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Martin Luther King, Jr.
When Martin Luther King, Jr. was growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, during the 1930s, he promised his mother: "I'm going to turn this world upside down." A number of years later, he followed his dream and became the leader of America's civil rights movement (Pastan, 5). During his 13 short years of advocacy, King helped Americans recognize the wrongs that were being done against black Americans and, through nonviolent means, offered a way that the United States could rectify its inequities and offer freedom to people of all backgrounds.
On the evening of December 1, 1955, a well-dressed black woman by the name of Rosa Parks boarded the Montgomery, Alabama, city bus after work. When told to move into the "blacks only" section of the bus, she refused. She was arrested and put in jail for violating the segregation laws. At the jail, she was not allowed water from the "whites only" fountain (Kallen, 46). The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) initiated a bus boycott and distributed fliers about Parks incarceration. Thousands of people rallied and gathered in churches (Kallen, 47)
Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the church ministers who had also been involved with the boycott, debated about what he would say in his sermon. He wanted to give people "a sense of direction" and a "passion for justice" (Oates, 69). He also had to find the words to relate to the press and thus to all of America what was taking place at this critical time in history. He realized that it was necessary to combine two apparent irreconcilables "militancy and moderation." (Oates, 70).
We are here, we are here this evening because we are tired now. And I want to say that we are not here advocating violence. We have never done that. I want it to be known throughout Montgomery and throughout this nation (Well) that we are Christian people. We believe in the Christian religion. We believe in the teachings of Jesus. The only weapon that we have in our hands this evening is the weapon of protest. That's all. (Carson, 5).
The boycott lasted 382 days. On December 21, 1956, after the Supreme Court of the United States had declared unconstitutional the laws requiring segregation on buses, blacks and whites rode the buses as equals (Kallen, 48). Throughout these days of boycott, King was arrested, his home was bombed, and he was personally abused, but he also became the leading black American leader (Bullard, 24).
The next year, King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization created to offer new direction for the rapidly developing civil rights movement. In order to establish this organization, King followed the philosophy of Christianity and Mahatma Gandhi (Oates, 123). During the following 11 years, King traveled over six million miles and gave 2,500 speeches, appearing wherever there was injustice, inequality, protest, and action. He also wrote five books as well as numerous articles (Pastan, 122).
The boycott, Supreme Court decision and the rising civil rights movement triggered a strong white militant backlash. In 1957 when 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford and seven fellow black students attended their first day at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, they was attacked by a white mob and could not get into the school (Pastan, 36). Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, disobeyed the Supreme Courts's Brown v. Board of Education ruling that blacks could attend white schools and pledged to keep the students out (ibid).
This incident once again proved to King that much needed to be done to achieve racial equality. Until the blacks could show their strength and support through voting, individuals such as Faubus would continue in leadership roles (ibid, 38). For King, "Little Rock was a tragic revelation of what prejudice can do to blind the visions of men and darken their understanding" (Oates, 124). However, he saw that this may be "a blessing in disguise." For the first time, the school issue was in front of the American conscience. Now, perhaps, men of good will would realize that the problem had to be dealt with forthrightly (ibid.).
In 1960, four black college students walked into a Woolworth department store in Greensboro, North Carolina, and purchased school supplies. They then sat down at…[continue]
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