishing the eighth grade. When he was 20, Raby was drafted into the Army. After his discharge he enrolled in night school, earning his elementary and high school diplomas in two years. He then obtained a certificate in teaching at Chicago Teachers College.

In 1960 Raby began teaching seventh grade at an all-black school. In 1962 he became actively involved in Teachers for Integrated Education, a local movement demanding that the city address inequality in the schools. As the teachers’ delegate to the emerging CCCO, Raby was outspoken and soon was selected as the CCCO’s convener, making him the group’s chief organizer and spokesman. Raby successfully organized a school boycott on 22 October 1963, prompting 300,000 students to stay home from school to demand integrated and improved public education. Demonstrations escalated in June 1965, when Raby and hundreds of others were arrested while blocking a major downtown intersection.

In early July 1965, responding to Raby’s appeal for assistance, King agreed to go to Chicago later that month for a three-day mobilization during which he and Raby spoke at over a dozen neighborhood rallies. Seeking to focus attention on the plight of urban African Americans in the North, King and his associates at SCLC decided they should go to Chicago, moving there in January 1966.

Shortly thereafter, Raby and King became co-chairs of a new organization called the Chicago Freedom Movement, a coalition of CCCO, SCLC, and other Chicago civil rights organizations. Throughout the year, the pair collaborated on countless demonstrations, community gatherings, and meetings with city officials while, attempting to end racist education, housing, and employment practices. Raby was with King when segregationists in Chicago’s Lawn and Gage Park district pelted marchers, who were advocating for open housing, with rocks.

In August 1966 the campaign’s efforts culminated in a summit agreement on open housing among real estate businessmen, civic and religious groups, Mayor Richard Daley, and the Chicago Freedom Movement. While the city’s business and government leaders agreed to several concessions on housing, the agreement fell short of achieving city-wide desegregation. Although King and Raby continued to work together into 1967, SCLC largely shifted its priorities away from Chicago, leaving behind its Operation Breadbasket program under the leadership of Jesse Jackson.

Raby resigned from CCCO in 1967 to study history at the University of Chicago. In 1970 he entered politics as a delegate to the Illinois Constitutional Convention, and in 1973 he began working in the administration of Illinois Governor Dan Walker as a liaison to the state’s housing authority. After losing a close election for Chicago alderman in 1975, he joined President Jimmy Carter’s administration in Washington, D.C. Two years later Raby was in Ghana working as the director of Peace Corps volunteers. He returned to Chicago in 1982 to run the successful election campaign of Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington. Raby later served on the city’s Human Relations Commission. Raby died of a heart attack in 1988 at the age of 55.


Branch, At Canaan’s Edge, 2006.

Coordinating Council of Community Organizations, 90th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 113 (12 July 1967): 18513.

‘‘Dr. King Carries Fight to Northern Slums,’’ Ebony, April 1966, 94-102.

Robert McClory, ‘‘The Activist,’’ Chicago Tribune, 17 April 1983.

Quill, Michael Joseph (1905-1966)
Quill, Michael Joseph (1905-1966) Next entry

Near the end of the Montgomery bus boycott, Martin Luther King received a letter of support from the leaders of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) of America. International President Mike Quill and Secretary-Treasurer Matthew Guinan congratulated King ‘‘for the mature and courageous leadership you have given not only to the people of Alabama but all Americans in the fight to wipe out the scourge of segregation from our national life’’ (Papers 3:440).

Quill was born in Kilgarvan, County Kerry, Ireland, on 18 September 1905. His family supported the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during Ireland’s struggle for independence from Britain, and Quill served in the IRA between 1919 and 1923. He emigrated to the United States in 1926, and remained involved in IRA supported activities through its U.S. affiliate, Clan na Gael. In New York Quill secured work with the Interborough Rapid Transit subway line. In 1934 he and other members of Clan na Gael helped organize subway workers into the new TWU. In 1935 he was elected president and remained in that office until his death.

The TWU joined the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1937, and the union quickly organized workers for most of New York’s subway lines. By the end of World War II, the TWU had expanded to Philadelphia, Chicago, and Miami. Quill was elected head of the New York CIO in 1949, and became a national vice president in 1950. He later opposed the CIO’s merger with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) to form the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), in part due to his opposition to racial discrimination in the AFL.

Quill was a consistent advocate for the civil rights movement and for the activities of King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He served as a vice chairman of the April 1959 Youth March for Integrated Schools. In 1961 Quill invited King to speak at TWU’s 11th convention. King accepted, and he called on his audience to be ‘‘maladjusted’’ to ‘‘economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxury to the few’’ and to ‘‘the madness of militarism’’ (King, 5 October 1961). After the speech Quill noted, ‘‘if you are looking for maladjusted people, you came to the right place’’ (King, 5 October 1961). Quill served on the board of directors of the Gandhi Society for Human Rights and, in 1963, presented King with a check for $10,000 at a Gandhi Society luncheon. King thanked him in a 14 June letter, writing: ‘‘You and the members of your Union have proved to be real and abiding friends of those of us who are struggling for freedom and dignity in the Southland.’’

In January 1966 Quill collapsed after being jailed in the course of a massive New York transit strike. The strike was settled in favor of the union, but Quill died a few weeks later, on 28 January 1966.


King, America’s Greatest Crisis, 5 October 1961, TWUC-NNU-LA.

King to Quill, 14 June 1963, TWUC-NNU-LA.

Quill to King, 27 November 1956, in Papers 3:440.

Quill, Mike Quill, 1985.

Proctor, Hilda Stewart (1905-1984)
Proctor, Hilda Stewart (1905-1984) Next entry

In 1958, in addition to her other civil rights activities, Hilda Proctor worked as Martin Luther King’s personal secretary for seven months while Maude Ballou, his regular assistant, was on maternity leave.

Hilda Stewart Proctor was the great-niece of Harriet Tubman and was born on 5 April 1905, in Boston, Massachusetts, to British parents. During her teenage years, she was a member of the Fellowship of Youths for Peace, a precursor to her involvement with the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). Proctor studied Religion and Social Studies at Boston University while she continued her education as a violin student at the New England Conservatory of Music. Before working for King, she was employed by several black newspapers, including the New York Amsterdam News and the Pittsburgh Courier, where she worked for associate editor George Schuyler. Following her work with these publications, Proctor served as private secretary for the president of Fisk University, Charles S. Johnson.

In March 1958 Proctor moved to Alabama to work as King’s secretary in Ballou’s absence. King appreciated Proctor’s ‘‘helpfulness and genuine concern,’’ particularly in the extra assistance she provided while King was in New York recovering from his stabbing in late 1958 (Papers 4:550). Although Proctor only worked for King in Alabama until August of that year, the two remained friends through correspondence and occasional visits. Prior to King’s 1959 India trip, Proctor volunteered to help him with any extra office work he might have: ‘‘As any friend would do who is interested in getting you off to India’’ (Papers 4:554). The respect that Proctor had for King’s work was evident in a letter she wrote after leaving Montgomery. She complained that in her new community, she ‘‘[did] not find the people on fire with the problem that you are giving your life for … I have to watch myself that I do not fall into this complacency’’ (Proctor, 15 April 1964).

After working for King, Proctor spent time in New York, Hawaii, and Florida. She continued to be active in the civil rights movement, working with such organizations as FOR, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the National Urban League. Proctor died on 21 June 1984.


King to Proctor, 22 December 1958, in Papers 4:549–550.

Proctor to King, 27 May 1958, in Papers 4:412–413.

Proctor to King, 31 December 1958, in Papers 4:554.

Proctor to King, 22 May 1959, in Papers 5:212–214.

Proctor to King, 15 April 1964, MLKJP-GAMK.

Schuyler, Black and Conservative, 1966.

Pritchett, Laurie (1926-2000)
Pritchett, Laurie (1926-2000) Next entry

As police chief of Albany, Georgia, Laurie Pritchett gained national attention when he effectively thwarted the efforts of the Albany Movement in 1961–1962. Pritchett’s nonviolent response to demonstrations, including the mass arrests of protesters and the jailing of Martin Luther King, Jr. was seen as an effective strategy in bringing the campaign to an end before the movement could secure any concrete gains.

Pritchett was born on 9 December 1926, in Griffin, Georgia. Pritchett attended Auburn University and South Georgia College before graduating from the National Academy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Southern Police Institute at the University of Louisville. An Army veteran, he was also a decorated and distinguished member of numerous law enforcement organizations. By 1961 Pritchett had risen to become Albany’s Chief of Police.

In 1961 Charles Sherrod and Cordell Reagon of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) began to organize a grassroots movement in Albany, Georgia. Gaining the support of Albany State College students, local ministers, and others in the community, SNCC contested racial segregation in bus and train stations, libraries, parks, and hospitals; and discrimination in jury representation, voting, and employment. Pritchett ordered his officers to enforce the law without using violence in public and to make arrests under laws protecting the public order, rather than under the more legally unstable segregation laws. According to King, ‘‘Chief Pritchett felt that by directing his police to be nonviolent, he had discovered a new way to defeat the demonstrations’’ (King, 69). Pritchett, who had anticipated mass arrests, arranged to have access to jails in nearby cities available for the hundreds of arrested demonstrators. Pritchett also ordered his officers to enforce the law without using violence in public and to make arrests under laws protecting the public order, rather than under the more legally unstable segregation laws.

