Martin Luther King

HideShow resource information

Martin Luther King- Background

  • Born in 1929
  • Changed his name from Michael to Martin  (named after the German monk/priest Martin Luther.
  • As a child, King's encounters with racial discrimination were mild but formative. 
  • The first significant one came when he began school. White playmates of his were to attend a different elementary school from his, and, once the year began, their parents no longer allowed King to come over and play. 
  • It was this instance of injustice that first led his mother to explain to him the history of slavery and segregation.
1 of 12

Martin Luther King

  • During the Montgomery bus boycott, King was involved. 
  • The Montgomery Improvement Association, or MIA, and elected King its president. 
  • Though only twenty-six, he showed great promise as a leader, and was enough of a newcomer to stand outside old local political rivalries.
  •  From the beginning, and throughout the most trying, violent events of the lengthy boycott, King never failed to emphasize the protest's rootedness in Christian principles. 
  • Though they might be the victims of violence, black protestors would engage in no acts of violence themselves; they would "turn the other cheek." 
  • This set the tone for all of King's subsequent campaigns.
  •  It marked a national success for King and for the cause of African Americans as a whole.
2 of 12

Martin Luther King

  • King was an activist before a scholar; he knew his tactics and his goals.
  •  Not until 1963 would he and his followers win another major victory, however, and the late 1950s were a time of preparation, misfires, partial victories, and many lessons.
  • In early January 1957 the leaders behind the Montgomery Bus Boycott assembled in Atlanta, Georgia, and founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, or SCLC.
  • The SCLC comprised churches and clergy from across the South, and was created to coordinate protests inspired by the success of the bus boycott.
  •  He, along with white Jewish radical Stanley Levison (also of communist affiliations), and black social activist Ella Barker, who had worked extensively with the NAACP in the 1940s, guided King's career, helping him organize events and write letters, speeches, and books. King's association with Levison, which strengthened early in 1957, drew the attention of J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI under President Eisenhower. 
  • The FBI monitored and even harassed King from this point on, at times attempting to sabotage his public actions through blackmail. It is probable that King had affairs, and the FBI's claim to know of these increased their power over him.
3 of 12

Martin Luther King

  •  The SCLC became directly involved in April, when Ella Baker helped organize the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Later that year, King himself participated in sit-ins in an Atlanta department store, and was arrested. 
  • Despite his support and defense of the student actions, some of the protestors disassociated themselves from King, claiming that he was more talk than act, and furthermore, that he took the credit, in terms of money and fame, that others earned through sacrifice.
  •  This impression only deepened when King, through the help of presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, left the Atlanta jail early.
  • In the summer of 1961 King was a supporter of the Freedom Rides, a campaign of bus trips from north to south, intended to desegregate bus stations and lunch counters simply through the use of them
4 of 12

Martin Luther King-Birmingham

  •  Birmingham was the wealthiest city in Alabama, and a bastion of segregation. The mayor was a segregationist and the police commissioner, Eugene "Bull" Conner was known for his hostile and sometimes violent treatment of blacks.
  •  The Governor of the state was George Wallace, who had won office with promises of "segregation forever."
  • In March 1963 King set up headquarters in a room at a motel in one of Birmingham's black neighborhoods. He began recruiting volunteers for protest rallies and giving workshops in nonviolent techniques.
  • The campaign began on 3 April with lunch-counter sit-ins. 
  • On 6 April, protestors marched on City Hall, and forty-two people were arrested. 
  • Demonstrations occurred each day thereafter.
  •  While the jails filled with peaceful blacks, King negotiated with white businessmen, whose stores were losing business due to the protests. 
  • Although some of these businessmen were willing to consider desegregating their facilities and hiring African Americans, City officials held fast to segregationist policies.
5 of 12

Martin Luther King-Birmingham

  • King personally led a march on Good Friday, 12 April. 
  • All protestors were quickly arrested. Birmingham police separated King and Abernathy, placing each in solitary confinement, and denying each man his rightful phone-calls to the outside world.
  • King spent eight days in his cell. During that time he composed his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." 
  • The letter was ostensibly conceived in response to a letter that had recently run in a local newspaper, which had claimed that the protests were "unwise and untimely"; however, King also quite deliberately wrote his letter for a national audience. The letter reveals King's strength as a rhetorician and his breadth of learning.
  • Once King was released from jail, the protests assumed a larger scale and a more confrontational character
  • In a day or two the protests had become so massive and volatile that the City was willing to negotiate. It listened to the demands of the SCLC, and set a schedule for the desegregation of lunch counters and other facilities. 
  • It also promised to confront the issue of inequality in hiring practices, to grant amnesty to arrested demonstrators, and to create a bi-racial committee for the reconciliation of differences.
6 of 12

