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A Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.


King, 1956-1963

The bus boycott was successful in integrating Montgomery's buses by December of 1956. The year was a trying one for King-he was arrested and twelve sticks of dynamite with a burnt-out fuse were discovered on his front porch--but it also was the year that King accepted his role in the Civil Rights Movement. After the boycott in 1957, King helped to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which became a key organization in the Civil Rights Movement. King came a sought-out speaker across the South, and though he worried about people's overweening expectations, King began the travels that would take up the rest of his life.

In 1959, King traveled to India and met with Gandhi's former lieutenants. India had won its independence from Great Britain in 1947 due in large part to Gandhi's non-violent movement, which entailed peaceful civil resistance-that is resisting the unjust government but doing so without violence. King was impressed by the incredible success of the Indian independence movement through the employment of non-violence.

When he returned, King announced his resignation from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. He felt it was unfair to his congregation to spend so much time on civil rights activism and so little time on ministry. The natural solution was to become co-pastor with his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

By the time King moved to Atlanta, became full-fledged. College students in Greensboro, North Carolina, initiated the protests that formed this phase. On February 1, 1960, four African-American college students, young men from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, went to a Woolworth's lunch counter that served whites only and asked to be served. When denied service, they sat silently until the store closed. They returned for the rest of the week, kicking off a lunch-counter boycott that spread across the South.

In October, King joined students at a Rich's department store in downtown Atlanta. It became the occasion for another of King's arrests. But, this time, he was on probation for driving without a Georgia license (he had retained his Alabama license when he made his move to Atlanta). When he appeared before a Dekalb County judge on the charge of trespassing, the judge sentenced King to four months hard labor. It was presidential election season, and presidential candidate John F. Kennedy called Coretta Scott to offer his support while King was in jail. Meanwhile, Robert Kennedy, though angry that the publicity of the phone call might alienate white Democrat voters from his brother, worked behind the scenes to procure King's early release. The result was that King Sr. announced his support for the Democratic candidate.

In 1961, the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which had been formed in the wake of the Greensboro lunch-counter protests began a new initiative in Albany, Georgia. Students and Albany residents began a series of demonstrations designed to integrate the city's services. Albany's police chief, Laurie Pritchett, employed a strategy of peaceful policing. He kept his police force tightly controlled, and the Albany protesters were having trouble making any headway. They called King.

King arrived in December and found his non-violent philosophy tested. Pritchett told the press that he had studied King's ideas and that non-violent protests would be countered by non-violent police work. What became apparent in Albany was the non-violent demonstrations were most effective when performed in an environment of overt hostility. As Albany's police kept peacefully jailing protesters, the Civil Rights Movement was being denied their most effective weapon in the new age of television-images of peaceful protesters being brutally beaten. King left Albany in August 1962 as Albany's civil rights community decided to shift its efforts to voter registration.

Though Albany is generally considered a failure for King, it was merely road bump on the way to greater success for the non-violent Civil Rights Movement.

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