Martin Luther King Jr (P2) – In trying to solve a problem he found his life purpose

 

**** Please note… In all of the speeches and books read for this post, MLK always uses the words Negro or Negroes (with a capital ‘N’) to talk about African Americans, and whites (with a small ‘w’) to describe the Caucasians. ****

This is the 2nd of a 2 part series about Martin Luther King Jr.

In the 1st part we left him when, on May 2nd, 1954. He had given his first sermon that morning, as Dexter Avenue’s church new pastor.

THE SEPARATE IS ALWAYS UNEQUAL

It would only take a few more days for History to provide MLK with legal grounds to support one of his convictions and future actions. As on May 17th 1954, the US Supreme Court gave its decision in the Brown vs Board of Education case. “We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” [1] A doctrine that had been made law by the same Supreme Court in 1896. It then allowed state-sponsored segregation. Just like in Alabama and Georgia. A conclusion Martin had reached when he came back from Connecticut in 1944 and had to sit again in a segregated bus. From then on, he was convinced that “the separate was always unequal”. [2] By experience he also knew inequality went way beyond the school benches. It was also in the separate waiting rooms, eating places, rest rooms, etc..

Once his PhD thesis completed and his pastor’s position confirmed later that fall of 1954, MLK took an active part in the community. “I insisted that every church become a registered member of the NAACP (e.g. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, an organization formed in 1909) and organized within the church a social and political action committee – designed to keep the congregation intelligently informed on the social, political and economic situations.” [3] Martin himself became a member of Montgomery NAACP’s branch. He also took an interest in The Alabama Council on Human Relations. In his eyes, the Council wasthe only truly interracial group in Montgomery, it served to keep the desperately needed channels of communication open between the races.” [4] An openness that would become important over time.

Until it did, two events pushed MLK in taking a greater part in empowering the people of his community.

A SUMMER LYNCHING

On August 31st, 1955, a young boy was fishing on the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi. Nothing unusual except for what he saw that day: a human body, floating close by, caught in the lower branches of a tree. As the police took the corpse out of the water, it was obvious that whoever it was, he had been severely beaten. A young boy named Emmett Till had been missing for three days in that same region. Having grown in Chicago, Emmett’s mother had sent her 14 years old son on vacation to Mississippi to spend time with relatives. Staying with his uncle, Reverend Moses Wright, and aunt, Emmett was pulled of his sleep on the night of August 28th. Two white armed men wanted to talk to him about what had happened a few days prior in town. One of the two men being the husband of a woman Emmett had supposedly been disrespectful to. Even if Emmett’s uncle tried to reason with the two men, they left with the boy in the back of their pick up truck.

Emmett Till as exposed in his coffin, in 1955.
Emmett Till as exposed in his coffin, in 1955.

Emmett was seen again by his mother on Sept 2nd, at the Chicago train station. This time, he was lying, disfigured, in a coffin. The local Mississippi authorities having complied to Mrs Till wish. Her other wish was to let the world see what had been done for her son. So for his funeral, the casket was left opened intentionally. A Chicago newspaper reported that about 250 000 people went to see Emmett. A few days later, on Sept 15th, the Jet magazine published an unedited picture of Emmett in his open coffin. That same picture was soon published by other Medias.

When the trial of the two alleged killers began on Sept 19th, in Leflore County (Mississippi), there were only 10 white men in the jury. No Negroes, even though they represented 65% of the county population. On Sept 23rd, after about an hour of deliberation, Roy Bryant and JW Milam were found not guilty of Emmet Till’s death. The court’s decision and that whole segregation story led to an outrage in the population and national Medias. Not just in the American Negro community. In the United States and Europe too. [5] If until then segregation had made countless anonymous victims in the United States, this time it had a name and a face: Emmett Till.

As Bryant and Milam will tell a reporter in January 1956, their first intention that night of August 1955 was “to just whip him (Emmett) and scare some common sense into him”. [6] They had done more than that. As about a month after Emmett’s death, MLK will say that it ‘‘might be considered one of the most brutal and inhuman crimes of the twentieth century’’. [7] Maybe more importantly, that murder became a key example of “racial injustice” Martin would use in his future sermons. It also inspired a Mrs not to give up her seat to a man in a bus, a few months later.

