Tag Archive for 'Martin Luther King Jr.'

On This Day: Martin Luther King, Jr., Accepts the Nobel Peace Prize

On December 10, 1964—48 years ago today—the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., accepted the Nobel Peace Prize “as a trustee … on behalf of all men who love peace and brotherhood.”

Two months earlier, on October 14, 1964, news of King’s award was released. King, at only 35 years old, became the youngest winner of the prize in its 63 year history. King pledged every penny of the prize (over $50,000) to the civil rights movement.

In his acceptance speech, King expressed hope for the eventual success of the civil rights movement, and honored all those who fought for justice, stating “[I]n the depths of my heart I am aware that this prize is much more than an honor to me personally.” His speech read, in part:

I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when 22 million Negroes of the United States are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice. I accept this award on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice. …

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. …

I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. … I still believe that we shall overcome”

Over the next three and a half years before he was shot and killed, King continued to make a lasting impact on America through his unending dedication to nonviolence and the struggle for civil rights and equality—both in his capacity as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and in his work with other civil rights activists.

Today, King’s contributions are remembered each January on Martin Luther King Day. The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial opened to the public in August 2011 south of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. In October 2011, politicians, public figures, and citizens from across the country came together to dedicate the memorial, which had been in planning for more than two decades.

To view a video excerpt of King’s acceptance speech, check out this link from CBS News. To read the full speech, check out this link from The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

To read the October 14 New York Times article announcing King’s award, click here.

Publications and collections that pay tribute to King are almost too numerous to list; here is a modest sampling:

To learn more about King, check out the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and this blog post.

HarperOne published a collection of King’s writings and speeches: A Testament to Hope.

The University of Pennsylvania Press published Thomas F. Jackson’s From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice back in 2006.

Remembering the Albany Movement

On November 17, 1961—51 years ago today—representatives from various civil rights organizations including the NAACP and SNCC, as well as individual residents frustrated by segregation, came together in Georgia to form the Albany Movement—a coalition that would spend the next year fighting for integration.

Two weeks earlier, the Interstate Commerce Commission’s official ban of interstate bus segregation had gone into effect; on instruction from SNCC leaders, nine students from Albany State College had conducted a sit-in to test these policies. These students’ actions, as well as the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott several years earlier, helped inspire the formation of the Albany Movement.

Hoping to achieve the desegregation of all facilities throughout Albany, Georgia, activists utilized nonviolent mass demonstrations, sit-ins, litigation, and other tactics, all the while fighting for the release of individuals jailed in desegregation protests and for the establishment of a biracial committee to further the desegregation movement. These protesters lived under the constant threat of arrest; more than 500 were jailed in the first couple of weeks, and that number quickly reached 1,000.

Once Martin Luther King, Jr., became involved with the coalition, the Movement predictably gained national attention. After King was arrested on December 16, city officials and protesters reached a truce. However, the peace did not last, and demonstrations and arrests both increased.

Unfortunately, despite its success in mobilizing mass nonviolent protests, the Movement was not concretely successful at eliminating segregation policies. Albany’s police chief, Laurie Pritchett, was determined to block the movement’s progress, and his tactics were quite effective. That said, as King explained, civil rights leaders were able to learn from the Albany Movement, paving the way for future struggles, such as the Birmingham Campaign of 1963. And of course, local activism continued even after the Albany Movement itself wound down, with segregation laws ending in the spring of 1963.

To learn more about the Albany Movement, check out this page from Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, this page from the New Georgia Encyclopedia, this page from the University of Georgia, and this page from PBS.

Archival resources can be found in the Civil Rights Digital Library. Information on the Albany Movement is also included in Swarthmore College’s Global Nonviolent Action Database.

To learn more, check out this news story published fifty years after the movement.

To learn more about Charles Sherrod, one SNCC activist who helped start the campaign and later became a city commissioner, check out this article.

To learn more about the Interstate Commerce Commission’s segregation ban, check out this page from the Federal Highway Administration and this blog post. To read the regulations, click here.

To learn more about SNCC, check out this blog post.

