The Civil Rights Movement
In 1954 King settled in Montgomery, Alabama, where he had accepted an appointment as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. The following year he was able to put his theory of nonviolent resistance to the test. In December, 1955, Rosa Parks, a middle- aged, African American seamstress, was arrested when she refused to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man. The next evening leaders of the African American community met in King’s church. Under his leadership they organized a boycott of the bus system that lasted more than a year. Before it ended, King’s home was firebombed, and he was jailed for the first of many times. Ultimately, however, the boycott was successful and King emerged as a national figure in the Civil Rights movement, which mobilized millions of people to break down the barriers to racial equality.
Shortly after the boycott, African American clergymen organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and made King its president. King used the SCLC to organize high-visibility, nonviolent campaigns against discriminatory practices, hoping that exposing the evils of racism would arouse national consciousness against its debilitating effects. One of the most famous of his campaigns was a march from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery, in which his supporters faced powerful opposition while exercising their right to protest their grievances and express their determination to vote.