From Taylor Branch, PARTING THE WATERS: America in the King Years. Simon &
Schuster, 1988) 
On March 2, 1955, a handful of white people sought to board a city bus
as it chugged up Dexter Avenue to the Court Street stop. Peering into
the rearview mirror, the driver saw that the white section was full of
whites and that both the Negro section and the "no-man's-land" in the
middle were full of Negroes. The driver turned around and pointed to a
row in the middle section. "Give me those seats," he said to the four
Negro women seated there. Two of them moved obediently to stand in
the aisle, but two of them pretended not to hear and stared into the
middle distance. The driver, having committed himself to secure the
seats, cajoled and warned the two recalcitrant women. Then he stepped
outside to hail a foot policeman, who in turn hailed a squad car with two
other policemen. Soon the policemen began pressuring some of the
Negro men to give their seats to the holdout women. Seeking the point
of least resistance, they tried to turn a segregation dispute into a question
of chivalry. One man complied, but no one would move for the last
holdout, a feisty high school student named Claudette Colvin, who de-
fended her right to the seat in language that brought words of disapproval
from passengers of both races. One white woman defended her to the
police, saying that Colvin was allowed to sit in no-man's-land as long as
there were no seats in the Negro section, but another white woman said
that if Colvin were allowed to defy the police, "they will take over."
Colvin was crying and madder than ever by the time the policemen told
her she was under arrest. She struggled when they dragged her off the
bus and screamed when they put on the handcuffs.
Four days later, the Advertiser published a letter in which one of the
white passengers commended the policemen for handling the bus inci-
dent without violence, without even raising their voices. Montgomery
Negroes, by contrast, disputed the need to handcuff a high school girl.
To them, Colvin had been entitled to her seat even under the hated
segregation law, and for her to have been insulted, blamed, and arrested
on the whim of the driver and by force of law was a humiliating injustice
not only to her but to all the Negro passengers who had witnessed the
arrest in helpless, fearful silence. Prosecutors had thrown the book at
Colvin, charging her with violating the segregation law, assault, and
disorderly conduct. She might be going to jail instead of to Booker T.
Washington High School.
Privately, E. D. Nixon consulted Clifford Durr about the Colvin case.
The two men made an unlikely pair: Nixon, a Negro railroad porter with
fists as big as eggplants and a coal-black face, and Durr, a white lawyer
and Rhodes scholar from the Alabama gentry. Between them, they had
connections that reached high and wide among the quixotic groups that
for decades had tried to build a network of support for civil rights. E. D.
Nixon was a union man. For nearly half of his fifty-six years, he had
served as president of the Alabama branch of A. Philip Randolph's Broth-
erhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Nixon almost worshipped Randolph, who
in his legendary career had dared to attack Du Bois for urging Negroes to
fight in World War I, then had fought the Pullman Company for twelve
years before winning recognition of the first major Negro trade union.
Randolph was an old lion-tall, white-haired, and dignified, speaking
elegantly with a slight British accent-and Nixon was a homespun Ala-
bama copy of him. He was famous to Montgomery Negroes as the man
who knew every white policeman, judge, and government clerk in town,
and had always gone to see them about the grievances of any Negro who
asked him for help. Nixon seldom got anything close to justice, but he
usually got something. Once, he pushed his way into the governor's
office, and he was the first Negro since Reconstruction to put himself on
the ballot for local office. He was not an educated or cultivated man,
however, and many of the town's more educated Negroes sniped at him
for his imperfections.
Clifford Durr, for his part, was a grim harbinger to white Southern
liberals on the race issue. He retained many influential contacts from his
glowing past as a second-echelon braintruster of the New Deal. The
johnsons, Lyndon and Lady Bird, were old friends, for example, and Durr
was related by marriage to Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. But these
surviving ties counted for very little when Durr rebelled against the most
sensitive taboos of the Cold War era. First he had resigned his post as
FCC Commissioner to represent some of the early victims of the Truman
loyalty program. To Durr, the loyalty hearings were un-American inqui-
sitions in which innocent people were branded as perverts or subversives
on the word of anonymous FBI informants. His cases isolated him from
mainstream politics, and things grew worse when he returned home to
practice law.
With Aubrey Williams, a fellow New Dealer from Montgomery, Durr
sponsored the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. For more than
twenty years, Highlander had functioned as a unique "workshop" of the
Social Gospel, being one of the few places in the South where Negroes
and whites mixed freely. Its founder, Myles Horton, had been a student
of Reinhold Niebuhr at Union Theological Seminary. Niebuhr was chair-
man of the Highlander advisory board that at times had included Eleanor
Roosevelt, Norman Thomas, and Harry Emerson Fosdick. Durr tried to
defend Highlander as a sensible, patriotic experiment in racial democ-
racy, but during the passions of the Joseph McCarthy hearings and the
Brown case his associations landed him, his wife Virginia, Myles Horton,
and Aubrey Williams before James Eastland's Senate Internal Security
Subcommittee. On television, Eastland let it be known that he con-
sidered Highlander freakish, mongrelized, and basically Communist. The
normally judicious Durr exploded in rage, challenging Eastland to a fist-
fight, and photographs of guards restraining him landed on the front page
of The New York Times. After that, Durr lost most of his remaining
clients in Montgomery. He became a threadbare patrician, explaining
patiently why he thought the confluence of events had reduced him to
such a state. His wife was far less tolerant. She combined the background
of a Southern belle with the sharp tongue of an early feminist, and had
called Eastland a "nasty polecat" long before the Highlander hearings.
After the Colvin arrest in Montgomery, Nixon and Durr conferred with
Colvin, Colvin's relatives, witnesses from the bus, and Fred Gray, a
young Negro lawyer only one year out of school, who moonlighted on
weekends as a preacher. Durr considered Gray bright, aggressive, and
promising. He had been advising the younger man on the eccentricities
of the Montgomery courts, and now they weighed the prospects of turn-
ing the Colvin defense into an attack on segregation. Gray agreed to
represent Colviii and was eager to make a run at it.
Nixon's first move was to try negotiation. He called for an appoint-
ment with Police Commissioner Dave Birmingham, a man he knew to
be an amiable populist in the style of Governor James "Kissin' Jim"
Folsom. Shortly thereafter, with an ad hoc Colvin committee that in-
cluded the new Baptist minister in town, Rev. M. L. King, Jr., Nixon
arrived in Birmingham's office for talks, which led quickly to a tentative
agreement. Bus drivers should be courteous to everyone, and bus seats
should be filled by Negroes from the back and whites from the front,
eliminating the no-man's-land where passengers could be remove or
inserted by the driver. If the bus company adopted such a policy, said
Birmingham, he would instruct the police to act accordingly.
The plan sailed along until it reached the desk of Jack Crenshaw, the
bus company's lawyer, whose instincts ran quickly to objection. What
would happen if whites tried to board a bus completely filled with Ne-
groes? Would they stand in the aisle? if so, where would be the white
section required by state law? Crenshaw said the bus company would
not endorse something that could be construed as illegal, especially not
with its operating license soon up for renewal. This was sneaky, he said.
if the police wanted to change the segregation laws, they should change
them outright. Stung, Nixon's committee went back to Birmingham and
asked him to implement the plan on his own, but the police commis-
sioner retreated painfully.
Meanwhile, Claudette Colvin had been found guilty at a brief trial. On
May 6, judge Eugene Carter crossed up the Colvin supporters with an
appeal ruling worthy of a fox. He dismissed the segregation charge, nul-
lifying their plans to take that issue into federal court on constitutional
grounds. Dismissing the charge of disorderly conduct, he showed a will-
ingness to forgive. Upholding the charge of assault-the most preposter-
ous of the three-he let it be known that he would tolerate no challenge
to authority. Finally, he sentenced Colvin to pay a small fine-a sentence
so much lighter than anticipated that it ruined her martyr status. Many
Negroes who supported her cause nevertheless came to believe she was
Fred Gray wanted to press an appeal anyway, but Durr and Nixon
believed that the case had already lost its momentum. There was much
internal turmoil among Negro leaders. Members of the influential Wom-
en's Political Council-most of whom served on the social and political
affairs committee at King's church-had completed a discouraging can-
vass of the likely witnesses in the case. Most of them were frightened,
and might at any moment deny what they had said. Colvin herself would
not recant, they reported, but she was immature-prone to breakdowns
and outbursts of profanity. Worse, she was pregnant. Even if Montgomery
Negroes were willing to rally behind an unwed pregnant teenager-
which they were not-her circumstances would make her an extremely
vulnerable standard-bearer. Some of Colvin's friends resented this assess-
ment as condescending. Women leaders criticized the local ministers for
failing to press the segregation issue harder and more eloquently during
the negotiations, which the women stressed above the lawsuit, and the
ministers defended themselves by recalling the lawyers' advice against
poisoning the trial atmosphere with too much excitement. in the end, E.
D. Nixon made the decision. Although Nixon was sensitive about his
country dialect and often asserted his worth defensively against the airs
of the more educated Negroes, saying, "You won't find my car parked
out in front of no loan shop," his practicality prevailed. Colvin would
not do, he decreed. Her family agreed and paid the fine.
That July, one month after getting his doctorate, King flew to New
Orleans to explore a special new job at Dillard University. Dillard,
founded by Congregationalists shortly after the Civil War, had enjoyed
the patronage of Chicago philanthropist Julius Rosenwald and his heirs.
Its campus of whitewashed classical buildings laid out on a vast tree-
lined lawn was as handsome as Spelman's, and its reputation was the
equal of any coeducational Negro college in the South. The Dillard pres-
ident, A. W. Dent, a Morehouse man from Daddy King's class, wanted
King to become dean of the new Lawless Memorial University Chapel.
in that post, he would be allowed to teach courses irT the religion and
philosophy departments without being lashed to the full schedule of a
regular faculty member. He would preach in the chapel, but he would
escape the more tedious duties of a church pastor. The combination was
ideal for King. From Dent's point of view, the job's only drawback was
that construction of the chapel would not be completed by September,
and it was complicated to start anything at a college in the middle of the
school year. King welcomed the delay, however, as he thought he should
stay at Dexter at least another year. He would also have to figure out
how to tell Dr. Mays and his father, among others.
To search so soon for a teaching job was a departure from King's plan
to preach for a number of years, like Mordecai Johnson, Niebuhr, and
Howard Thurman, before rising to life in the academy. He was advancing
the schedule because he was impatient-not because of failure at Dexter
but by the very fact of his success. His father's budget system had
worked; Dexter had already paid off a debt of nearly $5,000 from the
Johns era, hired new staff and paid $1,000 into the new building fund.
King had made the church into a beehive, and now he saw the only catch:
the hive could get no bigger. The legendary Stokes had baptized a thou-
sand a year during the heyday of Montgomery's First Baptist, and Daddy
King had baptized enough to build Ebenezer from two hundred souls to
four thousand, but King would finish his banner year having baptized
only twelve. Fewer than thirty new members joined the rolls, and many
of those were part of the annual turnover at Alabama State. The only
way for Dexter to grow larger was to transform itself into a mass church
of all classes, and the only- way to do anything substantial with the new
building fund was to move away from the prestigious but tiny site there
beneath the state capitol. King knew his congregation would do neither.
Restless, King decided to step up his activity in the local chapter of the
NAACP. He gave a stirring speech at one of its small gatherings and then
accepted a position on the executive committee. His letter of appoint-
ment came from Rosa Parks, secretary of the chapter. A seamstress at a
downtown department store, Parks made extra money by taking in sew-
ing work on the side. She had come into the NAACP through E. D.
Nixon, who had served as chapter president for five years before stepping
aside for a friend. Her background and character put her firmly astride
the class fault that divided the politically active Negroes of Montgomery.
Had the professionals and the upper strata from Alabama State taken
over the organization-as they were threatening to do now that the
Brown case had brought fresh excitement to the NAACP-Parks might
well have been replaced by one of the college-trained members of the
Women's Political Council. As it was/ she remained the woman of Nix-
on's circle most congenial to the Council members. She wore rimless
spectacles, spoke quietly, wrote and typed faultless letters on her own,
and had never been known to lower herself to factionalism. A tireless
worker and churchgoer, of working-class station and middle-class de-
meanor, Rosa Parks was one of those rare people of whom everyone
agreed that she gave more than she got. Her character represented one of
the isolated high blips on the graph of human nature, offsetting a dozen
or so sociopaths. A Methodist herself, she served as teacher and mother
figure to the kids of the NAACP Youth Council, who met at a Lutheran
church near her home.
That church, Trinity Lutheran, was an oddity in itself. To Negroes, a
principal attraction of Trinity Lutheran had always been its affiliated
private school, which was supported as a mission by the World Lutheran
Council. For years it had been the only decent school available to Ne-
groes, and many ambitious families had swallowed their distaste for the
staid Lutheran liturgy in order to educate their children. Along with an
even tinier Congregational church, Trinity was high church in doctrine
and worship. Dexter got most of the college professors; Trinity got a few
of the high school teachers.
For several years, the minister at Trinity had been Nelson Trout, a
Negro Lutheran who felt somewhat excluded as the head of a minuscule
congregation outside the mainstream of Negro religion. His peers from
the big Baptist and Methodist churches took neither Trinity nor its pas-
tor very seriously, Trout believed, and it was all he could do to get some
of them to turn out for the ceremony that marked the crowning achieve-
ment of his work in Montgomery-the dedication of the new parsonage,
next door to the church. Ralph Abernathy arrived with King. The two
young Baptists attended such functions together so frequently that Trout
had come to think of them as a team-Mr. Rough and Mr. Smooth.
Abernathy tended to lead King through the crowds, introducing him to
selected new people, in a manner that offended Trout because Abernathy
was at once so deferential to King and so lordly toward everyone else.
Trout found it much easier to talk informally with King, and in a private
moment once felt enough at ease to ask as a Lutheran how King, a Negro
Baptist, had acquired the name Martin Luther. King looked searchingly
at Trout for some time, then smiled and parried with a question of his
own: how did a Negro like Trout come to be a Lutheran? Trout laughed.
The competition was too rough among the Baptist preachers, he replied,
and the Lutherans were begging for Negroes.
Many years later, Trout would become the first black Lutheran bishop
in the Western Hemisphere. On leaving Montgomery in 1955, he failed
to anticipate the social friction that his new parsonage would cause-
mostly because he assumed that his successor would be a Negro. Lu-
theran polity changed again, however, and when a white minister named
Robert Graetz finished his seminary training that year in Ohio, he found
his name on the missionary assignment list among those of his col-
leagues going to Africa and South America-posted to Trinity Lutheran
down in Alabama. Dutifully, Graetz had personal stationery printed up
bearing a biblical quotation: "And the angel of the Lord spoke unto Philip
saying, 'Arise, go toward the South.' " Along with his wife and their two
toddlers, Graetz headed for Montgomery, where they became the first of
Trinity's white pastoral families to live in Trout's parsonage among tile
Negro parishioners.
The Graetzes discovered instantly that the social effects of the new
location were severe. Previously, Montgomery whites had allowed Trin-
ity pastors to live among them and preach to Negro Lutherans, on much
the same social calculus that allowed doctors to visit a brother in a
medical emergency. Now that they were living in the brothel, however,
the Graetzes forfeited their modicum of acceptability. Local whites
shunned them -everywhere from the laundromat to the superi-narket. In
most respects, the Graetz family lived as though they were Negroes, but
their white skin produced some unprecedented legal contortions. Be-
cause they always chose to sit in the upstairs Negro section of movie
theaters, for instance, theater owners worried that to sell them tickets
might bring down Alabaiiia's legal sanctions igiiiist estil)lislliiiciits that
disponsored" interracial public meetings. (Those same laws made it tech-
nically illegal for Graetz to preach in his own church.) The theater own-
ers' solution was to let them in free. Montgomery's ticket takers soon
learned the face of every Graetz and knew to whisk them all rlpidly into
the theater, so as to minimize the ire of paying white customers. l@ever-
end Graetz tried repeatedly to pay, believing that he should not profit
from his Christian witness. The owners would not hear of it.
The Graetzes almost never got to laugh at such absurdities. There wis
too much tension. Besides, the daily ostracism caused too much hurt
within the family for its excesses to be funny. Not all the hostility came
from whites. Many of Trinity's members had been happier with Negro
pastors like Trout. Some of them said out loud that they did not need a
white man to tell them how to live. At first, even those who tried hardest
to welcome them were saddled constantly with awkwardness, as nothing
came naturally to the Graetzes. In most situations outside the Lutheran
worship service, they did not know what to cat, say, or do. Drawing on
their best natural defense, they became sincere-too sincere, even by tihe
standards of the clergy. At sessions of the Montgomery Human Relations
Council, Reverend Graetz met most of the others who made up the
town's handful of white liberals, including the Durrs. Like him, they
were all sincere, and some were timid, or brilliant, or damaged. Juliette
Morgan, the kindly city librarian, was a recluse by night who shut herself
up in a dark house with her mother. Of the Negro ministers in town,
Reverend King often attended, though he usually arrived late. Graetz
found King easily approachable, always supportive of him in his difficul-
ties as a racially isolated newcomer and curious about the details. As
they became better acquainted, Graetz decided that King's own experi-
ence as a Negro student among whites in the North gave him a feel for
life at Trinity Lutheran.
In October, while King was off in Georgia for a week, living and preach-
ing with Walter McCall, a white woman boarding the Highland Avenue
bus asked the driver to make Mary Louise Smith vacate a seat for her.
Smith refused, was arrested, convicted, and fined nine dollars under the
segregation law. Negro activists pitched themselves into another flurry
of battle preparation, except that it was foreshortened this time by a
pronouncei-neiit from E. D. Nixon. Smith, he decided, was no better
suited to stind at the rallying point than was Claudette Colvin the pre-
vious spring. Her father was an alcoholic. She lived in one of those see-
through clapboard shacks out in the country. if a legal fight started and
newspaper reporters went out to interview the Smith family, said Nixon,
'we wouldn't have a leg to stand on." in the end, Smith paid her fine.
Nixon's judgment prevailed, but leaders of the Women's Political Coun-
cil grumbled that Smith's shortcomings were irrelevant to the principles
of the case.
Returning home to the afterbuzz of the Smith arrest, King prepared a
formal report to his congregation at Dexter, looking back on his first year
and forward to the second. This time there were no new recommcnda-
tions. His brief cover letter was devoted to the subject of money. "May I
close," he wrote, "by asking you to consider this question: Where else in
all the world can a dollar buy so much?"
A big baby girl-weighing more than nine and a half pounds-was.
born three weeks later. Mother King arrived swiftly from Atlanta to take
up her station. Dr. Pettus, the attending physician, was of the old school
that required confinement of the mother both before the birth and for a
month thereafter. He exempted Mother King from the semi-quarantine
lie imposed around the baby, but the new father initially had the status
of a special visitor who came and went by the rules. Generally, King's
role was to peek happily, to crow, to embrace, to entertain and restrain
callers, and to pass along what he had heard from Dr. Pettus and the
Two minor disagreements intruded on the domestic excitement
within the first few days. First, King told the family that lie was thinking
of running for president of the local NAACP cliipter. Coretta objected
strenuously, and Mother King supported her. The timing of tile sudden
announcement made it look suspiciously like one of the senior King's
attention-getting maneuvers. King's wife and mother told him that the
last thing he needed with a new baby was a demanding new office, espe-
cially since his church and his outside preaching already kept him con-
stantly in motion. They were not impressed by King's reason for waiting
to run, which was primarily that Rufus Lewis had been pushing him to
do so and predicting that he could win. There was a good deal of discus-
sion within the household, during which time King kept in contact with
Lewis and with R. D. Nesbitt, in whose offices the NAACP held many
of its meetings. His interest soon came to the attention of E. D. Nixon,
who called upon King to advise him that he had controlled the NAACP
for many years and was already committed to another candidate. He
liked King but would have to oppose him if he ran. This warning, com-
bined with the home-front opposition, finally made King back away, but
he liked to tease his wife and mother by remarking that lie might change
his mind.
The second disagreement had to do with the baby's name. Coretta,
seeking the unusual and distinctive, wanted to call her Yolanda Denise.
King wanted something simpler, arguing that Yolanda was too difficult
to pronounce, and too redolent of the tendency among middle-class Ne-
groes to reach out for status in a name. Coretta won. King made himself
happy with the nickname "Yoki," saying that if they had another daugh
ter he would like to give her a plain name, like Mary Jane.
On December 1, 1955, the day Yolanda became two weeks old, Rosa
Parks left the Montgomery Fair department store late in the afternoon
for her regular bus ride home. All thirty-six seats of the bus she boarded
were soon filled, with twenty-two Negroes seated from the rear and
fourteen whites from the front. Driver J. P. Blake, seeing a white man
standing in the front of the bus, called out for the four passengers on the
row just behind the whites to stand up and move to the back. Nothing
happened. Blake finally had to get out of the driver's seat to speak more
firmly to the four Negroes. "You better make it light on yourselves and
let me have those seats," he said. At this, three of the Negroes moved, to
stand in the back of the bust but Parks responded that she was not in the
white section and didn't think she ought to move. She was in no-man's-
land. Blake said that the white section was where he said it was, and he
was telling Parks that she was in it. As he saw the law, the whole idea of
no-man's-land was to give the driver some discretion to keep the races
out of each other's way. He was doing just that. When Parks refused
again, he advised her that the same city law that allowed him to regulate
no-man's-land also gave him emergency police power to enforce the seg-
regation codes. He would arrest Parks himself if he had to. Parks replied
that he should do what he had to do; she was not moving. She spoke so
softly that Blake would not have been able to hear her above the drone
of normal bus noise. But the bus was silent. Blake notified Parks that she
was officially under arrest. She should not move until he returned with
the regular Montgomery police.
At the station, officers booked, fingerprinted, and incarcerated Rosa
Parks. It was not possible for her to think lightly of being arrested. Hav-
ing crossed the line that in polite society divided Negroes from niggers,
she had reason to expect not only stinging disgrace among her own peo-
ple but the least civilized attentions of the whites. When she was allowed
to call home, her mother's first response was to groan and ask, "Did they
beat you?"
Deep in panic, the mother called E. D. Nixon's house for help. Mrs.
Nixon absorbed the shock and promptly called her husband at the down-
town office he maintained more or less as a place to talk civic business
when lie was not riding the trains.
"What was it she was arrested about?" asked Nixon.
"I don't know," Mrs. Nixon replied impatiently. "Go and get her."
Nixon sighed. it was just like his wife to give him orders as though he
could always tell the white authorities to do things, such as to release
prisoners. Still, lie shared her urgency, because he knew Rosa Parks was
in danger every minute she remained in jail. if anything happened to her
there, Parks would be utterly without recourse or remcdy. Nixon called
Fred Gray's office, but he was gone for the day. After leaving messages
for Gray all over town, Nixon summoned the courage to call the jail
directly. What were the charges against Rosa Parks, he asked the desk
sergeant-only to be told they were none of his damned business. Nixon
hung up. This was serious. The normal courtesies he received as the
universally recognized Negro leader were suspended, which must mean
that the race laws had been transgressed.
Nixon called Clifford Durr and told him what he knew. Durr promised
to find out what he could from the jail, and soon called back with a
report: Rosa Parks was charged with violating the Alabama bus segrega-
tion laws. That was all. When he volunteered to accompany Nixon to
make bond for Mrs. Parks, Nixon accepted the offer readily. in fact, he
told Durr to wait for hii-n to come by. They would convoy to the city iiii.
When Nixon pulled up at the Durr home, Virginia Durr was waiting
outside with her husband, ready to go too. She had first known Rosa
Parks as a seamstress she hired to hem dresses for her three daughters,
and had thought well enough of Park's NAACP work to recommend that
she spend a vacation week at one, of Myles Horton's interracial work-
shops at the Highlander Folk School. Parks had done so, returning to say
that her eyes had been opened to new possibilities of harmony between
the races. Virginia Durr was indignant that the fearful liuniiliatioii of jail
had now fallen upon such a person.
Officers fetched Parks from the cellblock as Nixon was signing the
bond papers. She and Nixon and the Durrs were soon inside the Parks
home with her mother and her husband Raymond, a barber. The atmo-
sphere was as charged as the taciturn Rosa Parks could ever allow it to
become, with much storytelling and rejoicing that the immediate danger,
at least, had passed. Nixon read the mood of the Parks family well
enough that he spoke business to Durr only in asides, out of their hear-
ing. He asked for Durr's legal opinion: was this the case they had been
waiting for? Could they use it to win a victory over segregation on ap-
peal? Durr replied in snippets as he could, mindful of the Parks family.