At the invitation of W. G. Anderson, president of the Albany Movement, King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) arrived in Albany in December 1961. King’s presence in Albany drew national attention to the protests. When King and Ralph Abernathy were found guilty of parading without a permit in July 1962, an anonymous man paid their bail. King wanted to remain in jail to pressure city officials to negotiate in good faith with the Albany Movement, and in a statement following his release, King said: ‘‘This is one time that I’m out of jail and I’m not happy to be out’’ (King, Statement, 12 July 1962). King and Abernathy were arrested again in late July, but were given suspended sentences and released. The judgment brought much relief to Pritchett, who was well aware throughout the campaign that demonstrations increased when King was jailed. 

Throughout the movement, white Albany city officials never followed through on any of the compromises reached with protesters. In December 1961 demonstrations were temporarily halted by the promise that bus and train stations would be desegregated, protesters would be released from jail, and a biracial committee would be formed to discuss segregation issues in Albany. Albany city officials stalled on implementing these changes, and did not uphold all parts of the agreement. Despite the dishonesty of some Albany officials, however, King believed Pritchett was inherently a good person. ‘‘I sincerely believe that Chief Pritchett is a nice man, a basically decent man, but he’s so caught up in a system that he ends up saying one thing to us behind closed doors and then we open the newspaper and he’s said something else to the press’’ (King, Address, 12 July 1962).

In August 1962, King left Albany with no tangible civil rights gains achieved. While many in the press called the movement ‘‘one of the most stunning defeats’’ in King’s career, Pritchett was lauded for his use of nonviolence (‘‘King Suffered’’). Pritchett’s nonviolent approach left an indelible imprint on King, who later wrote of his indignation at Pritchett’s use of ‘‘the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral ends of racial injustice’’ (King, 99).

After leaving Albany, Pritchett served as chief of police in High Point, North Carolina, until his retirement in 1975. Although King and Pritchett were adversaries in the 1960s, Pritchett later considered King a ‘‘close personal friend’’ (Pritchett, 23 April 1976). He died in 2000, at the age of 73.


Carson, In Struggle, 1981.

King, Address at Shiloh Baptist Church, 12 July 1962, GDL-G-Ar.

King, Statement on release from jail in Albany, Ga., 12 July 1962, MLKJP-GAMK.

King, Why We Can’t Wait, 1964.

‘‘King Suffered ‘Stunning Defeat Here,’ Papers States,’’ Albany Herald, 21 December 1961.

Pritchett, Interview by James Reston, 23 April 1976, SOHP-NcU.

Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom (1957)
Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom (1957) Next entry

On 17 May 1957, nearly 25,000 demonstrators gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., for a Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, featuring three hours of spirituals, songs, and speeches that urged the federal government to fulfill the three-year-old Brown v. Board of Education decision. The last speech of the day was reserved for Martin Luther King’s ‘‘Give Us the Ballot'' oration, which captured public attention and placed him in the national spotlight as a major leader of the civil rights movement.

On 14 February 1957, King and members of the newly organized Southern Leaders Conference (later known as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference [SCLC]) urged Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration to publicly condemn segregationists’ unwillingness to comply with the Brown decision. In a telegram sent to President Eisenhower, the organizers of the demonstration stated that if Eisenhower would not maintain law and order in the South, ‘‘we shall have to lead our people to you in the capitol in order to call the nations attention to the violence and organized terror directed toward [men], women, and children who merely seek freedom’’ (Papers 4:134). When the Eisenhower administration failed to make a public stand in favor of desegregation, King and Thomas Kilgore, Jr., National Director of the Pilgrimage, solicited financial contributions from leaders throughout the country, and asked them to attend the Prayer Pilgrimage which was being organized by Bayard Rustin and others. ‘‘We’re moving up the highway of freedom toward the city of equality … our nation has a date with destiny and we can’t be late,’’ King told an audience in New York, imploring whites and African Americans to join the pilgrimage (Booker, ‘‘Date with Destiny’’).

The pilgrimage was not without internal controversy and civil rights leaders differed on its intent. A. Philip Randolph intended the event to relate to his 1941 effort to use the threat of mass protests to secure civil rights reform. When 77 church, labor, and civil rights supporters met on 5 April in Washington to finalize plans for the pilgrimage, moderates Adam Clayton Powell and Clarence Mitchell sought to ensure that the pilgrimage would not embarrass the Eisenhower administration, and would instead be used to commemorate the Brown decision through prayer.

Although the event attracted less than one half of its intended participants, the pilgrimage featured singing by Mahalia Jackson, and speeches from such prominent leaders as Randolph, Powell, Mordecai Johnson,Fred Shuttlesworth, Roy Wilkins, and Charles Diggs. But it was King’s ‘‘Give Us the Ballot’’ that became the legacy of the pilgrimage. After the event James Hicks of the New York Amsterdam News wrote that King was now the ‘‘top Negro leader’’ and that the ‘‘Prayer Pilgrimage was the idea of Martin Luther King alone and no other Negro leader in America was enthusiastic about it’’ (Hicks, ‘‘King Emerges’’). Hicks’ article struck a nerve with Wilkins, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) who promptly wrote to the paper to rebuke his claims. Wilkins also sent a letter to King, reminding him that the NAACP had covered many of the expenses of the pilgrimage.

Nonetheless, King had gained national prominence. When King preached at Philadelphia’s Zion Baptist Church just two days after the pilgrimage ‘‘a crowd estimated at more than 1,800 persons crammed into the church, and hundreds of others who failed to gain admittance stood outside to get a glimpse of the nation’s most talked-about leader’’ (Papers 4:15).


James Booker, ‘‘‘Date with Destiny in DC’—Rev. King,’’ New York Amsterdam News, 11 May 1957.

James Hicks, ‘‘King Emerges as Top Negro Leader,’’ New York Amsterdam News, 1 June 1957.

Introduction, in Papers 4:13–17.

King, ‘‘Give Us the Ballot,’’ Address Delivered at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, 17 May 1957, in Papers 4:208–215.

King to Eisenhower, 14 February 1957, in Papers 4:132-134.

Powell, Mary Louise Stamper (1918- )
Powell, Mary Louise Stamper (1918- ) Next entry

As a friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., Mary Powell helped initiate the courtship between King and Coretta Scott. After his first date with Scott, King told Powell, ‘‘I owe you a thousand dollars for introducing me to this girl’’ (Scott King, 56).

Mary Louise Stamper was born in Atlanta on 7 September 1918. She attended Lincoln Academy in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, and graduated from Spelman College in 1941. She went on to receive her MA from Atlanta University in 1950. She met King while he was studying for his doctorate at Boston University and Powell was attending the New England Conservatory of Music. In early 1952, after King asked Powell if she knew of any ‘‘nice, attractive young ladies’’ for him to date, she described Coretta Scott, her schoolmate at the Conservatory, and gave Scott’s telephone number to King (Scott King, 53). Scott and King were married the following year.

Powell later exchanged letters with King, encouraging him to use the Christian principle, ‘‘Love Thy Enemy’’ in Montgomery, Alabama. Although Powell was supportive of King’s aims, she was sometimes critical of his methods, expressing disapproval of King’s encouragement of mass civil disobedience: ‘‘If you and others have  earned the right to go to jail, it is your [privilege] if you deem it so. But going to jail  on a group basis will accomplish little but confusion’’ (Powell, 29 February 1960).


(Scott) King, My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr., 1969.

Powell to King, 29 February 1960, MLKP-MBU.

Powell, Adam Clayton, Jr. (1908-1972)
Powell, Adam Clayton, Jr. (1908-1972) Next entry

As a minister and congressman, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., was a prominent and controversial figure in the struggle for civil rights. Although Powell and Martin Luther King were initially supportive of one another’s work, King lost trust in Powell in 1960, after the congressman threatened to lie to the press about King’s friendship with his advisor Bayard Rustin. Despite their differences the two continued to publicly cooperate for several years; however, their relationship further eroded when Powell publicly renounced nonviolence in 1968.

Born 29 November 1908, in New Haven, Connecticut, Powell grew up in New York City, where his father was the pastor of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church. After graduating from Colgate University in 1930, Powell returned to Harlem, where he became an assistant pastor at Abyssinian while earning a master’s degree in religious education from Columbia University (1932). When his father retired in 1937, Powell became the new pastor of Abyssinian, ministering to a congregation of over 10,000 members. Powell used the pulpit to work for social change, organizing his community around issues related to discrimination in employment and government services. Powell headed the ‘‘Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work’’ campaign, which succeeded in opening up jobs to African Americans at New York stores, utility companies, and city buses.

In 1941 Powell became the first African American elected to the New York City Council. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives three years later, representing a newly formed congressional district in Harlem. In 1950, in collaboration with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), he put forward a legislative rider barring federal funds from segregated institutions. Although the rider did not pass, Powell reintroduced the legislation so many times that it became known as the Powell Amendment. The amendment’s content was eventually incorporated into the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In February 1956 Powell appealed to President Dwight D. Eisenhower to support the Montgomery bus boycott and take responsibility for ‘‘safeguarding the lives, physical security and civil liberties of the 115 Negroes arrested for peaceably and nonviolently trying to obtain what the Constitution promises’’ (Powell, 22 February 1956). Powell personally contributed to the Montgomery Improvement Association and called King a ‘‘brilliant young prophet’’ (Powell, 17 May 1957). At King’s invitation, Powell later joined the advisory committee of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

Powell and King traveled together to Ghana to celebrate that country’s independence in 1957. When Powell was facing a difficult reelection the following year, King pledged his ‘‘wholehearted support,’’ writing: ‘‘As I see it, the attacks upon you are in reality an effort to destroy the Negroes’ political independence, and remove from the legislature an uncompromising voice’’ (Papers 4:421).