On This Day: The Establishment of MLK Day

On November 2, 1983—29 years ago today—President Ronald Reagan signed into law a bill to create a federal holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

King, who was assassinated in 1968 at the age of 39, made a lasting impact on America through his unending dedication to the struggle for civil rights and equality—both in his capacity as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and in his work with other civil rights activists.

Although nonviolent techniques had been used in boycotts and protests for decades, the philosophy of nonviolence became especially associated with him; in 1964, he became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

In October 1983, roughly 15 years after preliminary legislation was introduced and following two petitions, the Senate voted for a national holiday to commemorate King, established on the third Monday in January. Two weeks later, President Reagan signed the bill into law, stating that King had “stirred our nation to the very depths of its soul.”

Reminding Americans about the difference King made, Reagan also noted that the work was not yet done: “But traces of bigotry still mar America. So, each year on Martin Luther King Day, let us not only recall Dr. King, but rededicate ourselves to the Commandments he believed in and sought to live every day.”

Martin Luther King Day was first celebrated as a national holiday just over two years later, on January 20, 1986. However, it would be seven years until all fifty states observed the holiday. Today, the holiday is celebrated as a national day of service, calling for citizens to work together, bridge barriers, and strengthen communities—goals very much in line with King’s message.

Twenty-nine years after the holiday was established and forty-four years after King was killed, his legacy lives on. A year ago, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial was dedicated (click here for pictures from the dedication ceremony). With the construction of the memorial, King became the first African American to be honored on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

To read President Reagan’s remarks on signing the bill, check out this page from UCSB’s American Presidency Project.

Time magazine provides a brief history of Martin Luther King Day here.

To see a chronological summary of the development of Martin Luther King Day, check out this page from the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

To see a photograph from the bill signing, check out this page from the White House blog.

Publications and collections that pay tribute to King are almost too numerous to list; here is a modest sampling:

To learn more about King, check out the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

HarperOne published a collection of King’s writings and speeches: A Testament to Hope.

The University of Pennsylvania Press published Thomas F. Jackson’s From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice back in 2006.

On This Day: Arrests in Atlanta

On October 19, 1960—52 years ago today—Martin Luther King, Jr., and dozens of other individuals were arrested during a sit-in protest at Rich’s lunch counter in Atlanta, Georgia.

More than eight months after four African American college students launched the student sit-in movement at the F.W. Woolworth Co. lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, protests were underway in numerous cities across the county. The movement had already achieved some success, furthered by the organization of a new group: the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In March, San Antonio had become the first major Southern city to integrate its lunch counters, by April Galveston had become the second city in Texas to integrate its lunch counters, and by June six more cities across the nation had followed suit. The students in Atlanta sought to continue this success.

Although he did not lead this demonstration, King participated in it as he did in other sit-in demonstrations.  (He had previously urged college students to “fill up the jails of the South … to arouse the dozing conscience of the nation.”) On October 19, 52 protesters were arrested for violating legislation from 1960 which allowed individuals to be charged with a misdemeanor if they refused to leave private property when asked.

Charges against sixteen of the activists were dismissed by October 20, but 35 protesters remained in jail. King vowed to remain in the cell for a year rather than make bond.

Ultimately, the 35 jailed protesters were released on bond. However, unrelatedly, King had been given a 12-month probationary sentence on a charge of driving without a valid Georgia license (based on an “anti-trespass” law enacted to curb lunch counter sit-ins). Officials used this violation to hold him in jail, and King was sentenced to four months in a Georgia public works camp.

This steep sentence for an arguably frivolous charge was met with shock and anger by the NAACP, civil rights activists, the American populace. NAACP executive secretary Roy Wilkins stated “This incident and the picketing and the protest and other demonstrations are merely evidence of a problem to which the state of Georgia will have to address itself, whether it wants to or not.”

Fortunately, King did not remain incarcerated for long. His attorneys quickly filed an appeal. Meanwhile, Senator John F. Kennedy, then a presidential candidate, expressed his support to King’s wife, and his brother, Robert Kennedy, convinced a judge to grant bond. King was released on October 27, two days after he was sentenced and one day after he arrived at the Georgia State Prison.

The Kennedys’ efforts to free King convinced many African Americans to vote for the Democratic candidate in the national presidential election less than two weeks after King’s release, which Kennedy won. Click here to read a news article from the Associated Press, in which King thanks Kennedy.