The only flaw with the case as he saw it was that the charges would first
be heard in state court rather than federal court. But there were ways to
move cases. Otherwise, the circumstances were highly favorable. There
were no extraneous charges to cloud the segregation issue, and Rosa
Parks would make a good impression on white judges. This was enough
for Nixon, who already knew instinctively that Rosa Parks was without
peer as a potential symbol for Montgomery's Negroes-humble enough
to be claimed by the common folk, and yet dignified enough in manner,
speech, and dress to command the respect of the leading classes.
Nixon asked the husband and mother to excuse Rosa briefly, so that
she could speak privately with him and the Durrs. He put the question
to her: would she be willing to fight the case, the way she knew they had
wanted to fight earlier with Colvin and Smith? Rosa Parks did not htve
to be told twice what he meant, but she knew that it was a momentous
decision for her family. She said she would have to approach her relatives
with the idea privately, and chose to talk first alone with her mother and
then with her husband. The proposal upset both of them. Raymond Parks
came nearly undone. Having just felt primitive, helpless terror when his
wife had been snatched into jail, he could not bear the thought that she
would reenter that forbidden zone by choice. Now there was hope that
the arrest could be forgiven as an isolated incident but if she persisted,
it would be deliberate. it would be political. "The white folks will kill
you, Rosa," he said, pleading with her not to do it.
Rosa Parks finally announced her decision. "if you think it will mean
something to Montgomery and do some good, I'll be happy to go along
with it," she said. The Durrs and then Nixon soon left. It was late on a
Thursday evening. Before going to bed, Nixon pulled out his portable
tape recorder and reeled off a long list of people he needed to call. Mean-
while, Fred Gray had received the message about the arrest. After talking
with Parks and agreeing to represent her, he had called several of his
friends on the Women's Political Council, including Jo Ann Robinson. A
divorced professor of English at Alabama State, Robinson had grown up
the last of twelve children on a one-hundred-acre Georgia farm, which
her father had told her was a gift from his own father, a wealthy white
farmers The only one of her siblings to finish college, Robinson had come
South again from Cleveland in 1949. She was among the leaders of the
womeii's group who served on Reverend King's new political affairs corn-
i-nittee at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Like most professional women
among the Negroes of Montgomery, she had no trouble identifying with
Rosa Parks, even though she herself drove a car and seldom rode the
buses. As soon as she heard from Gray that night, Robinson called her
closest friends on the council. All of them responded like firefighters to
an alarm. This was it.
Casting off the old rules about how Negro women should never travel
alone at night in Southern towns, Robinson and her friends met about
midnight it their offices, at Alabama State, each under the pretext of
grading exams. -They drafted a letter of protest. "Another Negro woman
has been arrested and thrown into jail because she refused to get up out
of her seat on the bus and give it to a white person," they began. They
revised the letter repeatedly, as ideas occurred to them. "Until we do
something to stop these arrests, they will continue," the women wrote.
"The next time it may be you, or you or you. This woman's case will
come up Monday. We are, therefore, asking every Negro to stay off the
buses on Monday in protest of the arrest and trial." As they worked, the
women felt urgency closing in upon them. They realized that the best
way to notify Montgomery Negroes, given their lack of access to news-
papers or radio, was to leaflet the town through the churches and the
contacts of the Women's Council. The best place to get copies of such an
incendiary letter printed, they realized, was precisely where they were-
at Alabama State, on the mimeograph machines. This would require
stealth, because the college was funded largely by the Alabama legisla-
ture. If white people ever learned that state-employed teachers had used
taxpayer-owned facilities to plot a revolt against segregation laws, heads
would roll and budgets would surely be cut. So the women resolved to
finish the mammoth task before daylight and never to speak of what
they had done. They soon lost all thought of going to bed that night.
Robinson decided to call E. D. Nixon to let him know what they were
doing. To her great surprise, the voice that came on the line was alert
and full of news about the Parks case at three o'clock in the morning.
Nixon was already bustling about his house getting ready to arrange the
Parks defense before leaving on his morning Pullman run through At-
lanta to New York and back. He instantly approved Robinson's idea of
the one-day bus boycott, saying that he had something like that in mind
himself. He told her that he planned to summon Montgomery's leading
Negroes to a planning meeting the very next day, at which both the legal
defense and the boycott would be organized. Robinson was the first to
know. *
Nixon began his calls about five o'clock that morning. He called Ralph
Abernathy first, then his own minister, then King. He was in a ]furry.
When King came on the line, Nixon did not bother to ask whether lie
* This point, marking the origins of the Montgomery bus boycott, would become
hotly contested ground to future generations of civil rights historians. King hiln-
self would divide the credit between Nixon and the Womcn's Political Council,
citing Nixon for taking the first steps to fight the Parks and the Womens Political 
Council for conceiving of tiic boycott. Nixon himself would later claim credit for 
both, stating that he had told his wife-after leaving the Parks honic but before hearing
from Robinson a few hours later-that there would be a boycott. Kilig's partisans
would dismiss Nixon's assertion with more than a hint of condescension, but
Nixon's side of the story would be taken tip later by viriotis kinds of revisionists.
Roy Wilkins stressed Nixon's longtime service to the NAACP, whereas black
power activists stressed Nixon's proletarian origins to sliow that the boycott
sprang from the masses. Some white chroniclers seemed to stress Nixon's role
because he was a colorful character whose contribution ha(i been overlooked.
Years after the pro-E. D. Nixon revisionists, new feininist versions, largely un-
published, would stress the role of the upper-class women of the Womn's Polit-
ical Council.
All sources, including E. D. Nixon, agree that the long discussion at Rosa
Parks's home that first night was confined to the prospect of a legal challenge to
the arrest, without mention of a boycott, and no one denies that before morning
the women had written an independent letter calling for a boycott. These facts
support King's original division of the credit. Some of the more subjective argu-
ments deriving from this central dispute retain their validity, However. Nixon
has been slighted by popular history and patronized by supporters of King. Openly
wounded by this treatment, Nixon has probably exaggerated his role in response.
And the Montgoiiiery wonicii have been ignored to i greater extent even thin
had awakened the new baby, or even to say hello. Instead he plunged
directly into the story of the Parks arrest, telling King of his determina-
tioii to fight the case and his plan to stay off the buses on Monday. He
asked King for his endorsement.
"Brother Nixon," King said quickly, "let me think about it and you
call me back."
Nixon said fine. He'd make some other calls, but he wanted King to
know that he wanted to use Dexter for the meeting that afternoon. Its
central location midc the church convenient for people working in
downtown offices. Of course, said King-he just wanted to think before
endorsing Nixoii's specific plan. By the time he talked to King again,
King bid himself talked with Abernathy and other ministers. After en-
dorsing the general plan, he helped Abernathy call the remaining names
on Nixoii's list.
One of Nixon's last calls was to Joe Azbell, the city editor of the
Montgomery Advertiser. Promising "the hottest story you've ever writ-
tcn," Nixon asked Azbell to meet him at the train station. Azbell did.
Nixon, wearing his white coat and porter's cap, told him the whole story
as a confidential informant, mentioning no names except that of Rosa
Parks, then hopped on his Atlanta-bound train.
While lie was gone, about fifty of the Negro leaders assembled in the
basement of King's church, where, after a protracted and often disorderly
argument about whether or not to allow debate, they approved the plans
ii-iorc or less is Nixon had laid tlici-n out in advance. All undertook to
spread the word. King and others retired as a committee to draft a new
leaflet that was essentially a condensation of the one already being cir-
culated by the thousands by the Wo mcn's Political Council. "Don't ride
the bus to work, to town, to school, or any place Monday, Decei-nber
5 . . ." it said. "if you work, take a cab, or share a ride, or walk." There
was a final sentence with new information: "Coi-ne to a mass meeting,
Monday at 7:00 P.m., at the Holt Street Baptist Church for further in-
structioii." The meeting continued amid a good deal of chaos, as some
worked to print up the leaflet on the Dexter mimeograph machine, while
others phoned to warn Montgomery's eighteen Negro taxi companies
that they would be called upon to be heroes on Monday, and still others
huddled over countless details. The meeting broke up about midnight.
By the next day, Saturday, thousands of Montgomery's Negroes had
either seen the leaflets or heard the news by word of mouth. Reverend
Graetz of Trinity Lutheran had heard rumors, but his persistent ques-
tioning of his own church members brought poor results. He was still a
white man, ifter all, and no one wanted to be the one who triggered a
general alarm in Montgomery by telling him. Frustrated, Graetz decided
to phone the best friend he had in town outside his congregation, the
woman who used his church building for meetings of the NAACP Youth
Council. "Mrs. Pirks," he said, "I keep hearing that somebody was lr-
rested on the bus and there's going to be a boycott. Is that true? Who was
There was a long pause. "It's true," Parks said, almost sheepishly. "it
was me, Pastor Graetz. I was the one arrested."
"You?" Graetz exclaimed. He rushed over to the Parks hoi-ne to learn
the details. The next morning, from the pulpit of Trinity Lutheran, lie
delivered what he called a Christian analysis of the Rosa Parks arrest.
Then he announced that he and his family would observe the boycott,
and he urged his members to do likewise. A murmur of approval went
through the congregation. At Dexter, King i-nade a similar announce-
ment, as did Abernathy at First Baptist and all the others.
Nixon returned from his train run that day to find that Joe Azbell had
written a story in the morning Advertiser, headlined "Negro Groups
Ready Boycott of Bus Lines." It was not the dominant race story in the
paper. That distinction went to the sensational lead itein from Georgia,
about how "a howling mob of Georgia Tech students" had broken
through police lines at the state capitol in protest of Governor Marvin
Griffin's recent statement that Georgia Tech should not be allowed to
play in the upcoming Sugar Bowl because its opponent, the University of
Pittsburgh, was discovered to have a loiie Negro on the teiin as a reserve
running back, and because Sugar Bowl officials had igreed to illow Pitts-
burgii fans to be seated on a nonsegregated basis. The Georgia governor,
who since the Brown decision hid enjoyed much favorable publicity
from swashbuckling defenses of segregation, discovered that they did not
fare so well against an emotional tradeoff in the sports area. I-le soon
backed down, somewhat shaken by the experience of having the sons of
his finest constituents smashing the windows and doors of his office.
Azbell's Montgomery story seemed much taiiier. "A 'top secret' meet-
ing of Montgomery Negroes who plan a boycott of city buses Monday is
scheduled at 7 i).m. Monday at the Holt Street Baptist Church, " lie began,
going on to quote liberally from both the first and second leaflets, which
had been relayed into the hands of the authorities by white women who
had gotten them from their maids. The story reported that Montgomery
had been "flooded with thousands of copies" of the leiflets, Ili(i that the
Holt Street minister said the mass meeting would be open to people of
all races. Azbell never bothered to explain how a meeting so advertised
and described could be called "top secret" in the newspaper, He did not
need to, White people would not attend, and the purpose touched upon
the possibility of revolt against segregation. Any such meeting was self-
evidently "top secret," as the import of the situation overturned the
literal meaning of the words. E. D. Nixon cared little about inaccuracies
or the fact that the story was clearly intended as a warning to white
readers. To him, the story was effective advertising. It would get the
word out to more Negroes.
He was up before dawn on Monday morning. So were the Kings, M.L.
drinking coffee and Coretta keeping watch at the front window, ner-
vously waiting to see the first morning bus. When she saw the headlights
cutting through the darkness, she called out to her husband and they
watched it roll by together. The bus was empty! The early morning
special on the South Jackson line, which was normally full of Negro
maids on their way to work, still had its groaning engine and squeaky
brakes, but it was an empty shell. So was the next bus, and the next. In
spite of the bitter morning cold, their fear of white people and their
desperate need for wages, Montgomery Negroes were turning the City
Bus Lines into a ghost fleet. King, astonished and overjoyed, jumped into
his car to see whether the response was the same elsewhere in the city.
It was. He drove around for several hours, watching buses pass by carry-
ing handfuls of white passengers.
Police cars, manned by officers with helmets and shotguns, followed
many of the buses on the orders of the new police commissioner, Clyde
Sellers. His theory, which he had announced personally on the radio in
special police builctins, was that only violence by Negroes could moti-
vate other Negroes to stay off the buses. "Negro 'goon squads' reportedly
have been organized here to intimidate Negroes who ride Montgomery
City Line buses today," began Joe Azbell's front-page story. The Sellers
plan called for roving police squads to intimidate the Negro goons before
they could intimidate Negro bus ridcrs. It backfired. Confused Negro
passengers took a look at the heavily armed white policci-nen swarming
around their bus stops and shied away, wanting no part of such a scene.
plan, having frightened into the boycott some of the very Negroes
whom Sellers hoped to reassure, proceeded to do worse. The policemen
felt bureaucratic pressure to arrest the goons. Now that practically all
the Negroes were boycotting the buses, their boss's theory suggested that
entire armies of gooiis must be at work. But where were they? At 7:15
P.m., police arrested a nineteen-year-old college student as he was helping
an old Negro woman into his car. The officers said the student was
offering the woman a ride as an alternative to the bus, but they knew
this was not the kind of goon activity Commissioner Sellers had in mind.
They made no more arrests.
After Rosa Parks was convicted that morning, and after Fred Gray filed
notice of appeal, E. D. Nixon walked out of the Courtroom to post bond
for her release. The sight that greeted him in the courthouse hallway
shocked him almost as much as the empty buses at dawn: a crowd of
some five hundred Negroes jammed the corridor, spilling back through
the doors and down the steps into the street. Nixon, who wis acctis-
tomed to find there only a few relatives of the accused, knew then that
the empty buses had been no fluke. The jostling, and the sight of still
more worricd-looking policemen with shotguns, rattled even Nixon tclil-
porarily. He tried to disperse the crowd, promising to bring Rosl Parks
outside unharmed as soon as the bond was signed. Some voices shouted
back that the crowd would storm the courthouse to rescue both Parks
and Nixon if they did not emerge within a few minutes. Something was
new in Montgomery.
All the Negro leaders knew it long before they reassembled that after-
noon to plan for the evening's mass meeting. Nixon, Abernathy, and a
leading Methodist minister named French had met to draw up a list of
negotiating demands for the bus boycott, reasoning, as usual, that if the
demands were not prearranged they would never escape the chaos of
debate. No sooner had the presiding officer presented the Nixon-Aber-
nathy-French ideas to the group as a general proposition than another
clique of two or three suggested that the proposals be mimeographed and
handed to all those attending the mass meeting. That way, Negroes could
vote on the proposals without discussing them out lotid, which would
conceal their plans from any white reporters present. Another person
from this group proposed that the names of the leaders llso be kept
secret, including all those present. They discusssed the fine points of
stealth and security until E. D. Nixon rose in anger. "How do you think
you can run a bus boycott in secret?" he demanded. "Let me tell you
gentlemen one thing. You ministers have lived off these wash-womien
for the last hundred years and ain't never done nothing for them." He
threatened to expose the ministers as cowards before the mass meeting
if they tried to hide. He scolded the ministers and everyone else for
letting the women bear the brunt of the arrests and then backing down
like "little boys." "We've worn aprons all our lives," he said. "It's time
to take the aprons off.... If we're gonna be mens, now's the time to be
King arrived late at the meeting, just as Nixon was spewing out the
last of his taunts. Perhaps to defend himself as the conspicuous new-
comer who had drawn the crowd's eye, or perhaps to quiet what threat-
ened to become a disastrous war of pride, fie spoke before anyone could
answer the tirade. "Brother Nixon, I'm not a coward," he said easily. "I
don't want anybody to call me a coward." All the leaders should act
openly, he said, under their own names.
Rufus Lewis seized the moment. He and Nixon had never liked each
other much, having been personal and class rivals for decades. Lewis
feared that Nixon's intimidating speech was a preplanned signal for
someone to propose that Nixon himself head the new boycott organiza-
tion, and in that light it was quite fortunate that King had arrived just
then to speak in a niaiiner that both challenged Nixon and agreed with
him. All this went through Lewis' heid in a flesh, and lie quickly took
the floor to move that Dr. M. L. King be elected president. By prearrange-
nient with Lewis, a Reverend Conley jumped up to second the motion.
A momentary silence followed this challenge, as the members of various
small caucuses cycd each other. There was hesitation and some discus-
sion, but in the end no one else was nominated-not Nixon, nor Aber-
natliy, nor any of the powerful senior ministers. Idealists would say
afterward that King's gifts made him the obvious choice. Realists would
scoff at this, siying that King was not very well known, and that his
chief asset was his lack of debts or enemies. Cynics would say that the
established preachers stepped back for King only because they saw more
blame and danger ahead than glory. No leider had promised all Mont-
gomery to secure justice for Claudette Colvin, and what would have
become of his reputation if lie had? In the long run, what was a fourteen-
dollar fine levied on Rosa Parks to a community that had calmed down
,ifter lyiicliings?
After the election of other officers and the selection of a name for the
organization--Montgomery Improvement Association-someone
rose to suggest that the bus boycott should be suspended during the
upcoming negotiations over the demands. As of that day, he said, the
boycott was a stunning success, but if they tried to go on with it people
would get tired sooner or later and filter back onto the buses, which
would mike the white people laugli at the new MIA and grant no conces-
sioiis. Other speakers supported this argument, observing that it would
be better to preserve the boycott weapon as a threat than to spoil it by
overuse. On the verge of approval, the proposal was suspended so that
the ministers could select hymiis, prayers, and speakers for the mass
meeting. Then it was finessed altogether in haste. The leaders would
wait to see how many people turned out that night.
King raced home to his wife and new baby sometime after six. Hesi-
taiitly, he informed Coretta that he had been drafted as president of the
new protest committee. Much to his relief, she did not object to the fait
(iccon7l)li and in fact said quietly that she would support him in whatever
lie did, King said he would have no time for supper. He had to leave for
the mass meeting within half an hour, and after that he had to address a
banquet sponsored by the YMCA, one of the only integrated organiza-
tions in Montgomery. Most on his mind was the speech at Holt Street-
his first appearance as the new protest leader, the first words most of the
audience would have heard from him. He went into his study and closed
the door, wondering how he could possibly create such an important
speech in a few minutes, when he required fifteen hours to prepare an
ordinary sermon. His mind raced. Ile knew from his conscience that he
wanted to answer one peevish charge that had appeared in both newspaper
articles thus far-that the Negroes had borrowed the boycott tactic from
the White Citizens Councils, which had openly adopted a policy of harsh
economic reprisal against Negroes who fought segregation. King scirclied
for the correct words by which he might distinguish the bus boycott
from unchristian coercion. He had written only a few notes on a piece
of paper, when it was time to go.
Elliott Finley, King's Morehouse friend with the pool table, drove him
to the rally. King had a few minutes to think in the car. A traffic jaiii on
the way to Holt Street extended the time a bit, and then a bit more, until
they realized they could go no farther-the church was surrounded. The
hostile press later estimated the crowd at five thousand people; Negroes
put it at two or three times that figure. Whatever the exact number, only
a small fraction of the bodies fit inside the church, and loudspeakers
were being set up to iinplify the proceedings to in outdoor crowd that
stretched over several acres, across streets and irotiiid cars that had been
parked at all angles. Clifford and Virginia I)tirr never got within three
blocks of the church door. Reverend Graetz was the only white supporter
inside-the only white face seen there other than reporters and camcra-
men. "You know something, Finley," said King, as he prepared to aban-
don the car. "This could turn into something big." It took him fifteen
minutes to push his way through the crowd. Shortly thereafter, the Holt
Street pastor called him to the pulpit.
King stood silently for a moment. When he greeted the enormous crowd
of strangers, who were packed in the balconies and aisles, peering in
through the windows and upward from seats on the floor, he spoke in a
deep voice, stressing his diction in a slow introductory cadence. "We are
here this cvening-for serious business," he said, in even pulses, rising
and then falling in pitch. When he paused, only one or two "yes" rc-
sponses came up from the crowd, and they were quiet ones. It was a
throng of shouters, he could see, but they were waiting to see where lie
would take them. "We are here in a general sense, because first and
foremost-we are American citizens-and we arc determined to apply
our citizensliip-to the fullness of its means," he said. "But we are here
in a specific sense-because of the bus situation in Montgomery." A
general murmur of assent came bick to him, iiid the pitch of King's
voice rose gradually through short, quickened sentences. "The situation
is not at all new. The problem has existed over endless years. just the
other day-just last Thursday to be exact-one of the finest citizens in
Montgoi-nery-not one of the finest Negro citizcns-but one of the finest
citizens in Montgomery-was taken from a bus-and carried to jail and
arrested-because she refused to give up-to give her seat to a white
The crowd punctuated each pause with scattered "Yeses" and
"Amens." They were with him in rhythm, but lagged slightly behind in
enthusiasm. Then King spoke of the law, saying that the arrest was
doubtful even under the segregation ordinances, because reserved Negro
and white bus sections were not specified in them. "The law has never
been clarified at that point," he said, drawing an emphatic "Hell, no"
from one man in his audience. "And I think I speak with-with legal
authority-iiot that I have any legal authority-but I think I speak with
legal authority behind me-that the law-the ordinance-the city ordi-
nance has never been totally clarified." This sentence marked King as a
speaker who took care with distinctions, but it took the crowd nowhere.
King returned to the special nature of Rosa Parks. "And since it had to
happen, I'm happy it happened to a person like Mrs. Parks," he said, "for
nobody can doubt the boundless outreach of her integrity. Nobody can
doubt the height of her character, nobody can doubt the depth of her
Christian commitment." That's right, a soft chorus answered. "And just
because she refused to get up, she was arrested," King repeated. The
crowd was stirring now, following King at the speed of a medium walk.
He paused slightly longer. "And you know, my friends, there comes a
time," he cried, "when people get tired of being trampled over by the
iron feet of oppression." A flock of "Yeses" was coming back at him
when suddenly the individual responses dissolved into a rising cheer and
applause explodcd beneath the cheer--all within the space of a second.
The startling noise rolled on and on, like a wave that refused to break,
and just when it seemed that the roar must finally weaken, a wall of
sound came in from the enormous crowd outdoors to push the volume
still higher. Thunder seemed to be added to the lower register-the
sound of feet stomping on the wooden floor-uiitil the loudness became
something that was not so much heard as it was sensed by vibrations in
the lungs. The giant cloud of noise shook the building and refused to go
away. One sentence had set it loose somehow, pushing the call-and-
response of the Negro church service past the din of a political rally and
on to something else that King had never known before. There was a
rabbit of awesome proportions in those bushes. As the noise finally fell
back, King's voice rose above it to fire again. "There comes a time, my
friends, when people get tired of being thrown across the abyss of humil-
iation, where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair," he de-
clared. "There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out
of the glittering sunlight of life's July, and left standing aniidst the pierc-
ing chill of an Alpine November. There. . ." King was making a new run,
but the crowd drowned him out. No one could tell whether the roar
came in response to the nerve lie had touched, or simply out of pride in
a speaker from whose tongue such rhetoric rolled so easily. "We are here
-we are here because we are tired now," King repeated.
Perhaps daunted by the power that was bursting forth from the crowd,
King moved quickly to address the pitfalls of a boycott. "Now let us say
that we are not here advocating violence," he said. "We have overcome
that." A man in the crowd shouted, "Repeat that! Repeat that!" "I want
it to be known throughout Montgomery and throughout this nation that
we are Christian people," said King, putting three distinct syllables in
"Christian." "The only weapon that we have in our hands this evening
is the weapon of protest." There was a crisp shout of approval right on
the beat of King's pause. He and the audience moved into a slow trot. "If
we were incarcerated behind the iron curtains of a communistic nation
-we couldn't do this. If we were trapped in the dungeon of a totalitarian
rcgime-we couldn't do this. But the great glory of American (icii-iocracy
is the right to protest for right." When the shouts of approval died down,
King rose up with his final reason to avoid violence, which was to distiii-
guish themselves from their opponents in the Klan and the White Citi-
zens Council. "There will be no crosses burned at any bus stops in
Montgomery," he said. "There will be no white persons pulled out of
their homes and taken out on some distant road and murdered. There
will be nobody among us who will stand up and defy the Constitution of
this nation."
King paused. The church was quiet but it was humming. "My friends,"
he said slowly, "I want it to be known-that we're going to work with
grim and bold determination-to gain justice on the buses in this city.
And we are not wrong. We are not wrong in what we are doing." There
was a muffled shout of anticipation, as the crowd sensed that King was
moving closer to,the heart of his cause. "If we are wrong-the Supreme
Court of this nation is wrong," King sang out. He was rocking now, his
voice seeming to be at once deep and high-pitched. "If we are wrong-
God Almighty is wrong!" he shouted, and the crowd seemed to explode
a second time, as it had done when he said they were tired. Wave after
wave of noise broke over them, cresting into the farthest reaches of the
ceiling. They were far beyond Rosa Parks or the bus laws. King's last cry
had fused blasphemy to the edge of his faith and the heart of theirs. The
noise swelled until King cut through it to move past a point of unbearable
tension. "if we are wrong-Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian
dreamer and never came down to earth! if we arc wrong-justice is a
lie." This was too much. He had to wait some time before delivering his
soaring conclusion, in a flight of anger mixed with rapture: "And we are
determined here in Montgomcry-to work and fight until justice runs
down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream!" The audience
all but smothered this passage from Amos, the lowly herdsman prophet
of Israel who, along with the priestly Isaiah, was King's favorite biblical
authority on justice.