In the summer of 1960, Powell threatened to tell the press that King was involved in a homosexual affair with Rustin unless King called off plans to demonstrate at the upcoming Democratic National Convention. ‘‘I have always vigorously defended you against your most severe critics,’’ King wrote Powell in response. ‘‘In spite of all,’’ King told him, ‘‘I will hold nothing in my heart against you and I will not go to the press to answer or condemn you’’ (Papers 5:481). The incident blew over without much public scandal, and relations between King and Powell appeared to normalize. When Powell was named chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee the following year, King wrote him praising his ‘‘unswerving dedication and loyalty without compromise to the civil rights struggle of the Negro people’’ (King, 28 January 1961). As chairman, Powell played a crucial role in moving Lyndon Johnson’s progressive War on Poverty legislation through Congress.

Although they continued to encounter patches of disagreement, King spoke occasionally at Abyssinian Baptist Church in the early 1960s, raising funds for SCLC. Powell’s influential career was undermined by scandal, including allegations of tax evasion and misuse of government funds. Following an investigation of Powell’s conduct, in 1967 the House voted not to seat him. He challenged the decision, winning a special election to fill his own seat, but was barred from Congress. In March 1968 Powell rejected nonviolence and told an assembled crowd of thousands, ‘‘the day of Martin Luther King has come to an end’’ (Johnson, ‘‘Cheering Harlem Throngs’’). King was assassinated less than two weeks later. Powell won reelection, and in 1969 the Supreme Court ruled that his expulsion from Congress was unconstitutional. Powell was reinstated, but without seniority. In 1970 he lost a close reelection bid to Charles Rangel. Powell died two years later on 4 April 1972.


Branch, At Canaan’s Edge, 2006.

Branch, Parting the Waters, 1988.

Introduction in Papers 5:31–32.

Thomas A. Johnson, ‘‘Cheering Harlem Throngs Walk with Powell in Rain,’’ New York Times, 24 March 1968.

King to Powell, 10 June 1958, in Papers 4:420–421.

King to Powell, 24 June 1960, in Papers 5:480–481.

King to Powell, 28 January 1961, MLKJP-GAMK.

Powell, ‘‘Address at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom,’’ 17 May 1957, MLKP-MBU.

Powell to Eisenhower, 22 February 1956, WCFO-KAbE.

Porter, John Thomas (1921-2006)
Porter, John Thomas (1921-2006) Next entry

As someone who was greatly influenced by Martin Luther King in his early days at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, John T. Porter served as one of several key pastoral contacts for the Birmingham Campaign.

Porter was born on 4 April 1931, in Birmingham, Alabama. He earned a BS from Alabama State College in 1955 and his BD from Morehouse College in 1958. While a student, he served as King’s pulpit assistant at Dexter from 1954 to 1955. Porter remembered King’s mentorship fondly, remarking: ‘‘He was a tremendous inspiration to me during his first year in the pastorate’’ (Porter, 10 August 1990). After Porter’s departure from Dexter King wrote ‘‘We miss you a great deal here at Dexter,’’ and recalled ‘‘the devoted service that you rendered to our church while you were here’’ (King, 15 July 1955).

After receiving his divinity degree from Morehouse College in 1958, Porter served as a pastor at Detroit’s First Baptist Institutional Church before being called to Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham in December 1962. King preached at Porter’s installation service at Sixth Avenue, calling Porter an ‘‘eloquent prophet,’’ suited to ‘‘this great and challenging city’’ (King, 9 December 1962).

In addition to opening his church for SCLC in April 1963, he also played an active role in the nonviolent campaign to desegregate Birmingham. Porter disobeyed the Alabama injunction against mass demonstrations, and was jailed two days after King for marching on 14 April, Easter Sunday. A statue now standing in Birmingham’s Kelly Ingram Park, the site of many of the demonstrations, commemorates his Easter arrest with ministers Nelson H. Smith and A. D. King. Although Porter was an avid supporter and participant in the Birmingham Campaign, he opposed James Bevel’s plan to have children march in demonstrations.

Porter served as pastor of Sixth Avenue Baptist Church until 2000, helping the church grow into one of the state’s largest, while also serving in the Alabama legislature from 1974 to 1989. He died on 15 February 2006.


King, ‘‘A Knock at Midnight,’’ 9 December 1962, JTPP.

King to Porter, 15 July 1955, DABCC.

Porter, Interview by King Papers Project staff, 10 August 1990.

Popper, Hermine Rich Isaacs (1915-1968)
Popper, Hermine Rich Isaacs (1915-1968) Next entry

Hermine Popper, a critic, short story writer, and freelance editor, was hired in early 1958 by publishing house Harper & Brothers to edit Martin Luther King’s account of the Montgomery bus boycott, Stride Toward Freedom (1958).

Popper was born in New York City, and received her BA (1936) from Radcliffe College. Two years later, she became managing editor and film critic of Theater Arts Magazine, where she worked until 1947. From 1953 to 1956, Popper served as an editor for Harper & Brothers, before leaving the publishing house to become a freelance book editor.

In Popper’s initial review of chapter one of Stride, she wrote in a 21 March 1958 letter that it was a ‘‘pleasure’’ to work on the Montgomery project, and reassured King that her job was ‘‘to convert, as it were, an expert orator’s style into a writer’s style’’ (Papers 4:386). Although the two primarily exchanged ideas by mail, Popper did visit Montgomery to help expedite the volume’s production. In Stride, King thanked Popper for her ‘‘invaluable editorial assistance,’’ which ultimately led to her involvement in the editing of two of King’s later books, Why We Can’t Wait (1964) and Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967) (King, 11). )

Aside from editing, Popper worked for the Urban League of Westchester County for more than 15 years, and wrote short stories appearing in Harper’s and other prominent magazines. She died of cancer at the age of 53.


King, Stride Toward Freedom, 1958.

Popper to King, 21 March 1958, in Papers 4:386; 388.

Poor People’s Campaign
Poor People’s Campaign Next entry

Martin Luther King announced the Poor People’s Campaign at a staff retreat for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in November 1967. Seeking a ‘‘middle ground between riots on the one hand and timid supplications for justice on the other,’’ King planned for an initial group of 2,000 poor people to descend on Washington, D.C., southern states and northern cities to meet with government officials to demand jobs, unemployment insurance, a fair minimum wage, and education for poor adults and children designed to improve their self-image and self-esteem (King, 29 November 1967).

Suggested to King by Marion Wright, director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Legal Defense and Education Fund in Jackson, Mississippi, the Poor People’s Campaign was seen by King as the next chapter in the struggle for genuine equality. Desegregation and the right to vote were essential, but King believed that African Americans and other minorities would never enter full citizenship until they had economic security. Through nonviolent direct action, King and SCLC hoped to focus the nation’s attention on economic inequality and poverty. ‘‘This is a highly significant event,’’ King told delegates at an early planning meeting, describing the campaign as ‘‘the beginning of a new co-operation, understanding, and a determination by poor people of all colors and backgrounds to assert and win their right to a decent life and respect for their culture and dignity’’ (SCLC, 15 March 1968). Many leaders of American Indian, Puerto Rican, Mexican American, and poor white communities pledged themselves to the Poor People’s Campaign.

Some in SCLC thought King’s campaign too ambitious, and the demands too amorphous. Although King praised the simplicity of the campaign’s goals, saying, ‘‘it’s as pure as a man needing an income to support his family,’’ he knew that the campaign was inherently different from others SCLC had attempted (King, 29 November 1967). ‘‘We have an ultimate goal of freedom, independence, self-determination, whatever we want to call it, but we aren’t going to get all of that now, and we aren’t going to get all of that next year,’’ he commented at a staff meeting on 17 January 1968. ‘‘Let’s find something that is so possible, so achievable, so pure, so simple that even the backlash can’t do much to deny it. And yet something so non-token and so basic to life that even the black nationalists can’t disagree with it that much’’ (King, 17 January 1968).

After King’s assassination in April 1968, SCLC decided to go on with the campaign under the leadership of Ralph Abernathy, SCLC’s new president. On Mother’s Day, 12 May 1968, thousands of women, led by Coretta Scott King, formed the first wave of demonstrators. The following day, Resurrection City, a temporary settlement of tents and shacks, was built on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Braving rain, mud, and summer heat, protesters stayed for over a month. Demonstrators made daily pilgrimages to various federal agencies to protest and demand economic justice. Mid-way through the campaign, Robert Kennedy, whose wife had attended the Mother’s Day opening of Resurrection City, was assassinated. Out of respect for the campaign, his funeral procession passed through Resurrection City. The Department of the Interior forced Resurrection City to close on 24 June 1968, after the permit to use park land expired.

Although the campaign succeeded in small ways, such as qualifying 200 counties for free surplus food distribution, and securing promises from several federal agencies to hire poor people to help run programs for the poor, Abernathy felt these concessions were insufficient.


Ben A. Franklin, ‘‘5,000 Open Poor People’s Campaign in Washington,’’ New York Times,13 May 1968.

Ben A. Franklin, ‘‘Poor People’s Drive Makes Gains, but Fails to Reach Goals,’’ New York Times, 30 June 1968.

King, Address at workshop on civil disobedience at SCLC staff retreat, 29 November 1967, MLKJP-GAMK.

King, Address delivered at SCLC staff meeting, 17 January 1968, MLKEC.

Joseph A. Loftus, ‘‘City of the Poor Shuts Peacefully,’’ New York Times, 25 June 1968.

McKnight, Last Crusade, 1998.

SCLC, Press release, ‘‘Black and White Together,’’ 15 March 1968, BPD-AB.


Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC)
Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC) Next entry

The Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC) grew out of the September 1961 convention of the National Baptist Convention (NBC), which was held in Kansas City, Missouri. This event demonstrated the hostility of the NBC’s leadership to the use of nonviolent direct action tactics such as those used by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). NBC president J. H. Jackson had previously denounced the tactics of SNCC’s lunch counter sit-ins and CORE’s 1961 Freedom Rides, which Martin Luther King endorsed.

A group of younger ministers led by Gardner Taylor, sought to overthrow Jackson and assume the leadership of the NBC. The convention ended with Jackson’s decisive victory over Taylor for president and King’s removal as vice president of the NBC’s National Sunday School and Baptist Training Union.

After Taylor’s defeat, he and other ministers left the NBC to form a splinter organization, PNBC, founded November 1961, in Cincinnati, Ohio. The new Baptist alliance championed the more militant direct action campaigns of SCLC, CORE, and SNCC. After the PNBC’s first president, T. M. Chambers, left in 1966, Taylor was elected PNBC president in 1967.

After King’s assassination in 1968, Taylor remarked in that year’s annual address to the PNBC: ‘‘As we remember Dr. Martin King’s trials and triumphs, we remember our part in them. Progressive Baptists may take justifiable pride in the unassailable fact which must now forever be true, that when he had no spiritual (denominational) home among Black Baptists, cast out from the house of his Fathers, Progressive Baptists gave him a Black Baptist (denominational) residence’’ (Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., ‘‘Civil Rights Advocacy and Activism’’).


Garrow, Bearing the Cross, 1986.

Introduction, in Papers 5:34.

Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., ‘‘Civil Rights Advocacy and Activism,’’ http://¼com_content&task¼view&id¼26&Itemid¼44.

Personalism Next entry

Central to King’s approach to preaching and religion was the concept of a personal and knowable God. King described God in his sermon, ‘‘Living Under the Tensions of Modern Life,’’ as ‘‘a personal God, who’s concerned about us, who is our Father, who is our Redeemer. And this sense of religion and of this divine companionship says to us … that we are not lost in a universe fighting for goodness and for justice and love all by ourselves’’ (Papers 6:268). King’s belief that God is a higher being invested with a personality had its foundation in the theological school of personalism, which, according to King, is the ‘‘theory that the clue to the meaning of ultimate reality is found in personality’’ (King, 100).

King’s personalism developed and matured during his doctoral work at Boston University with Edgar Brightman and L. Harold DeWolf, two proponents of personalist theory. In his dissertation King firmly rejected the notion of an abstract God, writing, ‘‘The religious man has always recognized two fundamental religious values. One is fellowship with God, the other is trust in his goodness. Both of these imply the personality of God’’ (Papers 2:512). King retreated from any notion that God was, as theologian Karl Barth described, ‘‘‘wholly other.’ God is not a process projected somewhere [in] the lofty blue. God is not a divine hermit hiding himself in a cosmic cave … God is forever present with us’’ (Papers 6:97). To King, God was a personality who could be encountered, omprehensible to any individual and present throughout the universe. King scorned Barth’s ‘‘disdain for the very use of the word experience in a religious context,’’ and contended that ‘‘the very idea of God is an outgrowth of experience’’ (Papers 1:231; 233; 234).

King preached that the knowable God maintained a personal interest in each human soul and was most discernable through personal experience and biblical stories of Jesus’ life. In an April 1960 Christian Century article on his ‘‘personal trials,’’ King referred to his stabbing by Izola Curry and persistent death threats, writing: ‘‘The suffering and agonizing moments through which I have passed over the last few years have also drawn me closer to God. More than ever before I am convinced of the reality of a personal God’’ (King, ‘‘Suffering and Faith’’).

According to King, Jesus’ example in the Bible provided Christians with a personal life path: ‘‘God has set us a plan for the building of the soul: the life of Christ as it is revealed in the New Testament’’ (Papers 6:85). In a 1952 Christmas sermon King addressed ‘‘the Christlikeness of God,’’ and asserted that Jesus ‘‘brought God nearer to earth’’ (Papers 6:129).

Reflecting on the impact that personalism had on his ministry and life, King maintained
that his acceptance of personalist theology gave him ‘‘metaphysical and philosophical grounding for the idea of a personal God, and it gave me a metaphysical basis for the dignity and worth of all human personality’’ (King, 100).


Introduction, in Papers 2:1–37.

Introduction, in Papers 6:8–9.

King, ‘‘After Christmas, What?’’ 28 December 1952, in Papers 6:128–129.

King, ‘‘A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry

Nelson Wieman,’’ 15 April 1955, in Papers 2:339–544.

King, ‘‘Living Under the Tensions of Modern Life,’’ Sermon Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, September 1956, in Papers 6:262–270.

King, ‘‘Mastering Our Evil Selves’’ / ‘‘Mastering Ourselves,’’ 5 June 1949, in Papers 6:94–97.

King, ‘‘The Place of Reason and Experience in Finding God,’’ in Papers 1:230–236.

King, Sermon Conclusions, 30 November 1948–16 February 1949, in Papers 6:85.

King, Stride Toward Freedom, 1958.

King, ‘‘Suffering and Faith,’’ Christian Century 77 (27 April 1960): 510.

Peck, James (1914-1993)
Peck, James (1914-1993) Next entry

A radical pacifist, trade union proponent, and civil rights activist, James Peck wrote the introduction to a Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) reprint of Martin Luther  King’s article, ‘‘Our Struggle: The Story of Montgomery,’’ which originally appeared in Liberation. ‘‘By encouraging and supporting actions such as that in Montgomery,’’ Peck informed readers, ‘‘we who adhere to the principles of nonviolence hope to hasten complete abolition of segregation within our social system’’ (King, ‘‘Our Struggle,’’ 1957).

The son of a wealthy clothier, Peck was born in New York City and briefly attended Harvard University before becoming a full-time activist. Peck was interned for 28 months during World War II as a conscientious objector, and in 1947 he participated in CORE’s Journey of Reconciliation. Thereafter, he worked with the War Resisters League and CORE, editing the newsletter CORElator for 17 years.

During the Montgomery bus boycott, Peck helped the Montgomery Improvement Association raise funds by sending the group matchbooks bearing slogans. In 1960 King wrote the introduction to Peck’s pamphlet, ‘‘Cracking the Color Line: Non-Violent Direct Action Methods of Eliminating Racial Discrimination.’’ In the introduction King praised CORE for using ‘‘brains and imagination as well as good-will, self discipline, and persistence’’ (Papers 5:349).

Peck was the only participant in the original Journey of Reconciliation to join the Freedom Rides in 1961. When the bus he was riding arrived in Birmingham, Alabama, he was knocked unconscious and suffered a gash that required 53 stitches to close. In February 1962 Peck sent King a copy of his memoir Freedom Ride, informing King that the book’s chapter on Montgomery quoted ‘‘at length’’ from King’s Liberation article (Peck, 19 February 1962).

Although he was ousted from CORE in 1966 when that group adopted Black Power policies and abandoned its previous interracialism, Peck continued to be active in the movement to end the Vietnam War. He expressed his continuing admiration for King in a June 1966 letter to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference leader: ‘‘Despite the increasing clamor for ‘black power’ and ‘self-defense,’ you adhere to the principles of equality and nonviolence’’ (Peck, 27 June 1966).


King, Introduction to Cracking the Color Line: Non-Violent Direct Action Methods of Eliminating Racial Discrimination, 1960, in Papers 5:349.

King, ‘‘Our Struggle,’’ Liberation 1 (April 1956): 3–6.

King, ‘‘Our Struggle: The Story of Montgomery’’ (New York: CORE, 1957).

Peck, Freedom Ride, 1962.

Peck to King, 19 February 1962, MLKJP-GAMK.

Peck to King, 27 June 1966, MLKJP-GAMK.

Patterson, John Malcolm (1921- )
Patterson, John Malcolm (1921- ) Next entry

Patterson’s gubernatorial term in Alabama was a turbulent one due to his enforcement of state-sponsored segregation and the increase of civil rights activity in Alabama. During his tenure as governor the student sit-in movement was taking hold, and Martin Luther King was indicted for perjury for his 1956 and 1958 Alabama income tax returns (see State of Alabama v. M. L. King, Jr.). King felt that the charges against him were an ‘‘attempt on the part of the state of Alabama to harass me for the role that I have played in the civil rights struggle’’ (Papers 5:371).

Patterson, born in Goldville, Alabama, received his law degree from the University of Alabama in 1949. In 1954 he was elected attorney general of Alabama, and, in reaction to the Montgomery bus boycott, in 1956 he successfully barred the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from participating in activities in the state. In conjunction with the case, Patterson served King with a subpoena requiring him to testify regarding the NAACP’s policies toward fundraising, collecting dues, and soliciting new members.

After his indictment for perjury in 1960, King’s supporters took out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times entitled, ‘‘Heed Their Rising Voices,’’ requesting funds to support King’s defense, support student protesters, and the voting rights struggle. The fundraising appeal, however, led to unexpected problems when Patterson and other Alabama officials filed libel suits against the Times, King, and four Alabama ministers whose names were used in the advertisement, charging that it contained defamatory statements regarding the student protests. Patterson wrote King in May 1960, demanding that King publish a retraction to the fundraising appeal. The four Alabama ministers became part of the landmark free speech case, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan and Patterson dropped his case against King after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in their favor.

In addition to the lawsuits, the student sit-ins in Montgomery attracted additional publicity in 1960, when Patterson ordered the president of Alabama State College, H. Council Trenholm, to expel students and faculty participating in movement activities. King wrote Patterson expressing his disappointment at the anticipated ‘‘purge’’ of faculty, and affirming the teachers’ ‘‘academic freedom and the right of citizenship’’ (Papers 5:425; 426). After Patterson threatened to fire Trenholm, the beleaguered college president fired History professor L. D. Reddick, Jo Ann Robinson, and Mary Fair Burks resigned at the close of the spring semester.

