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Martin Luther King, Jr.

Important Terms, People, and Events

Context

Timeline

Terms

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 action tactics.
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 white sympathy.
Civil Rights Act of 1964 -   · 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 in court.
Non-Violent 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 national audience.
Personalism  -   · 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 church.
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 Christian faith.
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.

People

Ralph Abernathy -  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, to 1977.
Stokely Carmichael -  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 Panther Party.
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 nation."
Fred Shuttlesworth -  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.
Mahatma Gandhi -  Mahatma 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 -  President 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 the era.
Robert Kennedy -  As 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.
Coretta Scott King -  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 -  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.
Malcolm X -  Other 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 -  Reinhold Niebuhr was an American theologian and writer. His 1932 book Moral Man, Immoral Society tempered King's faith in humanity with an analysis of the corrupting influence of organizations over individuals.
Rosa Parks -  On 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.
Bayard Rustin -  Bayard 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.
Roy Wilkins -  Roy 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.

Events

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 of 1963.
Assassination -  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 use.
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 particular powerful.
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.
Vietnam War -  As the Johnson Administration was escalating the Vietnam War, 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 War.)

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