It was an ordinary day in December 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. Rosa Parks, an African American lady refused to vacate her seat for a white passenger while travelling on a bus. This incident triggered the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott, considered a landmark moment in the American Civil Rights movement. The bus boycott was a great success and was led by a Baptist minister who emerged as a new leader of the Civil Rights movement. His name was Martin Luther King Jr. The son of a pastor, King is now hailed as one of the most influential leaders of the movement. His masterful oratory and powerful rhetoric inspired hundreds of thousands people of colour to speak up against discrimination. King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech delivered before an estimated 250,000 strong audience at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC goes down in history as one of the most oft quoted speeches.
A 35 year old Martin Luther King Jr was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Back then he was the youngest recipient of the award. In his Nobel acceptance speech King said, “Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood.”
It is said that when King came to know about the philosophy of non-violence propagated by M K Gandhi in the freedom movement of India, he stopped keeping arms with him. His quest for mobilizing international support for the Civil Rights movement and his veneration for the doctrine of Gandhi took him to India on a five week tour in 1959. During the visit King told journalists, “To other countries I may go as a tourist, but to India I come as a pilgrim.”
He was attacked several times by white supremacist radicals. In January 1956, his house was firebombed while he was addressing a congregation at the First Baptist Church. In 1958, he was stabbed with a letter opener by a woman named Izola Curry. He survived all except the last one. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated on 4th April, 1968 at Memphis, Tennessee. He was 39. Several online Harlem tours are conducted in NYC to commemorate the birth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.