Violent attacks against freedom riders in Anniston and Birmingham, Alabama, in 1961 drew media attention again, and the John F. Kennedy administration was forced to react. After several attempts to reach Patterson by phone to discuss the attacks on the freedom riders, U.S. attorney general Robert Kennedy sent Assistant Attorney General John Seigenthaler to speak with Patterson. At the conclusion of the meeting, Patterson reluctantly agreed to use state resources to protect the safety of the protesters. Within days of this incident, King hosted a mass meeting at Ralph Abernathy’s First Baptist Church in Montgomery to support the freedom riders. As the mass meeting progressed, a mob of whites throwing rocks, bricks, and Molotov cocktails surrounded the church, making it impossible for those in the mass meeting to leave. During the meeting, King took the podium and he placed much of the blame on Patterson, whose ‘‘consistent preaching of defiance of the law, his vitriolic public pronouncements, and his irresponsible actions created the atmosphere in which violence could thrive’’ (King, 21 May 1961). The Kennedy administration used federal marshals to protect the church until they were eventually replaced by Alabama National Guard troops under the governor’s control. King and the other protesters remained in the church until the mob was dispersed the following morning.

After Patterson’s term as governor ended in 1963 he practiced law in Montgomery. He was defeated in a 1966 bid for governor by Lurleen Wallace, wife of George Wallace, Patterson’s 1963 successor as Alabama governor and a staunch segregationist. In 1972 he ran unsuccessfully for Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, but was appointed to the State Court of Criminal Appeals in 1984, where he remained until his retirement in 1997.


Arsenault, Freedom Riders, 2006.

Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom in the South, ‘‘Heed Their Rising Voices,’’ in Papers 5:382.

Introduction, in Papers 5:25, 26.

King, Interview on Arrest following Indictment by Grand Jury of Montgomery County, 17 February 1960, in Papers 5:370–372.

King, Statement at Mass Meeting Supporting Freedom Rider, 21 May 1961, MLKJP-GAMK.

King to Fred D. Gray, 14 December 1960, in Papers 5:580.

King to Patrick Murphy Malin, Roy Wilkins, and Carl J. Megel, 16 June 1960, in Papers 5:471– 472.

King to Patterson, 14 April 1960, in Papers 5:425–426.

King to Patterson, 9 August 1960, in Papers 5:495–496.

Patterson, Interview by King Papers Project staff, 18 July 2001.

Patterson to King, 12 July 1956, in Papers 3:319–320.

Patterson to King, 9 May 1960, in Papers 5:456–458.

Operation Breadbasket (1962-1972)
Operation Breadbasket (1962-1972) Next entry

In 1962 the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) launched Operation Breadbasket in Atlanta. According to King, ‘‘the fundamental premise of Breadbasket is a simple one. Negroes need not patronize a business which denies them jobs, or advancement [or] plain courtesy’’ (King, 11 July 1967). ‘‘Many retail businesses and consumer-goods industries,’’ King explained, ‘‘deplete the ghetto by selling to Negroes without returning to the community any of the profits through fair hiring practices’’ (King, January 1967).

Operation Breadbasket was modeled after a selective patronage program developed by Leon Sullivan in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. King brought Sullivan to Atlanta in October 1962 to meet with local ministers about replicating the program. Breadbasket used the persuasive power of black ministers and the organizing strength of the churches to create economic opportunities in black communities. The group obtained employment statistics for industries selling their products in black communities and, if these statistics demonstrated that blacks were underemployed or restricted to menial positions, ministers from Operation Breadbasket asked the company to ‘‘negotiate a more equitable employment practice’’ (King, January 1967). If the company refused, clergy encouraged their parishioners to boycott selected products and picket businesses selling those products. By 1967 Atlanta’s Breadbasket had negotiated jobs bringing a total of $25 million a year in new income to the black community.

Operation Breadbasket expanded to Chicago in 1966 as part of SCLC’s Chicago Campaign. King called it SCLC’s ‘‘most spectacularly successful program’’ in Chicago (King, January 1967). Under the leadership of Chicago Theological Seminary student Jesse Jackson, Breadbasket targeted five businesses in the dairy industry. While three companies negotiated to add black jobs immediately, two complied only after boycotts. Chicago Breadbasket went on to target Pepsi and Coca-Cola bottlers, and then supermarket chains, winning 2,000 new jobs worth $15 million a year in new income to the black community in the first 15 months of its operation. Going beyond jobs and patronage for black-owned businesses, Chicago-based Operation Breadbasket became a cultural event, focused around weekly Saturday workshops, which drew thousands to hear Jesse Jackson preach in person and on the radio.

Jackson became the national director of Operation Breadbasket’s programs in 1967. After King’s assassination in 1968, Jackson continued to lead the program, however tensions emerged between Jackson and SCLC’s new leader, Ralph Abernathy, over fundraising and the location of Breadbasket’s national headquarters. Abernathy wanted Jackson to move Breadbasket from Chicago to Atlanta in early 1971, but Jackson refused and resigned from SCLC in December. A week later he launched his own economic empowerment organization called Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity). Breadbasket continued through the next year, experiencing several leadership changes before its eventual demise.


Garrow, Chicago 1966, 1989.

King, ‘‘One Year Later in Chicago,’’ January 1967, SCLCR-GAMK.

King, Press conference, 11 July 1967, MLKJP-GAMK.

O’Dell, Hunter Pitts “Jack” (1923- )
O’Dell, Hunter Pitts “Jack” (1923- ) Next entry

A valued organizer and fundraiser, who was unapologetic about his early Communist associations, Hunter Pitts ‘‘Jack’’ O’Dell ranks among the most controversial figures of the civil rights movement. His role in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was used by detractors as ammunition against both Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement at large. As O’Dell wrote to King upon his departure from SCLC: ‘‘Not the least formidable of the obstacles blocking the path to Freedom is the anti-Communist hysteria in our country which is deliberately kept alive by the defenders of the status-quo as a barrier to rational thinking on important social questions’’ (O’Dell, 12 July 1963).

Born in Detroit, Michigan, on 11 August 1923, O’Dell was raised there by his grandfather, a janitor at a public library, and his grandmother. After graduating from public school, he attended Xavier University in New Orleans from 1941 until 1943. During World War II, he served in the Merchant Marines, and worked as a merchant seaman after the war’s end. He was active in the National Maritime Union (NMU), and during the 1948 presidential election was a leader of ‘‘Seamen for Wallace,’’ a group campaigning for Progressive Party presidential candidate Henry Wallace. In 1950 he was forced out of the union and maritime work during an anti-Communist purge. In the late 1950s O’Dell began working for a black insurance company, first in Birmingham and then in Montgomery, where he heard King preach at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. He resigned from the firm after being called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and moved to New York for graduate studies at the New York University School of Management, earning a certificate in 1960. While there, he assisted Bayard Rustin and A. Philip Randolph in organizing the April 1959 Youth March for Integrated Schools, which King addressed.

O’Dell first began work with SCLC as a volunteer in March 1960, and was hired by King in 1961 to manage a mass-mail funding office for SCLC in New York, where he worked closely with King advisor Stanley Levison. By January 1962, O’Dell was asked to serve as SCLC’s director of voter registration in seven southern states. He worked in this capacity, along with the Citizenship Education Program (CEP), until 1963.

In March 1962 Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy authorized the Federal Bureau of Investigation to begin surveillance of Levison and King, on the assumption that Levison was influenced by the Communist Party. Ten months later, on 26 October 1962, the New Orleans Times-Picayune published a story denouncing O’Dell as a Communist who had ‘‘infiltrated to the top administrative post’’ in SCLC and had been carrying out ‘‘Communist Party assignments’’ (Branch, 675). In the wake of this attack, King drafted a letter stating that SCLC was ‘‘on guard against any such infiltration,’’ but acknowledging that such accusations and investigations by HUAC were ‘‘a means of [harassing] Negroes and whites merely because of their belief in integration’’ (King, November 1962). Pending an SCLC investigation into the charges, O’Dell submitted a temporary letter of resignation. However, he continued to work with SCLC, attending a key planning session for the upcoming Birmingham Campaign at the CEP’s training center in Dorchester, Georgia, in early 1963.

On 22 June 1963, King and other civil rights leaders met with President John F. Kennedy at the White House. Prior to the meeting King was taken aside by Burke Marshall, Robert Kennedy, and President Kennedy, in turn. All three told him that keeping Levison and O’Dell on staff meant opening SCLC to the influence of communism, and told King to cut ties with the two men. Though he was not willing to part company with Levison, his closest advisor, two weeks later King wrote to O’Dell asking him to resign from SCLC permanently. King explained that ‘‘any allusion to the left brings forth an emotional response which would seem to indicate that SCLC and the Southern Freedom Movement are Communist inspired,’’ (King, 3 July 1963). King described O’Dell’s departure as ‘‘a significant sacrifice commensurate with the sufferings in jail and through loss of jobs under racist intimidation’’ (King, 3 July 1963).

O’Dell responded to King’s request on 12 July 1963, submitting his final resignation and sharing that his work with SCLC had been ‘‘a rewarding experience which I shall always cherish.’’ He expressed hope that ‘‘everything that is decent and civilized in our country will inevitably be swept into the orbit of the ever-mounting Negro Freedom Movement as it emerges from the economic and political darkness of segregation’’ (O’Dell, 12 July 1963). O’Dell went on to work as an associate editor of the journal Freedomways magazine for 23 years, and served on the National Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam from 1965 until 1972.