Martin Luther King-Selma

  • Selma was the county seat of Dallas County in the heart of Alabama's black belt.
  •  It provided everything that made a media event: a segregationist mayor, a Klan- affiliated police chief, and a very low percentage of blacks registered to vote.
  •  Of 30,000 people, slightly more than half were black, but only 350 blacks were registered. And blacks who had tried recently to register had been deflected by slow service, odd courthouse hours, excessively difficult literacy tests, and, of course, the threat of violence.
7 of 12

Martin Luther King-Selma

  • Selma was the county seat of Dallas County in the heart of Alabama's black belt.
  •  It provided everything that made a media event: a segregationist mayor, a Klan- affiliated police chief, and a very low percentage of blacks registered to vote.
  •  Of 30,000 people, slightly more than half were black, but only 350 blacks were registered. And blacks who had tried recently to register had been deflected by slow service, odd courthouse hours, excessively difficult literacy tests, and, of course, the threat of violence.
  • King first visited Selma with other SCLC members in January 1965, shortly after he returned from Oslo, Norway. Early protests were small in number, and resulted in arrests, both in Selma and in nearby towns. On 1 February King and Ralph Abernathy led a march of about 250 people to the Selma Courthouse to protest slow voter-registration. Both King and Abernathy were arrested and spent five days in jail. During that time Malcolm X visited Selma. Although he did not meet with King, he wished his best to King through King's wife before departing to engagements elsewhere. Shortly thereafter, Malcolm X was assassinated, and this visit, more supportive of King than earlier encounters, reflected the two leaders' partial reconciliation at the end of Malcolm X's life.
8 of 12

Martin Luther King-Selma

  • The Selma campaign became bloody on the evening of 18 February when a protest march headed for the jail of the town of Marion was attacked by a mob of whites. The streetlights shut off and violence commenced in the dark. A young black man, Jimmy Lee Jackson, was shot, and died eight days later.
  • On 5 March King flew to Washington to encourage Johnson to introduce a Voting Rights Bill. Johnson declined, and King immediately announced plans for a massive march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama's capital, which was 54 miles away. Governor George Wallace issued an order prohibiting the march, but the SCLC proceeded, though King did not lead the march himself.
9 of 12

Martin Luther King-Selma

  • On 7 March, over 500 people began walking up the four-lane highway toward Montgomery. When they reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which crossed the Alabama River, they encountered 60 State troopers, some cavalry, and the sheriff of the town. 
  • Civilian whites also stood by. 
  • The authorities ordered the crowd to disperse, but it refused. Moments later, the troopers began attacking the protestors with teargas, clubs, whips, and electric cattle prods, while the white spectators yelled encouragement.
  •  By the time the scuffle had ended, sixteen people had to be hospitalized, and at least fifty others were injured.
  •  As in Birmingham, reporters captured images that were subsequently broadcast nationally. These images inspired protests in Detroit, Chicago, Toronto, New Jersey, and other cities, and caught the attention of the White House.
  •  King announced plans for a second march, which he would lead himself
  • About 1500 people participated in the second march, more than half of them white. 
  • It again confronted State police. This time King ordered the protestors to disperse.
10 of 12

Martin Luther King-Selma

  • As Birmingham had led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Selma led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which Johnson signed into law in August.
  •  Selma marked the final stage of the Civil Rights Movement. It was the last major gain obtained by non-violent direct action. After the Selma victory, King changed his focus.
11 of 12

Martin Luther King

  • On 28 August 1963 roughly 250,000 people, three quarters of them black, marched in Washington D.C., from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, where they listened to speeches by America's civil rights leaders, including King. 
  • Officially called the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom," the event was a major success, as the preceding Birmingham campaign had been, and, like that campaign, contributed to the atmosphere in which federal civil rights legislation could pass.
  • Attendance of the march exceeded the expectations of its planners: they had counted on 100,000 and got a quarter of a million. At the rally, King was the last speaker to address the marchers, and he delivered the most famous speech of his career. Impassioned, rhythmic, and clear, King described his hopes for the future.
  • The speech aired on national television, reaching millions of Americans, including the President, who watched from the White House. It aided the Civil Rights Movement by providing a clear articulation of the hopes and wishes behind actions that often seemed chaotic. Even on television, King was a speaker with tremendous presence.
12 of 12

Comments

No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all The USA - twentieth century change resources »