Martin Luther King Essay


Martin Luther King Essay Sample

Martin Luther King was catapulted into national prominence by the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott of 1955-56. Son of a prominent Atlanta Baptist minister, King had graduated from Morehouse College, and after studying at Crozer Theological Seminary and Boston University, became pastor of a black Baptist church in Montgomery. When in December, Montgomery's Negro citizens initiated a boycott against segregation in the local buses, King was asked to head the movement. He was chosen primarily because as a newcomer, he was acceptable to all groups in the Negro community. He was an impressive man, dignified, well-educated, and enormously eloquent. These qualities helped to project him and the movement into national prominence, made him attractive to the mass media, and elevated him into the foremost symbol of the black protest in America.

The Montgomery bus boycott represented a new method--nonviolent direct action--that had slowly been gaining adherents since the founding of the Congress of Racial Equality in 1942. CORE, a tiny, predominantly white organization until the 1960s, had been founded by pacifists who sought to apply Gandhian techniques of nonviolent direct action to America's race problem. Concentrating on desegregating places of public accommodation in northern and border cities, CORE chapters had originated the sit-in technique that would become famous in 1960 when used on a wide scale by Southern black college students. King was like the founders of CORE, though unlike the great majority of participants in direct action demonstrations. He possessed a Gandhian faith in the principles of pacifism and nonviolence. Speaking of the creation of a "beloved community," King maintained that love was more powerful than hate and that civil rights demonstrators who were beaten and jailed by hostile whites transformed their oppressors through the redemptive character of their suffering.

King and his supporters won in Montgomery when a judicial ruling desegregated the buses. Even before this victory, a similar boycott had started in Tallahassee, Florida, and after it, another began in Birmingham, Alabama. Such developments heralded the emergence of a militant "New Negro" in the South, no longer afraid of white hoodlums, police, or jails, and ready to act boldly and collectively. Seizing upon this new mood, King in 1957 established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a federation of local direct action groups usually led by Baptist ministers.

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