January 15, 1929 - April 4, 1968
The Montgomery Bus Boycott

After African-American Rosa Park was arrested on Decemer 1, 1955 for refusing to give up her seat to a white person, community
leaders activated one of the first major boycotts to kick off the Civil Rights Movement.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was chosen to lead the boycott movement after its successful launch. In addition to being a Baptist pastor, King was the son of a prominent Atlanta minister, a powerful orator, and a gifted leader. Shortly after the bus boycott, he founded and led the Southern Christian Leadersihp Conference for thirteen years. Following the principles of Mahatma Gandhi, Henry Thoreau, and Christian doctines, King was a nonviolent civil rights activist who protested against segregation.

A 'Thank you' To...
King's protests and actions were not in vain: in 1957, President Eisenhower signed a civil rights act providing federal protection for blakcs who wished to register to vote. His successes were also thanks to television and the growth of an urban black middle class, which increased consciousness of racism among blacks.

In 1963, he and his followers were jailed in Birmingham, Alabama for an "illegal march." It worked against authorities, as many Americans believed King was jailed unjustly (image on the bottom left).

Letter From a Birmingham Jail. "There is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest...(freedom) must be demanded by the oppressed...the justice too long delayed is the justice denied."
The episode moved President Kennedy to support a tougher civil rights bill. Controversial to many in his administration, Kennedy intervened during the 1960 campaign to release King from the Georgia prison. Likewise, when a voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965 was halted by police beatings, President Johnson sent troops to protect Dr. King and other civil rights demonstrators.

To put an stop to the nonviolent demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, in April 1963, Police Commissioner Eugene Connor used attack dogs, tear gas, electric cattle prods, and fire hoses. As the nation watched this crime, King's cause ironically gained even more force and support.

We Shall Overcome
In August 1963, King led one of the largest and most successful demonstrations in American history. Around 200,000 blacks and whites took part in the peaceful march on Washington in support of the civil rights bill. Following his speech "I Have A Dream," which appealed for the end of racial prejudice, the crowd sang "We Shall Overcome."

"Freedom Summer"
During the summer of 1964, many began to campaign for black voter registration and political participation. To help this cause, King organized a major demonstration in Selma, Alabama in March 1965. Once again, local sheriff Jim Clark used inhumane tactics to put down this peaceful crowd. Likewise, the outrageous law enforcement's actions prompted President Johnson to pass the Civil Rights Act (also known as the Voting Rights Act) of 1965 for blacks.

The Summer of 1966
King played a key role in this large campaign in Chicago, which was displayed to direct national attention to housing and employment discrimination in northern industrial cities. Instead, Chicago not only evoked vicious and violent opposition, but the campaign also failed to arouse the national conscience in the way events in the South had.

Martin Luther King, Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, but his nonviolent approach was under increasing pressure from all sides. His effort to use preaceful marches in urban centers of the North met with little success. King and President Johnson disagreed over the Vietnam War as it began to drain money from social programs.

Long Live the King
While standing on balcony in Memphis, Tennessee (to support striking black sanitation workers in the city), Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot and killed by a white man. Massive riots erupted in 168 cities across the country following the April 1968 murder, leaving at least 46 people dead and 27,000 injured. The violence did not reflect the ideals of the murdered leader, but it did reveal the anger and frustrations among African Americans in both the North and the South. Just two months later, Robert Kennedy was assassinated as well.

external image martin-luther-king-jr-day.s600x600.jpgWe Remember
Four days following King's assassination, Congressman John Coyners introduced a legislative bill to honor the civil rights activist. After six million signatures, political hoops, and fifteen years, President Ronald Regan signed the legislation in 1983.
Martin Luther King Jr., Day is the third Monday of January.

AMSCO: Page 600-602
A Survey of American History: Page 811, 826-830, 846