This is the last of a two-part series. The first published on January 15.
Flushed with victory, civil rights leaders recognized the need for the birth of a national organization to help coordinate their efforts, and in 1957 the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was born with the aim of harnessing the moral authority and organizational power of blacks. churches helping organize nonviolent protests to promote civil rights reform.
Dr. Martin Luther King’s participation in the SCLC gave him a base of operations throughout the South, as well as a national platform. Their first agenda was to give African Americans a voice by giving them the right to participate in the voting process and registering them to vote.
In 1959, Dr. King traveled to India to study the nonviolent teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and was deeply affected by the teachings, which inspired him to continue his nonviolent protests.
In the spring of 1963, Dr King led a coalition of civil rights and family leaders/groups in a non-violent campaign targeting the city of Birmingham, which at the time was described as “the most segregated city in America “.
As the world watched, images of young black people having dogs and fire hoses set by city police were seen. Dr King was imprisoned along with many of his supporters, and he was personally criticized by black and white clergy for “taking risks and endangering the children who attended the protest”.
In his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, which is a statement of his philosophy and tactics and is required reading at universities around the world, Dr King eloquently stated his theory of non-violence: “The Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such tension that a community, which has consistently refused to negotiate, is forced to confront the issue.”
The images of dogs and fire hoses were a national outrage and sparked a push for unprecedented civil rights legislation.
On August 28, 1963, Dr. King traveled to the nation’s capital and delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, which focused on equality, fairness, and racial justice. In his speech, he spoke of the light with the Emancipation Proclamation, which he called “a great beacon of hope for millions of black slaves who had been burned in the flames of devastating injustice, that’ was a promissory note, a bad check, insufficient funds and in a way we came to the nation’s capital to cash a check, a promissory note A promise that all men, yes, black men like white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
In his speech, Dr. King made it clear that we cannot walk alone and reminds us that we will not be satisfied until justice flows like waters and righteousness like a mighty river. He also reminds us, “Let’s not wallow in the valley of despair”, and that even if we encounter difficulties “I have a dream…”
Dr King has been imprisoned many times and he has made it clear that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.
In 1963, Dr. King was named “Man of the Year” by TIME magazine.
On July 2, 1964, the historic Civil Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It ended segregation in public places and prohibited discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin, and is considered one of the supreme legislative achievements of the civil rights movement, eliminating Jim Crow laws and practices.
On December 10, 1964, Dr. King became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In his acceptance speech, he made this powerful remark: “I believe unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the last word. Therefore, momentarily vanquished right is stronger than triumphant evil.
Five months after the historic peaceful protest, on August 6, 1965, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which removed barriers to voting.
As we rejoice in the victories of the past, we must also prepare for the difficult struggles yet to come and work and pray for the victories that true justice and equality demand.
Lawanda Lyons-Pruitt, retired chief investigator, Santa Barbara County public defender, is a community activist and president of the Santa Maria-Lompoc branch of the NAACP.