He backed off the emotion to speak of the need for unity, the dignity
of protest, the historical precedent of the labor movement. Compara-
tively speaking, his subject matter was mundane, but the crowd stayed
with him even through paraphrases of abstruse points from Niebuhr.
"And I want to tell you this evening that it is not enough for us to talk
about love," he said. "Love is one of the pinnacle parts of the Christian
faith. There is another side called justice. And justice is really love in
calculation. justice is love correcting that which would work against
love." He said that God was not just the God of love: "He's also the God
that stiiideth before the nations and says, 'Be still.and know that I am
God-.iii(i if you don't obey Me I'm gonna break the backbone of your
power-and cast you out of the arms of your international and national
relationships.' " Shouts ind claps continued at a steady rhythm as King's
audacity overflowed. "Standing beside love is always justice," he said.
"Not only are we using the tools of persuasion-but we've got to use the
tools of coercion." He called again for unity. For working together. He
-appeared to history, summoning his listeners to behave so that sages of
the future would look back at the Negroes of Montgomery and say they
were "a people who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights."
He said they could do that. "God grant that we will do it before it's too
late." Someone said, "Oh, yes." And King said, "As we proceed with our
program-let us think on these things."
The crowd retreated into stunned silence as he stepped away from the
pulpit. The ending was so abrupt, so anticlimactic, The crowd had been
waiting for him to reach for the heights a third time at his conclusion,
following the rules of oratory. A few seconds passed before memory and
spirit overtook disappointment. The applause continued as King made
his way out of the church, with people reaching to touch him. Dexter
members marveled, having never seen King let loose like that. Abernathy
remained behind, reading negotiating demands from the pulpit. The boy-
cott was on. King would work on his timing, but his oratory had just
made him forever a public person. In the few short minutes of his first
political address, a power of communion emerged from him that would
speak inexorably to strangers who would both love and revile him, like
all prophets. He was twenty-six, and had not quite twelve years and four
months to live.
A few days after the Holt Street mass meeting, one of the
teachers at a Methodist missionary school near Nagpur, India, rushed
outside to investigate a bellowing noise that had pierced the early morn-
ing stillness. In the hut next door, he found his colleague James Lawson
still in a fit of shooting and clapping and foot-stomping. Such joyous
abandon was ali-nost as alarming to the teacher as the violence he had
feared, because he knew Lawson as the essence of the cerebral personal-
ity-a man who had worn spectacles since the age of four, whose supe-
rior manner and precise articulation smothered any hint of emotionalism
in his character. Yet now, even after Theopolis burst through the door,
Lawson was still dancing, and could only point to a story in the English
edition of the Nagpur Times about how thousands of Negroes were re-
fusing to ride segregated buses in a small American city.
This was the beginning, cried Lawson. This was what he had been
dreaming about, what he had gone to prison for, what he had come
halfway around the world to find at its source, only to discover that
Gandliism without Gandhi was dissolving into power politics and petty
quarrels. Lawson was overwhelmed by the ironic news that the spirit of
the Mahatma was breaking out only six or seven hundred miles south of
his home in Ohio. He sensed immediately that he would come to know
M. L. King, who was described in the Nagpur Times as a man of exactly
Lawson's age, race, and profession.
In Montgomery, Juliette Morgan, the reclusive city librarian, watched
the empty buses roll for a few days and then penned a letter to the
Montgomery Advertiser. "Not since the First Battle of the Marne has the
taxi been put tois good use as it his this last week in Montgomery," she
wrote. "However, the spirit aniinating our Negro citizens as they ride
these taxis or walk from the heart of Cloverdale to Mobile Road has been
more like that of Gandhi than of the 'taxicab army' that saved Paris."
Morgan declared that the bus boycotters had "taken a lesson from Gan-
dhi, and from our own Thoreau, wlio influenced Gandhi." She recom-
mended that her fellow white citizens read Edmund Burke's speech
"Conciliation with the American Colonies," and warned them against
"pharasaical zeal ... .. One feels that history is being made in Montgomery
these days, the most important in her career," she conclude.
These last words confirmed her status as something of a ninny, even
among those white people who admired the grandeur of her learning
Who of sound mind could write that a shift by Negro maids in their
common mode of transportation was more important than all the past
glories of Montgomery? Morgan's letter brought down upon her a pro-
longed harassment by young people who threw rocks through hcr win-
dows, insulted her on the streets, and played tricks on lier in the library.
Her flighty sensitivity only provoked them to do worse. A little more
than a year later, she would be found poisoned in her house, an apparent
suicide. By way of explanation, whites would stress her emotional vul-
nerability or alleged mental problems, while Negroes remained certain
that she had been persecuted to death on account of the "battle of the
Marne" letter.
Only the rarest and oddest of people saw historical possibilities in the
bus boycott. Of the few people wlio bothered to write the Advertiser at
first, most were white women who saw it as a justifiable deiiiitid for
simple decent treatment. One woman correspondent did speculate that
there must be i Coinniunist hand behind such strife, but the great mass
of segregationists did not botlier to address the issue. In its first editorial,
the Atlvertiser described the principal MIA demand-for bus seating by
race, with Negroes from the back of the bus and whites from the front,
eliminating the reserved section-as a compromise within the principles
of segregation. Editor Grover Hall, Jr., advised white Montgomery siinply
to accept the proposal and be done with it. The very moderation of the
demands led civil rights groups sucli as the national NAACP to frown
upon the boycott as a wildcat movement for something less than integra-
As for the boycotters themselves, the religious fervor they went to bed
with at night always congealed by the next morning into cold practical-
ity, as they faced rainstorms, mechanical breakdowns, stranded relatives,
and complicated relays in getting from home to job without being late or
getting fired or getting into an argument with the employer, then getting
hoi-ne again, perhaps having to find a way to and from the grocery store,
and cooking and eating supper, dealing with children and housework,
then perhaps going back out into the night for a mass meeting and finally
home again, recharged by the "rousements" of Abernathy and the inspi-
ration of King, and then at last some weary but contented sleep before
the aching chill of dawn started the cycle all over again. To a largely
uneducated people among whom the most common occupations were
ni.iid and day laborer, the loss of what was for many their most important
modern convenience-cheap bus transportation-left them with stag-
geriiig problems of logistics and morale.
The bus boycott was a day-to-day operation. When the Montgomery
police commissioner dropped hints during the first week that he would
order the irrest of any taxi drivers who charged less than the minimum
forty-five-cent fare, it became clear that the emergency ten-cent fare-
and therefore the "taxicab army"-was doomed. King imniediately
called his college friend T. J. Jemison, who, as secretary of the National
Baptist Convention, was a prince of the national church on a much
higher level than the Kings.* Jemison, who knew King well enough to
call hm Mike, had led a bus boycott in Baton Rouge during the summer
of 1953 and organized a car pool after the authorities banned the use of
cut-rate and unlicensed taxi service. King gleaned from jemison every
useful detail within memory about how to organize a massive car pool.
That very night he took the pulpit at a mass meeting to explain why they
had to maintain the boycott without benefit of the eighteen Negro taxi
companies. The good news, King announced bravely, war that they could
organize a car pool similar to the one in Baton Rouge. this, car
owners niust volunteer cars, and drivers must volunteer to drive. No
money could change hands directly, but passengers could make contri-
butions to the MIA, and the MIA could in turn subsidize the costs of the
car pool.
King described his proposal in the most glowing terms possible, but he
knew that the complicated new system would introduce a host of prac-
' In a dynastic compromise of the kind often made in the baronial politics of the
National Baptist Convention, Jemison was serving under President J. H. Jackson,
who had ousted Jemison's blind father at Miami in 1953. It would take the
younger Jemison twenty-nine years to oust Jackson.
tical problems. Cars lent to the boycott by the wealthier Negroes doubt-
less would be wrecked, worn, soiled, and abused by student drivers or by
passengers. The automobile was still among the prime status symbols ill
the United States, and therefore to volunteer oiic's cir as public traiis-
portation was a radical act of togetherness. Passengers, for their part,
might resent becoming dependent on the largesse of their betters. Know-
ing such things, King was stunned once again when the crowd greeted
his proposal with a chiirch-rocking roar of ipproval. Whatever it too]<,
they would do it. That first night, more than 150 car owners signed up
to lend their cars to the boycott. The fractious classes of Montgomcry's
Negroes now promised to blend their daily lives. Several thousand of
them floated from the mass meeting of December 8 on a buoyant new
cloud of optimism, leaving the harsh arithmetic to the future, or to God.
Between 30,000 and 40,000 Negro fares were being denied to the buses
every day. Subtracting generously for walkers and for people who were
simply staying at home, the car pool would have to supply 20,000 rides,
which worked out to more than 130 rides a day for each of the voluii-
tecred cars. By herculean efforts, King knew, Jemison had kept his boy-
cott going in Baton Rouge for two weeks before it fell apart.
At the first negotiating session, on December 8, the three co-equal city
commissioners parried King's arguments before a lirge crowd of report-
ers, boycotters, and white spectators. Commissioner W. A. "Tacky"
Gayle (who was designated mayor because lie supervised the employees
at city hall) finally suggested that the negotiating parties retire to talk
more frankly in private, and there the bus company's lawyer, Jack Crell-
shaw, performed the stickler's role, as he had in the Colvin case. lie liid
no objection to the rather vague MIA demind for greater courtesy on tile
part of bus drivers, but he rejected the demand that the bus company hire
Negro drivers for predominantly Negro routes. This, siid Crenshiw, was
a matter of private enterprise. As to the third and principal dcmaiid-bus
seating-Crenshaw said the MIA plan was illegal. When Crenshaw
leaned back to huddle with the other white negotiators, King thought lie
heard him whisper that if the whites gave in on this point the Negroes
would go around boasting of a victory, which would be unacceptable.
Some time later, Crenshaw recalled objecting that under the MIA plan a
Negro man could be "practically rubbing knees" with a white woman.
Pride and deep feeling stalemated the talks, which were adjourned after
four hours.
At their next meeting, on December 17, King opened with a conces-
sion. The MIA was no longer asking that the bus company hire Negro
drivers immediately, only that the company accept applications from
qualified Negroes, with the intention of hiring them when job positions
became available. Three eminent white ministers dominated the awk-
ward, exploratory deliberations in the Chamber of Commerce conferet-ice
room. A Methodist preacher, whom negotiator lo Ann Robinson de-
scribed as "stately, reverential, almost godly," sought to cut through the
tension with an eloquent speech stressing the common religious values
of the two races. In the end, however, he disappointed the MIA delegation
by portraying the boycott as an exaggerated response to the frailties of
human nature. Yes, he was sure that bus drivers had behaved discour-
teously toward Negro passengers, but he was also sure they had mis-
treated white ones too. The province of the soul was much larger and
more spiritual than bus seats, and for that reason he was especially sorry
to see ministers of the gospel leading a political campaign. When he
finished, a Presbyterian minister (brother of Senator Richard Russell of
Georgia) observed that it was nearly impossible to conduct discussions
in good Christian faith while one side was inflicting damage on the other.
Therefore, he proposed that the MIA leaders first call off the boycott to
establish an atmosphere conducive to negotiations. This remained Dr.
Henry "jcb" Russell's position from start to finish.
Rev. Henry Parker of the First Baptist Church, out of which Abcrna-
thy's church had been born eighty-eight years earlier, attempted to bridge
the substantive differences. The problem, said Parker, was a narrower
one than most people believed, and from what he could tell most of the
bus incidents could be traced to uncertainty imong the Negro passengers
as to just where the reserved white section ended. To eliminate this
confusion, he proposed that signs be installed in all buses designating the
first ten seats for whites and the last ten scats for Negroes, with those in
between to be filled by overflow passengers of either race. King and the
other Negroes objected vehemently to the detested "White Only" signs,
which had been eliminated from Montgomery buses twenty years before.
The whites replied that they were open to any other proposal that prom-
ised to eliminate the confusion. They drew the attention of the Negro
delegation to technical flaws in the MIA proposal. Suppose that a bus
filled completely with Negroes seating themselves from the back, as the
MIA winted, and then, at a certain stop, ten Negro passengers left the
bus from scattered scats while ten white passengers boarded. Where
would the white passengers sit? How could they call such a bus segre-
gated, in compliance with state law?.On such hypotheticals, the dclega-
tions circled to exhaustion.
Six days before Christmas, a newcomer took a seat on the white side
of the conference table at the Chamber of Commerce. Someone whis-
pered to King that he was Luther Ingalls, secretary of the Montgomery
White Citizens Council. When Ingalls rose to speak, King jumped up to
object that he was not a member of the committee. "Furthermore," King
said rather testily, "we will never solve this problem so long as there are
persons on the committee whose public pronouncements are inti-
Negro." When someone replied that the mayor had approved Ingalls'
presence, King said the mayor bid acted unfairly by adding to the corn-
mittee without consulting the MIA representatives.
King's statement provoked Reverend Parker of First Baptist to defend
Ingalls. "He has just as much right to be on this committee as you do,"
Parker said heatedly. "You have a definite point of view, and you are on
it." Some of the other whites, following Parker's lead, criticized King for
introducing hostility and mistrust into the meeting before Ingalls lead
spoken a word. These comments set off an icriiiioilious exchange be-
tween white and Negro delegates over what was objective and who had
cast the first stone. Each side moved to adopt its own liroposals, and the
other side always voted as a bloc to stop them. Some of the whites
criticized King for dominating the discussion on the Negro side. fie wis
inflexible, they said, an obstacle to negotiation. This accusation hung in
the room until Abernathy stood tip to say that Dr. King spoke for nine
and all the other Negro members. From there, negotiations resumed in a
rather bitter mood. Finally, King made a motion to recess. The whites,
he said, had come to the meeting with "preconceived ideas."
This time there was no need for Reverend Parker to lead the counter-
attack. Mrs. Logan A. Hipp, a white woman who had been serving as
secretary for the meeting, rose to speak. "You are the one who has conic
here with preconceived ideas," she told King, trembling with indigna-
tion. "I resent very deeply the statement that we have come here witli
preconceived ideas. I most certainly did not." As proof, she mentioned
that she had come to the conclusion that she would vote in favor of
hiring Negro bus drivers. Negroes already served as chauffeurs, she said,
and therefore could no doubt adapt to the buses. A white man seconded
Mrs. Hipp, saying that he had come prepared to vote for some of the MIA
A few hours later, King left the utterly unproductive meeting burdened
by what lie called -a "terrible sense of guilt." He had come to the negoti-
ations expecting to find that the more enlightened whites would ac-
knowledge the soundness of his moral claims, like the whites at Crozer
and Boston University, and that the less enlightened ones would expose
themselves in defensive hatred, like the more abusive segregationist
whites he,had encountered in his life. Instead, lie found that the whites
sincerely believed that morality was neutral to the issue, that the White
Citizens Council was more or less a natural counterpart of the MIA as a
racial interest group. The whites had spoken as the diplomats of a large
country might defend their interests to diplomats from a small one. Their
technical approach had deprived King of the moral ground he had occu-
pied all his life. Frustrated, King had spoken in anger and resentment,
which had served only to ruin the negotiations and convince the more
reasonable whites that if there was indeed a moral battle at hand, they
and not King held the advantage. Filled with self-reproach, King called
Reverend Parker on the telephone to apologize for any of his comments
that had given offense. Parker seemed taken aback by the very sound of
Kiiig's voice, and by the unprecedented overture that was at once humble
and gentlemanly, suggesting equality. He fell into a nervous, perfunctory
recitation of the points lie had made earlier in the day.
Parker called no more meetings, and the pressure of continuing the
boycott fell heavily on the MIA. They passed the Baton Rouge car-pool
record and struggled onward. Every day's transportation brought slightly
less chaos but more strain and fatigue; every mass meeting brought re-
iiew.ii. Speakers built morale at the predominantly female meetings by
singling out some of the walking women as heroes. One of the more
conservative ministers told the crowd about a group of women he had
seen walking to work early one morning. They were walking in pride
and dignity, fie declared, with a gait that would "do justice to any
queen." The same preacher quoted an elderly woman who had told him
that if her feet gave out she would crawl on her knees before riding the
buses. Another preacher told the crowd of his effort to give a ride to an
ancient woman known to almost everyone as Mother Pollard. She had
refused all his polite suggestions that she drop out of the boycott on
account of her age, the preacher announced. He inspired the crowd with
a spontaneous remark of Mother Pollard's, which became a classic refrain
of the i-novement: "My feets is tired, but my soul is rested."
King took to the pulpit to say that he knew everyone was worrying
about how to do their Christmas shopping. He proposed that they all
rally to the boycott and to the original meaning of Christmas at the same
time by refusing to shop at all. They should take the money they were
planning to spend on presents and divide it into thirds-putting one part
into their savings account, giving another part to charity and the third to
the MIA. If they had to go somewhere, they should visit someone in need
or go to church or a mass meeting. By restoring the true spirit of Christ-
i-nas, they could give each other a lasting gift that no amount of money
could buy.
A sharp decline in Christmas purchases by Negroes caused Montgom-
cry store owners to wince, but they were not greatly alarmed. Negro
purchasing power accounted for a small fraction of their business, and
the effect of the drop-off was spread among a large number of merchants.
City Bus Lines enjoyed no such cushion, however. Its fiiiiiiciit distress
reached quickly to Ciiicigo, headquarters of the parent conipiiiy, and the
men running the Montgomery subsidiary spoke the blunt, empirical ]an-
guage of financial pain. From the beginning, their public stitenicnts thit
the boycott was 99 percent effective gave no comfort to the Montgomery
politicians who were minimizing the boycott to the same news reporters.
In the first week of 1956, bus company managers told the three city
commissioners that they faced imminent bankruptcy. White people were
not even beginning to make up the loss of Negro riders, they said.
No matter how much the mayor and the White Citizens Council
urged whites to patronize the buses, most of them drove cars and
could not bring themselves to climb aboard a bus. Therefore, tile bus
company demanded an emergency fare increase. The commissioners
had no choice but to approve, but they felt a strong political incen-
tive to make sure that if there was to be blame, the voters would lay it
Three days after the increase was approved, a crowd of some 1,200
people gathered at the Montgomery City Auditorium for a rally of the
White Citizens Council. The first of two guest speakers from Arkansas
told the audience of the real boycott, the white boycott, in which Arkan-
sas council members were cooperating to cut off credit, supplies, sales,
and all other forms of economic sustenance to Negroes identified as anti-
segregation activists. just as the speaker was making sarcastic remarks
about the few fainthearted Arkansas businessmen who were afraid of
alienating Negro customers, a booming voice rang out from the back of
the auditorium. "I don't have any Negro customers!" shouted Clyde
Sellers, the Montgomery city commissioner in charge of police. Sellers
walked grandly down the aisle to the stage, and as the hushed crowd
recognized him they erupted row by row into a prolonged standing ova-
tion. Lifted to the podium and introduced, Sellers assured the crowd that
he would never "trade my Southern birthright for a hundred Negro
votes." This brought a roar of applause that was topped only by his
dramatic pledge to join the White Citizens Council that very night. A
large photograph of Sellers shaking hands with one of the Arkansas
speakers appeared the next day at the top of the Advertiser's front page,
above the headline "Sellers Draws Applause at White Citizen Parley."
The story said he "stole the show."
Daddy King, arriving on January 8 to preach at Dexter, found his son
under nearly unbearable pressure. The boycott had lasted a month.
Transportation chairman Rufus Lewis had dragooned nearly every
Negro-owned vehicle into the car pool-between 275 and 350 a day-
and there were no replacements for those who wanted to drop out. The
MIA treasury was exhausted, which meant that Lewis relied increasingly
on goodwill, and the inspiration of the mass meetings was wearing down
under the hardships of another day's resistance. Accordingly, the day
after Daddy King's sermon, the MIA leaders sued for peace. They asked
for a fourth negotiating session, this time with Sellers and the two other
city commissioners. Fred Gray, not King, presented a new MIA plan.
This was a conciliatory gesture in itself, and Gray's legal presentation
made it clear that the MIA was bending to the city's technical view of
the seating problem. He announced that the MIA was now willing to
make a major concession: Negroes would move voluntarily to fill seats
that became vacant toward the back of the bus, and white passengers
would move forward to fill vacancies toward the front. This meant that
under busy conditions the passengers would be resegregating themselves
continuously, and, as a practical matter, the Negroes would be doing
nearly all the moving. On a full bus, many Negro riders would never be
able to relax in their seats. They would be obli&cd to keep looking to the
rear to see if they had to move. But at least they would not have to stand
up over empty seats in the white reserved section, nor would they have
to vacate seats on the order of bus drivers who anticipated the arrival of
The city commissioners rejected the new offer categorically. There
were remote technical objections, such as what would happen if disagree-
mciit Irose among the passengers as to which of them needed to move,
but the more powerful objections were political and psychological. Under
the new proposal, white passengers would be obliged to move forward to
fill vacant seats to make room for Negroes standing in the back. This
was unbeird of-the law had never required whites to move for Negroes.
The commissioners held fast to the wliites-oiily section as a requirement
of the segregation laws. Their position was hardening, the more so be-
cause they saw the MIA weakening.
At the next MIA executive board meeting, the members admitted
gloomily thit they had misconstrued the nature of the contest. it was no
longer-if indeed it ever had been-a question of finding the proper
wording for the best possible compromise. According to the official niin-
utes of the meeting, the board agreed that the negotiations had broken
down into a siege, testing "which side can hold out the longer time, or
wear the other down." This new strategic situation boded ill for the MIA.
It could hold fast until forced to surrender, or it could try to reverse its
retreats by taking a wild gamble to offset the steady erosion of strength.
ironically, the Montgomery Negroes faced a strategic disadvantage not
unlike that of the Confederates in 1862, when darijig cotinterstrokcs
made Southern legends of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
This kind of historical twist was just the thing to appeal to Grover Hall,
Jr., the editor of the Montgomery Advertiser. Hall was anything but a
conventional white citizen of the town. Scorning piety and most social
orthodoxy, he cultivated his own eccentricity to the point of decorating
his apartment with mynah birds and large stands of camellias. Hall was
a dandy. He seemed to enjoy the stories that circulated of his elegant
bachelorhood-of his wry humor and his scotcli and his music collec-
tion, and the effects of the combination upon a succession of fine young
women who possessed just a touch of wildness. flail cherished the image
of himself as a self-taught historiaii and philosol)he, who had inlierited
the editorship despite his lack of college training. His idol was H. L.
Mencken, notwithstanding Mencken's celebrated satires on the South as
a land filled with pretentious buffoons. In fact, Hall took I rather perverse
pleasure in tweaking his fellow Southerners with Mencken-like obser-
vations on their peculiarities. When Clyde Sellers made his Hollywood
entrance at the City Auditorium, Hall wrote derisively that "in effect,
the Montgomery police force is now an arm of the White Citizciis.Couii-
In January, concluding reluctantly that the boycott had endured long
enough to require special journalistic attention, flail summoned .1 young
reporter named Tom Johnson to his office for an assignment: find out
llwho is behind the MIA." Perhaps the Negroes would talk with him.
Johnson received the challenge with trepidation. Never before had the
Advertiser approached Negro life as a subject for serious journalism. As
the paper had no reliable news sources iiiiong Moiitgoinery's Negroes,
Johnson talked first with the police and with every knowledgeable white
leader in town. The most common opinion he found was that the
NAACP was secretly directing the boycott. This was everywhere, but it
was vague. Probing further, Johnson found in intriguing current of sus-
picion pointing toward a man who worked ceaselessly for the boycott
but professed to have little to do with its direction. The suspect's humil-
ity, it was thought, might be the perfect disguise. After discussing his
preliminary findings with Hall, Johnson wrote the first article of his
boycott series about Reverend Graetz, who, as a white man, seemed
uniquely qualified for the role of hidden mastermind. With this thesis,
Hall and Johnson bravely took their readers across the racial barrier.
