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 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 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."
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 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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 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.