A TIRED WOMAN

Mrs Rosa Parks was a 42 years old married woman from Montgomery, Alabama. On Dec 1st 1955, as usual she had spent her workday tailoring men suits in a local department store. With a sore shoulder and Christmas plans in mind, she was looking forward to get home that Thursday. As with other segregated situations, Rosa avoided taking the bus whenever she could. On that day though, she boarded one around 5:30PM and took a seat in the middle section. At the time, buses had 34 seats; 14 in the front for white passengers, 22 in the back for Negroes. If a 15th white passenger was boarding the bus, it was in the bus driver’s power to request from the passengers in the first row of the Negro section (e.g. 4 people) to stand up and free their seats. Even if it was only to sit one white passenger. Mrs Parks was sitting in that first row. So were a man and two other women.

At one point on the ride, a white man got on the bus. As the front section was already full, the bus driver said “Let me have those front seats”, meaning the first row in the Negro section. If Rosa’s seatmates hesitated to stand up at first, they all did when the driver asked for those seats a second time. All stood up except for her. Why? Before taking her decision, her grandfather – who had to keep a gun to protect his family – crossed her thoughts. So did Emmett Till’s story. “I felt that, if I did stand up, it meant that I approved of the way I was being treated, and I did not approve. (I was) Tired of giving in.” [8] As she later told in different occasions, it wasn’t a premeditated decision, and she acted out on her own that day. She couldn’t deal with what segregation implied no more.

Mrs Rosa Parks on the night of her arrest, on Dec 1st 1955.
Mrs Rosa Parks on the night of her arrest, on Dec 1st 1955.

It wasn’t the first time a woman defied the buses segregation law in Montgomery. Two others had done so in the past nine months and had been arrested. Rosa Parks wouldn’t be an exception. Even more when she refused to give up her seat after the police came and asked her. The bus driver was then determined to press charges against her – for not respecting the buses law. So the police did later that night. [9]

What helped make this arrest more public is the fact that Mrs Parks was known in the Montgomery’s Negro community as an active member of the NAACP. The news of her being in prison soon reached the former head of Montgomery’s NAACP; E.D. Nixon. Bailed out by Nixon that same evening, Mrs Parks was to be trialed the next Monday, Dec 5th.

Meanwhile, Nixon wanted community leaders to do something about this whole situation. So on Friday morning, among others, he called MLK. Recounting Mrs Parks’ incident and arrest, he added “We have taken this type of thing too long already. (…) I feel that the time has come for to boycott the buses. Only through boycott can we make it clear to the white folks that we will not accept this type of treatment any longer.” [10] Martin agreed with Nixon’s idea. He even offered his church as a meeting place with other leaders later that night. When MLK entered the church that evening “more than forty people, from every segment of Negro life, were crowded into the large church meeting room. (…) I was filled with joy when I found so many of them there; for then I knew that something unusual was about to happen.” [11]

THE MONTGOMERY BUSES BOYCOTT

Why a protest, a boycott? “The bus situation was one of the sore spots of Montgomery.” Bus operators were referring to Negro passengers as ‘niggers’, ‘black apes’ and ‘black cows’ ” as Martin recalled. [12] Negroes were expected to pay the same bus fare as white passengers but were not always allowed to get on board. As the bus would sometimes leave before they could make their way back from the front door to the back one, at the driver’s request. That night, at Dexter Avenue’s church, everyone shared the opinion that this was no time to talk but time to act. If Martin agreed with the idea of a boycott, he realized the purpose of such action wasn’t the same for everyone in the room. In the end though, they all agreed. “We would use this method (e.g. boycott) to give birth to justice and freedom. Our concern would not be to put the bus company out of business but to put justice back in the business.” [13] MLK will later write “As I thought further, I came to see that what we were really doing was withdrawing our cooperation from an evil system, rather than merely withdrawing our support from the bus company. The bus company, being an external expression of the system, would naturally suffer, but the basic aim was to refuse to cooperate with evil (…) From this moment on I conceived of our movement as an act of massive noncooperation. From then on I rarely used the word ‘boycott’. ” [14]

Reading this you understand that, through the upcoming protest against the bus service, Martin had his mind set on a deeper problem: the segregation system.

Still, everything first had to work on Monday Dec 5th. The day of Mrs Park’s trial. The day set for the buses boycott to start. The message had been passed onto Montgomery’s Negro community through different channels, like the Sunday masses.

