As he was already in Montgomery it was no surprise that he became involved and led the Bus Boycott of 1961. During the MBB an organisation called the Montgomery improvement group (MIA) was created and MLK was appointed president As President he successfully organised the practicalities of the boycott of which carpooling was most important. This was crucial in keeping the boycott going. The outcome of the Montgomery Bus Boycott was the Browder v. Gayle case (June 1956) in which the Supreme Court made the decision in 1956 that segregation on buses in Alabama was unconstitutional.
In 1957 MLK was involved in founding the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and his importance in the group was highlighted after his assassination in 1968 when the SCLC decreased dramatically in influence.
By 1960 he was involved with another activist, Ella Baker, who organised student sit-ins at Greensboro. Again he managed to get arrested, which brought media coverage to the civil rights movement. On this occasion President Kennedy came to King’s rescue and he was released. This caused other Civil Rights activists like Malcolm X to accuse King of being in league with the white government. Others accused him of being a ‘glory seeker’. Later, after the March on Washington in 1963, he was again accused of being in league with the US government.
King played the role of negotiator for the civil rights movement. For example, he did not start the action at Albany in 1961. He was invited by the Albany Movementto join the protest. He then led the march and unsuccessfully tried to negotiate with the authorities. Once involved, King would become a spokesman for the civil rights movement. He urged peaceful protest and, through sound rhetoric, he conveyed the urgent need for change. This negotiating role was also evident after the Birmingham campaigns when King managed to persuade the militants to back down; the federal judge then felt able to re-instate the students.
King’s ability to gain positive media coverage for the civil rights movement was an important contribution. King brought the civil rights movement into the media spotlight, such as the Birmingham campaign in 1963. s. It was also clear from President Kennedy’s comments that ‘the TV pictures from Birmingham sickened him’. Events in Birmingham were instrumental in the eventual Civil Rights Act of July 1964 which Kennedy started and Johnson completed. The media pressure on the President was mounting and King had been instrumental in the positive spin put on black treatment by whites.
1963 was Martin Luther’s year – after the ‘I have a Dream’ speech he was voted Time Magazine’s Man of the Year and the following year he won a Nobel Peace Prize. This was surely a great contribution to the civil rights movement.
After 1963, the civil rights movement became involved in more extreme violence as the NOI and Black Panthers called for Black Power. The ghetto riots began and many were quite worried about the way the civil rights movement seemed to be heading. By 1967 Martin Luther King had published a book entitled ‘Where do we go from here?’ which rejected black power.
Martin Luther King felt that the civil rights movement should focus on getting rid of black poverty once black voting rights had been enshrined in the federal laws with several Civil Rights Acts. He therefore launched the Poor People’s Campaign to draw attention to the plight of blacks in the ghettos. Unfortunately, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis Tennessee in 1968 before the Poor People’s Campaign had really got under way, the lack of funding from the government was also a major factor in the decreasing popularity of the PPC. It then collapsed after his death, showing his importance to the cause.
Finally, it was Dr King’s ability to inspire others both black and white, particularly through oratory, which made his contribution to the civil rights movement so important. His ‘I have a dream’ speech has become legendary and at the time it inspired millions both in America and around the world. He had the ability to transcend race and class as the support for the civil rights movement widened to include whites and the middle class. His vision and intellect also improved the white view of blacks which in turn enabled the Presidency to become more active in its support of black civil rights. There were many important elements contributing to the civil rights movement, particularly through the auspices of the Federal Government, but it was King’s vision and leadership and wide appeal which made his contribution so important