Johnson's story, "The Mechanics of the Bus Boycott," appeared on
January 10 and gave white citizens their first specific news about the
inner workings of the MIA-its budget (nearly $7,000 spent so far), the
number of cars in the car pool (up to 350 daily), and the ideas of the
leadership. Johnson wove these facts into a profile of Graetz, but he did
not write explicitly that Graetz was the "brains behind the boycott." He
had come to disbelieve the rumors himself, partly because he found
Graetz to be almost suicidally ingenuous. Unfazed by interrogation,
Graetz volunteered stories animated by a childlike faith and utter disre-
g.ird of political reality. He recalled, for instance, that he had once been
introduced to the NAACP's Walter White, and that White had compli-
i-nciitcd young white people for doing so much to advance the NAACP
cause. "Naturally, I just beamed," Gractz told Johnson, "because that
really fit me." Such statements floored Johnson (who regarded White as
an "incendiary"), convincing him beyond doubt that Graetz was incapa-
ble of the deviousness required to run the boycott covertly.
The next Saturday morning, Johnson kept his appointment at the Dex-
ter Avenue pastor's office, where King was finishing work on his sermon
for the next day, "How to Believe in a Good God in the Face of Glaring
Evil." It was the day before King's twenty-seventh birthday. Johnson,
who was about King's age, was among the first of many reporters who
found that King looked and acted much older than his years. He spoke
slowly and formally, seeming to protect himself with a great wall of
dignity. Johnson returned to the Advertiser offices with a notebook full
of information, including the full title of the dissertation on Tillich and
Wicni,in. He told Hall that he was "relatively unimpressed." For the
editor's benefit, he read notes of Kiiig's quotations on Tillicii and Kalit,
even Nietszche, which Johnson interpreted as evidence of King's eager-
iiess to use philosophical patter to impress people. Maybe it worked on
the Montgomery Negroes, he conceded, beciuse Johnson had seen some
of the oldest Negro ministers in town treat King with extraordinary
respect, bordering on sycophancy. King spoke with authority on the boy-
cott and might well be the leader. Unlike Graetz , he seemed to have the
capacity for tactical maneuver., King had told Johnson that although as
MIA leader he was seeking concessions within segregation, he was per-
sonally for "immediate integration" because as a minister of the gospel
he believed segregation to be evil. This candor supported what Montgom-
ery whites had been saying all along-that the radical Negro leaders were
not really for segregation, that they were lying.
Johnson wrote up many of the pertinent facts of King's history, inclu(l-
ilig the exact number of years that grandfather A. D. Williams had been
pastor of Ebenezer, and went so far as to search out Will Durant's Story
of Philosopljy to give his readers a definition of "dialectics," about which
King talked so much. The publication in the Advertiser of a full-scale
portrait of a Negro was a historic event in itself. And while hostile read-
ers could draw from it inferences that King was uppity and devious, as
Johnson himself believed, the tone of the article was generally neutral.
Hall wanted it straight. If angry whites objected, flall Would tell them
that the city fathers had bollixed things up in pretending to know every-
thing about the local Negroes. Perhaps it was time to learn something
about those inciting this rebellion. In the article, Johnson committed
himself to only one judgment about King, in the headline: ,,rlic Rev.
King Is Boycott Boss." Then he hedged. "There seems to be uncertainty
in tile minds of the white community of Montgomery over the identity
of the director of the bus boycott," he began. "Who is the acknowledged
boycott leader? He seems to be the Rev. Martin Lutticr King, Jr."
The Advertiser published Johnson's article on January 19, just in time
for it to be stirred into the cycles of frustration and mistrust that were
rising in Montgomery. Ignorance and fear in various combinations gave
rise to the possibility of a blind man's brawl. That same week, Police
Commissioner Sellers told the Jaycees that the boycott was continuing
only because white citizens were "sitting by." Ninety percent of the
Negroes wanted to ride the buses, he declared, but were intimidated by
goon squads under the command of the Negro elite, which had never
ridden the buses and never would. The Sellers speech i-nade the front
page. In combination with the Johnson article, it inspired a rumor cam-
paign directed personally against King. He was an outsider, whites said
to each other and to Negroes they knew. He had never even been on a
bus in Montgomery. He was a highfalutin preacher who was mainly
interested in getting his name in the newspaper. Whites repeated among
themselves what became the standard joke, purporting to quote one of
the poor foot soldiers of the boycott: "Those Negroes are making things
awful tough on us niggers."
Myths circulating between and within the races reinforced one another
to produce bizarre, unintended effects. Some of the white women who
needed the services of their maids badly enough to drive them to and
from Rufus Lewis' car-pool pickup spots seized upon the commissiolier's
story, saying that they transported the maids only to protect them from
the goon squads-not, of course, to support the boycott. Some Negroes,
frightened by the rising white anger against the boycott, rallied to the
conservative NAACP idea of bringing the case to court, even though that
meant the radical step of challenging segregation, while others rallied
more strongly to the boycott precisely to avoid the tinderbox of the
NAACP. The city comniissioiiers, meanwhile, focused their attention
on the fact that practically none of the former bus riders -would tell a
white person that they thought tile boycott was a good idea. ordinary
Negro folk would tell even known MIA supporters like the Durrs that
their regular bus had "broken down" that day, or that they were walking
for medical reasons, or, in a pincli, that they "just stays off the buses and
leaves that boycott alone." The commissioners, blanketed by myth and
deception, devised a brazen political gamble to put the Negroes back on
the buses.
On Saturday night, January 21, a reporter named Carl Rowan saw an
item moving on the AP wire in Minneapolis: the Sunday Advertiser
would break the news that the Negroes had agreed to end the boycott.
All Negroes would return to the buses Monday morning, said the story,
which spelled out settlement terms including more courtesy from the
bus drivers, special "all-Negro" buses during rush hours, and preserva-
tioii of the existing seating arrangements on normal bus runs. Rowan
already had been to Montgomery to cover the boycott. Finding it difficult
to believe that the MIA leaders would accept such a minimal settlement,
he called King in Montgomery to find out whether the story was true.
Listening to Rowan read the AP ticker, King felt the bottom fall out of
his composure. He admitted that he knew nothing of such a deal. Pri-
vately, he feared that some of his MIA colleagues might have betrayed
him behind his back. it was possible, King knew, for rivals to plot pri-
vately with the white people, especially because he was so exposed as a
young outsider. Now that there was scant hope of negotiating an honor-
-il)le settlement or of holding out long enough to force one, he was the
natural scapegoat for ali-nost certain humiliation. Compressed tensions
could have caused a hemorrhage within the MIA leadership-but who?
Rowan told him that the Advertiser story identified no one on the Negro
delegation, saying only that it included "three prominent Negro minis-
ters." King asked Rowan to call Coi-nmissioner Sellers to find out if the
story was really true and, if possible, to learn the names of the ministers.
Rowan agreed. King hung up and waited. The timing of the story was
clever. it would spring upon Montgomery just in time to cause mass
confusion in tile Negro churches at Sunday morning services. Many of
the boycotters would be angry with the meager terms, while others
would be happy that the ordeal was over and proud that they had given
the white folks a run for their money. The fragile psychology of the
boycott would be broken. And the MIA leaders would face the impossible
choice of endorsing the settlement or admitting that it was not theirs.
Rowan called back. Sellers had confirmed the story, he reported, but
had refused to name the three ministers on grounds of confidentiality,
The most Rowan could pry out of Sellers was their church affiliations:
one was a Baptist, one a Presbyterian, and the third the pastor of a Holi-
ness church. King's mind pounced on these clues. A Holiness church?
Was Rowan sure? There wis no such thing as a "proi-niiient" Floliness
minister among Montgomery Negroes-iior were there iiiy Holiness
preachers among the MIA leadership. A crack of hope appeired to King.
With Rowan's clues, lie thought he might find out who the coiispiritors
were, if they existed. The Biptist prcacher could be any one of a nililti-
tude, but there were very few Negro Presbyterians to investigate.
Fortified by such hope, King placed calls to the MIA leadership. His
tone and his words put this crisis so far above all the other ones attendant
to the 20,000 daily rides of the car pool that the essential preachers were
all sitting in his living room within half in hour. King told them tile
shocking news of the story that would be in the paper the next morning.
The immediate response of his colleagues brought great relief to King.
No one rallied to the settlement as inevitable. They ill denounced it.
Everyone was alarmed, but no one wanted to give in to the destructive
potential of the story without a fight. In short, they reacted Is King
himself had reacted, which confirmed his belief that the conspirators
were not among them.
The first thing to do was to identify the three preachers in league with
the commissioners. They learned all three names before midnight, and
the results were as favorable as the King group could have wished. The
three preachers who had met with the city commissioners were neither
MIA members nor influential citizens. They were country preachers,
who said Mayor Gayle had called them to city hall to discuss unspecified
"insurance matters" and then handed them a copy of the bi-is settlement
when they got there. That was it. The audacity of the city commissioners
registered: they were engineering a naked hoax on tile calculation that it
would dissolve the boycott instantly or, failing that, at least divide the
Negroes so that the boycott could never last. The ministers in King's
home faced the calamitous prospect that the ruse might work. The com-
missioners had surprise and authority working for them and the Negroes
lacked a means of mass communication that could compete with the
They decided to wake up every single Negro minister in Montgomery,
plus Graetz, in the hope thit ill of them would from their ptilpits de-
nounce the Advertiser story as a fake. Half the ministers went back to
+the telephones for this task, while King went off into the night with a
group that admitted knowing the locations of the country "dives." This
was Saturday night. By virtue of Rowan's warning, they had I chance to
catch large numbers of their fellow citizens at the only traditional Negro
meeting places other than the churches. A few of them, such as Rufus
Lewis' Citizens Club, approached the atmosphere of a ballroom, but the
masses gathered at unmarked spots far out in the country, where, people
of King's dress and demeanor were never seen. There the laborers, farm-
ers, and maids, often still in their work boots and dirty uniforms, came
to lose themselves in loud music and strong drink and hugging and
sweaty dancing. King and his coterie of prim preachers must have made
quite a sight as they shouldered their way into the flesh and the noise,
got the music to stop as it did only for police raids and major fights,
cleared their throats and finally introduced themselves to say that tile
white people were trying to call off the boycott with a trick, that the
boycott was still on no matter what the Advertiser said in the morning,
and that they should tell everybody that Reverend King and the others
said in person to stay off the buses and come to the mass meeting Mori-
day night. Then, after a few cheers and some grunts, and perhaps a qucs-
tioti or two, the preachers moved out across the back roads to the next
juke joint.
On Monday morning, the day after the Advertiser announced that the
boycott had been settled, empty buses rolled through the streets once
again. The bus company manager announced tersely that there was "no
noticeable increase on the Negro routes." The city commissioners were
of no mind to accept stark physical realitics that contradicted their pub-
lic assurances of the previous day. Cornered, faced with public ridicule,
they fought back in all directions at once. Mayor Gayle immediately
issued what Joe Azbell, on the next day's front page, called a "dynamic
statement." He first blamed the collapse of the weekend agreement on
the duplicity of the three Negro ministers he said had approved it. Tile
commissioners had tried "with sincerity and honesty to end tile boy-
cott," but now it was "time to be frank." The government had "pussy-
footed around long enough." The Negroes believed they had "the white
people hemmed up in a corncr," said the mayor, but the whites "have no
concern" and "do not care" ind "are not alarmed" about Negro bus
riders. "it is not that important to whites that the Negroes ridc the
buses," he repeated. "When and if tile Negro people desire to end tile
boycott, my door is open to them. But until they are reidy to end it, there
will be no more discussions."
Hard upon this statement came the announcement from city hall that
Commissioner Frank Parks and Gayle were following Sellers into the
ranks of the White Citizens Council, making it unanimous. The next
day, Mayor Glylc was back on the front page urging the white woi-nen of
the city to stop helping their servants. "The Negroes are laughing at
white people behind their I)acks," lie said. "They think it's very funny
and amusing that whites who are opposed to the Negro boycott will act
as chauffeurs to Negroes who are boycotting the buses." Commissioner
Sellers announced at the same time that he was instructing tile Mont-
gomery police to toughen up on Negroes standing around on the streets
waiting for ridcs. Commissioner Pirks announced that dozens of busi-
nessmen had volunteered to lay off employees who supported the boy-
cott. All three commissioners said they were surprised by the outpouring
of public support for their new hard line. Mayor Gayle held up a thick
stack of congratulatory telegrams. Sellers said people lia(i walled into
his office volunteering to help the police. The city hall switchboard op-
erator siid she was swamped with calls praising the mayor, while Joe
Azbell found excited white people all over town. "I hope the Negroes
walk until they get bunions and blisters," one told him.
Among MIA leaders, gratification over the success of the weekend
rescue mission was restrained severely by fear. It was one thing to defy
the city authorities for eight weeks, and still another to humiliate them
and call them outright liars from every pulpit in town. A grim King
offered his resignation to the MIA board that same morning. Now there
was no chance it all of a negotiated settlement with him is the MIA
leader, but his offer lay on the table. No one would pick it up, as the
other prospective leaders knew that to change was to split, and to split
inevitably was to lose. Rev. S. S. Scay, one of the most respected of tire
senior ministers, was moved to call King back to duty in the language of
the Messiah. "You are young and well-trained in the spirit," he told King.
"I will drink my portion of this cup, but you can drink of it deeper."
The executive boird gave King a unanimous vote of confidence. -Their
it turned to the more difficult task of devising a new strategy. One fault
hope was tliit the city would allow a group headed by Rufus Lewis to
operate i Negro-owned bus line, which would take the pressure off the
car pool. The city would ilmost certainly deny Lewis' application for I
franchise, however, lest it be accused of donating the economic benefits
of segregation to the Negroes. Assuming that the Lewis plan would fail,
the board members discussed their ultimate weapon-- a federal lawsuit 
against bus segregation . Fred Gray, knowing that white Alabama would 
react to such a step as the social equivalent of atomic warfare, had been 
quietly seeking advice on the possibility since the first week of the 
boycott, when he wrote NAACP lawyers in New York. Also he had talked
extensively with Clifford Durr and with sveral of the more experienced 
Negro lawyers in the state. All agreed that the federal suite offered 
the best hope of a court-ordered solution, certainly much better than 
the Rosa Parks appeal, which was bogged down in the state courts.
Durr warned Gray to be sure of his plaintiffs, saying that if the 
white authorities could bring enough pressure to make a plaintiff 
back out of a suit, they could then bring criminal prosecution against 
Gray himself on the obscure charge of "barratry," or false legal
representation. Durr knew of a Negro lakvyer who had been 
driven from the state by such means.
A thousand pitfills lay in the path of the federal suit, some technical
and others political. Gray reported to the board that he was having trou-
ble locating potential clients-people who had been mistreated on the
buses and were willing to stand firm as plaintiffs. He had been unable to
find a single Negro male in Montgomery willing and able to be a suitable
plaintiff. But lie had found several women, including Claudette Colvin
and her mother. He told the board that he could be ready to file a case in
a matter of days. Legally, the case appeared to be sound, but it would
take i-niily i-nonths, if not years, to rcsolv4c. This presented the MIA
leaders with unpleasant choices. If they called off the boycott pending
the outcome of the legal proceedings, they might as well not have had
the boycott in the first place. If they continued it, they would face for
the first time the likelihood of a more or less permanent car pool, at a
time when striiii wis putting new cracks in the operation every (lay.
Under pressure, the MIA board members were second-guessing them-
selvcs even as they voted to direct Fred Gray and the strategy committee
to prepare finil recommendations on the lawsuit by the next week. There
was no celebration. The white people across town were doing the cele-
bratiiig that Monday. By the peculiar jujitsu of the boycott, the white
people were excited after their weekend fiisco, while the Negroes were
bemoaning the implications of their successful rescue mission. Every
action seemed dwarfed by reaction in the next round. it had been so since
the bus driver's first words to Rosa Parks.
From the next day forward, Montgomery policemen stopped car-pool
drivers wherever they weiit-questioniiig them, checking their head-
lights and windshield wipers, writing traffic tickets for minute and often
imaginary violations of the Iiw. Car-pool drivers crept along the road Illd
gave exaggerated turn signals like novices in driving school. Policemen
ticketed them anyway. Jo Ann Robinson known as a stickler in every-
thing from driving to diction, would get no less than seventeen tickets
in the next couple of moiiths-some for going too fist, others for going
too slow. -Traffic fines mounted, diverting into the city treasury money
that might have gone into the MIA car-I)ool fund. Drivers fearcd thit
their insurance would be canceled or their liceiiscs suspended. Backbit-
ing increased, with some people saying that Rufus Lewis was too dicta-
torial to run the car pool and others saying that he syi-npathized too
readily with the drivers as opposed to the ridcrs.
On Thursday afternoon, January 26, King finished his day at the Dexter
church office and started home with his secretary and Bob Williams, his
friend from Morehouse. King was driving. When he stopped to pick up a
load of passengers at one of the downtown cir-pool stops, two motorcycle
policemen pulled up behind him. All the passengers in King's car tried
to behave normally, but three blocks down the street the motorcycles
were still close behind. Williams told King to creep along; maybe they
would go away. Nothing happened during the drive to the next pickup
station, but when the passengers stirted to leave the cir, one of the
motorcycle policemen pulled up next to the driver's window and said,
"Get out, King. You're under arrest for speeding thirty miles an hour in
a twenty-fiv e-mile zone."
Stunned, King did not protest. Telling Williams to notify Coretta, he
stepped out of the car and soon found himself in the back of a radio-
summoned police cruiser, whispering to himself that everything would
be all right. King said nothing to the policemen, even when lie realized
that the cruiser was heading away from downtown. Panic seized him.
Why weren't they going to the jail? The farther they went, past strange
neighborhoods toward the country, the more King gave in to visions of
nooses and lynch mobs. When the cruiser turned a corner on a dark street
and headed across a bridge, his mind locked onto a single fear of the river.
He was trembling so bidly that it took him some time to absorb the
meaning of the garish neon sign ahead, "Montgomery City Jail." He felt
a tumbling rush of emotions-first joy that he was not going to be killed
by a mob, then embarrassment that he had never even known where tile
city jail was and had assumed it was downtown, then guilt that he had 
blocked the jail out of his mind so thoroughly even when some of the
boycotters were going there, then a colder though less piercing fear again
as lie realized he was going there, too. This last fear swelled up inside
him in the corridor as he smelled the foul cell long before he got there,
and when the jailer said, "All right, get on in there with all the others,"
he stood numb. King heard the iron door clang shut for tile first time on
him and a lifetime of distinctions.
The moment did not list forever, though, and before he finished staring
at the wood-slat bunks and the toilet in the corner, the other prisoners
recognized his face. Then King himself recognized a schoolteacher from
the bus boycott. The teacher joined the drunks ind common criminals
who rushed up to King wanting to hear his story. Jail was not the end of
the world to them, of course, and every new prisoner had a story. Before
King could finish his, one of the prisoners interrupted to ask his help in
getting out. Another did the same, and then others, until King finally
shouted out, "Fellows, before I can assist in getting any of you out, I've
got to get my own self out." At this, the entire cell erupted in laughter.
King was such a mixture of the exalted and the common-the formal
"assist" of the educated leader and the plaintive "own self" of all pris-
oners. For him, the shock of his first arrest was already over.
Abernathy was the first to arrive at the jail after Williams and Coretta
spread the alarm. His frantic urgency to get King out ran smack into the
bureaucracy of the constabulary, and after finally accepting the fact that
it was too complicated and too late in the evening to get King out on a
property bond, Abernathy raced off to scrounge up enough currency to
make a cash bond. Leaving, he passed carloads of Dexter members and
MIA supporters who were converging on the jail. On the inside, King
thought lie was being bailcd out when the jailer came after him. So did
the prisoners, one of whom shouted, "Don't forget us when you get out."
King shouted back that he wouldn't, but soon found himself rolling his
fingers across an inkpad. Fingerprinted, hopes dashed, he was soon back
in the cell. By the time the jailer came for him again, he had already
learned to expect nothing. He held himself in check even when he began
to realize that now it was the jailer, not he, who was frightened-a large
crowd of Negroes had practically surrounded the building. The jailer
]ilirried King out the front door on his own recognizance, and King, who
had entered the jail in the grip of terror a couple of hours earlier, walked
out to address a huge throng of well-wishers. It was some time later, at
that night's mass meeting, before Abernathy caught up with the switches
and reversals that rendered his cash unnecessary.
Word of King's arrest radiated through all of Ncgro Montgomery, stiiii-
Lilatiiig rumors, horror stories, in(i vows of retribution. A restive crowd
gathered Outside the packed mass meeting. Inside, King and the other
MIA leaders feared that the latecomers who could not squeeze into the
meeting might do something violent. Besides, they wanted to share
Kiiig's story and the joyous unity of the mass meeting with everyone
possible. So tile leaders took the unprecedented step of sending criers
outside to announce that there would be a second mass meeting at an-
other church immediately after the present one. With this news, the
outside crowd moved off, mostly on foot, to the second church, which
they filled, then to a third one.
This phenomenon repeated itself that night until there had been no
fewer than seven mass meetings. Many people attended more thin one
of them. No one could believe it. In, a floating conversation among sev-
eral of King's friends and peers, mostly Dexter members, it was decided
that it was too dangerous to let King drive anymore. To protect him, they
would form themselves into a corps of drivers and bodyguards. It was
agreed that they must override any objections from King and start that
very night. Richmond Smiley went off to fetch his little .25-calibcr Bar-
etta. Bob Williams, another of those who would be a driver for the next
few years, wis so moved by the night's events that he went back to his
studio and worked until morning, arranging what would become his first
published choril work, "Lord, I Just Can't Turn Back." His choir at
Alabama State performed the composition that week.
King woke up the next morning to a fresh day of pressure. For him,
time was fluctuating too ripidly between inomciits of deep fcir Iii(i those
of high inspiration. Late the next night, his mind was turning over as lie
lay in bed. Coretta had fallen asleep. The phone rang again. "Listen,
nigger," said the caller, "we've taken all we want from you. Before next
week you'll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery." King hung up on
the angry voice. Hope of sleep receded further. He paced the floor awliile
before giving in completely to wakefulness, which drove him to the
kitchen to make a pot of coffee. Sonic of the Negro callers were just
curious about his arrest, while others wanted to complain about the car
pool. He never knew what to expect. The sensations of tile incoming
images pressed in upon him--the hatred of the whites, the burdened 
offended rectitude of the middle-class Negroes, the raw Courage or need-
iiiess of the plain folk. He issociatecl the Negro voices with the sea of
enraptured black faces lie had seen from the pulpit at mass meetings.
The pressure of the Negro callers worked against this image, as did the
white callers against his memories of Crozer. There was no idea nor
imaginable heart large enough to satisfy all of them or to contain them.
The limitless potential of a young King free to think anything and there
fore to be anything was constricted by realities that paralyzed and de-
fined him. King buried his face in his hands it the kitchen table. He
admitted to himself that he was afraid, that he had nothing left, thit the
people would falter if they looked to him for strength. Then lie said as
much out loud. He spoke the name of no deity, but his doubts spilled out
as a prayer, ending, "I've come to the point where I can't face it alone."
As he spoke these words, the fears suddenly began to melt away. He
became intensely aware of what he called an "inner voice" telling him
to do what lie thought wis right. Such simplicity worked miracles, bring-
ing a shudder of relief and the courage to face anything. It was for King
the first transcendent religious experience of his life. The moment lacked
the splendor of i vision or of a voice speaking out loud as Vernon Johns
said they did, but such differences could be ascribed to rhetorical license.
For King, the inoii-ient awakened and confirmed his belief tlllt the es-
sciice of religion was not t grand metaphysical idea but something per-
soiial, grounded in experieiicc-sonictliing that opened tip mysteriously
beyond the predicaments of human beings in their frailest and noblest
The next day, a Saturday, King worked until early evening at the MIA
and at the Dexter office. Among other chores, he wrote a letter to thank
Roy Wilkiiis for the NAACP's "fine contribution" to the MIA, which
had arrived not long after King publicly criticized the NAACP for scorn-
iiig the boycott. Appropriately to their long future together, this first
exchange between King and the famous civil rights leader, whom he
addressed as "Mr. Wilkins," was concerned with money, tinged slightly
with suspicion, and smothered with politeness. Among the day's crises,
the one commanding the most attention was a rumor that the police
were going to raid the MIA offices at Rufus Lewis' Citizens Club. King
worked the phones to find an alternate site, which was not easy to do
given the scarcity of centrally located, Negro-owned real estite in Mont-
goii-iery. Intelligence reports of an imminent raid came so thickly that
King and the other MIA leaders spirited away the MIA records that night
in the trunlks of the automobiles of trustworthy Citizens Club patrons.
