Black Panthers -
· The Black Panthers were members of the Black Panther
Party, a militant black political organization founded by Huey Newton and
Bobby Seale in Oakland, California in 1966. Stokely Carmichael
was also closely involved in the group's development. The P arty
called for black self-defense and demanded equality for blacks in
political, economic, and social arenas nation-wide. In their militancy,
the Black Panthers differed with King and his non-violent direct
Black Power -
· At a march in 1966 the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating
Committee, Stokely Carmichael, used this slogan before a national
audience, putting it into currency as a widely used term. "Black
Power" came to denote a brand of civil rights activism more militant
than that of King, and King and the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference refused to use or endorse the slogan for fear of alienating
Civil Rights Act of
· The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination
in employment and in public facilities, and gave the federal government
greater power to enforce the desegregation of schools. Yet this
Act could only pass in the right atmosphere, and the creation of
such an atmosphere is generally attributed to one pivotal series
of events and their repercussions: the civil rights protests in
Birmingham in 1963, and the response of many white Americans to
the white-on- black violence they provoked.
Congress of Racial Equality -
· The first organization in the Civil Rights Movement systematically
to employ non-violent direct action, the Congress of Racial Equality,
or CORE, was founded in Chicago in 1942. In the 1960s, it participated
in activism in the South, providing support and supervisions to
sit-ins and voter-registration campaigns, often cooperating with
King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People -
· The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People,
or NAACP, had been struggling to secure civil rights for African
Americans since 1909, long before the activism of the period symbolized
by King. Its approach depended heavily on legal action and victories
Direct Action -
· Inspired by methods developed by Mahatma Gandhi to
protest colonial rule in India, non-violent direct action was a
tactic in which protestors used their passive physical presence
to provoke violence from authorities and thus the sympathy of a
· Personalism is a theological concept that emphasizes
the personal nature of God and the importance of human personality
as a reflection of that nature. Personalism was popular at Boston
University when King was a doctoral student there, and it completed
the picture of God that he had adopted from the Southern Baptist
Social Gospel -
· The idea of a "Social Gospel" was developed by German American
theologian Walter Rauschenbusch, and adapted and practiced by King.
It emphasized the importance of social action as part of a complete
Southern Christian Leadership Conference -
· Inspired by the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott,
sixty Southern clergypersons and activists formed the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference, or SCLC, in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1957.
King was elected president of the organization, which united Southern
churches, ministers, and social activists, and which led a number
of key civil rights protests in the 1950s and 1960s.
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee -
· The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC (pronounced
"Snick"), was organized in 1960 after four black college students
in Greensboro, North Carolina received national attention for refusing
to leave a whites-only lunch counter in an F.W. Woolworth store.
At first merely a loose alliance of various local sit-in campaigns,
SNCC grew in size and stature throughout the 1960s, making strides
in the area of African American voting rights, and eventually assuming
a more militant approach.
Voting Rights Act
of 1965 -
· The Voting Rights Act of 1965 resulted indirectly from
the non-violent direct action of protestors in Selma, Alabama led
by King. The Act rendered illegal all laws designed to prevent African
Americans from registering to vote.
Like King, Abernathy was a minister in Montgomery,
Alabama who lent his support to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He
participated in the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
and served as its president from 1968, when King was assassinated,
Stokely Carmichael became the chairman of the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1966 and that year inaugurated
"Black Power" as a rallying cry for black protestors. His militancy–and his
differences with King–grew throughout the 1960s; the year King
was assassinated Carmichael became prime minister of the Black
Eugene "Bull" Conner
Eugene "Bull" Conner was the Police Commissioner
of Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 when protests led by Fred Shuttlesworth,
King, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference brought the
city to a halt. Conner's use of fire-hoses and attack-dogs to
suppress peaceful protestors was televised nationally; his violence
thus served, as King put it, "to subpoena the conscience of the
Shuttlesworth was a minister in Birmingham, Alabama,
in 1963, when the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, of
which he was secretary, began to oversee the protests there that
soon gained national attention.
Gandhi was an Indian leader whose political and moral success with
non-violent tactics inspired King and influenced the Civil Rights Movement.
(For more information, see the SparkNote Biography on Mahatma Gandhi
Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and
the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the two most important pieces of
legislation to come out of the Civil Rights Movement. Though they initially
enjoyed good relations, Johnson and King diverged on the issue
of the Vietnam War, which Johnson supported and King strongly denounced.
John F. Kennedy
In the eyes of civil rights leaders like King, the Kennedy
Administration represented an improvement over the Eisenhower Administration.
However, Kennedy's reliance upon the votes of white Southern Democrats,
and his premature death, prevented him from ever serving African
American interests to any great extent. It was Kennedy's successor,
Lyndon Johnson, who passed the major civil rights legislation of
Attorney General under his brother the President, Robert Kennedy
helped free King from Southern jails multiple times. Robert Kennedy's reluctance
to use federal agents in local conflicts, however, as well as his
concern for his family's political dynasty, set an upper limit
on how much help he offered the Civil Rights Movement.