Over the next eight years, before he was assassinated, King continued his fight for civil rights and equality, through sit-in protests, mass marches, writings and speeches, and more. Last October, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial was dedicated (click here to see pictures from the dedication ceremony). With the construction of the memorial, King became the first African American of the many American officials honored on the National Mall in Washington D.C. To learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr., check out this blog post.

Activists continued sit-in protests across the country. Their work, in tandem with other civil rights protests such as the freedom rides, eventually led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination in public spaces. (Click here to see a photograph of King at the Act’s signing.)

For a comprehensive list of early sit-ins, click here. Time magazine provides a brief photographic history of the sit-in movement here, including a photograph of the sit-in at Rich’s.

To learn more about sit-ins and other student-dominated civil rights protests, check out Wesley Hogan’s Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC’s Dream for a New America (UNC Press 2007).

For a firsthand account by a sit-in protester from Tennessee, check out Merrill Proudfoot’s Diary of a Sit-In, available through UNC Press’s Enduring Editions collection.

In their illustrated children’s book, Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down, Andrea and Brian Pinkney celebrate the Greensboro Sit-In and the movement to which it contributed.

49 Years Ago: The March on Washington

On August 28, 1963—49 years ago today—more than 250,000 people participated in the March on Washington and listened to Martin Luther King, Jr., present what would become his most famous speech.

It had been a long time coming. Famed activist A. Philip Randolph had proposed the march in late 1962. Organization took time, because Randolph needed to bring together various civil rights organizations, notably the NAACP, the SCLC, CORE, SNCC, and the National Urban League. Randolph’s associate, Bayard Rustin, worked with roughly 200 volunteers to put together the nonviolent protest.

The largest human rights demonstration in U.S. history, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom brought individuals and civil rights organizations together. After a mile-long march across the National Mall, participants gathered to listen to speeches by activists and religious leaders. At the end of the day, protest leaders met with President John F. Kennedy at the White House.

The event’s significance cannot be overstated. In bringing so many people together in support of one common goal, the march helped pressure the federal government to create civil rights legislation. Soon after, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The march is not only famous for its sheer size and success, but also for a speech given that day by Martin Luther King, Jr.—a speech which today is still quoted in books and classrooms throughout the nation. In his “I Have a Dream” speech (audio), King spoke of a brighter future—a time when blacks and whites would be able to come together as brothers and sisters, when his children would be judged by their character rather than by the color of their skin, and when the American creed, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” would truly be realized.

Forty-eight years later, near the spot from which King spoke these famous words, Americans again celebrated the life of this well-known minister and the contributions of the civil rights movement. The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial opened to the public in August 2011 south of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. In October 2011, politicians, public figures, and citizens from across the country came together to dedicate the memorial, which had been in planning for more than two decades.

The spirit which brought the individuals and organizations together on August 28, 1963, is still remembered today. Large nonviolent protests modeled after the March on Washington have taken place in years since. Five years later, thousands of Americans camped out on the National Mall in opposition to economic inequality and poverty. And just recently, on August 18, 2012, individuals and activists again descended on the National Mall, this time for women’s rights. (Click here to see photos from the We Are Woman rally.)

To learn more, and to see the official program of the 1963 march, check out this page from the Our Documents Initiative, and this page from Stanford University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. This page from the White House Historical Association also provides information and photos.

To read a newspaper article published after the march, click here. For photos of the event, published in the Milwaukee Journal, click here.

To view photos from the October 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial dedication, click here.

For more on Bayard Rustin, check out PBS’s film Brother Outsider and the related website.

James Meredith and the March Against Fear

On June 6, 1966—46 years ago today—James Meredith was shot and wounded on the second day of his 220-mile March Against Fear.

Meredith, best known for integrating the University of Mississippi four years earlier,  chose to march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, to dispel fears of life in Mississippi and to encourage other African Americans to register to vote.  Although he planned the journey as a solitary march, a few companions joined him, as did three police cars.

That was not enough to protect him, though. Aubrey Norvell shot Meredith, who was taken to the hospital for surgery. Suddenly, in the face of violence, a march that had received little attention from larger civil rights organizations garnered interest. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., CORE’s Floyd McKissick, and SNCC’s Stokely Carmichael, after visiting Meredith at the hospital, elected to continue the march in his absence. It would be 20 days before Meredith was able to rejoin the march, which ended Sunday, June 26, 21 days after Meredith began the journey.