The next morning, they transferred them stealthily to the basement of
the First Baptist Church while Abernathy was conducting the morning
service upstairs. Sonic weeks later, E. D. Nixon secured permanent space
for MIA headquarters in a building owned by the all-Negro Bricklayers
At the Monday executive board meeting, members voted to proceed
with the fedcril suit against bus segregation in Montgomery. They all
knew it was a fateful step. For reasons of tactical consistency, they re-
solved to tell both the city fatliers and their own followers that the
boycott would continue as a separate matters If the city agreed to the
MIA's current segregation rcform proposal, Negroes would return to the
buses on those terms pending the outcome of the lawsuit. If the city tried
to combine the two matters, offering to modify segregation on the buses
if the MIA would drop the lawsuit, the MIA would consider such offers
as they came. Frankly, King and his colleagues expected no such offers,
anticipating correctly that their NAACP-style lawsuit would bring down
nothing but increased hostility from the city. Against the punishment
ahead, the MIA leaders offered the vision of a great victory over all bus
segregation, no more technical hypotheticals about who might have to
move where on the bus under whit conditions. Freedom would be so
simple. People could sit anywhere there was a seat.
King tried to explain this at the mass meeting that night in Abernatily's
Church, which wis packed with a crowd of two thousand people. He tried
to rally evcryone's courage behind the lawsuit decision and the boycott,
polling the distant hopes nearer while dispelling the fears close by. It was
not one of his best speeches. After he finished, old Mother Pollard got up
and made her way slowly to the front of the church. This was not un-
heard of. Since being enshrined as walking heroes of the boycott, some
of the more outspoken old people were moved to speak from the floor at
the mass meetings. Their folk wisdom and their tales of daily life inside
the homes of powerful white people-how the boss lady had slipped
them five dollars for the boycott with a warning not to tell the boss man,
and later that same day the boss man had slipped them another five with
a warning not to tell the boss lady-had become a special treat at the
mass meetings, bringing both entertainment and inspiration.
Mother Pollard drew a hush of recognition and the automatic right to
speak. "Come here, son," she said to King, and King walked over to
receive a public, motherly embrace. "Something is wrong with you,"
said Pollard. "You didn't talk strong tonight."
"Oh, no, Mother Pollard," King replied. "Nothing is wrong. I am feel-
ing as fine as ever."
"Now you can't fool me," she said. "I knows something is wrong. Is it
that we ain't doing things to please you? Or is it that the white folks is
bothering you?"
Pollard looked right through a smiling but flustered King. Before he
could say anything, she moved her face close to his and said loudly, "I
done told you we is with you all the way. But even if we ain't with you,
God's gonna take care of you." With that, Mother Pollard inched her way
back toward her seat, as the crowd roared and King's eyes filled with
tears. Later, King said that with her consoling words fearlessness had
come over him in the form of raw energy.
He first noticed that something was wrong a few minutes later when
a messenger slipped in to Abernath , who rushed down into the base-
ment and then returned, looking worried. King was standing in the front
of the church as the collection plate was being passed. He saw Abernathy
whispering furtively with other MIA preachers. More messengers came
and were dispatched. Perhaps the MIA records had been seized. The organ
played and King watched calmly. A couple of the messengers seemed to
start toward him and then to hesitate and retreat. Finally, one of the
ushers waved King to the side of the platform to give him a message, but
S. S. Seay stepped between them, shaking his head in the negative. This
caused King to wave Abernathy over to him. "What's wrong?" he whis-
Abernathy and Seay looked at each other, stalling. "Your house has
been bombed," said Abernathy.
"Are Coretta and the baby all right?"
"We are checking on that now," said a miserable Abernathy, who had
wanted to have the answer before telling King.
In shock, King remained calm, coasting almost automatically on the emotional
overload of the past few days. Nodding to Abernathy and Seay,
he walked back to the center of the church, told the crowd what had
happened, told them he had to leave and that they should all go home
quietly and peacefully, and then, leaving a few shrieks and a thousand
gasps behind, walked swiftly out a side door of the church.
Near his house, King pushed his way through a barrage of ominous
sights and sounds. Little boys dashed around carrying pop bottles broken
in half for a fight. Negro men brandished guns and knives, and some
confronted the barricade of white policemen shouting for them to dis-
perse. One berserk man, struggling to break the grasp of a policeman,
challenged whites to shoot it out with .38s. Shouts of anger and recogni-
tion competed with sirens and the background noise of earnest Negro
women singing "My Country 'Tis of Thee." Flanked by MIA leaders,
King walked across the broken glass on his front porch and into the living
room, which was jammed with Dexter members. Among them was an
isolated group of first-time visitors to the King home, including several
white policemen, reporter Joe Azbell, Mayor Gayle, Commissioner Sell-
ers, and the fire chief. King brushed by them and into a back room, where
a group surrounding Coretta and little Yoki, now ten weeks old, parted
to make way for him. King hugged Coretta, and gave thanks that they
were all right. Then he assumed the remote calm of a commander. There
was much to do. Bombers were loose, and a riot was threatening to erupt
outside. He leaned forward and whispered, "Why don't you get dressed,
darling?" to Coretta, who was still in her robe.
King moved back into the front room to receive a crime scene report
from Sellers and the mayor, both of whom assured him that they con-
demned the bombing and would do everything in their power to punish
the bombers. "Regrets are fine, Mr. Sellers," an authoritative voice called
out from behind King's shoulder. "But you created the atmosphere for
this bombing with your 'get tough' policy. You've got to face that respon-
sibility." It was C. T. Smiley, King's board chairman at Dexter and the
older brother of the driver with the Baretta. More important to every
Negro in the room, Smiley, as principal of Booker T. Washington High
School, was utterly dependent on the city commissioners for his contin-
ued livelihood.
Sellers and Gayle said nothing. Joe Azbell and a couple of other white
reporters wanted to leave the house to file their stories. They worked as
stringers for national publications, and they knew this bomb story would
sell. But they could not get out of the house, which was surrounded by
angry, armed Negroes. A policeman rushed in buffing and said that some
people in the crowd were saying they wouldn't leave without assurance
from King that everything was all right.
King walked out onto the front porch. Holding up his hand for silence,
he tried to still the anger by speaking with an exaggerated peacefulness
in his voice. Everything was all right, he said. "Don't get panicky. Don't
do anything panicky. Don't get your weapons. If you have weapons, take
them home. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remem-
ber that is what Jesus said. We are not advocating violence. We want to
love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. This
is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love." By then the
crowd of several hundred people had quieted to silence, and feeling
welled up in King to an oration. "I did not start this boycott," he said. "I
was asked by you to serve as your spokesman. I want it to be known the
length and breadth of this land that if I am stopped, this movement will
not stop. If I am stopped, our work will not stop. For what we are doing
is right. What we are doing is just. And God is with us."
King stepped back to a chorus of "Amens," but as soon as Sellers
stepped forward to speak, the mood vanished as suddenly as it had ar-
rived. The mob booed him. When policemen tried to shout them down,
they booed even louder.
King raised his hand again. "Remember what I just said," he cried.
"Hear the Commissioner."
Sellers began anew, promising full police protection for the King fam-
ily. Mayor Gayle seconded him and announced that the city would pay a
$500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the bombers. When
they finished, King urged the crowd to disperse. "Go home and sleep
calm," he said. "Go home and don't worry. Be calm as I and my family
are. We are not hurt. I am all right and my wife is all right."
"Show her to us!" cried a voice in the crowd, and Coretta came outside
to stand with him. The crowd began to trickle away, followed by the
reporters and white officials. Everyone took with them yarns that would
be repeated throughout the city the next day, including the white police-
man who said he would sure enough be dead if it hadn't been for that
nigger preacher. Many of the Negroes would liken the sight of King with
his hand raised to the famous poses of Gandhi or to Jesus calming the
waters of the troubled sea. And the story of C. T. Smiley raced from
mouth to mouth: imagine a Negro school principal telling off the police
commissioner like that in front of everybody. For many, this was the
most shocking event of the long night.
King took his rattled family to the Brooks home-where he had spent
his first night in Montgomery two years earlier after eating the prophet's
dinner with Vernon Jobns. Long before dawn, both Daddy King and Cor-
etta's father Obadiah Scott showed up there separately, each pounding
on the door, scaring the sleepers inside. The two fathers had come to
take their children away from bombings. Daddy King in particular was
all thunder. "Well, M.L.," he said, "you just come on back to Atlanta."
King, stalling, said that the bomb had not done much damage and that
he had to think of the important principles at stake there in Montgom-
ery. Daddy King cut him off. "It's better to be a live dog than a dead
lion," he said. They argued for several hours, both afraid, with Daddy
King stressing that the movement had gotten out of hand, that the danger
was all out of proportion to Rosa Parks, and his son saying yes, it was
bigger than bus seats now. Meanwhile, Coretta resisted her own father's
command to go home with him. After the fathers retreated, King took
his wife aside and emotionally thanked her for being such a soldier. She
was deeply moved to hear that King, with all his strength, needed her.
Fred Gray filed the papers in federal court the next day, February 1,
just as President Eisenhower asked Congress to raise the price of first-
class postage stamps by a penny, to four cents. Both actions made the
front pages of newspapers across the country, as had the King bombing
two days earlier. Ike's news was bigger news, of course, but the boycott
was rising to consciousness outside Montgomery.
February dawned cold and dangerous. The night of February 1, a bomb
exploded in E. D. Nixon's yard, drawing another angry crowd. Three days
later, the Advertiser reported that one of Gray's clients said she "was
surprised" to see herself listed as a plaintiff, and that she had told Mayor
Gayle, "You know I don't want nothing to do with that mess." jeanatta
Reese, who worked as a maid for one of the mayor's relatives, broke
down under the pressure as visitors of both races trampled a path to her
door, urging her to stick to the contrary assurances she had given them.
The police car that had been parked outside King's house since the bomb-
ing disappeared and then reappeared for continuous station outside the
ex-plaintiff's house. MIA boycotters took this as a telltale sign that the
woman was in great fear, which under the circumstances meant that she
was throwing in with the whites, who promptly decided that she was
more deserving of police protection than was King. Fred Gray was in
trouble, as Durr had warned.
Three days later, white students rioted at the University of Alabama
against the court-ordered admission of the first Negro student in the
school's history. Rumors circulated that the violence had been triggered
by the angry reaction of a few whites to the sight of Autherine Lucy's
arrival in a Cadillac, or to a report that she had paid her registration fee
with a hundred-dollar bill. In reaction, the university trustees suspended
Lucy, citing reasons of her own safety. She and the NAACP, which had
litigated her case for three years, expressed shock that the university
held her rather than the mob responsible for the riot, and promptly went
to court seeking reinstatement. Outraged and bewildered, Roy Wilkins
said in New York that he never dreamed anything like a riot would occur.
it had been "a routine case" like many others, he said, and therefore lie
had "figured it was a well-established principle, it's oiled, it's greased,
it's going."
In Montgomery, Fred Gray's draft board revoked his n-iiiiister's defer-
ment on the day after the riot. Four days after that, the Mississippi and
Alabama White Citizens Councils drew ten thousand people to tile
Montgomery Coliseum for what was described as the largest segregation
rally of the century, with all three Montgomery city commissioners on
the stage as featured stalwarts. "I am sure you are not going to permit
the NAACP to control your state," declared the star speaker, Senator
James Eastland of Mississippi, whose "one prescription for victory" wis
for Southern white people to "organize and be militants Three days after
the rally, a Montgomery judge impaneled a special grand jury to investi-
gate racial unrest in the city, and local prosecutors summoncd before the
jury more than two hundred Negro witnesses to testify about who was
leading the boycott. Word leaked out that the grand jury wis preparing
criminal indictments against MIA leaders under a 1921 statute prohibit-
ing boycotts "without just cause or legal excuse." During the parade of
witnesses, police arrested, booked, and fingerprinted Fred Gray on the
charge of barratry. In the Advertiser, Joe Azbell wrote that the city was
on the verge of a "full scale racial wir."
King escaped on February 20 to preach at Fisk University's Religious
Emphasis Week. He was still in Nashville when Bayard Rustin' made his
appearance in Montgomery. Of those outsiders who would be drawn
pro minently into King's life, Rustin was the first to show up in person.
He opened up two-way traffic with movement tacticians of the outside
world, bringing with him experiences and influences far beyond the con-
fines of the Negro church spirit that had sustained the boycott.tlius far.
Rustin was an internationally respected pacifist, as well as a vagabond
minstrel, penniless world traveler, sophisticated collector of African and
pre-Columbian art, and a bohemian Greenwich Village philosopher.
Nearly forty-six years old when he got to Montgomery, lie had lived more
or less a hobo's life, committed to the ideals of world peace and racial
brotherhood. Abernathy and E. D. Nixon could tell from the first sight of
him-tall and bony, handsome, animated, and conspiratorial, full of
ideas that spilled out in a high-pitched voice and a proud but squeaky
West Indian accent-that Rustin was a colorful character. It would have
taxed the creative powers of Dickens or Hugo to invent him.
Born in 1910, the last of nine children in a family of Negro caterers,
Rustin grew up in a sixteen-room mansion on one of the broad, tree-lined
streets of West Chester, Pennsylvania. Unlike its grimy sister city of
Chester, site qf Crozer Seminary, the town had all the advantages of
enlightened wealth. It was the home of an influential Quaker meeting,
to which the Rustins belonged, and of experiments in progressive, inte-
gratcd education. Rustin knew that his family did not own the enormous
house in which they lived, but lie never found out exactly how they got
there. The usual answer was that the white folks "didn't need it" and
liked having their favorite cook and caterer nearby. There were also
stories that Rustiii's mother's family had sued the town long ago to
repossess properties once owned by an Indian tribe from which the fam-
ily was descended, but Rustin could never figure out to his satisfaction
how or whether the stories related to his house.
As a precocious eleven-year-old when Harding was President, Rustin
won one too many school contests and provoked jealous students to
taunt him, saying he didn't know who his mama was, or his daddy. This
made no sense to Rustin, but more taunts and a few questions at home
turned his entire world upside down. The woman he had always known
as his older sister Florence was in fact his mother. His mother and father,
the uneducated caterers, were actually his grandparents, and his other
brothers and sisters were actually his aunts and uncles. Since his birth,
all the family members had created the fiction that an illegitimate grand-
son was a legitimate son. Among the greatest leaps young Rustin faced
when attempting to realign his emotions was to take notice of the man
who before had been only Florence's controversial and inconsequential
boyfriend, whom Rustin suddenly beheld as a kind of stepfather. This
man, like the one Rustin learned was his long-vanished natural father,
was controversial because he was i West Indian. American Negroes
tended to dislike the West Indian immigrants, because of their arrogance
and their British accents and their extreme color consciousness. Rustin,
having grown up hearing Negroes call them "monkey chasers," struggled
to control his prejudice against them, including the one in his house. His
first sliocked response was to listeii more carefully to his new stepfather,
and within a few weeks he had picked up a pompous West Indian accent
that he kept all his life.
When the Depression and family poverty forced him out of college,
Rustin went to live with a relative in Harlem. There he waited tables,
sang on street corners, talked jazz and revolution, catered private mcals
for white people, went to free night classes at City College, and otherwise
practiced his own art of survival. During 1931, the year he arrived, the
hottest political story in Harlem was the Communist International's
"show trial" of an immigrant Finn named August Yokinen, charged with
acting discourteously toward three Negroes at a Harlem nightclub run
by the Communist Party. The trial, attended by 1,500 spectators and
covered on the front page of The New York Times, proved spectacularly
successful in advertising the Iiiteriiitioilil's strict policy of brotherhood
on the race question. The Communist Party ran the only integrated
social clubs in Harlem. Rustiii attended them regularly. Although as a
Quaker he had been inclined toward the gentlei-naiily pacifism more
associated with the Socialists, he was bitterly disappointed by the official
Socialist position that racism would disappear automatically upon tile
establishment of socialism. By a corollary of this doctrine, the Socialists
ruled out as wasteful any special agitation on the race issue. As a practi-
cal matter, it meant that white Socialists stayed out of Harlem. Dis-
giisted with the Socialists, Rustin joined the Young Communist League.
His musical talents flourished during the thirties. Faithful to the spirit
of the International, Rustin learned an amazing assortment of workers'
songs, English madrigals, and folk classics. He earned jobs singing backup
for folk singer Leadbelly in New York caf6s, and he traveled for nearly
two years with josh White. Everywhere he went, he recruited for the
Young Communist League. His qualities made him an ideal organizer.
He could entertain crowds with speeches or songs, write pamphlets skill-
fully, and run a meeting. Fearless, unattached, able to get along with
whites and Negroes alike, Rustin rose quickly as a youth recruiter for
the Communist Party. '
Within days after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the
party's Central Committee ordered Comrade Rustiii to shut down his
Jim Crow work immediately. Policy had shifted overnight. Now com-
rades were to stop anything that might divert the attention of the United
States from the menace of Hitler. Stunned, Rustiii asked for a night to
think it over. The past few years had been the happiest of his life. He had
crisscrossed the country many times, speaking at colleges and high
schools and union halls. Having found himself, lie could not quit his
.work just because the party cared more about the Soviet Union than
about race. On the other hand, he could not leave the party without
giving up most of his friends and his most stable point of reference over
the past decade. The next morning, Rustin went back to the Central
Committee and resigned, cutting himself adrift again.
Some weeks later, he secured an appointment with A. Philip Randolph,
president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Until recently, the
Communist Rustin had scorned Randolph as a lifelong Socialist. Now,
suddenly, it was Randolph who was the most militant of the Negro
leaders, having threatened publicly to lead a massive marcli on Washing-
ton unless President Roosevelt issued an order banning racial discrimi-
nation in defense industries. Randolph's most vociferous critics were
American Communists, including the Negro Communist leader who had
just shoved Rustin out of the party. They called Randolph a traitor for
attempting to interfere with American wir preparations. In Randolph's
office, Rustin confessed blindness for having worked so long for the Com-
munists, and the ever tolerant Randolph told him to forget it. Recogniz-
ing his talents, Randolph gave him temporary work in his March on
Washington movement. When Roosevelt capitulated, signing the order
on defense jobs, Randolph made an appointment for Rustin to see A. J.
Muste at the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
As FOR's youth secretary, Rustin began his career as an itinerant Gan-
dhian. FOR leaders, recognizing that pacifist recruitment was going
nowhere so long as Hitler was making war, decided to emphasize the
anti-coloiiial aspects of Gandhian nonviolence. By the seesaw habits of
ideological politics, activists for Negro rights came suddenly to the fore
in Gandhian circles even as they became taboo in Communist ones. The
FOR developed during the war a new organization called the Congress of
Racial Equality. Rustiii worked both for FOR and CORE, as did a young
Negro aristocrat named James Farmer. Together they sat at the feet of a
traveling Gandhi disciple named Krishnalal Shridharani, author of Wdr
Without Violence. This book became the semiofficial bible of CORE, and
by example the hard-drinking, cigar-smoking, woman-chasing Shridhar-
ani taught the wide-eyed young Americans that Gandhian politics did
not require a life of dull asceticism.
It did require sacrifice, however, and in 1943 Rustiii renounced as an
unconscionable privilege his right to Quaker war duty in a hospital,
spending the remainder of World War 11 in Lewisburg Penitentiary. Upon
his release, lie headed a Free India Committee and was frequently ar-
rested for picketing outside the British Embassy in Washington. In 1947,
Rustin joined a CORE-sponsored bus ride through the South to test a
new Supreme Court ruling that Negro passengers on interstate routes
could not be forced to sit in the back of the bus. White opponents met
the challenge with bcatings, and Rustin was among those convicted
under local segregation laws. A showcase appeal proceeded until the day
Roy Wilkins called the freedom riders to his office to say that the
NAACP lawyers had misplaced their interstate bus tickets, which was
essential evidence. Therefore, the appeal could not go forward. "You boys
have got to go on the chain gang," said Wilkins. Amid the instant recrim-
itiations, in which some of the riders charged that the local NAACP
officials were crumbling under pressure, Rustin took the Gandhian po-
sition that cheerful acceptance of punishment might make a better wit-
tiess for the cause thin liwftil evasion. "If we got to go, we got to go," he
told Wilkins with a smile. After the chain gang, he went to India for six
months on the invitation of Gandhi's Congress Party, and later to Africa,
where he worked with young African anti-colonists like Kwame Nkru-
mah and founded the Committee to Support South African Resistance.
Stories of his travels became legend within the restricted circles of Gan-
dhian intellectuals.
Rustin welcomed more jailings and a few beatings, including one ill
New Orleans that left him without some of his front teeth. On June 25,
1951, he led a motley group of religious idealists, Marxists, and FOR
activists on a march from Central Park to Times Square in protest against
the Korean War. One of the passersby was so infuriated by the speeches
that he seized a picket sign, ripped off the placard, and rushed towird
Rustiii with the stick, screamiiig that they were a bunch of Commies.
Rustin calmly handed the man a second stick, inviting him to strike
with them both. Nonplussed, the man threw both sticks on the ground,
but later he decked another marcher with his fists, while Rustin shouted
excitedly to passersby that there was nonviolent power in the acceptance
of the blows.
He could make such a solemn speech and then abruptly break into a
grin of delight and say he needed to go "Gandhi" somebody into giving
some money for a mirch. He had a strong sense of the absurd and a gift
for parody, both of which were enhanced by his modified Cary Grant
accent. These charms were appreciated in the bohemian culture of
Greenwich Village. He drank at the White Horse Tavern along with
Dylan Thomas, Norman Mailer, and other literati, and entertained peo-
ple by singing obscure ditties back at his apartment, accompanying him-
self on the harpsichord. His personal life was generally a mystery, even
to most of his friends, but it was widely assumed that lie was a liomosex-
ual. This proclivity would suit or explain some of the eccentricities of
Rustin's life-his hobby of cooking gourmet meals for rich people on
Park Avenue his sponsors who kept him going at times with gifts of
money or art. In the Village of those years, homosexuality caused little
stir, but when Rustin began to get into public trouble, his political col-
leagues worried that there might be a self-destructive urge at the core of
After several such incidents threatened to ei-igulf the FOR in public
scandal, A. J. Muste told Rustiii and the top leaders of FOR that he loved
Rustin like a son but that he would have no choice but to dismiss him if
anything happened again. Not long thereafter, on January 21, 1953, Rus-
tin and two other men were arrested in the back of a parked car in
Pasadena, California, convicted on morals charges, and sentenced to
thirty days in jail. Rustin resigned from the FOR staff the next day. Upon
his release, he went back to New York a much reduced man/ having lost
the confidence of Muste's circle of leaders, which included all those
capable of employing Rustin in what he regarded as the struggle of the
century. This made the third time that Rustin had been crushed-oncc
by his family, once by the Communist Party, and now by his own inner
drives. Unemployed, a bastard, a Negro, an ex-Communist, an ex-con,
and a homosexual, he was a misfit by any social standard, but Rustin
still believed that he could not only rescue himself but also have a posi-
tive i-noral impact on the entire country. To him, this was cosmic logic
and the romance of the ages. He saw a chance in the Montgomery bus
boycott before anyone else.
Rustin left New York for Montgomery by car on the same day that King
began Religious Emphasis Week at Fisk University in Nashville. His
timing was exquisite. That morning, Ralph Abernathy received from the
city commissioners and a group of,white businessmen what was billed
as an ultimatum: if the Negroes promptly accepted the settlement terms
they had previously rejected, there would be "no retaliation whatsoever"
against those taking part in the boycott; if they did not, the law would
take its course. Abernathy did not have to guess what this meant, as the
whole town was abuzz with the news that the grand jury had returned a
fistful of criminal indictments. He bargained without result and then
walked outside to tell reporters that the city was offering nothing more
than segregation and increased bus fares. "We have walked for eleven
weeks in the cold and rain. . ." he said. "Now the weather is warming
tip. Therefore we will walk on until some better proposals are forthcom-
iiig from our city fathers."
That was for public consumption. Abernathy proceeded directly to a
tense meeting of the executive board. It was all very well to say they
were going on, it was agreed, but could they continue the boycott if the
leaders ind the car-pool drivers were all in jail? What were the white
people really going to do? The general consensus was that the whites
wanted to "cut off the head" of the boycott. They wanted to get King
first. No one said outright that this was a reassuring idea, but several did
say that they could keep going even if King were lost. Avoidance was in
the air. Few if any of the people in the room had ever been arrested.
Finally, S. S. Seay rose to speak as though possessed. "We all know
they're gonna try to separate Dr. King from the rest of us," he said. "He
knows it, too. He's talked about it, and I have seen that disturbed look
in his face. I'd know it anywhere. I say let's all go to jail!"
These words snapped through the room. One minister headed for the
door, caught himself, and then broke the silence with "How we gonna
do that?" It was a logical question, but met with an emotional response.
Board members and observers jumped to their feet to second Scay, and
all the meandering talk of tactics and procedure was washed over by a
tide of bravado. That night they took a unanimous recoi-ninendation to a
huge mass meeting at St. john's A.M.E. Church. Of four thousand people
in attendance, only two voted to end the boycott on the city's terms.
