Martin Luther King, Jr. Dozens of additional demonstrations took place across the country, from California to New York, culminating in the March on Washington. The March on Washington represented a coalition of several civil rights organizations, all of which generally had different approaches and different agendas. President Kennedy originally discouraged the march, for fear that it might make the legislature vote against civil rights laws in reaction to a perceived threat. Once it became clear that the march would go on, however, he supported it. Outright opposition came from two sides.
White supremacist groups, including the Ku Klux Klan , were obviously not in favor of any event supporting racial equality. On the other hand, the march was also condemned by some civil rights activists who felt it presented an inaccurate, sanitized pageant of racial harmony; Malcolm X called it the "Farce on Washington," and members of the Nation of Islam who attended the march faced a temporary suspension.
Nobody was sure how many people would turn up for the demonstration in Washington, D. Some travelling from the South were harrassed and threatened.
But on August 28, , an estimated quarter of a million people—about a quarter of whom were white—marched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, in what turned out to be both a protest and a communal celebration. He was beginning to find a way. In college, Martin had read an essay by Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau was an American writer who lived more than years ago. He believed that a man had the right to disobey any law he thought was evil or unjust.
Once Thoreau did not pay his taxes as a protest against slavery. He was put in jail. A friend came to visit him. King liked Thoreau's idea — that men should not obey evil or unjust laws. And he began to search harder for a way to fight against evil.
He read books by the world's great thinkers and writers. Then one day he heard a speech about the great leader of India, Mahatma Gandhi.
Gandhi had won freedom for his country from British rule And he had done it in a very unusual way. From the start, he told his people not to use violence against the British.
How the Civil Rights Movement Worked
He told them to resist the British by peaceful means only. They would march. They would sit down or lie down in the streets. They would strike. They would boycott refuse to buy British goods. Gandhi had also read Thoreau's essay. He, too, believed that men had the right to disobey unjust laws. Like Thoreau, he believed that men should gladly go to jail when they break such laws. But — never use violence.
Violence only brings about more hate and more violence. Gandhi told his people to meet body force with soul force. He told them to meet hate with love. Gandhi called this "war without violence.
Wasn't Gandhi's way also the way of Jesus Christ? Hadn't Christ told his people to "turn the other cheek" if someone struck them? This idea of fighting peacefully against evil was called nonviolence. Was it the coward's way? No, said King. It took more courage not to hit back when struck. In the next few years, many good things happened to King. He graduated at the top of his class, with "A's" in all his subjects. He met and married Coretta Scott.
And, in , he got the job he really wanted. He became minister of a very good Baptist church in Montgomery, Ala. King's life was now busy and full. But he wanted to do more than care for the souls of his church members. He wanted his church to help young people to go to college.
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He wanted it to help black people to register and vote — a tough job in the South. Religion, King said, must care about heaven and earth, souls and slums.
Today in History, April Martin Luther King wrote 'Letter from Birmingham Jail'
The members of King's church liked his ideas. They soon put them into action. King saw his church grow day by day. Meanwhile, he was also studying for another degree. He would soon be Dr. These were probably the happiest months of his life.
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Then, on December 1, , something happened in Montgomery that changed King's life. Within a few years, it would help change the lives of most black Americans, and the lives of many white Americans, too. What happened in Montgomery that day? A black woman, Rosa Parks, was seated just behind the "white" section on a bus. By law, whites sat up front, blacks in the back. Parks was going home from her job as a seamstress. When some white people got on the bus, there were no seats left in the "white" section.
So the bus driver told Mrs. Parks, and three other African Americans, to move to the back of the bus. The bus was now full, and Mrs. Parks would have to stand.
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The three other African Americans obeyed the driver. But Mrs. Parks said she would not give up her seat. Why was this so unusual? When Mrs. Parks said "no" to the bus driver, she was breaking the law. She was arrested on the spot. Until now, they had not challenged the anti-black laws in Montgomery. It was dangerous, and it seemed hopeless. But now they were angry and ready to act.