Branch, Parting the Waters, 1988.

King, Address at the Youth March for Integrated Schools on 18 April 1959, in Papers 5:186–188.

King, ‘‘Letter to Answer Questions of Communist Infiltration,’’ November 1962, SCLCR-

King to O’Dell, 18 January 1963, MLKJP-GAMK.

King to O’Dell, 3 July 1963, MLKJP-GAMK.

O’Dell, Interview by King Papers Project staff, 10 May 2007.

O’Dell to King, 12 July 1963, MLKJP-GAMK.

Nonviolent Resistance
Nonviolent Resistance Next entry

As a theologian, Martin Luther King reflected often on his understanding of nonviolence. He described his own ‘‘pilgrimage to nonviolence’’ in his first book, Stride Toward Freedom, and in subsequent books and articles. ‘‘True pacifism,’’ or ‘‘nonviolent resistance,’’ King wrote, is ‘‘a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love’’ (King, Stride, 80). Both ‘‘morally and practically’’ committed to nonviolence, King believed that ‘‘the Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom’’ (King, Stride, 79; Papers 5:422).

King stated that he was first introduced to the concept of nonviolence when he read Henry David Thoreau’s Essay on Civil Disobedience as a freshman at Morehouse College. Having grown up in Atlanta and witnessed segregation and racism every day, King was ‘‘fascinated by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system’’ (King, Stride, 73).

In 1950, as a student at Crozer Theological Seminary, King heard a talk by Dr. Mordecai Johnson, president of Howard University. Dr. Johnson, who had recently traveled to India, spoke about the life and teachings of Mohandas K. Gandhi. Gandhi, King later wrote, was the first person to transform Christian love into a powerful force for social change. Gandhi’s stress on love and nonviolence gave King ‘‘the method for social reform that I had been seeking’’ (King, Stride, 79).

While intellectually committed to nonviolence, King did not experience the power of nonviolent direct action first-hand until the start of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. During the boycott, King personally enacted Gandhian principles. With guidance from black pacifist Bayard Rustin and Glenn Smiley of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, King eventually decided not to use armed bodyguards despite threats on his life, and reacted to violent experiences, such as the bombing of his home, with compassion. Through the practical experience of leading nonviolent protest, King came to understand how nonviolence could become a way of life, applicable to all situations (King, 83). King called the principle of nonviolent resistance the ‘‘guiding light of our movement. Christ furnished the spirit and motivation while Gandhi furnished the method’’ (Papers 5:423).

King’s notion of nonviolence had six key principles. First, one can resist evil without resorting to violence. Second, nonviolence seeks to win the ‘‘friendship and understanding’’ of the opponent, not to humiliate him (King, Stride, 84). Third, evil itself, not the people committing evil acts, should be opposed. Fourth, those committed to nonviolence must be willing to suffer without retaliation as suffering itself can be redemptive. Fifth, nonviolent resistance avoids ‘‘external physical violence’’ and ‘‘internal violence of spirit’’ as well: ‘‘The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him’’ (King, Stride, 85). The resister should be motivated by love in the sense of the Greek word agape, which means ‘‘understanding,’’ or ‘‘redeeming good will for all men’’ (King, Stride, 86). The sixth principle is that the nonviolent resister must have a ‘‘deep faith in the future,’’ stemming from the conviction that ‘‘the universe is on the side of justice’’ (King, Stride, 88).

During the years after the bus boycott, King grew increasingly committed to nonviolence. An India trip in 1959 helped him connect more intimately with Gandhi’s legacy. King began to advocate nonviolence not just in a national sphere, but internationally as well: ‘‘the potential destructiveness of modern weapons’’ convinced King that ‘‘the choice today is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence’’ (Papers 5:424).

After Black Power advocates such as Stokely Carmichael began to reject nonviolence, King lamented that some African Americans had lost hope, and reaffirmed his own commitment to nonviolence: ‘‘Occasionally in life one develops a conviction so precious and meaningful that he will stand on it till the end. This is what I have found in nonviolence’’ (King, Where, 63–64). He wrote in his 1967 book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?: ‘‘We maintained the hope while transforming the hate of traditional revolutions into positive nonviolent power. As long as the hope was fulfilled there was little questioning of nonviolence. But when the hopes were blasted, when people came to see that in spite of progress their conditions were still insufferable … despair began to set in’’ (King, Where, 45). Arguing that violent revolution was impractical in the context of a multiracial society, he concluded that: ‘‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. The beauty of nonviolence is that in its own way and in its own time it seeks to break the chain reaction of evil’’ (King, Where, 62–63).


King, ‘‘Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,’’ in Papers: 5:419–425.

King, Stride Toward Freedom, 1958.

King, Where Do We Go from Here,1967.


Nobel Peace Prize (1964)
Nobel Peace Prize (1964) Next entry

On the morning of 14 October 1964, Martin Luther King, sleeping in an Atlanta hospital room after checking in for a rest, was awakened by a phone call from his wife, Coretta Scott King, telling him that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. Although many in the United States and abroad praised the selection, segregationist Eugene ‘‘Bull’’ Connor called it ‘‘scraping the bottom of the barrel’’ (‘‘Cheers and Scorn’’). Presenting the award to King in Oslo, Norway, that December, the chairman of the Nobel Committee praised him for being ‘‘the first person in the Western world to have shown us that a struggle can be waged without violence. He is the first to make the message of brotherly love a reality in the course of his struggle, and he has brought this message to all men, to all nations and races’’ (Jahn, ‘‘Presentation,’’ 332).

The Nobel Prize was endowed in 1895 by Alfred Nobel, a Swedish industrialist and the inventor of dynamite. Annual awards in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace began in 1901. The winner of the Peace Prize is selected by a committee appointed by the Norwegian Parliament from nominations submitted by past winners and other select persons. King was nominated by the American Friends Service Committee, which had received the prize in 1947.

King departed for Oslo on 4 December 1964, stopping in London for three days to preach at St. Paul’s Cathedral and meet with leaders of the peace community. He was accompanied on his trip by a group of Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) staff and members of his family. King accepted the prize on 10 December, in the name of the thousands of people in the civil rights movement who constituted what he termed a ‘‘mighty army of love’’ (King, ‘‘Mighty Army of Love’’). He called the award, ‘‘a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence andoppression,’’ and discussed ways to overcome the evils of racial injustice, poverty, and war (King, ‘‘Address,’’ 106).

Recognizing that SCLC played only one part in the movement, King shared the $54,000 monetary prize with leading civil rights groups, giving $25,000 to the Gandhi Society for Human Rights, $12,000 to SCLC, and splitting the remainder among the Congress of Racial Equality, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the National Council of Negro Women, the National Urban League, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

King was feted at events in Europe and at home, where he praised the volunteers in the movement who would never be publicly recognized but who were critical to the success of the nonviolent struggle. King described the award as a reminder to civil rights workers that ‘‘the tide of world opinion is in our favor,’’ and pledged to ‘‘work even harder to make peace and brotherhood a reality’’ (King, ‘‘Mighty Army of Love;’’ King, 27 January 1965). When King decided to speak out against the Vietnam War in April 1967, he reflected on this promise, calling the prize a ‘‘commission,’’ that required him to go ‘‘beyond national allegiances’’ to speak out for peace (King, ‘‘Beyond Vietnam,’’ 145).


‘‘Cheers and Scorn for Nobel Award,’’ New York Times, 15 October 1964.

Gunnar Jahn, ‘‘Presentation,’’ in Nobel Lectures, eds. Haberman, vol. 3, 1972.

King, ‘‘Acceptance Address for the Nobel Peace Prize,’’ in A Call to Conscience, eds. Carson and Shepard, 2001.

King, ‘‘Beyond Vietnam,’’ in A Call to Conscience, eds. Carson and Shepard, 2001.

King, ‘‘Mighty Army of Love,’’ New York Amsterdam News, 7 November 1964.

King, ‘‘The Struggle for Racial Justice,’’ 27 January 1965, NF-GEU.

Nkrumah, Kwame (1909-1972)
Nkrumah, Kwame (1909-1972) Next entry

The first African-born Prime Minister of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah was a prominent Pan-African organizer whose radical vision and bold leadership helped lead Ghana to independence in 1957. Nkrumah served as an inspiration to Martin Luther King, who often looked to Nkrumah’s leadership as an example of nonviolent activism. The evolution of Nkrumah’s power in Ghana, however, complicated relations between the two men. Just days after King’s assassination, Nkrumah expressed disagreement with King’s views on nonviolence.

Nkrumah was born on 21 September 1909, in the British colony of Nkroful, on the Gold Coast. Although raised in a small fishing village, Nkrumah was educated in the United States. He received both his Bachelor of Arts (1939) and Bachelor of Theology (1942) from Lincoln University and continued his education at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a Masters of Philosophy and a Masters of Education (1942, 1943). While in college, Nkrumah became increasingly active in the Pan-African movement, the African Students Association of America, and the West African Students’ Union. In 1945 Nkrumah played a central role in organizing the Fifth Pan-Africanist Congress.

In 1947 Nkrumah’s activism attracted the attention of Ghanaian politician J. B. Danquah, who hired Nkrumah to serve as general secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention, an organization pursuing independence for the British colony. However, ideological differences between the two men led Nkrumah to found his own party, the Convention People’s Party (CPP), in 1949. Nkrumah and the CPP sought self-government through the nonviolent strategy of ‘‘positive action.’’ Much like King’s nonviolent strategies, positive action employed the tactics of protest and strike against colonial administration. In 1951 Nkrumah and the CPP received a decisive majority of votes in Ghana’s first general elections, and on 22 March 1952, Nkrumah became the first prime minister of the Gold Coast. It would be five more years before full independence was realized, and the Gold Coast became the self-governed nation of Ghana.