As King's wife, Coretta Scott
King shared in his symbolic role as leader of the Civil Rights Movement.
She was unflagging in her support of him, and since his assassination
has continued working for the advancement of African Americans.
Stanley Levison was a white Jewish radical whose life-long
experience with activism made him invaluable to King; he helped
King write speeches and organize events and leadership. Because
Levison had had affiliations with the Communist Party earlier in life,
the FBI paid close attention to his friendship with King.
than King, Malcolm X was the most prominent African American leader
during the 1960s. Malcolm X was a spokesperson for the Nation of
Islam, a black nationalist religious movement, and initially his
tactics contrasted strikingly with King's; he cond oned militancy
and violence. However, as the two men matured, the gulf between
their views lessened somewhat.
Reinhold Niebuhr was an American theologian and writer.
His 1932 book Moral Man, Immoral Society
King's faith in humanity with an analysis of the corrupting influence
of organizations over individuals.
1 December 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to yield
her seat on a bus to a white passenger, which black passengers
were required to do. Her subsequent arrest triggered the Montgomery
Bus Boycott, which led to a United States Supreme Court ruling
against bus segregation, to the formation of the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference, and to King's rise to national prominence.
Rustin was a member of the Young Communist League during the Great
Depression and was well into his career as a civil rights leader
and political organizer when he helped with the Montgomery Bus
Boycott in 1955. From then until King's death, Rustin served King
as an informal advisor and ghostwriter.
Wilkins was the executive director of the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People during the Civil Rights Movement's
most intense years. Together with King he helped organized the
1963 March on Washington.
Albany Movement of 1961 -
King went to Albany, Georgia in 1961 with the idea of transforming
a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee voter-registration
drive into a full-fledged call for desegregation. However, the
power of King's non-violent tactics was entirely diffused by local
police, who did not respond with violence. Albany consequently
attracted little media attention and failed to achieve its goals–
but it trained King for the success of the Birmingham Protests
On April 4, 1968, a sniper shot King as he stood on the
balcony of a Memphis, Tennessee motel room. King had come to town
to lend his support to a strike among black sanitation workers.
His death caused national outrage, shock, and sorrow, and triggered riots
in over one hundred U.S. cities.
Birmingham Protests of 1963 -
In Birmingham, Alabama, the non-violent direct actions
headed by King provoked the violence of local police under Commissioner
Eugene "Bull" Conner. Televised footage of blacks being attacked
by dogs and with fire- hoses alerted the nation to the terrible
conditions in the South, and ultimately led to the passage of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Freedom Sunday -
On "Freedom Sunday" in 1966 King addressed a crowd of 45,000
in Chicago, and then nailed a list of grievances on the door of
City Hall. The event reflected King's turn to Northern cities
after his successful campaigns in the south.
Meredith March of 1966 -
When James H. Meredith, organizer of a 225-mile "walk
against fear" from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi,
was shot on the second day of the event, both the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee arrived
to complete the march. SNCC member Stokely Carmichael invoked
the slogan "Black Power", which the SCLC, under King, refused to
Montgomery Bus Boycott -
Triggered by the bravery of Rosa Parks, the Montgomery
Bus Boycott lasted from December 1955 to December 1956 and in that
time brought King–and the movement he represented–to national attention.
The Boycott resulted in a 1956 United States Supreme Court decision
banning segregated seating on buses.
1963 March on Washington -
The March on Washington was a peaceful civil rights demonstration,
coordinated with the city, which attracted roughly 250,000 people,
black and white. Speakers at the concluding rally articulated
the hopes and beliefs of the Civil Rights Movement to a national
audience. King was among these speakers, and his remarks were
Poor People's March 1968 -
King's dream of a Poor People's March on Washington was
still in the planning stages when he was assassinated. King had envisioned
a mass rally of economically disadvantaged people, which would
shut down Washington, D.C., until legislators promised solutions
to poverty. The march took place on 19 June 1968 without King,
but on a smaller scale than he had imagined.
Selma Voter-Registration Drive -
What began in Selma, Alabama as a local voter-registration
drive headed by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee became
an event of national renown when King and the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference appeared on the scene in 1965. When King
attempted to lead a march, marchers were clubbed by police. Outrage
over footage of this violence created a political atmosphere in
which the Voting Rights Act of 1965 could become law.
As the Johnson Administration was escalating the Vietnam
, King was expanding his outlook from local political
problems to national economic ones. He saw in the war what he considered America's
worst tendencies: militarism, economic exploitation, and racism.
King's stance lost him favor with other civil rights leaders, as
well as with Lyndon Johnson himself. (For more information, see
the History SparkNote on the Vietnam