Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955
In March 1955, a 15-year-old school girl, Claudette Colvin, refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in compliance with the Jim Crow laws. King was on the committee from the Birmingham African-American community that looked into the case; Edgar Nixon and Clifford Durr decided to wait for a better case to pursue. On December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, urged and planned by Nixon and led by King, soon followed. The boycott lasted for 385 days, and the situation became so tense that King's house was bombed. King was arrested during this campaign, which ended with a United States District Court ruling in Browder v. Gayle that ended racial segregation on all Montgomery public buses.
Southern Christian Leadership Conference
In 1957, Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy, and other civil rights activists founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The group was created to harness the moral authority and organizing power of black churches to conduct non-violent protests in the service of civil rights reform. King led the SCLC until his death. In 1958, while signing copies of his book Strive Toward Freedom in a Harlem department store, he was stabbed in the chest by Izola Curry, a deranged black woman with a letter opener, and narrowly escaped death.
Gandhi's nonviolent techniques were useful to King's campaign to correct the civil rights laws implemented in Alabama. King applied non-violent philosophy to the protests organized by the SCLC. In 1959, he wrote The Measure of A Man, from which the piece What is Man?, an attempt to sketch the optimal political, social, and economic structure of society, is derived.
King believed that organized, nonviolent protest against the system of southern segregation known as Jim Crow laws would lead to extensive media coverage of the struggle for black equality and voting rights. Journalistic accounts and televised footage of the daily deprivation and indignities suffered by southern blacks, and of segregationist violence and harassment of civil rights workers and marchers, produced a wave of sympathetic public opinion that convinced the majority of Americans that the Civil Rights Movement was the most important issue in American politics in the early 1960s.
King organized and led marches for blacks' right to vote, desegregation, labor rights and other basic civil rights. Most of these rights were successfully enacted into the law of the United States with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The Albany Movement was a desegregation coalition formed in Albany, Georgia in November, 1961. In December, Dr. King and the SCLC became involved. The movement mobilized thousands of citizens for a broad-front nonviolent attack on every aspect of segregation within the city and attracted nationwide attention.
However, after nearly a year of intense activism with few tangible results, the movement began to deteriorate. Dr. King requested a halt to all demonstrations and a "Day of Penance" to promote non-violence and maintain the moral high ground. Divisions within the black community and the canny, low-key response by local government defeated efforts. However, it was credited as a key lesson in tactics for the national civil rights movement.
The Birmingham campaign was a strategic effort by the SCLC to promote civil rights for African Americans. Many of its tactics of "Project C" were developed by Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, executive director of SCLC from 1960-1964. Based on actions in Birmingham, Alabama, its goal was to end the city's segregated civil and discriminatory economic policies. The campaign lasted for more than two months in the spring of 1963. To provoke the police into filling the city's jails to overflowing, King and black citizens of Birmingham employed nonviolent tactics to flout laws they considered unfair. King summarized the philosophy of the Birmingham campaign when he said, "The purpose of ... direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation".
Protests in Birmingham began with a boycott to pressure businesses to sales jobs and other employment to people of all races, as well as to end segregated facilities in the stores. When business leaders resisted the boycott, King and the SCLC began what they termed Project C, a series of sit-ins and marches intended to provoke arrest. After the campaign ran low on adult volunteers, it recruited children for what became known as the "Children's Crusade". During the protests, the Birmingham Police Department, led by Eugene "Bull" Connor, used high-pressure water jets and police dogs to control protesters, including children. Not all of the demonstrators were peaceful, despite the avowed intentions of the SCLC. In some cases, bystanders attacked the police, who responded with force. King and the SCLC were criticized for putting children in harm's way. By the end of the campaign, King's reputation improved immensely, Connor lost his job, the "Jim Crow" signs in Birmingham came down, and public places became more open to blacks.
Augustine and Selma
King and SCLC were also driving forces behind the protest in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1964. The movement engaged in nightly marches in the city met by white segregationists who violently assaulted them. Hundreds of the marchers were arrested and jailed.