Martin and Coretta King attended Ghana’s independence ceremony on 6 March 1957, at the invitation of Nkrumah. King was impressed by Nkrumah’s leadership and keenly aware of the parallels between Ghanaian independence and the American civil rights movement. While in Ghana, the Kings shared a private meal with Nkrumah, discussing nonviolence and Nkrumah’s impressions of the United States. After returning to the United States, King explained the lessons of Nkrumah and the Ghanaian struggle in a series of speeches and sermons. In a 24 April speech, King related a message from Nkrumah and his finance minister: ‘"'Our sympathies are with America and its allies. But we will make it clear thru the United Nations and other diplomatic channels that beautiful words and extensive hand outs cannot be substitutes for the simple responsibility of treating our colored brothers in America as first-class human beings.’ So if we are to be a first-class nation, we cannot have second-class citizens’’ (King, 24 April 1957).

King lauded Nkrumah’s leadership through nonviolent positive action. Both men were inspired by the life and teachings of Gandhi. In a sermon entitled, ‘‘The Birth of a New Nation,’’ King said of Ghana’s newfound independence, ‘‘It reminds us of the fact that a nation or a people can break a loose from oppression without violence’’ (Papers 4:162).

As early as 1962 Prime Minister Nkrumah faced the challenges of nation building in the legacy of colonialism. Mounting economic troubles led to increased discontentment with Nkrumah, and Ashanti nationalism further threatened his presidency. King struggled to understand the growing criticism of Nkrumah’s leadership, stating: ‘‘I’m sure President Nkrumah has made some mistakes. On the other hand I think we would have to see the problems that he has confronted. It is not an easy thing to lift a nation from a tribal tradition into a [democracy] first without having problems’’ (King, 19 July 1962). In 1966 Nkrumah was removed from power in a coup led by the Ghanaian military and police forces.

In response to King’s assassination in 1968, Nkrumah wrote: ‘‘Even though I don’t agree with [King] on some of his non-violence views, I mourn for him. The final solution of all this will come when Africa is politically united. Yesterday it was Malcolm X. Today Luther King. Tomorrow, fire all over the United States’’ (Nkrumah, 231). Nkrumah died of cancer in April 1972 while in exile in Conakry, Guinea.


King, Address at the National Press Club, 19 July 1962, MLKJP-GAMK.

King, ‘‘The Birth of a New Nation,’’ 7 April 1957, in Papers 4:155–167.

King, This is a Great Time to Be Alive, 24 April 1957, MLKJP-GAMK.

Nkrumah, Kwame Nkrumah, 1990.

Nixon, Richard Milhous (1913-1994)
Nixon, Richard Milhous (1913-1994) Next entry

Richard M. Nixon had a complicated relationship with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the African American freedom struggle. Although King later questioned Nixon’s sincerity, while Nixon served as vice president in the 1950s, King commented that with ‘‘persons like you occupying such important positions in our nation I am sure that we will soon emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man’’ (Papers 4:264).

Born 9 January 1913 in Yorba Linda, California, Nixon was the second son of Frank and Hannah Nixon. He was raised in the small town of Whittier, California, where his father owned a gas station and general store. Nixon graduated second in his class from Whittier College in 1934 and received a scholarship to attend Duke University’s law school, graduating third in his class in 1937. Nixon returned to Whittier to practice law for several years before moving to Washington, D.C., to work for the tire rationing section of the Office of Price Administration during World War II. In August of 1942 Nixon was commissioned to the Navy and rose to the rank of lieutenant commander while serving in the South Pacific.

Nixon’s political career began in 1946, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for California’s 12th congressional district. He gained national attention as a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee and for his role in the prosecution of Alger Hiss, a former employee of the Department of State and an alleged Communist agent. In 1950 Nixon was elected to the U.S. Senate and was later selected as the Republican vice-presidential running mate for Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The tone of the relationship between King and Nixon varied over the years. Early on, King had developed an ‘‘initial bias’’ against Nixon because of his tendency to vote with the more conservative right wing of the Republican Party (Papers 4:482). This shifted, however, when the two met in March 1957 at ceremonies in Ghana celebrating that nation’s independence. Nixon later invited King to Washington, D.C., for a meeting on 13 June 1957. This meeting, described by Bayard Rustin as a ‘‘summit conference,’’ marked national recognition of King’s role in the civil rights movement (Rustin, 13 June 1957). Seeking support for a voter registration initiative in the South, King appealed to Nixon to urge Republicans in Congress to pass a pending civil rights bill and to visit the South to express support for civil rights. Optimistic about Nixon’s commitment to improving race relations in the United States, King told Nixon, ‘‘how deeply grateful all people of goodwill are to you for your assiduous labor and dauntless courage in seeking to make the civil rights bill a reality’’ (Papers 4:264). King was also skeptical, telling a Nixon biographer, ‘‘if Richard Nixon is not sincere, he is the most dangerous man in America’’ (Papers 4:483).

Many black leaders, including Martin Luther King, Sr.,and Jackie Robinson, initially supported Nixon’s 1960 bid for the presidency. Blacks believed Nixon to be more committed to civil rights reform than President Eisenhower had been, but the attitudes of black voters shifted during the final days of the 1960 presidential campaign. In October 1960 King was sentenced to four months in jail for violating his probation after participating in an Atlanta sit-in. After encouragement from Harris Wofford and other advisors, Nixon’s opponent, John F. Kennedy, phoned Coretta Scott King to convey his sympathy. King expressed disappointment that, despite his previously warm relationship with Nixon, ‘‘when this moment came, it was like he had never heard of me.’’ King believed Nixon’s inaction made him appear as ‘‘a moral coward and one who was really unwilling to take a courageous step and take a risk’’ (King, 9 March 1964). Kennedy’s phone call and his campaign’s discreet publicity promoting his role in releasing King from jail gained him the support of many black voters, and he defeated Nixon by less than one percent of the popular vote.

Nixon ran an unsuccessful campaign for California governor in 1962, and later narrowly won the 1968 presidential election against Democrat Hubert Humphrey and third-party candidate George Wallace. He was reelected in a landslide victory over Democratic opponent Senator George McGovern in 1972. During his terms in office Nixon reversed some of the social and economic welfare policies of predecessor Lyndon B. Johnson, vetoing new health, education, and welfare legislation. Seeking southern support for the Republican Party, Nixon supported anti-busing legislation and favored ‘‘law and order’’ policies that were widely seen as directed against black militancy.

In 1974, after his involvement in the Watergate scandal, Nixon became the only U.S. president to ever resign. He continued to comment on foreign affairs and wrote several books before his death in New York City on 22 April 1994.


Ambrose, Nixon, 1987.

Introduction, in Papers 4:8; 15–17.

Introduction, in Papers 5:36–40.

King, Interview by Berl Bernhard, 9 March 1964, JFKOH-MWalK.

King, Statement on Meeting with Richard M. Nixon, 13 June 1957, in Papers 4:222–223.

King to Mazo, 2 September 1958, in Papers 4:481–483.

King to Nixon, 30 August 1957, in Papers 4:262–264.

Rustin to King, 13 June 1957, MLKP-MBU.

Nixon, Edgar Daniel (1899-1987)
Nixon, Edgar Daniel (1899-1987) Next entry

Union leader and civil rights advocate E. D. Nixon helped launch the Montgomery bus boycott, the event that propelled Martin Luther King, Jr. into the national spotlight. Described by King as ‘‘one of the chief voices of the Negro community in the area of civil rights,’’ and ‘‘a symbol of the hopes and aspirations of the long oppressed people of the State of Alabama,’’ Nixon worked behind the scenes to launch the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) and to then organize and sustain the boycott (King, 39).

The son of a Baptist minister and a maid-cook, Nixon was born on 12 July 1899, in Lowndes County, Alabama. Nixon received only 16 months of formal education, but after working his way up from a job in the train station baggage room, he became a Pullman car porter, a job he held until 1964. In 1928 he joined A. Philip Randolph’s Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Union, and later helped form its Montgomery branch, acting as its president for many years. Nixon later said of Randolph’s impact on him: ‘‘Nobody in all my years influenced me or made me feel like A. Philip Randolph did’’ (Viorst, 22).

On 1 December 1955 Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man. Nixon, former head of the Montgomery National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), felt her arrest was the perfect case to challenge Montgomery’s segregated bus system. Nixon recalled: ‘‘When Rosa Parks was arrested, I thought ‘this is it!’ ‘Cause she’s morally clean, she’s reliable, nobody had nothing on her, she had the courage of her convictions’’ (Millner, ‘‘Interview:
E. D. Nixon,’’ 546). Nixon then worked with the Women’s Political Council to convince black residents to support the boycott.

Together with Clifford Durr, a white attorney, Nixon bailed Parks out of jail and quickly began to mobilize Montgomery’s black community. Impressed by King’s address to the local NAACP chapter several months earlier, Nixon asked him to host a bus-boycott planning meeting at his church on 2 December. After the successful one-day boycott on 5 December, Montgomery’s black leaders met again. King was elected to lead the boycott as president of the newly created MIA, and Nixon was elected treasurer. When some participants suggested forming a secret organization, Nixon chastised them ‘‘Am I to tell our people that you are cowards?’’ (Papers 3:4n).