A LEADER, A MOVEMENT

There was a bus stop very close to Martin and Coretta’s house. The first bus that passed that morning was empty. The second and third were empty too. “At the peak of the morning traffic, I saw no more than eight Negro passengers riding the buses. Instead of the 60 percent cooperation we had hoped for, it was becoming apparent that we had reached almost 100 percent. A miracle had taken place.” [15] During rush hours, sidewalks were crowed with workers walking. As Martin will observe, “they knew why they walked, and the knowledge was evident in the way they carried themselves.” [16] At city court’s, Mrs Parks was found guilty of disobeying the city’s buses law. For that, she was to pay a 14$ fine (that included the court’s fees of 4$).

If the protest was a tremendous success, the leaders that gathered that same afternoon had a simple question: where do we go from here? There was a need for some formal organization. First, a name was chosen: the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). “The next job was to elect the officers. As soon as Bennett had opened the nominations for president, Rufus Lewis spoke from the far corner of the room: ‘Mr Chairman, I would like to nominate Reverend M.L. King for president’. The motion was seconded and carried, and in a matter of minutes I was unanimously elected. The action had caught me unawares. It happened so quickly that I did not even have time to think it through.” [17] As to decide if the protest was to go on, it would be to the community to decide. If the vote was to be “no”, all things would end that night. If the answer was to be “yes”, the leaders agreed the protest would go on until certain demands were met. A mass meeting was set to survey the people’s opinion later in the day. Thousands of people gathered inside and outside of Holt Street Baptist Church in Montgomery that night. The key speaker was MLK.

Among other things he told the crowd that: “We are here this evening for serious business. We are, in a general sense, because first and foremost we are American citizens and we are determined to apply our citizenship to the fullness of its meaning. (…) We are not afraid of what we are doing, because we are doing it within the law. (…) We, the disinherited of this land, we who have been oppressed so long, are tired of going through the long night of captivity. And now we are reaching out for the daybreak of freedom and justice and equality. (…) Not only is this thing a process of education but it is also a process of legislation.” He concluded his speech by saying: “Right here in Montgomery, when the history books are written in the future, somebody will have to say ‘They lived a race of people, black people, fleecy locks and black complexion, a people who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights. And thereby they injected a new meaning into the veins of history and civilization’.” [18] The crowd stood up and applauded until the all-important moment to take a decision came.

Ralph Abernathy had been designated to read the leaders’ resolution to the crowd. It “called upon the Negroes not to resume riding the buses until 1) courteous treatment by the bus operators was guaranteed, 2) passengers were seated on a first-come, first-served basis – Negroes seating from the back of bus toward the front, whites from the front toward the back, 3) Negro bus operators were employed on predominantly Negro routes. At the words ‘All in favor of the motion stand’, every person to a man stood up, and those who were already standing raised their hands. Cheers began to ring out from the inside and outside.” [19] The protest that day, and the decision to keep it going was the start of what became known as the Civil Rights Movement.

IN NEED OF A STRATEGY

If not to take the buses was the community’s decision, what were the other options to go from home to work, and back? Inspired by the buses boycott of 1953 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, MLK and his colleagues at the M.I.A. organized a car pool with Montgomery’s Negro taxi companies. Despite its success, some people preferred to pass on the car pool and keep on walking. The act of walking became a symbol. When the car pool was undermined by the local authorities – stating that any taxi had to respect the laws and charge the minimum fare – regular car owners joined in and helped. Among them, Martin recalls there were “at least three white men from the air bases drove in the pool during their off-duty hours.” [20]

About a week after the start of the protest, a letter was published in one of Montgomery’s newspapers. Its author, Miss Juliette Morgan, a white woman who sympathized with the Negroes, compared the bus protest with Gandhi’s movement in India. [21] The word about Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance spread in the Negro community and mixed with the idea of “Christian love” that inspired people to start the bus protest at first.

The white people had the law, the courts and the police on their side. What did the Negroes have? As days past, it became clear to Martin that Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance was the most powerful weapon available. A vast majority of people also showed they agreed with him. As MLK will write “Non violent resistance had emerged as the technique of the movement, while love stood as the regulating ideal. In other words, Christ furnished the spirit and motivation while Gandhi furnished the method.” [22] It was a new approach to the race crisis. The city authorities used a different one.