King and the SCLC joined forces with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Selma, Alabama, in December 1964, where SNCC had been working on voter registration for several months. A sweeping injunction issued by a local judge barred any gathering of three or more people under sponsorship of SNCC, SCLC, or DCVL, or with the involvement of 41 named civil rights leaders. This injunction temporarily halted civil rights activity until King defied it by speaking at Brown Chapel on January 2nd 1965.
March on Washington, 1963
King was among the leaders of the so-called "Big Six" civil rights organizations who were instrumental in the organization of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. The other leaders and organizations comprising the Big Six were: Roy Wilkins from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Whitney Young, National Urban League; A. Philip Randolph, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; John Lewis, SNCC; and James L. Farmer, Jr. of the Congress of Racial Equality.
The primary logistical and strategic organizer was King's colleague Bayard Rustin. For King, this role was another which courted controversy, since he was one of the key figures who acceded to the wishes of President John F. Kennedy in changing the focus of the march. Kennedy initially opposed the march outright, because he was concerned it would negatively impact the drive for passage of civil rights legislation, but the organizers were firm that the march would proceed.
The march originally was conceived as an event to dramatize the desperate condition of blacks in the southern United States and a very public opportunity to place organizers' concerns and grievances squarely before the seat of power in the nation's capital.
Organizers intended to excoriate and then challenge the federal government for its failure to safeguard the civil rights and physical safety of civil rights workers and blacks, generally, in the south. However, the group acquiesced to presidential pressure and influence, and the event ultimately took on a far less strident tone. As a result, some civil rights activists felt it presented an inaccurate, sanitized pageant of racial harmony; Malcolm X called it the "Farce on Washington," and members of the Nation of Islam were not permitted to attend the march.
King is perhaps most famous for his "I Have a Dream" speech, given in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
The march did, however, make specific demands: an end to racial segregation in public school; meaningful civil rights legislation, including a law prohibiting racial discrimination in employment; protection of civil rights workers from police brutality; a $2 minimum wage for all workers; and self-government for Washington, D.C., then governed by congressional committee.
Despite tensions, the march was a resounding success. More than a quarter million people of diverse ethnicities attended the event, sprawling from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial onto the National Mall and around the reflecting pool. At the time, it was the largest gathering of protesters in Washington's history.
King's "I Have a Dream" speech electrified the crowd. It is regarded, along with Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Franklin D. Roosevelt's Infamy Speech, as one of the finest speeches in the history of American oratory.
Awards and Recognition
Dr. King was awarded at least 50 honorary degrees from colleges and universities in the U.S. and elsewhere. Besides winning the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, in 1965 King was awarded the American Liberties Medallion by the American Jewish Committee for his "exceptional advancement of the principles of human liberty". Reverend King said in his acceptance remarks, "Freedom is one thing. You have it all or you are not free". King was also awarded the Pacem in Terris Award, named after a 1963 encyclical letter by Pope John XXIII calling for all people to strive for peace.
In 1966, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America awarded King the Margaret Sanger Award for “his courageous resistance to bigotry and his lifelong dedication to the advancement of social justice and human dignity.” King was posthumously awarded the Marcus Garvey Prize for Human Rights by Jamaica in 1968.
In 1971, King was posthumously awarded the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for his Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam. Six years later, the Presidential Medal of Freedom was awarded to King by Jimmy Carter. King and his wife were also awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.
King was second in Gallup's List of Widely Admired People in the 20th century. In 1963 King was named Time Person of the Year and in 2000, King was voted sixth in the Person of the Century poll by the same magazine. King was elected third in the Greatest American contest conducted by the Discovery Channel and AOL.
More than 730 cities in the United States have streets named after King. King County, Washington rededicated its name in his honor in 1986, and changed its logo to an image of his face in 2007. The city government center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is named in honor of King. King is venerated as a saint by the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (feast day April 4th), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (feast day January 15th).
In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Martin Luther King, Jr. on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.