In June of 1956, both Martin Luther King, Jr. and A. Philip Randolph were speakers for the Forty-Seventh Annual NAACP Convention in San Francisco. King’s Message for this Occasion was the telling of the Montgomery Bus Boycott which was then in progress. Just Six months earlier, on December 1, 1955, Mrs. Rosa Parks refused to move. The following Monday, December 5, the Minister’s came together across denominational lines at Holt Street Baptist Church. King relayed to the Convention that by three o’clock that Montgomery Monday, hundreds of people started assembling in the church. By 7 pm the gathering was estimated at more than five thousand, overflowing into the streets. By the end of the meeting, The Montgomery Improvement Association was born. In organizing the Bus Boycott, the Resolution adopted stated that Negro passengers would refuse to ride buses until: there is an improvement in the courtesy extended by the operators; a change in the seating arrangements; and Negro bus operators employed on predominantly Negro lines.
Montgomery, King told the Convention, is the story of a handsome little city known as the cradle of the Confederacy. The story of a little town grappling with a new and creative approach to the crisis in race relations. A visitor to Montgomery prior to last December, heard bus operators referring to Negro passengers as “niggers,” “black apes,” and “black cows.” Negro passengers were required to get on at the front door, pay their fare, get off and go to the back door to board the bus. Often the bus rode off with the fare. Negroes would stand over unoccupied seats, Reserved “whites Only” Section. In the Unreserved Sections, seats had to be given to Whites or be arrested.
“The Montgomery Story”, King said, “began in 1619 with the Negro slaves first landing on the shores of this nation who, unlike the Pilgrim fathers that landed at Plymouth a year later, were brought here against their will. For more than two hundred years Africa was raped and plundered, her native kingdoms disorganized, her people and rulers demoralized, and the whole continent inflicted with pains and burdens hardly paralleled by any race of people in the whole history of the civilized world.” Negro slaves were treated as inhuman. Things to be used. De-personalized cogs in the plantation machine. The Dred Scott decision of 1857 Supreme Court affirmed that the Negro was not a citizen of the United States; but, property subject to the dictates of his owner.
Most important for me, of King’s statements in this Speech is this in gist: Human nature cannot continue wrong without rationalization. Obvious evil covered up in righteousness. He references the psychologist William James on the stream of consciousness. (James) Man has a unique capacity of blocking the stream of consciousness to justify the rightness of the wrong. Slave owners, Martin proclaimed, fell victim to the danger that forever confronts religion. From pulpits all over the nation they argued that the Negro was inferior by nature.
The Negro lost faith in himself, internalizing this fear that he is less than human. Tragedy of physical slavery is mental slavery. The system, the culture violently force the Negro to accept this place assigned; and in so doing, racial peace was maintained. Uneasy peace. The Negro was (is) forced to accept injustice, insult and exploitation.
“Along with this emphasis on nonviolence goes the emphasis on love as the regulating ideal. We have refused in our struggle to succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter and indulging in a hate campaign. We are not out to defeat or to humiliate the white man. We are out to help him as well as ourselves. The festering sore of segregation debilitates the white man as well as the Negro, and so we are not out to win a victory over the white man. And I assure you that the basic struggle in Montgomery after all is not between Negroes and white people. The struggle is at bottom a tension between justice and injustice. It is a tension between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.
And if there is a victory in Montgomery, it will not be a victory merely for fifty thousand Negroes, but it will be a victory for justice, a victory for democracy, and a victory for good will. This is at bottom the meaning of Christian love, and we are trying to follow that. It is that high type of love that I have talked about so often. The Greeks talked of so many types of love. But we are not talking about eros in Montgomery, we are talking about agape. We are talking about understanding good will. We are talking about a love which seeks nothing in return. We are talking about a love that loves the person who does the evil deed, while hating the deed that the person does. That is a higher type of love.”
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