The next morning, Abernathy formally notified the city of the MIA's
decision by telegram. Not long thereafter, Bayard Rustin knocked on his
door. Abernathy recognized some of the references Rustin offered but
otherwise he did not know quite what to make of him. Citing the chaos
of the moment, which was evident by the constant flow of messengers
and the guards posted on the porch, Abernathy begged off a long discus-
sion about the boycott. He advised Rustin to draw the shades of the
windows and bolt the door of his hotel room.
E. D. Nixon accorded Rustin a lengthier reception, being less busy than
the acting MIA leader. Besides, he struck up an instant bond of trust and
rapport with Rustin because of Philip Randolph, their common nictitor.
Randolph had raised the money for Rustin's trip to Montgomery. The
reason for the nearly martial state of preparation iround Abernathy,
Nixon explained, was that they all expected the deputy sheriffs to start
rounding up the indicted people any day now. If that was so, slid Rustin,
then the MIA leaders might be making a tactical mistake by waiting
anxiously for the deputies to come after them. Such behavior reinforced
the psychology of the crusading lawman and the skulking criminal. Rus-
tin gently suggested a more Gandhian response-soiiietliiiig on the order
of handing an attacker a stick. That evening, after leaving Nixon's, Itus-
tin walked up to South Jackson Street to take a look at King's house.
Floodlights had been strung around the roof to illuminate the perimeter
for security. Volunteer guards stood outside even though, as Rustin had
learned to his disappointment, King and his family were out of town.
Abernathy was on the phone to Nashville that night, finally telling
King that it was certain. The grand jury had returned the lirgest whole-
sale indictment in the history of the county. Deputy shcriffs, prosecu-
tors, and white reporters had been busy around the courthouse all day
and now were saying that the dragnet operation would begin the next
day. King promised Abernathy he would return to Montgomery first
thing in the morning. He made airline reservations to fly back through
Atlanta, where he had left his wife and daughter for the week, then
skipped the rest of the schedule in Nashville. As his early morning flight
touched down in Atlanta, he knew that he must weather a family ordeal
before he could step off into the unknown abyss of prison in Montgom-
cry. His mother had been confined to bed for most of the three weeks
since the bombing. As for Daddy King, who had never thought his son
should go to Dexter in the first place, King was aware that this final crisis
could not have come on a worse day. By a telling coincidence, Daddy
King was to sign the legal instruments securing a loan of $150,000 for
the Ebenezer building program. Few preachers anywhere had tile stand-
ing to borrow such a -sum in 1956. The dollar amount of this ambition
had been for some time the centerpiece of Daddy King's self-description
in church programs, and it would remain so until he did soi-ncthing even
bigger. King, approaching his parents on the concourse of tile Atlanta air
terminal, knew by their downcast expressions and slow, trudging walks
that lie had already ruined what would otherwise be a proud day in their
Daddy King opened his attack during the drive home to Boulevard.
M.L. should not go back to Montgomery at all, he said. Their phone had
been ringing all morning with calls. The morning Advertiser said that an
incredible 115 Negroes had been indicted and that deputies were begin-
ning a massive roundup, and the news was being broadcast over the radio,
even in Atlanta. The elder King said that he had already talked with his
friend Herbert Jenkins, the Atlinta police chief, and learned that Moiit-
goi-iiery detectives had come to Atlanta in the hope of finding an old
charge on which King could be arrested. Jenkins said the Montgomery
authorities wanted to get King out of Alabama. That was how serious it
was, said Daddy King. Until things cooled down, at least, M.L. should
stay in Atlanta, where he had the support of powerful Negroes and even
of some powerful whites, like Chief Jenkins and Mayor Hartsfield.
As usual, King let his father's monologue run its course. Daddy King
said he was sure he was right, but just in case his son had any doubts, he
had invited Dr. Miys and some of the other men M.L. most respected to
coi-ne by the house that afternoon. These men of statute and proven
judgment all cared personally for M.L., having known him since he was
a small boy. M.L. could hear for himself what they had to say. When the
question was put, King agreed to stay for the summit i-neeting, although
the delay meant that he missed his connecting flight to Montgomery.
At the appointed hour, Dr. Mays was there in the King home, along
with President Rufus Clement of Atlanta University, the local bishop of
the A.M.E. church, tl)c editor of the Atlanta Daily World, and a half-
dozen of the most influential money men on Auburn Avenue. Daddy
King repeated his speech for their benefit. If anything, it was more emo-
tional than the one he had made in the car. At its conclusion, those
present murmured their assent. This came as no surprise to King, who
realized that, given his father's shrewd willfulness, anyone who disagreed
would not have been invited. One by one, the assembled leaders began
their own speeches in support of Daddy King, until King finally inter-
rupted in pain. "I must go back to Montgomery," lie said. His friends
were being arrested and hauled off to jail at that very moment. flow
could he hide here in Atlanta?
The silence that hung in the room was broken only when Daddy King
burst into tears, in front of the same men with whom lie was to swap
six-figure securities that day. His sobs made the stilliiess all the more
excruciating. King looked pleadingly at Dr. Mays, who soon spoke tip to
say that perhaps young King had a point, that perhaps those in the room
would do well to turn their influence toward defending him in Alabama.
His words broke the tension in many respects, not least by giving people
something to do. One of the lawyers ran off to place a call to no less a
personage than Thurgood Marshall. He returned shortly with the good
news that Marshall promised to throw the entire weight of the NAACP
Legal Defense Fund behind young King's defense. This and other assur-
ances helped Daddy King recover, and soon lie wis c;.iyiiig that lie wis
going back to Montgomery himself. He was going to stick by his son. He
would accompany him to the jailhouse. Daddy King was himself again,
but at the same time he was stalling-at least by the urgent timetable
that was beckoning his son. Daddy King was going, but he had the loan
business to take care of. And he did not want to fly. He wanted to go by
car, but he did not want King or himself or either of the wives to drive.
It was too dangerous. He would find a driver for them. They would leave
in the morning.
All this delay in Atlanta caused King to miss a different kind of drama
in Montgomery. E. D. Nixon, the first to be arrested under the boycott
indictment, did not wait for the deputies to come for him. On Bayard
Rustin's suggestion, he walked inside the county courthouse to the sher-
iff's office and said, "Are you looking for me? Well, here I am." Tile
deputies looked quizzically at each other and then welcomed Nixon to
jail. Within a short time, he was bookcd, fingerprinted, photographed,
and released on bond. No sooner had a smiling Nixon walked past a few
Negroes milling around the courthouse than word of his feat began to
spread through Negro Montgomery. Nixon had turned the dreaded pro-
cess of being apprehended into something quite different-quicker and
less painful than a trip to the dentist. Soon Nixon's dignified old pastor
walked into the courthouse, and the news flashed that lie had actually
traded jokes with the deputy who arrested him.
Such behavior set off a chain reaction. Word of what was happening
went everywhere, drawing more indictees and more spectators. Some of
the arriving smiles were forced, but the ones on leaving jail were always
genuine. As the crowd grew into the hundreds, applause and words of
encouragei-nent began to lift the mood. Those already out on bail advised
the others on ways to post the $300 bond as quickly as possible. Those
picked up by deputies, like Abernathy, passed through the crowd waving
and hugging people. Soon the deputies out on the dragnet werecoming
up empty because so many of the Negroes were on their way downtown
voluntarily. Laughter began to spread through the crowd. A joke went
around that some inquiring Negroes were upset upon being told by phone
that they were not on the arrest list. Some of the white deputies, infected
by the good humor, began to enjoy themselves too. Sheriff Butler, exas-
perated by this perversion of the penal spirit, came outside to shout,
"This is no vaudeville show!" But he had little effect. The jailhouse door,
which for centuries had conjured up visions of fetid cells and unspeak-
able cruelties, was turning into a glorious passage, and the arriving crim-
iiials were being celebrated like stars at a Hollywood premiere.
Rustin worked joyfully in the background. When it developed that a
shortage of bondable property might pose a threat to the swift release of
boycotters yet to be arrested, he persuaded a friend to wire him a loan of
$5,000, which lie turned over to Nixon. At the end of the day, Rustin
took his second consecutive night walk, ignoring repeated warnings from
boycotters who said the Montgomery authorities were itching to find an
"outsidcr" upon whom to blame all their troubles. This time he went to
the home of Jeanatta Reese, the embattled woman who had withdrawn
from the MIA lawsuit. Two police cars still sat outside. Rustin marched
up to the officers on sentry duty and asked breezily to see Mrs. Rcese.
The officers, doubtless having never seen or heard anyone like Rustiii,
eyed him warily. At first they questioned him on the suspicion that he
might want to hurt Mrs. Reese, but the more he talked, the more they
simply wanted to know who he was. Their questions posed a threat, as
his true identify might expose the MIA to scandal. "I am Bayard Itustin,"
he said, drawing himself up to full height. "I am here as a journalist
working for Le Figaro and the Manchester Guardian. The officers wrote
that down, as Rustiii explained to them something of the importance of
the French and British papers. It took Rustin ten minutes of persistent
conversation to talk his way to Mrs. Reese's door for a conversation that
turned out to be hirdly worth the effort. "I had to do what I did or I
wouldn't be alivc today," she told him.
The King family pulled up to the Montgomery parsonage at nine the
next morning, to be greeted by television cameras and a.contingent of
boycotters still exuberant over the jailings of the previous day. Within a
few minutes, King, Daddy King, and Abernathy were off to the court-
house, trailed by a small caravan of Dexter members. On the way, Aber-
nathy briefed them about procedures at the county jail (as opposed to the
city jail, where King had been booked a month earlier). He also described
his own arrest as one of the best things that had ever happened to him.
King, facing jail again, struggled to believe him, and an utterly mystified
Daddy King did not believe him at all until he experienced for himself
the holiday atmosphere around the courthouse. The crowd cheered the
three of them. King was processed again-photographed this time, with
jail number 7089 hanging under his chin-and released back into the
embrace of his followers. He was the twenty-fourth minister to be
On the recommendation of Nixon and Abernathy, King invited Rustiii
to a meeting of the strategy committee afterward, at which it was de-
cided to change the mass meeting into a prayer meeting from that night
forward. The idea was to foster spiritual commitment for the long ordeal
ahead. Each meeting's agenda would be organized around five prayers,
including one for the strength of spirit to be nonviolent, one for the
strength of body to keep walking, and a "prayer for all those who oppose
us." Rustin was impressed by the intuitive Gandhian method at work in
the plan. Privately, he told King that he had been all over tile world and
not seen a movement that could compare with what he had seen already
in Montgomery. He wanted to help spread the word, particularly among
believers in nonviolence. There were articles to be written, funds to be
raised, specialized techniques to be tatight. He realized the dangers in-
volved with "outside agitators," particularly Northerners, but he would
work behind the scenes if King thought it wise. King, beholding Rustin
for the first time, said they needed all the help they could get.
Rustin drifted by Aberiiathy's church, site of that night's mass meet-
ing. To his ai-iiazenient, he found that the church started filling up at
four o'clock, and lie watched the crowd sing hymns liid pray on their
own for three hours. The meeting began when all ninety of those arrested
thus far walked out onto the church podium. Instantly, the audience of
mostly plainer folk rose to its feet, and parents brought their children
forward to touch them as the ovation rolled on. King said that the spirit
of the boycott was for "all people, black and white." Abernathy declared
that the solidarity of the movement during King's absence proved that
the boycott was "not a one-man show." The leaders, feeling a supera-
bundance of support, called for a day of thanks-no car pool, no taxis, no
private cars. Everyone would walk tomorrow on "Double-P) Day," the
day of prayer and pilgrimage.
What distinguished this meeting from all previous ones was not so
much its fervor or content but the presence of some thirty-five reporters
from all over the country. For the first time, the Montgomery blis boycott
had drawn a press contingent of accredited correspondents. Unfortu-
nately for Rustin, none of these reporters knew him as the man from Le
Figaro, but several of them did know of him as a resplendent figure in
Greenwich Village. As they talked with the host reporters at the Adver-
tiser, who were constantly in touch with the local police, further doubts
sprang up about his identity. These became serious enough that there
was talk of calls being placed to Paris and London to check up on him.
Rustin knew the baleful signs. He called John Swomley, executive
director for the FOR, in New York, with an urgent message for Muste
and the others. Rustin described what he had seen in Montgomery, say-
ing that the MIA people were at once gifted and unsophisticated in non-
violence. (As an exhibition of the latter, Rustin had in mind his first visit
to the King home, when he shouted to stop someone from sitting on a
loaded pistol that was lying on the couch.) These people must have
somebody come in who was qualified to teach nonviolence. There were
only four or five such people in the country, including Rustin, and he
told Swomley sadly that he would not be staying long. He knew he had
no claim on his old organization, but he implored Swomley to trust his
judgment and send someone in on the next plane.
Rustin attended Dexter services that Sunday and then spent the eve-
ning in the King home, going over the history of the boycott in some
detail. Coretta remembered hearing Rustin give a speech at Antioch
some years earlier. Neither she nor King expressed any objection to Rus-
tin's long history in left-wing politics, and King spoke knowledgeably of
figures like Muste. He was trying to practice nonviolence, he told Rustin,
but he did not subscribe to Muste-style pacifism because he believed no
just society could exist without at least a police power. Rustin quibbled
some, but nevertheless these were not the views he had expected of a
Montgomery preacher.
It was the worst of worlds for Rustin. His affection for the MIA people
and his vision of the role he could play expanded even as his position
deteriorated by the hour. Word came that the white people were saying
Le Figaro had never heard of him and was offering -a reward for the
identification of the impostor. About that time, an influential Negro
reporter from Birmingham got word that Rustin was in town. Knowing
Rustin's background, he burst into a leadership huddle to announce that
the white people were sure to find out about him and would use the
information to discredit everything the.boycott had accomplished thus
far. Now Rustin was in a cross fire. On Monday, word came that the
whites might arrest him for fraud or for inciting to riot, and the Negro
reporter clinched things by threatening to expose Rustin in his news-
piper if MIA leaders did not get him out of town. Rustin stalled. He had
become fixated on a desire to transfer his informal role personally to the
new nonviolence tactician from the FOR staff. The ensuing scenes could
have been condensed from a Western movie. Glenn Smiley, the replace-
ment, came into town and received a hurried, rather sad briefing from
the departing Rustin, whom he had known for fifteen years. Then Rustin
introduced Smiley to King and managed chipper good-byes before King
was obliged to have him smuggled to Birmingham in the back of a car.
Like Rustin, Smiley had traveled on the FOR staff since his own im-
prisonment for pacifist resistance to service in World War 11. By appear-
ance and temperament, however, the two friends were utterly different.
Smiley was a mild-mannered white Methodist preacher from Texas, who
looked and sounded like one until he spoke on the subject of violence or
race. His first act was to trade in his New York license plates for Georgia
ones. His first advice to King was to get rid of the guns around his house.
Smiley thought King's most striking quality was his stubbornness-how
he would give in to fears and then almost angrily sweep them aside as
irrelevant to the choices at hand. "Don't bother me with tactics," he said
more than once. "I want to know if I can apply nonviolence to my heart."
At such times, Smiley was much burdened by the inadequacy of his
Gandhian advice. For four years, he would go in and out of Montgomery
on call, often arriving for midnight MIA strategy sessions. Invariably,
King would jump up at two or three o'clock in the morning to say that
the work of the Lord could not go forward unless they sent out for some
soul food, and Smiley, to the astonishment of himself and his relatives,
learned to love pig's-ear sandwiches. So did the Lutheran missionary,
Robert Graetz.
Within a week of King's second arrest in Montgomery, cabinet secretary
Maxwell Rabb summoned E. Frederic Morrow, the first Negro profes-
sional ever to serve on the White House staff, for in old-fashioned chew-
ing out. Rabb was tired of getting Morrow's mcmos urging the President
to speak out in favor of desegregation, he said, and what galled him most
was that Negro voters still seemed to prefer the Democratic Party.of
Eastland and Byrd in spite of all Eisenhower had done in civil rights, such
as the desegregation of nearly all public facilities in the nation's capital
and the official support for the NAACP position in the Brown case.
Negro voters were ungrateful, Rabb charged. He said he was disgusted
with the whole issue and would not stick his iieck out anymore.
Morrow swallowed his disagreement in retreat, as he often did. A pub-
lic relations expert on leave from CBS-TV, the son and grandson of
preachers, Morrow had obtained a secretary from the White House pool
only after a tearful woman from Massachusetts volunteered, citing the
obligations of her Catholic faith, and now staff women were under strict
orders to enter and leave his office in pairs, so as to allay suspicions of
sexual misconduct. Morrow walked softly. He had been working at the
White House nearly nine months but had not yet been sworn in for duty.
This was another uncomfortable subject. Morrow and everyone else
knew that the Administration had already gotten credit in the Negro
media for his presence, and that the traditional ceremony would only
generate ncgitive results among white voters. (Morrow would not be
sworn in for another three years. A private, unannounced ceremony-
without the President-made his prior service retroactively official.)
A few days after being lectured by Rabb; Morrow was called into the
office of the man who hired him, Sherman Adams, Eisenhower's chief of
staff and alter ego. Adams was worried about race again. The previous
year it had been Mississippi-the sensational Emmett Till lynching and
a rash of lesser atrocities that had generated political pressure to hire
Morrow. This year it was Alabama. A federal judge had revoked Authcr-
me Lucy's suspension from the University of Alabama, only to have the
trustees expel her permanently the next day. The case was a bundle of
lunacy; Lucy had been suspended and expelled before she had ever en-
rolled. What worried Adams was the prospect of violence. Alabama
whites were crowing about how the riot had "worked"; it had restored
segregation. As for the Negroes, the latest FBI intelligence reports re-
vealed that the Communist influence was pervasive, Adams said, and
the Negro leaders were not sophisticated enough to control planted in-
slirrectioiiists. Morrow did not argue. He valued Adams for his personal
kindnesses, not for his advanced views on civil rights. In fact, Morrow
knew that Adams was the most powerful figure among those urging that
Eisenhower do as little as possible in civil rights.
Practically speaking, the fight within the Eisenhower Administration
over civil rights was a contest for the President's car between Sherman
Adams and Attorney General Herbert Brownell. The President asked FBI
Director J. Edgar Hoover to present a classified briefing about race on
March 9, 1956, for the cabinet meeting at which the Administration
would decide whether to approve, modify, or cancel Brownell's plans to
ask Congress for a new civil rights bill. No such legislation had passed
since Reconstruction.
Hoover arrived with a brace of aides, easels, and display charts. His
peck into the inner world of Negro protest, though couched in the lan-
guage of secret revelation, was superficial and riddled with error. Cursory
remarks on Montgomery, for instance, misstated several dates and laws
while distorting the nature of the bus boycott. No one in the Cabinet
Room knew better, however, and the facts were of secondary importance
anyway. Politically speaking, Hoover cut masterfully along the fault line
of the Administration. He expressed no sympathy for civil rights and
painted an alarming picture of subversive elements among the integra-
tionists. As an example of a clearly subversive development, Hoover
informed the cabinet that Chicigo mayor Richard I)ilcy had come close
to public criticism of President Eisenhower for not taking stronger ,iction
in the Emmett Till lynching case. "I hasten to say that Mayor Daley is
not a Comi-nunist," Hoover added gravely, "but pressures engineered by
the Communists were brought to bear upon him." These coti-iinclits
hinted at political danger, but Hoover stopped short of saying that Re-
publican civil rights legislation would reflect Communist influence. In-
stead, he put the imprimatur. of the FBI upon some of the worst
allegations of anti-Negro brutality by militant segregationists, particti-
larly in Mississippi. He described the White Citizens Councils ambigu-
ously as new organizations that "either could control the rising tciision
or become the medium through which tensions might manifest them-
selves." Overall, his performance left just enough political room for
Brownell's program, minus any anti-lynching legislation. One of the FBI
charts showed that the number of lynchings had dropped from twenty to
less than three per year since the FBI had begun informal investigations
in 1939. Hoover wanted no formal legal responsibility in this area.
Brownell promptly gave the cabinet a speech defending his plan to
submit legislation to create an independent Civil Rights Commission to
gather facts about voting rights violations and economic reprisals lgailist
Negroes. Also, the bill would create a Civil Itights Division in the justice
Department, and strengthen the Attorney General's legal standing to
seek enforcement of voting rights in the federal courts. When Brownell
finished, Secretaries Ezra Taft Benson of Agriculture and Marion Folsoin'
of Health, Education and Welfare spoke up in opposition. Benson wanted
to wait until there was a Republican Congress. Folsom said that anything
beyond the fact-finding commission would be imprudent because it
would "anticipate" its results.
The President interrupted. "Where do you think that the Attorney
General's suggestions are moving too rapidly?" lie asked. "They look to
me like amelioration." As always, his word sliif ted the toile of the debate.
A few objections as to the practicality of the legislation followed, but
Brownell soon asked permission to proceed. "Okay," said Ike. "But put
into your presentation a statement that what is needed is calmness and
sanity. The great mass of decent people should and will listen to these
voices, rather than to the extremists. Make your statement like your
brief to the Supreme Court. Don't take the attitude that you are another
The most Sherman Adams could win at the cabinet meeting was .1
delay: Brownell must bring the historic legislative package back to tile
White House for final clearance. In the interim, Adams benefited by the
release of the "Southern Manifesto," which equated integration with
subversion of the Constitution and pledged the entire region to fierce
resistance. The document was signed by some ninety Southern congress-
men and all the senators except the two Tennessee mavericks, Estes
Kefauver and Albert Gore, and the Senate Majority Leader, Lyndon John-
son of Texis. Johnson was saying privately that the maiiifesto's only
effect would be to push Negro votes into the Republican column in key
swing states of the North. In the White House, Adams was hoping just
that. lie miiiaged to weaken a few of Brownell's proposals and to make
sure that when the bill was submitted to Congress, it came from the
Attorney Geiicril in(i not, as was customary for major hills, from the
Advertiser editor Grover Hall pronounced the mass indictments "the
dumbest act that has ever been done in Montgomery." From the stand-
point of local whites, the move backfired immediately by recharging the
boycotters' morale and severely weakening the time-honored stigma of
jail as a weapon of social control against Negroes. This was just the
beginning of the miscalculation. As days went by, the hordes of reporters
attracted to town by the mass indictment wrote stories that stimulated
a great shower of public support-and moiiey-upon the MIA from
across the nation and even from distant lands. The city fathers, show-
boating is they delivered whit they believed would be a crushing blow,
had blithely ignored the possibility that their show would not play well
to audiences beyond the horizoi-i. "Everybody now concedes that this
was dumb," Hall wrote.
For the puckish editor, who found himself serving as "duenna and
Indian guide to more than a hundred reporters of the international press,"
the media influx caused an intense, personal exposure to the vagaries of
the race issue on both its grand and prosaic stages. One early effect was
that Hill ventured inside Dexter Avenue Baptist to meet King, in his
role as escort to reporter Peter Kihss of The New York Times. To Hall,
King was "Iargely inscrutable," a self-possessed min without humor, in
whose statements about death, suffering, and violence Hall found a "coii-
spicuous thread of thanatopsis." Still, Hall admitted that King was an
inauthentic intellectual," and not a polysyllabic charlatan with cereal-
box degrees. Kiiig's discourse on philosophy, Hall found, was "coinpre-
bending, forceful exegesis." He committed these judgments to print,
along with many others that offended his white readers. When he asked
one frantic caller how she knew that the Communists were running the
boycott, she replied, "It just stands to reason." This comment amused
Hall enough to publish it too.
By the time the boycott case went to trial, the encampment of Negro
reporters and domestic "war correspondents" had been augmented by
journalists from more than ten foreign nations, including Japan, Italy,
the Netherlands, Germany, and Australia. There was M. K. K.Iiiiath of
the Press Trust of India and Daniel Morgaine of France-Soir. From Ell-
gland came Keith Kyle of the London Economist and, eventually, the
distinguished Alastair Cooke of the Manchester Guardian. (Ironically, in
view of that paper's leftist perspective and Rustiii's invocation of its
name, Cooke may have been the foreign journalist most sympathetic to
the local segregationists. He wrote of King as "the cat's-paw of the
NAACP.") Of these, Hall's favorite seemed to be Morgaitle of France,
who once called just before a scheduled cultural briefing It the Adver-
tiser saying, "I am so soree, Meester Hall. I must break ze appointment,
for I have achieved an appointment with the Reverend King." For Hall,
this fawning attention made King like yesterday's bee sting-a tiny,
throbbing thing that tickled and hurt at once, and above all that lie could
not leave alone. Local prosecutors concentrated the attention into all
exclusive preoccupation by announcing that they intended to hold
eighty-nine of the indictments in abeyance. They prosecuted King alone
as a test case.