Nixon supplied the MIA with contacts for various labor and civil rights organizations, which provided both financial and political support for the boycott. In 1957 tensions between King and Nixon developed over leadership and decision making in the MIA. Nixon resigned his post as MIA treasurer in 1957, citing resentment at ‘‘being treated as a newcomer’’ (Papers 4:217). However, Nixon maintained respect for King. Referring to King’s handling of his arrest in Montgomery on 3 September 1958, Nixon applauded King, ‘‘because of your courage in face of known danger I want to commend you for your stand for the people of color all over the world, and [especially] the people in Montgomery. Your action took the fear out of the Negroes and made the white man see himself as he is’’ (Papers 4:492).

Until his death at the age of 87, Nixon continued to work for civil rights, focusing his later years on improving conditions at housing projects and organizing programs for African American children. Nixon received the Walter White Award from the NAACP in 1985, and in 1986, a year before his death, Nixon’s home in Montgomery was placed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage.


Introduction in Papers 3:4.

King, Stride Toward Freedom, 1958.

Steven M. Millner, ‘‘Interview; E. D. Nixon,’’ in The Walking City, Garrow, ed., 1989.

Nixon to King, 3 June 1957, in Papers 4:217–218.

Nixon to King, 9 September 1958 in Papers 4:492.

Raines, My Soul Is Rested, 1983.

Viorst, Fire in the Streets, 1979.

Niebuhr, Reinhold (1892-1971)
Niebuhr, Reinhold (1892-1971) Next entry

Raised in the social gospel tradition of his father’s church, Martin Luther King encountered Reinhold Niebuhr’s less hopeful philosophy, Christian realism, as a student at Crozer Theological Seminary in 1949. King later evaluated Niebuhr’s contribution to theology as a rebuttal of ‘‘the false optimism characteristic of a great segment of Protestant liberalism’’ (King, 99).

Niebuhr was born in Wright City, Missouri, the son of a Lutheran minister, Gustave Niebuhr, and his wife Lydia. He attended Yale Divinity School (BD, 1914; MA, 1915) before assuming the pastorate of Bethel Evangelical Church of Detroit in 1915. In 1928 Niebuhr accepted a position at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where he taught philosophy of religion and applied Christianity for the remainder of his life. As a founder of the journal Christianity and Crisis, and the political group Americans for Democratic Action, he exercised considerable influence in American religious and political thought.

Once an advocate of pacifism, Niebuhr served as chairman of the Fellowship of Reconciliation from 1931 until 1932. He broke from the movement in 1933 with the publication of his book Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932). Niebuhr embraced a new approach to theology and ethics called Christian realism. He argued that a chief reliance on the power of reason through education and moral suasion was naive and misplaced. Citing U.S. racial problems as an example, he declared, ‘‘However large the number of individual white men who do and who will identify themselves completely with the Negro cause, the white race in America will not admit the Negro to equal rights if he is not forced to do so’’ (Niebuhr, 253).

Prior to his initial introduction to the ideas of Niebuhr, King ‘‘was absolutely convinced of the natural goodness of man and the natural power of human reason’’ (Papers 5:419). Niebuhr, however, challenged the usefulness of moral idealism in struggles for social justice. In line with this thinking, King also appreciated Niebuhr’s interpretation of original sin, writing: ‘‘His theology is a persistent reminder of the reality of sin on every level of man’s existence’’ (King, 99). King wrote several papers on Niebuhr in the course of his doctoral studies at Boston University and determined that Niebuhr’s thought was ‘‘the necessary corrective of a kind of liberalism that too easily capitulated to modern culture’’ (Papers 2:278).

King wrote to Niebuhr in preparation for his doctoral dissertation comparing Paul Tillich’s and Henry Nelson Wieman’s concepts of God, asking for assistance with his topic. As he rose to national prominence, King continued to draw on Niebuhr’s philosophy as a theological basis for nonviolent civil rights protest. He linked Niebuhr’s Christian realism to his own ideas of Gandhian nonviolence, calling it ‘‘a Niebuhrian stratagem of power’’ (Branch, 87). King inscribed a copy of his 1958 account of the Montgomery bus boycott, Stride Toward Freedom, to Niebuhr, praising him as a theologian of ‘‘great prophetic vision,’’ with ‘‘unswerving devotion to the ideals of freedom and justice’’ (King, November 1958).

King invited Niebuhr to participate in the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965, and Niebuhr responded by telegram: ‘‘Only a severe stroke prevents me from accepting … I hope there will be a massive demonstration of all the citizens with conscience in favor of the elemental human rights of voting and freedom of assembly’’ (Niebuhr, 19 March 1965). Two years later, Niebuhr defended King’s decision to speak out against the Vietnam War, calling him ‘‘one of the greatest religious leaders of our time.’’ Niebuhr asserted: ‘‘Dr. King has the right and a duty, as both a religious and a civil rights leader, to express his concern in these days about such a major human problem as the Vietnam War’’ (Ansbro, 261). Of his country’s intervention in Vietnam, Niebuhr admitted: ‘‘For the first time I fear I am ashamed of our beloved nation’’ (Fox, 285).


Ansbro, Martin Luther King, Jr., 2000.

Branch, Parting the Waters, 1988.

Fox, Reinhold Niebuhr, 1985.

King, Inscription to Reinhold Neibuhr, November 1958, CNP.

King, ‘‘Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,’’ 13 April 1960, in Papers 5:419–425.

King, Stride Toward Freedom, 1958.

King, ‘‘The Theology of Reinhold Niebuhr,’’ April 1953–June 1954, in Papers 2:269–279.

King to Niebuhr, 1 December 1953, in Papers 2:222–223.

Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society, 1932.

Niebuhr to King, 19 March 1965, MLKJP-GAMK.

New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964)
New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964) Next entry

The events that led to the 1964 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision confirming freedom of the press under the First Amendment in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan began in March 1960, after Martin Luther King’s supporters published a fundraising appeal on the civil rights leader’s behalf. The appeal was in response to King’s arrest on perjury charges, and so incensed Alabama officials that they brought suit against several black ministers whose names appeared on the advertisement.

On 17 February 1960 two Fulton County sheriff’s deputies arrested King at his Ebenezer Baptist Church office and took him into custody. A grand jury in Alabama had issued a warrant for King’s arrest on two counts of felony perjury for signing fraudulent tax returns for 1956 and 1958. In response to King’s indictment, a group of King supporters met in Harry Belafonte’s New York apartment to form the Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom in the South, to raise money for King’s defense and for other civil rights initiatives. Under the chairmanship of A. Philip Randolph, the committee immediately launched a fundraising campaign aimed at raising $200,000.

In a 3 March press release, the committee denounced the charges against King as a ‘‘gross misrepresentation of fact’’ because King’s income had never ‘‘even approached’’ the $45,000 that Alabama officials claimed he earned in 1958 (Papers 5:25–26). In response to the perjury charges against King, a felony that could have resulted in a 5-year sentence, the committee placed a full-page advertisement in the New York Times entitled ‘‘Heed Their Rising Voices.’’ The ad sought to demonstrate that King’s arrest was politically motivated and part of an effort ‘‘to destroy the one man who, more than any other, symbolizes the new spirit now sweeping the South’’ (Papers 5:382). The appeal requested donations that would be divided between King’s defense, support for student protesters, and the voting rights struggle, and was signed by 84 King supporters, including Jackie Robinson and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Alabama officials, particularly governor John Patterson, were upset by statements in the ad, which accused Alabama state and local officials of retaliating against students for protesting, and harassing King with repeated arrests. L. B. Sullivan, a Montgomery city commissioner, sued the New York Times for libel, and Patterson demanded an immediate retraction. Four Alabama ministers whose names appeared in the advertisement, Ralph Abernathy, Solomon S. Seay, Fred L. Shuttlesworth, and Joseph Lowery, were also sued, despite testimony that their names were used without their knowledge or consent. In addition to Sullivan and Patterson, three other Alabama officials each sued the Times and the four ministers for $500,000. The Patterson suit also included King as a defendant.

During the trial in Alabama, Sullivan and his lawyers attempted to persuade the jury that the statements made in the ad were libelous, false, and injurious to his reputation. The jury ruled in his favor and the defendants were required to pay $500,000. On appeal the defendants argued that Sullivan’s suit violated the First Amendment, but the Alabama Court responded: ‘‘The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not protect libelous publications’’ (Times v. Sullivan). The Supreme Court of Alabama affirmed the lower court’s decision on 30 August 1962.

In a final attempt to reverse the previous decisions, Herbert Wechsler, a professor at Columbia Law School and specialist on the Constitution and the Supreme Court, was asked to handle the case, in conjunction with Clarence Jones, Harry Wachtel, and others. Wechsler’s arguments persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the Alabama decisions based on the suppositions that Sullivan’s case lacked proof of ‘‘actual malice,’’ lacked evidence that the statements were ‘‘of and concerning’’ Sullivan, and did not produce with convincing clarity evidence that the statements were published with ‘‘reckless disregard of whether it was true or false’’ (Times v. Sullivan). Following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on 9 March 1964, all charges were dropped against the defendants.


Committee to Defend Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Struggle for Freedom in the South, Press release, ‘‘Statement on the Indictment of Martin Luther King, Jr.,’’ 3 March 1960, APRC-DLC.

‘‘Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom in the South,’’ New York Times, 29 March 1960, in Papers 5:382.

Introduction in Papers 5:24–26.

King, Interview on Arrest following Indictment by Grand Jury of Montgomery County, 17 February 1960, in Papers 5:370–372.

Lewis, Make No Law, 1991.

New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964).

Patterson to King, 9 May 1960, in Papers 5:456–458.

Tedford, Freedom of Speech in the United States,1985.

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