Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010

Martin Luther King Jr.

After Rosa Parks was arrested on December 1, 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, the city's black residents set out to rally on her behalf. They formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), and in choosing a leader, they turned to a 26-year old Baptist preacher who had the distinction of having been elected student-body president of his largely white theological seminary. His name was Martin Luther King Jr., and the same inimitable public speaking style that catapulted King to the top at the Crozer Theological Seminary would also steer the Montgomery Bus Boycott. "There comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression," King said during his first address to the MIA four days after Parks' arrest.

What followed was a bus boycott lasting 381 days, as the black residents of Montgomery organized their own taxi services and carried on in spite of arrests for laws prohibiting boycotts. Adhering to King's signature insistence on nonviolence, the Montgomery Bus Boycott brought both the city's public transportation system and its economy to a financial breaking point, prompting calls for negotiations. Bolstered by the theory that "justice delayed is justice denied," King and the boycott participants refused to settle for anything less than complete integration. That mountaintop was reached after the Supreme Court declared segregation on buses unconstitutional on November 13, 1956. Overnight, the 27-year old King became the leader of the nascent civil rights movement. And the "certain kind of fire that no water could put out" was lit.