A FOUNDING PROBLEM AND ITS ROOT CAUSE

Montgomery’s city authorities called a meeting with the M.I.A. and the bus company’s officials on Dec 15th, 1955. Everyone was there. When his turn came to speak, Martin made it clear that the protest wasn’t caused by Mrs Parks arrest. Boycotting the buses was necessary because, as he’ll say, “our action is the culmination of a series of injustices and indignities that have existed over the years.” Once he concluded his presentation, the bus company attorney and city commissioners began to raise questions on the M.I.A. proposals. Enough so that at one point, Martin saw that this meeting would lead to nowhere. Leaving city hall, MLK realized that “I had gone to the meeting with a great illusion. I had believed that the privileged would give up their privileges on request.” [23]

Although it was a harsh experience, that meeting taught Martin a great lesson. “I came to see that no one gives up his privileges without strong resistance. I saw further that the underlying purpose of segregation was to oppress and exploit the segregated, not simply keep them apart. Even when we asked for justice within the segregated laws, the ‘powers that be’ were not willing to grant it. Justice and equality, I saw, would never come while segregation remained, because the basic purpose of segregation was to perpetuate injustice and inequality.” [24]

When you look at MLK’s path, this was a very important realization he made then.

Because the problem wasn’t the separation of seats on buses anymore. It wasn’t the (legal, judicial, economic and social) system that allowed it to be. The founding problem was segregation itself. Its root cause being the belief that all men are not created equal, as MLK realized it. A belief actually shared by those who had put in place or were nowadays defending segregation, its system and representations; like a seats separation on buses.

Martin will be eloquent in telling “what segregation is about” during a speech at the Spelman College in Atlanta, in 1960:

There is another mountain we have been in long enough. We have been in the mountain of racial segregation long enough. We all know how long we have been in this mountain, so I need not go back and give the historical development of it. It is now time for us to turn and take our journey toward the promised land of integration. In a real sense, segregation in any form is wrong. Segregation is wrong because it substitutes an I-it relationship for the I-thou relationship. Segregation is wrong because it relegates individuals to the status of things rather than taking the high moral position of elevating them to the status of persons. Segregation is wrong because it assumes that God made a mistake – and finally, it is wrong because it stands in the face of the great American creed (stated in the Constitution) “that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.” And so we must go out and say to our nation and say to South Africa and say to the world, that we have been in the mountain of segregation too long and now we must move out.” [25]

For Martin, that founding problem of segregation came in direct opposition to his most profound belief; that all men are created equal. Equal and endowed by their creator with the same undeniable rights; freedom, justice (social, economical, political) and pursuit of happiness. As acknowledged in the American Constitution.

A belief MLK developed while being brought up in a family environment where having a deep sense of somebodyness was most important. A vision of the world he found moral and practical bases for it in what he learned over time at church and college. A belief that became even more profound as he experienced its representations firsthand; through sitting on not segregated buses or in restaurants in Connecticut, through attending not separate colleges in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, for instance.

The clash of these two realities; the founding problem and most profound belief somehow made Martin’s life purpose (of instilling in people a sense of somebodyness and self-respect through preaching a social gospel) even more clear. Because from that meeting on, MLK wouldn’t just be fighting segregation. He went beyond that. He put more efforts in promoting equality and making it a reality. He’d thrive for that through seeking freedom and justice.

Meanwhile, the opposition to the boycott changed it tactics.

THE OPPOSITION ACTIVATES ITSELF

Because the negotiations with Martin Luther King and the M.I.A. had failed, the city and bus officials tried to “conquer by dividing”. How? By raising questions about the integrity of the M.I.A. leadership and spreading false rumors of an agreement to end the boycott, for instance. It didn’t work.

Martin Luther King Jr on the day of his arrest for a speeding ticket, on Jan 26th 1956.
Martin Luther King Jr on the day of his arrest for a speeding ticket, on Jan 26th 1956.

They then went for a “get tough” approach. It turned out to be a directive to the police to arrest people minor traffic violations. Not just give tickets. The car pool began to suffer from those arrests. As Martin wrote, “I began to have doubts about the ability of the Negro community to continue de struggle.” [26] On January 26th, 1956, he would actually be arrested while car pooling, for driving at thirty miles an hour in a twenty-five zone. Brought to Montgomery City Jail, MLK found himself with many other Negroes in a separate section. Segregation was also present in prisons. As the news of Martin’s arrest spread in the community, more and more people came to protest in front of the prison. Ralph Abernathy tried to bail him out but it’s actually the increasing size of the crowd outside that pushed the jailer to let Martin go that evening – on his own bond.

