Part 2: From the Montgomery bus boycott (1955) to I Have a Dream (1963)


Despite being active as a minister at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, King still managed to obtain his PhD degree at Boston University. Another happy event was the birth of his baby girl, Yolande Denise.

But in December an event occurred that would change King’s life completely. The Montgomery bus boycott followed the arrest of African-American Rosa Parks, who had refused to give up her place on the bus to a white passenger. As chairman of the Montgomery Improvement Association, Martin Luther King coordinated the boycott, which lasted for more than a year and which was actively supported by the great majority of the city’s African-American community.


During the Montgomery bus boycott, Martin Luther King was often harassed and even threatened with death by local officials and members of the Ku Klux Klan. Yet, even after his house in Montgomery had been bombed, King managed to stop the situation from escalating. In his speeches too, he called for a non-violent response to discrimination and racism.

In November, almost a year after the start of the bus boycott, the American Supreme Court finally ruled that racial segregation laws for buses were unconstitutional.

It was an important victory in the fight for equal rights and, shortly afterwards, the Montgomery bus boycott could be brought to a successful end.


Together with other civil rights activists Martin Luther King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to coordinate further protests. This remained crucial in the southern states of the US, where racist violence continued unchecked. In Montgomery the house of Ralph Abernathy, one of King’s most loyal companions, was bombed.

In March 1957 King traveled to Ghana to attend the independence ceremony. On his way back he visited Rome, Geneva, Paris and London to give speeches.

Later that year, at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, Martin Luther King delivered his first speech in Washington DC, ‘Give us the Ballot’.

Give Us the Ballot from Sweet Speeches on Vimeo.

There was also news on the family front: his son Martin Luther King III was born.


Martin Luther King had his first book published. In ‘Stride Toward Freedom’ he gives his account of the Montgomery bus boycott. (link naar boekbespreking? In NL: Rosa stond niet op…)

While signing copies of his book in New York, King was attacked by Izola Curry. He narrowly escaped death.


Martin Luther King managed to make time for a visit to India, together with his wife Coretta, following in the footsteps of Ghandi. The experience made him even more convinced of his non-violent approach within the American civil rights movement.


King returned to Atlanta, from where he coordinated non-violent action throughout the south of the United States as the leader of the SCLC. He subsequently had several meetings with John F. Kennedy, who was elected president that year.

In 1960 the American civil rights movement gained momentum again owing to the many sit-ins, often initiated by students. During one of these sit-ins in Atlanta, King was arrested. The most famous sit-in took place at the lunch counter inside the Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina.


A third child, Dexter Scott, was born into the King family.

Meanwhile the struggle for equal rights continued unabated. Martin Luther King supported the Freedom Riders, who protested against segregation in interstate buses and at bus terminals.

Start of the protests in Albany, Georgia. Martin Luther King was one of hundreds of activists arrested.


A year of little progress, although James Meredith succeeded in becoming the first African-American to enroll at ‘Ole Miss’, the University of Mississippi.

Martin Luther King started writing a new book, ‘Strength to Love’, which would be published a year later.

After yet another protest in Albany Martin Luther King was put behind bars for two weeks.


There was another addition to the King family when Bernice Albertine was born.

But there was little time for family life as the struggle for civil rights had an ever-increasing impact on the American society.

For the first time two African-American students were able to enroll at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Alabama Governor George Wallace’s ‘stand in the schoolhouse door’ to prevent them from entering, was to no avail.

In Birmingham, Alabama, the local authorities again responded violently to non-violent protests for equal rights. At the beginning of May, during the Children’s Crusade, more than 4,000 young people took to the streets to demand their rights. Many of them ended up behind bars. King had also been arrested earlier and wrote his famous ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ while in custody.

Medgar Evers, another leading American civil rights activist, was killed in Mississippi in June. It was a racist murder.

Shortly afterwards, Martin Luther King succeeded in mobilizing more than 100,000 people in Detroit, Michigan, for the Walk to Freedom.

The peaceful protest march in Detroit turned out to be a general rehearsal for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which took place at the end of August. More than 200,000 people came to the American capital, where Martin Luther King delivered his legendary ‘I Have a Dream’ speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.