Tag Archive for 'nonviolence'

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.

Remembering the Oklahoma City Sit-Ins

On August 19, 1958—54 years ago today and a year and a half before the famous Greensboro Sit-In—schoolteacher and NAACP official Clara Luper led thirteen African American students into a Katz drug store in Oklahoma City to nonviolently agitate against racial discrimination and segregation.

The group sat quietly at the drug store’s lunch counter, ordered drinks, and were refused service. Undeterred, the group continued the protest, returning the next day. Soon after the protest began, Katz changed its segregation policy—not just in Oklahoma, but also in other states. The protesters moved on to desegregation efforts at other businesses, while also organizing consumer boycotts.

This protest, though certainly successful, was only the beginning. Similar measures would prove necessary across the country. A year and a half later, four African American college students began a sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina, launching a nationwide student-led movement and leading to the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Years later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made segregation in public places illegal.

For more information, check out this page from Swarthmore College’s Global Nonviolent Action Database.

The 1958 sit-in was recently memorialized in a play, “Sitting with Clara Luper.” There is also a street near Oklahoma City named in honor of Clara Luper.

Clara Luper, who was the first African American student to be admitted to the University of Oklahoma’s graduate history program, was arrested 26 times in civil rights protests. In 1979, she authored a memoir: Behold the Walls. It is now out of print, but can be found in libraries. To learn more about Luper, check out this page from the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture.

To learn about an earlier sit-in, the Dockum Drug Store sit-in in Kansas, check out this page from the Kansas Historical Society.

For a timeline of 1958 Oklahoma sit-ins, check out this page from The Oklahoman. For a comprehensive list of sit-ins, click here.

To read an account of a later sit-in, check out Merrill Proudfoot’s Diary of a Sit-In, available through UNC Press’s Enduring Editions collection.

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).

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 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).

Remembering the Freedom Riders

On May 4, 1961—51 years ago today—the first group of Freedom Riders left Washington, D.C., aboard Greyhound buses bound for the segregated South. Their courage and persistence over the next six months would change American history.

Sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Freedom Rides involved more than 400 African American and white individuals who traveled in groups throughout the South, deliberately challenging Jim Crow laws, in particular strict prohibitions against integrated bus travel.

Freedom Riders faced hostility, discrimination, and quite frequently mob violence. (Click here to read about James Zwerg, one young Freedom Rider who fell victim to an angry white mob). But they persevered, maintaining their dedication to nonviolent direct action.

This was not the first such demonstration: 14 years earlier, 16 CORE members had participated in the Journey of Reconciliation, traveling south from D.C. via Greyhound and Trailways buses. Despite this and other early demonstrations—and despite court cases mandating desegregation of interstate travel—African Americans still faced racism while traveling through the South in the early 1960s.

CORE and SNCC brought together individuals of all ages, races, genders, and regional affiliations to challenge the deeply ingrained Jim Crow policies of the South, aiming to move past discrimination and violence into a climate of equality. Heavily reported by national and international media, the Freedom Rides ultimately prevailed. In September 1961, the Interstate Commerce Commission, at Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s insistence, ordered an end to segregation on interstate transportation and within transportation facilities. By the time the rides ended in November 1961, participants had made a lasting impact on America.

To hear civil rights scholar Paul Ortiz discuss the impact of the Freedom Rides, click here.

Mike Wiley’s moving play, The Parchman Hour, commemorates the Freedom Rides and celebrates the courage exhibited by those who served sentences in one of the most brutal prisons in the South, Parchman Farm. To learn more, check out these two blog posts: click here and here.

As part of a larger site connected with the film Freedom Riders, PBS hosts an interactive map allowing viewers to trace the routes of the freedom rides.

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 is based.

For more information about SNCC, check out Wesley Hogan’s Many Minds, One Heart, UNC Press, 2007, as well as a series of LCRM blog posts and videos related to SNCC’s 50th reunion.

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 Children’s Crusade

On May 2nd, 1963—49 years ago today—more than a thousand African American students gathered at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church of Birmingham to begin an unprecedented march downtown, facing police lines and arrest.

Trained in the strategies of nonviolent direct action by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR), thousands of students on May 2ndseveral weeks after Martin Luther King, Jr., had been arrested in Birmingham—launched the Children’s Crusade, an initiative of the Birmingham Campaign.

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.

Ultimately, the Children’s Crusade proved much more expedient and successful than previous civil rights protests in the city: the Birmingham Campaign ended on May 10th  (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.

That wasn’t the end of the protesters’ struggle, though. Soon after the campaign ended, the city’s board of education announced that it would suspend or expel all students who had participated in the crusade. The local federal district court upheld the ruling, but, on the same day, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, condemning the board of education’s decision and ordering the schools to reinstate the students.

The young protesters’ success—as well as strong national outrage over the violence against schoolchildren—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. The children’s courage inspired countless other individuals and groups to continue the fight for equality and justice.

For more information, click here.

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).

For more about the crusade, check out Cynthia Levinson’s We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March, from Peachtree Publishers.

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).

