Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and His Impact on Peaceful Protest Around the Country
As we commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on January 18, 2021, we recall his powerful impact as an activist for racial equality. The most popular strategies used in the 1950s and first half of the 1960s were based on the notion of non-violent civil disobedience and included such methods of protest as boycotts, freedom rides, voter registration drives, sit-ins, and marches.
Montgomery Bus Boycott – 1955-56
The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a protest campaign against racial segregation on the public transit system in Montgomery, Alabama. On December 1, 1955, African American Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white person. On the next day, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proposed a citywide boycott of public transportation at a church meeting. The impact was huge because Black residents made up the bulk of the transit system’s paying customers. In June 1956, a federal court found that the laws in Alabama and Montgomery requiring segregated buses unconstitutional.
The Birmingham Campaign – 1963
The Birmingham Campaign was a strategic effort started by Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference to end discriminatory economic policies in the Alabama city.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote on tactic “The purpose of…direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that is will inevitably open the door to negotiation.”
The campaign used boycotts targeting businesses that hired only white people or that had segregated restrooms. Protesters held sit-ins and marches with the aim of getting arrested. Dr. King encouraged those nonviolent tactics so that the city’s jails would overflow. By the end of the campaign, segregation signs at Birmingham businesses came down, and public places became open to all races.
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom 1963
Up until this day, this was the largest political rally seen in the U.S., having between 200,000 and 300,00 police and participants. At this march, Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. This speech advocated racial harmony and economic rights for African-Americans. Observers estimated that about 80% of marchers were Black. In response to the march, both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed, marking turning points in the struggle for civil rights. Together, the two laws banned segregated public facilities and prohibited discriminatory practices in employment and voting.