An estimated 16,000 African Americans and several hundred whites showed up in Jackson that day to see Meredith complete the journey. In his speech, Meredith called for the elimination of “the fear that grips the Negro in America to his very bones, not only in Mississippi, but in every section of this country, because every inch of the country is controlled by the system of white supremacy.” (For more about this speech, click here.)

Aubrey Norvell pled guilty to the shooting, and was sentenced to five years in prison (three of which were suspended). He was released from Parchman Penitentiary in June 1968.

A Duke University student last month fashioned his own march against North Carolina’s Amendment One; he compared the protest with Meredith’s March Against Fear.

For more information about the March Against Fear, click here.

To read news articles published during the march, click here, here, and here.

To watch a video clip of Meredith’s speech on June 26, click here.

To learn more about James Meredith, click here, or check out Charles W. Eagles’ The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss (UNC Press, 2009).

On This Day: First Baptist Church Under Siege

On May 21, 1961—51 years ago today—Freedom Riders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and 1,500 men, women, and children who had gathered at the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, faced mob violence at the hands of several thousand white segregationists.

The Freedom Rides had only just begun on May 4th, but the activists had already faced violence in several Southern towns. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., traveled to Montgomery in support of the freedom riders, planning to address a gathering of movement supporters at the Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s First Baptist Church that evening.

Threats were certainly expected. The initial group of U.S. Marshals sent to guard the church proved too small in number to hold off the angry white mob—which had already begun to set fire to vehicles parked outside and had threatened to set fire to the church. After King called Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who in turn called Alabama’s governor, federal troops ultimately broke up the mob—but only after the men, women, and children had been trapped in the church for nearly the entire night.

In the face of a full-scale riot outside—with fires burning and rocks and bricks flying through the windows—the group inside the church remained firm in their commitment to nonviolence. They sat in the church all night until federal troops were able to escort them safely home.

Their courage and commitment in the face of mob violence provided further momentum to the desegregation movement. Soon afterwards, the Justice Department petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to ban discrimination on buses and at bus terminals; in September, the orders were issued, and in November the Freedom Rides ended in victory.

To see photos taken inside the church that night, click here, here, and here.

To read the US Marshal Service’s summary of the event, click here.

To see the planned program for the gathering, click here, or navigate from the previous link.

To see news footage of participants singing a hymn amidst the rioting, click here.

To learn more about the Freedom Riders, click here; for a timeline, click here.

For more about this movement, check out Raymond Arsenault’s Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (Oxford University Press 2007), on which PBS’s documentary, Freedom Riders, is based.

To learn more about protests against transportation discrimination, check out Blair Kelley’s Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson (UNC Press 2010).

Remembering the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom

On May 17, 1957—55 years ago today—thousands of civil rights demonstrators gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to urge the federal government to fulfill the promises laid out in the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, exactly three years earlier.

The Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom brought together 25,000 protesters for a day of songs and speeches, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s moving “Give Us the Ballot” speech (listen and read here).

In the years following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, segregationists had proved unwilling to comply with integration orders—despite the Supreme Court’s insistence in Brown II (1955) that school administrators end segregation “with all deliberate speed.”

On February 14, 1957, civil rights activists urged President Eisenhower to condemn segregationists’ refusal to comply with the integration orders—and the violence that segregationists propagated against African Americans throughout the South. In a letter, the activists warned that if the government did not take a public stand against segregation, activists would congregate in D.C. for a day of prayers, songs, and speeches meant to draw Americans’ attention to the violence and inequality prevalent in the South.

Although the event did not draw as many protesters as the organizers had expected, it was heavily covered in the national press. Ultimately it increased both King’s prominence and Americans’ consciousness of the violence and inequality that were still so common across the South three years after Brown v. Board of Education. It motivated activists to continue to fight for an end to segregation and violence, and foreshadowed the 1963 March on Washington and King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

For more information, click here.

To see a newspaper article printed the day after the civil rights protesters wrote to President Eisenhower, click here.

To see a newspaper article printed on the day of the protest, click here.