On This Day: The Letter from Birmingham Jail

On April 16th, 1963—49 years ago today—the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote his famous letter from Birmingham Jail, justifying his presence in Birmingham and describing the importance of nonviolent direct action protest for achieving social justice.

King and others involved in organizing the Birmingham Campaign against segregation, were arrested for violating a court injunction prohibiting public civil rights demonstrations. During his eight-day imprisonment, King composed a response to local white religious leaders’ criticisms of the campaign. Written in several pieces during the week, the letter was compiled in full by King’s lawyers on April 16, 1962.

In his long, hand-written letter, King laid out the events that led to his arrest before launching into a discussion of the importance of improving equality in all regions and communities in America:

[…] I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

He detailed the importance of nonviolent direct action (such as sit-ins and marches) in forcing communities to address important issues:

Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it may no longer be ignored.

Today, King’s letter is read by individuals across the country and world, so it may be difficult to imagine that, at the time, King was unsure what effect this nearly 7,000-word letter would have:

Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

Now considered a classic work and reprinted in various anthologies, the letter was first published in the national press on May 19, 1963. King revised the letter one year later for inclusion in his memoir Why We Can’t Wait.

To read the full text of the letter, click here.

This summary from the Encyclopedia of Alabama provides great context.

For more background information, click here.

Check out Glen Eskew’s But for Birmingham for more information on Birmingham’s local civil rights protests.

Remembering the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

During the weekend of April 15-17, 1960—52 years ago today—the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded during a gathering of some 300 students at Shaw University in Raleigh, NC.

Eminent civil rights activist Ella Baker invited African American college students who had participated in the early 1960 sit-ins to the gathering, with the intention of forming a locally based, student-run organization. Vanderbilt University theology student James Lawson emerged as one leader, drafting the initial organizational Statement of Purpose, which read, in part:

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 tradition seeks a social order of justice permeated by love. Integration of human endeavor represents the crucial first step toward such a society.

[…]

By appealing to conscience and standing on the moral nature of human existence, nonviolence nurtures the atmosphere in which reconciliation and justice become actual possibilities.

By May 1960, the group became a permanent organization, with Fisk University student Marion Barry as the elected chairman. The first official meeting was held in Atlanta May 13-14.

The next few years were busy ones for SNCC, as student activists became deeply involved in the freedom rides, the Albany Movement, the 1963 March on Washington, and the Mississippi Freedom Summer. Issues addressed ranged from desegregation of public facilities to racial problems in education.

After Stokely Carmichael—who would soon be known for his promotion of “black power”— was elected chairman in 1966, the group became increasingly divided over questions of nonviolence and interracial cooperation. By the 1970s, SNCC had disintegrated; however, in its decade-long life, the Committee—made up of young people from across the country—made lasting contributions to the fight against segregation and discrimination.

SNCC’s contributions are remembered and honored today through the SNCC Legacy Project and its strategies of nonviolent direct action continue to be used in such modern-day movements as the 99% Spring Movement.

For more information, and to read the full text of the original Statement of Purpose, click here.

For a detailed summary of SNCC’s history and work, click here.

To hear one SNCC veteran’s stories, click here.

Click here for activist, writer, and educator Sue Thrasher’s thoughts about SNCC, written during the 50th anniversary conference two years ago.

For more about SNCC, check out Wesley Hogan’s Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC’s Dream for a New America (UNC Press 2007).

For more about Ella Baker, check out Barbara Ransby’s Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement (UNC Press 2005).

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.

On April 4th, 1968—44 years ago today—the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated while standing on the balcony outside of his hotel room in Memphis, TN.

King, who was visiting Memphis to lead a march of sanitation workers striking against low wages and poor working conditions, was shot in the neck while standing on the balcony with the Reverend Jesse Jackson and other civil rights workers in the early evening.

James Earl Ray, who eventually confessed to murdering King, was in 1969 convicted of the crime and sentenced to 99 years in prison.

King’s assassination sparked racial violence across the country; more than forty people were killed, and there was extensive property damage in cities across America. President Lyndon B. Johnson called for a national day of mourning, which was observed on April 7th, three days after King’s death. Individuals across the nation and the world paid tribute to the fallen civil rights activist.

Although King only lived for 39 years, he 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. And although nonviolent techniques had been used in boycotts and protests for decades, the philosophy of nonviolence became especially associated with him.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964—making him the youngest recipient in the prize’s history—and organized and participated in numerous civil right protests and marches. His “I Have a Dream” speech (audio) is quoted and cited in classrooms across the country, and most American cities have a park or a street named after him.

Last October, 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 join a cadre of American officials honored on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

For more information about the assassination and the events it led to, click here.

To read the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s description of these events, click here.

Today, hotel where King met his untimely death is marked by the National Civil Rights Museum, which opened in 1991.

Glen Eskew’s But for Birmingham offers readers a look into one community’s civil rights movement—a movement which Martin Luther King, Jr., become involved in during the 1960s.

Stewart Burns’ Daybreak of Freedom describes one of the early movements King supervised: the Montgomery Bus Boycott of the mid-1950s.

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.

Numerous other biographies and collections pay tribute to King.