Faith of A Mustard Seed

Barbara Woods Washington

Barbara Woods-Washington, M. Div.

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.  In 1955 Asa Philip Randolph had completed the unprecedented merger of the Brotherhood of the Pullman Car Porters with the AFL-CIO merger with Randolph as a Vice President and the only black representative in the executive council.  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 NAACP 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 his fare.  Negro passengers would stand over unoccupied seats Reserved “whites Only” Section.  In the Unreserved Sections, Seats had to be given to Whites or be arrested.”

He quoted the Psychologist William James to teach a great truth to humanity saying, “Human nature cannot continue wrong without rationalization.  Obvious evil covered up in righteousness.  In his analysis King went on to say that “Man has a unique capacity of blocking the stream of consciousness to justify the rightness of the wrong.  Slave owners fell victim to the danger that forever confronts religion.  From pulpits all over the nation argued that the Negro was inferior by nature.”  He further relayed the message that in time the Negro lost faith in himself; with the tragedy of physical slavery soon to become  mental slavery.  The Negro accepted this place assigned ‘racial peace ’to maintain an ‘uneasy peace’; forced to accept injustice, insult and exploitation.

When in the 1980’s Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard Lawyer raised in a segregated Delaware, went into Alabama to seek ‘Equal Justice’ for the irrational number of Black Men on the state’s Death Row; he went to Montgomery, finding himself in the ‘Cradle of the Confederacy’.  He uncovered the fact that 59 historical markers in the city were memorializing the Confederacy with never a mention of slavery.  It gave him a strange feeling about this town where the majority of the residents born and living there are descendants of slaves.  He stood in the downtown river front space where the ships brought slaves into the southern region by Montgomery’s ports and the auction markets where they were sold.  “In the faith tradition I grew up in,” Stevenson says “if you want salvation, you have to be willing to confess; there has to be repentance.”  His visit was so impactful that he decided to move his entire life to… Montgomery.

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