HarperOne’s collection of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work, A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., includes the “Give Us the Ballot” speech, among others.

For more about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., click here.

On This Day: The Poor People’s Campaign

On May 12, 1968—44 years ago today, protesters began a movement that would soon involve thousands of Americans of all races and backgrounds in a multi-week protest and march against economic inequality and poverty.

Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights leaders, had been preparing for the Poor People’s Campaign for several months. After King was assassinated on April 4th, his widow, Coretta Scott King, and a group of black ministers (including Ralph Abernathy and Jesse Jackson), decided to move forward with the plans.

Originally conceived of by Marian Wright Edelman of the NAACP, the campaign sought help from Congress and governmental agencies: jobs for the unemployed, health care, education, and a fair minimum wage.

For six weeks—until their land use permit expired on June 24—protesters camped out in tents and shacks on the National Mall, in an area they named Resurrection City.

Ultimately, as many as 50,000 people participated in the campaign. At the time, many thought the concessions the protesters secured were insufficient. However, the campaign was highly visible and increased consciousness of poverty across the nation—and it foreshadowed protests to come in the ensuing decades, including the current Occupy Movement.

For more information, check out this story from NPR.

To learn more, and to view a video and several news articles, click here.

To view a flyer announcing the movement, click here.

Gerald McKnight’s The Last Crusade: Martin Luther King, Jr., the FBI, and the Poor People’s Campaign (Basic Books, 1998) examines the demonstration and responses to it.

Thirty-six years before the Poor People’s Campaign, another group of protesters set up encampments in Washington, D.C. During the Great Depression, World War I veterans—left hungry and homeless after the government announced they would not receive their service compensation until 1945—launched a large-scale protest. The Bonus Army arrived in D.C. on May 25, 1932, and quickly drew thousands of veterans. To learn more, click here.

Remembering the Birmingham Campaign

On May 10, 1963, the Birmingham Campaign came to an end (after intervention from the U.S. Department of Justice), when local officials agreed to desegregate downtown stores and release jailed demonstrators following the end of the protest.

The movement, which began in April, utilized massive direct action to attack Birmingham’s strongly engrained system of segregation (see the Birmingham Manifesto). Encompassing mass meetings, sit-ins, marches, and more, the campaign was organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) and attracted increasingly large numbers of protesters each day.

Less than two weeks after the campaign began, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ralph Abernathy, both of whom were instrumental in planning and executing the movement, were arrested. Activists pressed on, though, and King’s subsequent “Letter from Birmingham Jail” further mobilized the protest.

The campaign gained momentum in early May during the Children’s Crusade, when more than a thousand African American students marched downtown, facing police lines and arrest.

Trained in the strategies of nonviolent direct action by the SCLC and the ACMHR, hundreds of the initial protesters were arrested and taken to jail, but hundreds more joined in the following day. After public safety commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor instructed police to use force against the demonstrators, television and newspaper coverage of children facing beatings, high-pressure fire hoses, and dog attacks spread quickly across the nation and world.

This protest was exactly what the Birmingham Campaign needed to inspire action: the Birmingham Campaign ended on May 10th with an agreement between civil rights activists and local officials.

Racial hostility and unrest continued—seen, for instance, in the board of education’s announcement that it would suspend or expel all students who had participated in the crusade, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ reversal of this decision and, later, in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. However, the Children’s Crusade and the Birmingham Campaign as a whole further energized the civil rights movement and highlighted the need for reforms that would soon be seen in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Countless other individuals and groups were inspired to continue the fight for equality and justice.

For the Encyclopedia of Alabama’s entry on the Birmingham Campaign, click here.

For more on Birmingham’s significance in the civil rights struggle, check out Glenn Eskew’s But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle (UNC Press, 1997).

Diane McWhorter’s Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle for the Civil Rights Revolution (Simon and Schuster, 2002) chronicles Birmingham’s events of 1963.

For more information about the Children’s Crusade, click here, and also check out Cynthia Levinson’s We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March (Peachtree Publishers, 2012).

For more about children’s involvement in the civil rights movement, check out Rebecca de Schweinitz’s If We Could Change the World: Young People and America’s Long Struggle for Racial Equality (UNC Press, 2009).