As I walked out (of prison that same night) and noticed the host of friends and well—wishers, I regained the courage that I had temporarily lost. I knew that I did not stand alone.” [27] “From that night on, my commitment to the struggle for freedom was stronger than ever before.” [28]

Martin Luther King Jr with Coretta and their 1st child, Yolanda Denise (1956)
Martin Luther King Jr with Coretta and their 1st child, Yolanda Denise (1956)

Since the beginning of the bus boycott, Martin and the M.I.A. had received an increasing number of threats; letters and calls. “One day, a white friend told me that he had heard from reliable sources that plans were being made to take my life. For the first time I realized that something could happen to me.” It had its toll on him. [29] On January 30th, MLK’s house was bombed. Luckily, Coretta and Yolanda, their first child, were safe. He was at a mass meeting when the news of the bombing reached him.

Violence had reached a new level but it didn’t stop the protest. The city and bus officials weren’t the only one to ask Martin to call it quit. Pressure was coming from his parents in Atlanta and Negroes leaders from outside Montgomery too. Even more after the bombing. As he wrote “If I eased out now I would be plagued by my own conscience, reminding me that I lacked the moral courage to stand by a cause to the end.” [30]

By mid-February, a grand jury in Montgomery called the bus protest to be illegal. Why? Because it violated the 1921 Alabama State’s anti-boycott law. That court decision gave ammunition to the city officials who then called for mass arrests of protesters. Like many others, Martin was arrested once he got back from Atlanta. “At the jail, an almost holiday atmosphere prevailed. (…) A once fear-ridden people had been transformed. Those who had previously trembled before the law were now proud to be arrested for the cause of freedom.” [31]

Even though he was found guilty of illegal protest – during his March 1956’s trial – MLK left the court with a smile. Prouder and more convinced than ever before. As he’ll later recall, “I knew that I was a convicted criminal, but I was proud of my crime. It was the crime of joining my people in a nonviolent protest against injustice. It was the crime of seeking to instill within my people a sense of dignity and self-respect. It was the crime of desiring for my people the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It was above all the crime of seeking to convince my people that noncooperation with the evil is just as much a moral duty as in cooperating with God.” [32] Martin appealed of the court decision.

The protest had been going on for four months now. The more time past, the less effective the tactics used by the city and bus officials proved to be. Even if they increased in severity and brutality. Instead of weakening and stopping the protest, Martin found that it gave momentum to the movement and brought the Negro community even closer. Nonviolent resistance was somehow beginning to pay off. Even white people, friendly to the cause defended by MLK and the M.I.A, were now giving more support. The movement was on its way to get support from the US Courts too.

AN IMPORTANT DECISION

Walking and attending mass meetings weren’t the only ways MLK and the Negroes community were seeking freedom and justice with. For a few weeks the M.I.A. leadership juggled with the idea of also challenging bus segregation in court. By mid-February, almost at the same time the bust protest was found illegal by a grand jury, one of M.I.A.’s counselors filed a lawsuit in a Federal District Court of Alabama. The question asked: was Montgomery’s segregated buses law constitutional?

On June 5th 1956, the Court ruled that “the enforced segregation of black and white passengers on motor buses operating in the City of Montgomery violates the Constitution and laws of the United States.” The argument being that the conditions (set by the buses law) deprived people of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The Court even cited its own decision of May 1954 – which recognized that “separate is not equal in school” – as a precedent.

Again History was providing MLK with legal grounds to support what now was one of many people convictions; that separate is not equal. Martin and the community couldn’t really celebrate such victory, as Montgomery’s and Alabama State’s officials appealed the decision. The US Supreme Court would hear it.

Again trying to destabilize the protest, Montgomery’s officials pushed their use of the courts a little further. Since the use of a car pool by the Negro community meant a loss in revenues for the bus company, a lawsuit was filed in September 1956 against the M.I.A. and some of its partners. The request being for the city to receive a financial compensation for such loss. The hearing was set for November 13th 1956.

On the due date, the city officials, the bus company ones and MLK with a few of his colleagues met at the court. “Around twelve o’clock – during a brief recess – I noticed unusual commotion in the courtroom. (…) A reporter from the Associated Press came up to me with a paper in his hand. (…) I read these words: ‘The United States Supreme Court today affirmed a decision of a special three-judge US District Court in declaring Alabama’s state and local laws requiring segregation on buses unconstitutional.’ “ [33] The court decision of June was confirmed. By the end of the afternoon, the Montgomery’s court gave the city a temporary injunction to stop the car pool. As MLK will write about it “Tuesday, November 13, 1956, will always remain an important and ironic date in the history of the Montgomery bus protest. On that day two historic decisions were rendered – one to do away with the pool; the other to remove the underlying conditions that made it necessary. The darkest hour of our struggle had become the hour of our victory.” [34]