Eight lawyers sat around King at the defense table when the four-day
trial opened on March 19, 1956. One part of the legal team guidcd King
and other MIA witnesses through a line of defense testimony that flirted
with perjury. The minister of Holt Street Baptist could not recall seeing
King at his church on the night the boycott began. Graetz testified that
he could not remember ever hearing King urge people to boycott the
buses. Fear and legalism combined to produce a defense based on evasive
denial that King had anything to do with any boycott, if there wis one.
Other King lawyers tried to establish that the boycott was "not without
just cause" by summoning a stream of Negro women to the stand to
testify about cruelties they had seen and endured on the buses.
Neither of the legal strategies mattered very much to the outcome of
a trial that had become symbolic to all sides. The judge, who taught a
men's Bible class at a church across the street from Dexter, pronounced
King guilty immediately at the conclusion of the summations. He sen-
tenced the defendant to pay a $500 fine or serve a year at hard labor.
Newspapers recorded the exact moment, 4:39 p.m., when King emerged
from the courthouse to tell a cheering crowd that the bus protest would
continue. "Behold the King!" shouted someone, and others answered
"Hail the King!" and "King is King!" Returning that evening to Holt
Street, where it had all begun, King was presented to the first of that
night's series of enormous mass meetings with the words, "Here is the
man who today was nailed to the cross for you and me." King declared,
"This conviction and all the convictions they can heap on me will not
diminish my determination one iota."
He had been a public figure among Montgomery's Negroes for nearly
four months , but now fame spilled into the outside world. W. E. B. Du
Bois himself, who had known Negro leaders stretching back to Frederick
Douglass, wrote that if passive resistance could conquer racial hatred,
which he doubted, then Gandhi and Negroes like King would have
shown the world a way to conquer war itself. let magazine put King on
its cover, calling him "Alabama's Modern Moses." The New York Times,
in a "Man in the News" profile published during the trial described King
as a man who believed that "all men are basically good," and whose
pulpit oratory "overwhelms the listener with the depth of his convic-
tions.... He is particularly well read in Kant and Hegel."
King learned immediately that the astonishing personal impact of the
trial reached far beyond Montgomery. At his first Northern fund-raiser
since the boycott began, he received in New York what one newspaper
called "the kind of welcome [the city] usually reserves for the Brooklyn
Dodgers." Some ten thousand people tried to crowd into Gardner Tay-
lor's Concord Baptist Church to hear him. Collection plates gathered
$4,000 for the MIA. The president of the City Council made an appear-
aiice at the church. Mobs of admirers pressed upon King, and the Negro
press reported signs among groups of doting women.
The phenomenon of mass adulation far from home struck like a sud-
dcn jolt, but King had to work for other support gained on the New York
trip. Harry Belafonte responded cautiously to his invitation for a private
meeting at Adam Clayton Powell's church in Harlem. Belafonte could be
temperamental. He had recorded but not yet released the calypso album
that would make him an international star-the first solo album ever to
sell a million copies-and he wondered why King insisted that they meet
alone. He was wary of preachers and established Negro leaders, partly
because he thought they never had supported his idols Du Bois and Paul
Robeson. Only curiosity about this new kind of preacher lured him to
the church. King said he had heard that Belafonte cared deeply about the
race struggle, quite apart from his career in show business. This flattered
Belafontc's political side, but what broke down his resistance was King's
air of humility, in sharp contrast with the circus of adulation surround-
iilg hii-n. While he found King sophisticated, clearly not the hick or holy
roller he had feared, King's offstage personality struck him as a mixture
of determination and almost doe-like vulnerability. "I need your help,"
King said repeatedly. "I have no idea where this movement is going."
Within a week of the mass arrests in Montgomery, King and the
NAACP's Roy Wilkins had entered what would become a long-standing
quarrel over money. King protested in a letter to Wilkins that tile
NAACP seemed to be gathering money for itself "in the nai-ne of our
movement." Wilkins defended his instructions that all proceeds from
the boycott fund-raisers be routed through his office, saying that the
NAACP expected to absorb many of the MIA legal expenses, but lie did
not specify which ones. He added a warning to King: "I am certain I do
not need to stress that at this time it would be fatal for there to develop
any hint of disagreement as to the raising and allocating of funds."
NAACP officials, who saw themselves in the climactic stages of a
twenty-year legal battle to integrate public institutions such as the
schools, were reluctant to endorse the radically new approach of a miss
boycott. Negotiations over legal support stalled further, so that by the
time of King's trial only one of his eight lawyers came from Thurgood
Marshall's legal staff. During the trial itself, the NAACP issued a droll
statement that it would await the final outcome of the boycott before
deciding whether passive resistance techniques could be useful.
Wilkins became more accommodating when the trial established King
as a national symbol. Three weeks after the conviction, lie notified
King that the NAACP would pay all costs for its attorneys to represent
King and any of the other mass-indictment defendants brought to trial,
as well as the MIA in its federal suit against bus segregation and Rosa
Parks in her own ongoing case. In addition, Wilkins offered to pay half
the $9,000 fee charged by one of the local Alabama firms in tile King
case. Oddly enough, Wilkins extended this generous offer at a time when
fame had made the fledgling MIA wealthier than the national NAACP,
and King accepted the offer even though lie did not need the money at
the time. The MIA cases might wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court, King
reasoned, where the NAACP lawyers had all unsurpassed record in civil
rights cases. "We are quite conscious of our dependence oil the NAACP,"
King wrote Wilkins in a conciliatory letter, mentioning that his church
had just purchased a $1,000 life membership in the NAACP. Within a
week, Wilkins invited King to address the NAACP's annual convention
in San Francisco.
On June 1, 1956, some weeks before the NAACP convention, Alabama
attorney general John Patterson obtained an extraordinary court order
banning most NAACP activities within the entire state of Alabama,
including fund-raising, dues collection, and the solicitation of new mem-
bers. Patterson based his request for the order on the assertion that the
NAACP was "organzing, supporting, and financing an illegal boycott by
Negro residents of Montgomery." The order transformed this old runior
into the factual predicate for effectively outlawing the organization, and
when the NAACP resisted a corollary order to surrender its membership
and contribution lists to Patterson, the judge imposed a $100,000 con-
tempt fine as well. It took the NAACP eight years and several trips to
the U.S. Supreme Court to void these sanctions. During all that time,
the Alabama NAACP was disbanded. On one level, this shocking devel-
opment threw King and Wilkins together as common defendants. But
Wilkins could hardly forget that it was King's boycott that had put the
NAACP out of business in an entire state, at a critical time in the school
desegregation cases, and this handicap would grow more serious as other
Southern states tried to follow Alabama's example.
One hidden effect of the Patterson order was to drive some of Ala-
bama's former NAACP leaders into closer alliance with King. The most
unusual and significant of them was Fred Shuttlesworth in Birmingham,
a volitile, rough-cut man who had been raised in the backwoods of Ala-
bama. Convicted of running the family still in 1941, Shuttles worth had
wandered around Alibama as a truck driver and cement worker, discov-
ering in the process that the natural gift his mother so prized in him, his
memory, was well suited to the work of a country preacher. Accepting
tile "call," Sliuttlesworth bought a cow to help support him and his
young wife while he pitched himself into colleges and seminaries, built
a house out of World War II scrap materials, and preached as many as
five times each Sunday. At his first full-time pulpit in Selma, Shuttles-
worth had quarreled ceaselessly with his deacons over the prerogatives
of the minister, finally receiving what lie called a vision from God telling
him to persevere and subdue them.
Only a few days after the Patterson court order, Shuttlesworth received
another divine message, saying, "Ye shall know the truth and tile truth
shall make you free." He interpreted this to mean that the demise of the
faction-ridden NAACP was a blessing in disguise, and that he shou d
replace it with his own organization, like King's in Montgomery. He
knew King, having gone to Montgomery several times to deliver contri-
butions, and the idea of all organization free of the NAACP bureaucracy
appealed strongly to him. His public summons to create a new group
attracted publicity in the white press as a blatant circumvention of the
court order banning Negro agitation, as well as an unprecedented chal-
lenge to Birmingham's pugnacious police commissioner, Eugene "Bull"
Connor. One troubled Negro preacher went so far as to tell Shuttlesworth
that he had received his own vision from heaven, in which God told him
to tell Sliuttleswortli to cancel the meeting. "When did the Lord start
sending my messages through you?" Shuttlesworth hotly replied. "The
Lord has told me to call it on." Ordinary folk, drawn by the tension and
the publicity, packed the church on the night of June 5 to hear Shuttles-
worth announce the formation of his own Alabama Christian Movement
for Human Rights. This deed first singled him out as the preacher cou-
rageous enough or crazy enough to defy Bull Connor.
In Montgomery, King and the other MIA leaders were celebrating a
tangible victory. On June 4, a panel of three federal judges ruled in the
MIA's favor in the suit Fred Gray had filed back in February, two days
after King's house was bombed. By a 2-1 vote, the judges struck down
Montgomery's bus segregation ordinances as unconstitutional. Attor-
neys for Montgomery and for the state of Alabama immediately appealed
the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although the segregition laws
remained in effect pending that ruling, which for the boycotters meant
that months of walking and car-pooling stretched ahead, thousands of
hallelujahs were raised at mass meetings in Montgomery. For the first
time, they were on the winners' side in a white niaii's forum, and now
would go into the Supreme Court seeking to sustain the ruling of three
white Southern judges. The odds for ultimate legal victory shifted heav-
ily in their favor.
Optimism broke out like an epidemic. Every hardship, every funeral of
a faithful walker who had died, became grist for inspiration to keep
walking another six months if necessary. Everybody knew that the first
six months had been the hard ones. They were cresting. The MIA was
rich. It was buying and operating its own fleet of more than a dozen new
station wagons, sparing much of the wear on the cars of private volun-
teers. At the time of the court victory, the MIA had stowed away deposits
totaling more than $120,000 in banks scattered from New York to Okla-
homa-outside Alabama and therefore safe from legal raids by Attorney
General Patterson. King decided that the MIA was secure enough for him
to take a vacation. With Coretta and the Abernathys, he vanished by car
toward the coast of California, planning to make his way to San Francisco
for the NAACP convention.
Shortly after they left, MIA secretary Uriah J. Fields held a press con-
ference in Montgomery to charge that the boycott leadership was riddled
with corruption. It involved thousands of dollars in misappropriated
funds, he said, and leaders who had become "too egotistical and inter-
ested in perpetuating themselves." "I can no longer identify myself with
a movement in which the many are exploited by the few," Fields de-
clared. His public resignation created the most sensational news since
the mass arrests. Fields was an outspoken, unconventional, bootstrap
leader, about King's age. He had worn a goatee since his student days at
Alabama State, which marked him as an outsider among the more image-
conscious leaders. Campaigning as a rebel, Fields had defeated in a stu-
dent election the heavily favored fraternity candidate, who was now a
prot6g6 of King's at Dexter Avenue. Fields believed that on their records
as activists he, and not King, should have been elected MIA president,
and he openly begrudged Abernathy his growing role as second in au-
thority. It galled him that King was in demand for speaking engagements
all over the country, whereas he had landed only one out-of-town appear-
ance in Pittsburgh.
By timing his gambit to coincide with the absence of King and Aber-
nathy, Fields hoped other disgruntled leaders would rally to demand a
restructuring of the executive board. However, he grossly underesti-
mated the bond between King and the great masses of Montgomery's
boycotters. Ordinary people called Fields a traitor, and his own church
voted without dissent to strip him of the pastorate. By the time King
landed in Montgomery, having aborted his California vacation to face
the insurrection at home, Fields already was so thoroughly discredited
that King's task was more to protect than to prosecute him. At a mass
meeting, King made a long speech denying the charges but calling on the
MIA membership to forgive Fields as a prodigal son. Defending his lead-
ersliip was easy for King-too easy, in a sense, because he did not have
to address the elements of truth in Fields's charges. Thousands of dollars
had in fact been misappropriated out of the MIA treasury, as car-pool
drivers and assorted hustlers were charging the MIA for oceans of gaso-
line and truckloads of imaginary spare tires. A reorganized transportation
committee was trying to plug the holes in the reimbursement system.
As for the alleged high-handedness and egotism of the MIA leadership,
there was a good deal of it, and it was resented not only by Fields. Some,
like E. D. Nixon, believed they were being shunted aside for lack of
polish or education, and a few of the lay people thought they were out
because they were not preachers. Now such criticism would be confined 
forever to privacy. The defection and swift decapitation of Fields dem-
onstrated that public criticism of the MIA would not only be seized upon
by white opponents but also taken as a personal criticism of King, which
would not be tolcrated.
King flew back to San Francisco to address the forty-seventh NAACP
convention. Hundreds of delegates pressed upon him to shakc his hand,
including Medgar Evers, the NAACP field secretary in Mississippi. Evers
invited King to Mississippi, saying that "your presence would do more
... than any" to raise hopes in his state. The idea of a mass movement
by nearly fifty thousand Negroes in a single city captivated the delegates,
whose customary role in the NAACP was limited to support of the law-
yers fighting segregation in court. Delegates on the convention floor
drafted numerous resolutions in fivor of the nonviolent methods of the
bus boycott. Wilkins and Thurgood Marshall opposed them in a pro-
tracted struggle that put King in the awkward position of the insurrec-
tionary guest. He tried to make himself as scarce as possible, but when
reporters cornered him with questions about whether lie thought
nonviolent methods might help desegregate the schools, he replied that
he had not thought about it much but that they probably could do so.
This comment prompted an annoyed Thurgood Marsliill to declare that
school desegregation was men's work and should not be entrusted to
children. Some reporters quoted him to the effect that King was a "boy
on a man's errand." Wilkins worked more diplomatically to smother the
threat of a runaway convention, finally engineering passage of a rcsolu-
tion calling merely for the executive board to give " carefull considera-
tion" to the use of the Montgomery model.
In July, sensitive to criticism that he had been neglecting his church,
King started a newsletter, the Dexter Echo, to keep in touch with his
members. He devoted his own column, "From the Pastor's Desk,"
mostly to problems of church finances. To offset slow collections during
the summer months, King supervised the second annual Prettiest Baby
Contest, which netted more than $2,000. The winning baby, on the
strength of the $645.60 raised by the sponsoring August Club, was King's
daughter Yoki, now eight months old.
King was off on a speaking tour of the Midwest. In his absence, the
Echo published FLASH bulletin announcing that his photograph was on
display at the Brussels World's Fair. When King went on to Canada to
address a convention of Negro morticians, E. D. Nixon called to say that
A. Philip Randolph had secured an invitation for King to testify before
the platform committee of the Democratic National Convention ill Chi-
cago. King, more conscious than ever of seniority and protocol among
leaders, told Nixon that he did not want to testify unless Roy Wilkins
approved. Nixon called Wilkins, who said, "I agree with you, Brother
Nixon. He ought to be there, although it will take some of the spotlight
off me." With this clearance, Nixon then made the arrangements for
King to tell the Democrats that civil rights was "one of the supreme
moral issues" of the age. Perhaps because he was so intent on soothing
leaders of national stature, such as Wilkins, King neglected to give
enough credit for his convention appearance to E. D. Nixon-or so Nixon
came to believe. Thereafter, lie spoke to King only when necessary, and 
the coolness between the two of them became the subject of private
gossip. This was to be King's portion-new realms of success, blurred by
aggravations striking randomly on all sides.
On August 25, two or three sticks of dynamite exploded in Reverend
Graetz's front yard, shattering the windows in nearby homes. Gractz
returned from out of town to find that the police had confiscated personal
records and correspondence from his home as part of the bombing inves-
tigation. Detectives promptly interrogated Graetz himself, in a manner
that provoked the two-year-old Graetz boy to shout, "Go away, you bad
policemen!" The ever-repentant Graetz later confessed to a fleeting surge
of pride in his son's combative spirit. The next day's Advertiser reported
Mayor Gayle's suspicions that Graetz had bombed his own home in order
to stimulate out-of-state contributions to the MIA. "Perhaps this is just
a publicity stunt to build up interest of the Negroes in their campaign,"
he said. Two days after the bombing, King composed his first letter of
protest to the White House, telling Eisenhower that Montgomery Ne-
groes were living "without protection of law." Cabinet secretary Max-
well Rabb replied perfunctorily for the President that "the situation in
Montgomery has been followed with interest."
Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic candidate for President, worried about
the Negro vote, especially after Roy Wilkins sharply criticized his desire
to keep the civil rights issue out of the campaign. "We must recognize
that it is reason alone that will determine our rate of progress," Steven-
son replied to Wilkins, who proceeded to denounce the candidate's blithe
vagueness in such blistering language that Stevenson's friend Eleanor
Roosevelt threatened to resign from the board of the NAACP. In October,
Stevenson's concern over the issue prompted his appearance at a rally in
Harlem where he criticized as too passive Eisciihower's statement that
it "makes no difference" what he thought personally of the Supreme
Court's school desegregation decision. "I support this decision!" cried
Stevenson. His supporters argued that his statement set him apart from
Eisenhower as more friendly to Negroes, while his detractors replied that
it meint little for a candidate to say lie supported the law of the land, as
did Eisenhower, while refusing to say what he would do to enforce it.
Eisenhower campaigned differently. On October 10, lie attended a
World Series game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yan-
kees at Ebbetts Field. Sitting with him as a guest in the presidential box
was E. Frederic Morrow. There was no official announcement of his
presence, but word spread immediately through the Negro press, which
noted that Stevenson could not afford to socialize with Negroes for fear
of alienating Southern Democrats. The next day, Eisenhower invited
Harlem Congressman Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., to thle White House
for a private meeting that became big news when Powell, a Democrat,
emerged to endorse Eisenhower for reelection, saying that he would do
more for civil rights.
The Negro issue was lost for the remainder of a campaign that finished
memorably in the grip of two major world crises, the Hungarian revolt
against Soviet domination and the combined effort of Israel, Great Brit-
ain, and France to take the Suez Canal from Egypt by war. Eisenhower
made scathing private remarks about the "mid-Victorian style" of tile
Suez attack. If the United States supported such blatant colonialism, he
said, the reaction "might well array the world from Dakar to the Philip-
pine Islands against us." His implicit threat to cut off American oil
supplies to Europe helped rescue Nasser, a man Eisenhower loathed, and
made a fiasco of Britain's last effort to salvage an empire.
Fear of war turned a probable Eisenhower reelection into a landslide
margin of nearly 10 million votes. On election night, an aide danced
joyfully into Eisentiower's hotel suite with the news that the Republican
ticket had carried the city of Montgomery, Alabama, for the first time in
history. No one quite knew why, since Moiitgomery's white citizens
were known to be furious over the Administritioii's private efforts to
help Negroes in their eleven-month boycott of the bus system.' post-
.election analysis showed that Negroes had voted Republican in substan-
tial numbers for the first time since the New Deal, giving Eisenhower
about 60 percent of their votes. Republican strategists looked forward to
a major realignment of American politics, in which fiscal conservatives,
educated suburbanites, and Negroes would combine to form an en-
lightened majority. This was among the many aspects of the election
results that disheartened Stevenson. "I am quite bewildered about the
Negroes," he said.
In Montgomery, city officials petitioned a state court for an injunction
banning the MIA car pool as an unlicensed municipal transportation
system. The injunction was the legal weapon Kiiig's lawyers had fcared
most, knowing that court orders had the power to regulate behavior in
advance of substantive court decisions. A prime illustration of such
power was Attorney General Patterson's order that outlawed the Ala-
bama NAACP pending the outcome of protracted litigation. A similar
injunction in Montgomery would mean that boycott leaders who per-
sisted in operating the car pool would be subject to peremptory jailing on
contempt charges. It would shift all the advantages of judicial delay from
the MIA to the city.
* General Lewis B. Hershey, director of the National Selective Service System,
repeatedly blocked attempts by the Montgomery draft board to induct MIA attor-
ney Fred Gray into the Army. Local draft board members across Alabama resigned
in protest against "political interference" by the Eisenhower Administration, as
did George C. Wallace, then a judge handling draft appeals near Montgomery.
Shortly before the election, both U.S. senators from Alabiina called for a cotigres-
sional investigation of the Fred Gray draft case.
At the Advertiser, Grover Hall fulminated that the move came almost
a year too late, being just "another blunder" now that the issue of segre-
gation itself was before the U.S. Supreme Court. Hall wanted to prod the
city fathers into thinking about more fundamental lines of defense. His
purpose was not to give solace to King, of course, and King took none.
To him, the Supreme Court decision lay somewhere in the unpredictable
future, whereas the dreadful impact of the proposed injunction could be
only hours away. It threatened to destroy all the accrued benefits of the
car pool-the MIA-owned station wagons, the entire support budget, and
the organized driver system. The boycotters would have to walk into
their second winter, which was fast approaching.
On Tuesday, November 13, one week after the Eisenhower landslide,
King sat glumly at the defendant's table as city lawyers told judge Eugene
Carter why he should not only ban the car pool by injunction but also
impose a $15,000 fine on the MIA to compensate the city for lost tax
revenues. A surprise city witness testified that the MIA had deposited
$189,000 in his Montgomery bank, a sum that city lawyers used to ridi-
cule King's contention that the car pool was a voluntary, "share-a-ride"
cooperative. Both sides i-nounted arguments that seemed highly ironic
even at the time. Conservative city lawyers charged that the car pool
was a "private enterprise" and therefore should be regulated or banned;
King renewed his amnesiac defense that the boycott occurred sponta-
neously and without any organization or leadership that he could re-
member very well.
During a recess, an AP reporter slipped to the front of the courtroom
and handed King a note. Inside was a bulletin the reporter had ripped off
the AP tickcr: "The United States Supreme Court today affirmed a deci-
sion of a special three-judge panel in declaring Alabama's state and local
laws requiring segregation on buses unconstitutional. The Supreme
Court acted without listening to any argument; it simply said 'the mo-
tion to affirm is granted and the judgment is affirmed.' "
It was over. With blood pounding in his ears, King rushed to the back
of the courtroom to tell Abernathy, E. D. Nixon, and Coretta. There was
commotion at the plaintiff's table, as word was reaching the city lawyers.
The news sprinted through the courtroom on whispers, until one Negro,
unable to bear the silence any longer, rose to declare, "God Almighty has
spoken from Washington, D.C.!" Judge Carter was obliged to bang his
gavel many times to restore order, and he handed down his injunction
against the car pool even though the Supreme Court decision made it
Montgomery's Negroes did not care about the injunction now. They
were celebrating. That night, at the first of two enormous mass meetings,
S. S. Seay reported that the Ku Klux Klan was preparing to march oil
Montgomery. No matter, he cried out, "we are not afraid, because God
is on our side." Seay burst into tears at the pulpit, and, said the Adver-
tiser, "several woi-nen screamed with what appeared to be a religious
ecstasy." The newspaper noted that King entered the meeting at pre-
cisely 7;23 P.m., touching off a standing ovation that lasted until Aber-
nathy managed to quiet the crowd for the reading of the Scripture. A
hush settled tentatively over the assembly as Robert Grictz walked to
the pulpit. The skinny, jug-eared white preacher began to read from the
famous love chapter of I Corinthians: "When I was a child, I spoke as a
child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a
man I put away childish things." Before he finished the sentence, every-
one in the church rose en masse to cheer the passage, which struck the
chord of their new self-respectwith the force of an epiphany.
Legal technicalities delayed the implementation. The Supreme Court
decision would not take effect until appropriate orders reached Mont-
gomery, King learned, whereas the spiteful injunction banning the car
pool was in operation already. This meant that during the interim, bus
segregation remained the law and the MIA could provide no alternative
transportation system. To endure this delay without provoking the
whites to legal harassments, MIA leaders summoned up the last reserves
of energy within their followers to keep boycotting the buses until the
integration orders arrived. They would walk. In effect, they would strug-
gle through a victory lap.
Euphoria propelled them. The statement King issued after hearing
word of the decision was filled with the youthful enthusiasm that some-
times overran the bounds of his rhetoric. "Often we have had to stand
amid the surging murmcr [sic] of life's restless sea," lie said. "Many days
and nights have been filled with jostling winds of adversity." But he
recommended the prudent course: "For these three or four days, we will
continue to walk and share rides with friends." This time estimate from
King's legal experts proved highly optimistic, as slow Court paperwork
extended the victory lap through five arduous weeks.