In the mass meeting that followed that night, Martin and other leaders stresses the importance of keeping walking on the path of nonviolence. “We must not take this as a victory over the white man, but as a victory for justice and democracy.” [35] The M.I.A. leadership also encouraged the protesters to keep on walking until integrated buses started running in Montgomery’s street. The assembly agreed with it. It would take until Dec 21st for the first integrated bus to appear in Montgomery’s streets. That day, Martin rode the first bus with a white Minister, a native Southerner, as a seat mate. [36]

Among other things, the Montgomery’s victory proved to Martin that it “provided a method for Negroes to struggle to secure moral ends through moral means. Thus, it provided a creative force through which men could channel their discontent. (…) The Montgomery Negro had acquired a new sense of somebodiness and self-respect, and had a new determination to achieve freedom and human dignity no matter what the cost.” [37]

Martin Luther King Jr receiving the pen used by U.S. President Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act in 1964
Martin Luther King Jr receiving the pen used by U.S. President Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act in 1964
Martin Luther King Jr during the 1963 March for Freedom and Jobs in Washington DC
Martin Luther King Jr during the 1963 March for Freedom and Jobs in Washington DC

The end of the bus protest didn’t mean the end of all injustices and inequalities for the Negro community of Montgomery. The Negroes didn’t have the right to vote, for instance. The courts might have judged segregation to be unconstitutional at some level, but segregation was imbedded in many white people’s thoughts and actions towards the other. The root cause of segregation was still very present. Yet, that victory of Montgomery’s Negro community in wanting equality in the buses was an important one. A stepping stone as the following months will prove so. Months during which Martin will create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with other church leaders from different Negro communities of the South. An organization for which MLK will be named president, and take on many important issues. One of those being the right of vote for all Negroes – with a national campaign named “Give us the ballot”. That right (to vote) will eventually be granted to all Negroes in the United States through the Civil Rights Act, in 1964. Almost a year after MLK’s famous “I have a dream” speech, during the Washington DC’s march for freedom and jobs.

THE BUS WASN’T THE FOUNDING PROBLEM

Funny thing, if any, the bus played a big role in Martin Luther King’s personal story. First as a tool. For experiencing and becoming convinced that separate is not equal, when he came back from his summer job in Connecticut, as a teen. Then as a target. To express his frustration against a system that took self-respect out of the people of his community in Montgomery.

The bus wasn’t the founding problem though. It was only one of many representations. Like the separate schools, waiting rooms and eating areas were, for instance. Representations that all had their consequences. For Martin, it meant living in a context of injustice and inequality. As he understood it after his famous Dec 1955’s meeting with Montgomery’s city and bus officials. For Muhammad Ali, who grew up in a segregated Kentucky during the same period, it meant to have limitations imposed on him because of the circumstances he was born in (e.g. because he was born a Negro). (read his story: P1, P2 )

Both men acted out on the situation differently.

Yet, when you learn about Martin’s path, you understand that his life purpose became more clear from then on. Consequently his actions became more focused, and the protest movement he was part of greatly benefited from it. Even more when his spark – the nonviolent resistance approach of Gandhi – lit up a majority of imaginations in Montgomery’s Negro community and became their “how we will overcome segregation” strategy.

The outcomes of all these efforts surprised everyone in the end.

As you can understand, such outcomes weren’t instantaneous. The solutions (e.g. nonviolent resistance and promotion of equality) weren’t half-baked or ready-to-use. Martin didn’t achieve all he did on his own neither. But by taking the time to look below the surface of that impossible problem – for him and many other Negroes – MLK found a root cause. Something he could act on. By opening himself to new ideas and discussions, Martin found potential solutions too. It’s when he put it all together that he made an impossible possible. Like all Possible Makers do. Like you can do too.

As MLK said in 1959, “Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” [38] The same could be said about the willingness to engage in hard, demanding decisions and actions too. Yet, as Human History proves it again and again, sometimes it only takes a problem, a belief and a spark to get someone moving beyond what he or she thought impossible at first. MLK’s story is no exception.

Now, what impossible challenge does get your guts to say “if I could I would give it a shot”?

Signature PF

_ _ _ Source_ _ _ _ _ _

– “The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr” by Clayborne Carson (Grand Central Publishing, 1998)

– “Strength To Love” (Sermons) by Martin Luther King Jr (Fortress Press, 2010)

– “Keep Moving from This Mountain,” Speech at Spelman College on April 10th, 1960, in Atlanta (Georgia)