Celebrities called King from the first day. Mahalia Jackson wanted to
come to Montgomery to sing in celebration. Several Negro seminary
presidents offered to deliver theological evaluations of the boycott's
Christian spirit. Such a flurry of impressive offers inspired King to orga-
nize an entire week of seminars and church services, which he called the
Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change. Reporter Carl Rowan, nov-
elist Lillian Smith, and white Unitarian leader Homer Jack agreed to
participate, as did the most powerful national figures in the Negro Baptist
Church. Daddy King's rival William Holmes Borders came from Atlanta
to speak. Gardner Taylor tame from his enormous "million-dollar" Con-
cord Baptist Church in Brooklyn, and T. J. Jemison came up from Baton
King opened the Institute program on December 3 with an address at
the Holt Street Baptist Church, where his speech almost exactly a year
earlier bid electrified the first mass meeting. He announced that the last
year had taught six lessons: "(1) We have discovered that we can stick
together for a common cause; (2) Our leaders do not have to sell out; (3)
Threats and violence do not necessarily intimidate those who are suffi-
ciently aroused and non-violent; (4) Our church is becoming militant,
stressing a social gospel as well as a gospel of personal salvation; (5) We
have gained a new sense of dignity and destiny; (6) We have discovered a
new and powerful weapon-non-violent resistance."
To King, the lessons of leadership and unity came first, the militancy
of the church next, and the "discovery" of nonviolence last. His list was
aptly chosen and properly ordered as a distillation of the boycott experi-
ence. Nonviolence, like the boycott itself, had begun more or less by
accident. The function of the boycott leaders had been to inspire, to react,
and to persevere. Not until Birmingham, more than six years later, would
King's idea of leadership encompass the deliberate creation of new strug-
gles or the conscious, advance selection of strategies and tactics. For now,
his notion of leadership emphasized the display of learning. fie said many
wise things in his address-on technology, colonialism, the pace of time,
but the speech as a whole went sprawling. King quoted notables from
Heraclitus to Bob Hope. His anthem was a yearning for justice, and he
extolled the viltic of martyrdom in a meditation on courage, but his
oratory suffered markedly from abstraction once he was cut loose from
the specific pressures of the boycott.
Sunday, December 9, was a banner day for King. In the morning, he
turned over his Dexter pulpit to Vernon Johns, who preached a sermon
commemorating the seventy-ninth anniversary of the churches secession
from First Baptist. In the afternoon, King presided at First Baptist over a
huge service culminating the events of the Institute week. Visiting
choirs wariiied up the crowd with an hour of music. Vernon Johns, swal-
lowing his pride and his dististe for the National Biptist Convention,
offered up the invocation in his inimitable growl. Then, after a solo by
Kiiig's friend Bob Williams, J. H. Jackson made his entrance. He never
had openly endorsed the boycott, and he said almost nothing of it that
day. Nevertheless, his presence as the titular head of the largest and most
powerful organization controlled by American Negroes guaranteed an
enormous, respectful crowd, estimated at up to eight thousand people.
His was the kind of power King and Abernathy dreamed about when they
spoke of spreading the movement through the instruments of a militant
church. At the last NBC convention, in September Jackson had be-
stowed a sign of recognition on King by inviting Coretta to give a solo
recital at his church in Chicago. Now Jackson acknowledged King ai-nong
the few royal figures of the Negro Baptists-Jackson, Gardner Taylor, the
jemisons, and, to a lesser extent, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. King had
surpassed his father within the ranks of the organized Negro clergy. iii
the long Institute program, King's name and everything about him was
spelled entirely in capital letters. This was also true of Jackson but of no
one else.
On December 20, Supreme Court notifications arrived at the federal
courthouse in Montgomery, and deputy U.S. marshals served notices on
city officials. That night, King told a mass meeting that the walking was
over. He stressed reconciliation, saying that the boycott had brought a
victory for justice that would benefit botli races. It wis not a victory over
the white people, he said, but most white politicians seemed to believe
otherwise. Mayor Gayle and Police Commissioner Sellers managed to be
out of town, unavailable for comment. A local judge who was forced to
dissolve his pro-segregation decrees denounced the Supreme Court deci-
sion as based on "neither law nor reason" but an "evil constructional/
King, in his suit and dress hat, followed by Fred Gray, Abernathy,
Glenn Siiiiley, and a flock of cameramen and reporters, boarded a city
bus before dawn the next morning. "We are glad to have you," the bus
driver said politely as he rumbled off down the street. Photographers on
board took pictures of King sitting next to Smiley near the front of the
bus. The integrated group achieved a convivial banter with the driver,
who went so far as to make an unscheduled stop to pick up Reverend
Gractz. Summoned outside by the bus horn, Graetz was treated to the
sight of Smiley leaning casually out the front door of a city bus. "What
time do you want me for dinner tonight?" Smiley shouted grandly, as
though he had transformed the bus into a personal limousine. Graetz
joined King and all those on the bus in laughter. It was a moment of
innocence, dearly paid for.
King asked Bayard Rustin to come to Montgomery. Only the extraordi-
nary burst of post-victory activity produced the invitation, as both men
knew Rustin's physical presence could be a dangerous matter. Local
whites still remembered the mysterious impostor from Le Figaro, and
King felt a greater political threat from his own colleagues, especially the
preachers, among whom tolerance for homosexuals was shunned as the
wedge of evil. Some of the Negroes around King remembered Rustin less
than fondly as the bizarre, imperious man who had caused a great alarm
in their camp back in February. Even worse, Rustin had just arranged the
publication in his Socialist magazine, Liberation, of an article by E. D.
Nixoii, in which Nixon claimed more than his share of credit for the
creation of the boycott.* The article earned Nixon a fresh burst of ridi-
cule from some of King's more intellectual friends. Kiiig's desire to hide
Rustin from practically everyone was so strong that he asked him to fly
into Birmijighani instead of Montgomery. Bob Williams met Rustin there
and put him face down in the backseat of his car. King's instructions
were that Rustin was not to raise his head until the car was parked safely
at the Dexter parsonage.
Rustin arrived on Sunday, December 23, in time to inspect the damage
from a shotgun blast fired into King's home early that morning. Everyone
was scared, but no one was hurt. King huddled privately with Rustin on
a host of matters, including New York fund-raising, Randolph's efforts
to facilitate better relations between Wilkins and King, future publica-
tions by King, a possible King trip to meet with Gandhians in India, and,
most important, King's response to the Negroes across the South who
were besieging him for help in their desire to integrate their bus systems.
King and Rilstin had just finished one of their strategy sessions when
Daddy King burst through the front door of the parsonage like a G-man
leading a raid. The shotgun news had propelled him to Montgomery in
high dudgeon. Coretta asked him if he would like something to eat.
"I have not come to eat," Daddy King declared. "I have come to pray."
He commanded M.L. to get down on his knees and then prayed out loud.
Rustin retreated into an adjoining room, from where lie heard Daddy
King talking to God in such a way that God seemed to be telling the
younger King that the boycott was over and that God now had things for
him to do outside of politics. The prayer went on for some time. At its
conclusion, Daddy King spoke more directly on the same theme, and the
tensioti of the ensuing argument soon reduced his son to tears of anger
and frustration. The younger King said little in his own defense until the
end, when he blurted out that he would just have to do what he felt lie
had to do. Somehow this ended it. The force of the moiyicnt was sucl-i
that Rustin felt he had witnessed a unique crisis between the Kings.
The next day, Christmas Eve, a car pulled up to a Montgomery bus
* In the same issue of Liberation, A. Philip Randolph endorsed the activism of
nonviolence, and the aged Harry Emersoii Fosdick, pastor emeritus of New York's
Itivcrside Church, called the boycott a "godsend." Fosdick quoted one of King's
favorite lines, from the abolitionist prcacher Theodore Parker: "The arc of the
moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
stop where a fifteen-year-old Negro girl was standing alone, and five men
jumped out, beat her, and quickly fled. In Birmingham, Fred Shuttles-
worth announced that he would lead a group onto the front of the buses
the day after Christmas. He was preparing himself for the test of Christ-
mas night, sitting in his parsonage with one of his deacons, when some
fifteen sticks of dynamite exploded beneath them, virtually destroying
the house. Investigating police shining flashlights through the dense
clouds of smoke heard shouts from the basement, where Shuttlesworth
and his deacon had fallen. "I'm not coming out naked!" cried the
preacher, who was dressed for bed. The police draped Sliuttleswortli with
blankets, pulled fallen lumber off the deacon, and pronounced it a mira-
cle that either was alive. When several officers advised Shuttlesworth to
leave town, he proclaimed loudly that he would never do it. "God erased
my name off that dynamite," he declared, his sense of destiny renewed.
The next day, he led two hundred of his followers into the white sections
of Birmingham buses. More than a score of them were arrested and con-
victed on charges of violating the segregation laws.
In Montgomery, after shotgun snipers fired on an integrated bus, King
issued a statement calling on city authorities to "take a firm stand"
against such violence. City Commissioner Parks, one of the few whites
to speak up in response, announced that the city would have to suspend
bus service if the shootings continued-a statement that dismayed
King's followers because they lielieved that stopping the only integrated
public institution in Alabama was precisely what the snipers wanted to
accomplish. Two days later, shotgun snipers fired on an 
integrated bus, this time sending a pregnant Negro woman to the hospi-
tal with bullet wounds in both legs. The city commissioners halted night
bus service.
King sent out invitations to what he called the first Negro Leaders
Conference on Nonviolent Integration. Sixty preachers from ten South-
ern states responded, gathering in Atlanta at Ebenezer early in January of
1957. They represented a pitifully small portion of the Negro preachers
in the region, but their ranks included many of the most influential
mavericks. Fred Shtittleswortli came from Birmingham, and Rev. C. K.
Steele from Tallahassee, Florida, where he was leading a Moiitgoii-icry-
inspired campaign to integrate the buses. William Holmes Borders at-
tended from Atlanta, where his own nonviolent bus demonstration pro-
voked Georgia's governor to put the state militia on standby alert just
before the conference. Bayard Rustin came down from New York to work
quietly on drafting resolutions and an organizational charter.
Abernathy stayed with King in the Atlanta family home. At 2:30 A.M.
on January 10, the day the conference was to begin, Mother shook 
Abernathy awake to take an emergency phone call. "Ralph, they have
bombed our home," said a shaky Juanita Abernathy from Montgomery.
"But I am all right and so is the baby." She reported that the porch and
front room of the house were practically demolished, and that the arriv-
ing policemen seemed frightened too, because other blasts had been
heard since. They said the Hutchinson Street Baptist Church was de-
stroyed, its roof caved in. People were calling or driving around the street
in dumb panic, some too afraid to go outside and others too afraid to stay
The King home in Atlanta was lit up and buzzing as Abernathy relayed
the news. The preachers offered prayers, and then Abernathy worried out
loud about First Baptist. "I don't want Reverend Stokes's church
bombed," he said plaintively. Daddy King was pacing the floor angrily.
"Well, they arc gonna bomb it," he said. Abernathy grew so agitated that
he tried repeatedly to get a call through to his wife. When he finally
succeeded, lie learned that the panic in Montgomery was growing worse.
There had been another blast, loud enough to be heard all over town. It
was definite that Hutchinson Street Baptist had been hit-people had
seen the ruins-and the Graetz home had been bombed again. Mrs. Aber-
natliy went off the line briefly and came back to gay that another one
had just gone off, close to their home. She felt the rumble. And another
church had been hit. She was not sure which church and had no idea yet
about where the latest bomb had struck.
Later reports confirmed Abernathy's fears that it was First Baptist. He
and King, leaving Coretta and Rustin to run the Atlanta conference,
departed before dawn for Montgomery, where they surveyed the night's
total of four bombed churches and two houses. of the churches, First
Baptist was the least severely hit, as the bomb had torn apart the base-
ment but done little damage to the sanctuary above. Still, city authorities
condemned it as structurally unsound for use.
King returned hastily to Atlanta, where the assembled preachers voted
to form an organization that, after several name changes, would be called
the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. They elected King presi-
dent. In the name of the new organization, he sent telegrams to President
Eisenhower, Attorney General Brownell, and Vice President Richard M.
Nixon. Sherman Adams replied for the President that it was not possible
for Eisenhower to schedule a speech in the South against segregationist
violence, as King had requested. An aide to Brownell replied that the
Justice Department would look into the bombings and other incidents
but that the primary authority for the maintenance of law and order was
lodged in state governments. Nixon did not reply.
Abernathy stayed in Montgomery, supervising church volunteers who
worked frantically on Friday and Saturday to shore up the basement
beams and sweep out the debris at First Baptist. City inspectors, granting
Abernathy's desperate wish to hold Sunday services there, stipulated
wisely that no one was to go tipstiirs, as their weight might citisc tile
temporary beams to collapse. Abernathy agreed. A piano was hauled in,
a makeshift pulpit erected, and on Sunday the members took seats on
chairs in the basement. They cast anxious looks toward the fresh carpen-
try above them and the grit on the floor. A pall hung over the service
until Mrs. Beasley, mother of church clerk William Beasley and one of
the oldest members of the congregation, rose to speak. "I don't like what
I see here today," she said. "Brother Pastor, you can't leave no church
worried and troubled. I remember in 1910, when this church was just a
big hole in the ground after the fire. And two fine ladies from Dexter
walked by and said, 'What is this? Unborn generations will say this hole
is where the First Baptist Church was supposed to be.' But they were
wrong! Dr. A. J. Stokes built this church, and I want you to have a vote
of confidence that we will build it again!" As the cotigregition jumped
to its feet, church pianist Dorothy Posey spontaneously began to play the
"Hallelujah Chorus."
The inspiration that surged through First Baptist derived in pirt from
community rivalries, and MIA leaders discovered to their dismay that a
new and uglier side of crisis psychology emerged simultaneously with
the most inspired goodwill. Even those who had lived through the boy-
cott could not explain it, except to say that the MIA community was
suffering a natural letdown. Once the endeavor was behind them, crisis
emotions slipped easily into depression or jealousy. Some resetitcd the
fact that Abernathy's prestige rose dramatically because he was the only
leader bombed both at church and at home. Graetz's stature grew be-
cause on the most recent night of terror his home had been the target of
two bombs, one of which did not go off. (An intrepid neighbor snipped
the smoldering end off a fuse leading to eleven sticks of dynamite.) When
the rumor mill passed tile word that one of the Graetz bombs had been
meant for a Methodist preacher within the MIA, that preacher actually
became consumed with regret that he had not been bombed-to the
point that he later bad a mental breakdown. Rev. Uriah J. Fields, the
"traitor" of the previous summer, was temporarily restored to leadership
because the church he had regained, Bell Street Baptist, suffered the most
destruction on the night of the bombs.
E. D. Nixon, who was not bombed this time, became openly hostile to
King's manner and importance. Not long after the bombing, Nixon re-
signed as MIA treasurer with a bitter "Dear Sir" letter to King, in which
he complained of being "treated as a child." Some of King's partisans
looked upon Nixon with the same tart condescension that moved one of
them publicly to refer to Rosa Parks as "an adornment of the move-
ment." In this spirit, the most sophisticated leaders around King agreed
that the next desegregation target should be the Montgomery airport.
Graetz, Fred Gray, and a few others objected to this notion as absurd and
selfish,.inasmuch as only a tiny fraction of MIA members ever had been
on an airplane. But the leaders, including Abernathy, wanted to hit the
airport. They had moved up from the bus.
A roiling undertow ensured that the MIA would never again play a
major part in American racial politics. Although the force of the boycott
would reach the country by delayed reverberation, Montgomery's contri-
bution was already history. King himself suffered a corresponding let-
down. He was fearful of the bombs, saddened by the backsliding on bus
integration, hurt by criticisms within the MIA that he traveled too much
and received too much attention, and depressed by the carping disunity
among the MIA leadership. Instinctively, he took the fears and failures
upon himself, feeling guilty and i-niscrable, and the overload of guilt
spilled over into self-reproach. On the Monday night after Abernathy's
basement church service, King took the pulpit at an MIA mass meeting.
Prayiiig publicly for guidance, he said, "Lord, I hope no one will have to
dic as a result of our struggle for freedom in Montgomery. Certainly I
don't want to die. But if anyone has to die, let it be me!" His outcry
threw the audience into pandemonium. Shouts of "No! No!" clashed
with a wave of religious ecstasy. In the midst of it, King became over-
wrought. He gripped the pulpit with both hands, unable to speak. He
remained frozen there long after the crowd stilled itself, which produced
an awkward silence and then a murmur of alarm as the seconds went by.
King never spoke. Finally, two preachers draped their arms around him
and led him to a seat.
Two weeks later, Bob Williams was on Saturday night duty at the
Dexter parsonage. Corctta and Yoki were in Atlanta. There was the usual
mix of friendly and hateful phone calls, but something disturbed King so
much that he got up from his bed to wake Williams. "Bob, I think we
better leave here tonight," lie said. The two of them promptly went to
Williams' house. Several hours later, before dawn, a bomb cxploded on
the corner nearest the parsonage. The blast crushed the front part of a
house, damaged an adjacent Negro taxi stand, and shattered the windows
of three taxis parked there, sending the drivers to the hospital with cuts.
During the alarm that followed, someone went to the empty parsonage
to check on King and found twelve sticks of dynamite lying on the front
porch, the fuse giving off an acrid smell. An hour later, after a tense
drama inside the police cordon and a near riot on the outside, the state
of Alabama's chief munitions expert defused the bomb. Two Negroes
who denounced the police'for failing to catch any of the bombers were
arrested and later convicted for incitement to riot. King, summoned by
telephone, arrived to quiet the crowd with a speech.
That morning, from the Dexter pulpit, King told the congregation of
his experience in his kitchen exactly one yeir earlier, just before the first
bombing. He had heard an inner voice telling him to ignore the confu-
sions and fears swirling about him and do what he thought was right. Ali
Advertiser reporter was attending the service that morning because of
the bomb, and his report set off a venomous delight within Grover Hall.
In the pages of the Advertiser, Hall ridiculed what he called the "vision
in the kitchen speech," distorting it to imply that King's will to fight
segregation had come to him from an alleged kitchen conversation with
God. A few days later, Hall came across a passage in an obscure iiewslet-
ter from a Methodist college outside Alabama, in which a professor wrote
that King's nonviolent bearing during the boycott had been worthy of
Christian saints. Hall developed this itcm into a scathing editorial Cliti-
tled "Dr. King Enters Hagiology of Methodist Church," which touched
off a heated controversy throughout the South. Some Alabama churches
voted to cut off all financial support for Methodist higher education.
A few days after the taxi-stand bombing, Montgomery police charged
seven white men with that crime as well as most of the prior bombings.
Hopes for justice swelled within the MIA, until a jury acquitted the first
two defendants in spite of their signed confessions. About the same time,
the Alabami Supreme Court ruled igainst Kiiig's appeal of his "illegal
boycott" conviction. It was a technical ruling-Fred Gray had missed a
procedural filing deadline-and King ruefully decided not to press the
case to the U.S. Supreme Court for fear of losing on the same technical-
ity. He paid his $500 fine painfully, hating to lose, hating especially to
be blocked from getting a substantive ruling on the legality of the protest.
He hoped that one of the eighty-nine remaining defendants might be
vindicated on constitutional grounds, or on the strict finding that the
boycotters had "just cause," but Montgomery prosecutors closed off this
avenue by dismissing all these cases. Simultaneously, the prosecutors
dropped charges against the remaining white bombing defendants.
King deplored the import of this twin amnesty, which judge Carter
accepted as a package, because it perversely equated the boycott with the
bombings, many of which were capital crimes under Alabama law. He
did not attack the linkage publicly, however. Doing so would have ac-
complished nothing practical, and it would have risked further separating
him from the eighty-nine MIA leaders now spared prosecution. King's
helplessness was evidence of the political shrewdness of the prosecutors'
move. Segregationists could take solace from the fact the Negro leader
stood proven wrong--tried, convicted, given every chance to appeal, and
deemed finally a criminal. They had his money to prove it. The Negro
population it large had just absorbed a historical reminder of local law
and random violence. What little had been lost to the segregationists in
the boycott else had since been averaged many times over. Nighttime
bus service was quietly restored, and the bombing attacks ceased.
E. Frederic Morrow marched in Eisenhower's second inaugural parade on
January 20, 1957. Later that day, by special invitation, he and his wife
became the first Negroes ever to sit in the presidential reviewing stand.
Clare Boothe Luce-the first female ambassador in U.S. history, and wife
of Time founder Henry Luce-introduced herself to King in a fan letter
that January. A Republican globalist who had just returned from duty in
Italy, she wrote King that "no day passed but the Italian communists
pointed to events in our South to prove that American democracy was a
capitalistic myth.'. . . Our enemies abroad have profited greatly from the
efforts of these Americans who would deny their own Constitution. No
man has ever waged the battle for equality under our law in a more lawful
and Christian way than you have."
Within a few weeks of Luce's letter, a Time correspondent was as-
signed to write the story of Montgomery in the form of a sympathetic,
full-length profile of King. Time's New York editors objected to a men-
tion in the story drift that "Onward Christian Soldiers" wis sung at MIA
mass meetings, saying that the sotig's warlike spirit crashed with 7ime's
Gandhian slant on King. "Above all," said Time in describing Kiiig's
education, "he read and reread everything he could find about India's
Gandhi." Many adjustments of image were cramnied into the frantic
revision period attendant to major stories. An artist prepared a strikingly
handsome, close-up portrait of King to fill most of the space within the
celebrated red borders of Time's cover.
The Time story established King as a permanent fixture of American
mass culture. The New York Times Magazine soon followed with a his-
tory of the boycott, which was mostly about King, and NBC's Lawrence
Spivak invited him to become the second Negro ever to appear on "Meet
the Press." After the boycott, the inantle of fame fell ever more person-
ally on King, who told Time that he and his father had chosen to call
themselves after Martin Luther, the founding Protestant, and that "per-
haps we've earned our right to the name." It was a proud but tentative
"perhaps." The boycott had touched him indelibly-astoiiished, bat-
tered, broadened, and inflimcd him. Now that it was over, the turmoil
within his own world at home served only to drive him more quickly
toward a larger constituency.
In February, just before the Time cover story hit the stands, he spent
an evening at Oberlin College in Ohio, where Vernon Johns had gone to
school forty years earlier. A campus YMCA official named Harvey Cox,
himself fresh out of seminary, arranged for King to i(ldress a general
convocation. Afterward, Cox hosted a private dinner, at which the in-
vited students and faculty behaved somewhat shyly around King. I-)uring
the meal, King found himself isolated, with no one sitting oil either side
of him, but a student did move nonchalantly to sit directly across the
table. Introducing himself as James Lawson, he said lie had looked for-
ward to this meeting since first reading King's name in the Nagpur Tiines
more than a year earlier. King's interest perked up instantly. He asked
about India, saying he hoped to go there soon, and Lawson replied with a
description of his Methodist missionary work. Lawson had returned by
way of Africa, spending a month there with some of the leaders of the
independence movements. King brightened again; he told Lawson he had
just received an invitation from Kwame Nkrumah to attend the cere-
monies marking the end of British colonialism in Ghana.
The two men fell headlong into conversation. They discovered in a
rush that they had similar histories and interests. They knew many
people in common and had read many of the same theology books. Law-
son had grown up the son of a Republican minister who preached the
gospel of love but also wore a .38 on his hip as a precaution against
harassment from white people. His mother, said Lawson, was the love
influence in his life. As a champion debater in high school and college,
he had argued in 1946 that preventive atomic warfare against the Soviet
Union was justified to stop the threat of Communism-a memory that
made him wince slightly. Two years later, Lawson had decided that the
law of-love as demonstrated by Jesus did not permit violence except to
lay down one-'s life for another, and had developed theories linking the
conscription and segregation laws in principle as denials of religious con-
conscience. In 1951, while serving as national president of the United Meth-
odist Youth Fellowship, he had refused induction into the Army on
pacifist grounds, for which he served more than a year in federal prison.
Bayard Rustin had come to Ohio to counsel him. So had Glenn Smiley.
These names, like almost everything else Lawson said, struck sparks
of recognition in King. The affinity between them was such that they
could almost anticipate each other even while first getting acquainted.
They were two different personalities on the same quest. In many re-
spects, Lawson was ahead of King as an activist, but King had already
realized Lawson's dream of starting a nonviolent mass movement. Now,
King said, he was trying to figure out how to extend the Montgomery
model across the South. His best idea so far was to work through the
Baptist Convention or the NAACP, but he was not sure what that would
mean in practice. Most probably nothing, said Lawson, remarking caus-
tically that the NAACP was by nature an organization of lawyers and
banquets, limited by the small numbers and cautious temperament of
the Negro middle class. King said ruefully that he was probably right,
but how could you build something out of nothing to attack the segre-
gation practiced daily by millions of whites and Negroes?
By the end of the dinner, King was recruiting Lawson to come South
to find or create an answer. Lawson said he planned to do just that as
soon as he finished the graduate work he had interrupted for prison and
"We need you now," King implored him. "We don't have any Negro
leadership in the South that understands nonviolence." Lawson prom-
ised to hurry. The two men began an association that lasted until Lawson
invited King to Memphis to help the sanitation workers in 1968, but now
they shared a vision of destiny unmixed with fate.