The jetliner left Atlanta and raced through the night toward Los Angeles. From his window seat, the black man gazed down at the shadowed outlines of the Appalachians, then leaned back against a white pillow. In the dimmed cabin light, his dark, impassive face seemed enlivened only by his big, shiny, compelling eyes. Suddenly, the plane shuddered in a pocket of severe turbulence. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. turned a wisp of a smile to his companion and said: “I guess that’s Birmingham down below.”
It was, and the reminder of Vulcan’s city set King to talking quietly of the events of 1963. “In 1963,” he said, “there arose a great Negro disappointment and disillusionment and discontent. It was the year of Birmingham, when the civil rights issue was impressed on the nation in a way that nothing else before had been able to do. It was the most decisive year in the Negro’s fight for equality. Never before had there been such a coalition of conscience on this issue.”
Symbol of Revolution. In 1963, the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that coalition of conscience ineradicably changed the course of U.S. life. Nineteen million Negro citizens forced the nation to take stock of itself—in the Congress as in the corporation, in factory and field and pulpit and playground, in kitchen and classroom. The U.S. Negro, shedding the thousand fears that have encumbered his generations, made 1963 the year of his outcry for equality, of massive demonstrations, of sit-ins and speeches and street fighting, of soul searching in the suburbs and psalm singing in the jail cells.
And there was Birmingham with its bombs and snarling dogs; its shots in the night and death in the streets and in the churches; its lashing fire hoses that washed human beings along slippery avenues without washing away their dignity; its men and women pinned to the ground by officers of the law.
All this was the Negro revolution. Birmingham was its main battleground, and Martin Luther King Jr., the leader of the Negroes in Birmingham, became to millions, black and white, in South and North, the symbol of that revolution—and the Man of the Year.
King is in many ways the unlikely leader of an unlikely organization—the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a loose alliance of 100 or so church-oriented groups. King has neither the quiet brilliance nor the sharp administrative capabilities of the N.A.A.C.P.’s Roy Wilkins. He has none of the sophistication of the National Urban League’s Whitney Young Jr., lacks Young’s experience in dealing with high echelons of the U.S. business community. He has neither the inventiveness of CORE’s James Farmer nor the raw militancy of SNICK’s John Lewis nor the bristling wit of Author James Baldwin. He did not make his mark in the entertainment field, where talented Negroes have long been prominent, or in the sciences and professions where Negroes have, almost unnoticed, been coming into their own (see color pages). He earns no more money than some plumbers ($10,000 a year), and possesses little in the way of material things.
He presents an unimposing figure: he is 5 ft. 7 in., weighs a heavy-chested 173 Ibs., dresses with funereal conservatism (five of six suits are black, as are most of his neckties). He has very little sense of humor. He never heard of Y. A. Tittle or George Shearing, but he can, discourse by the hour about Thoreau, Hegel, Kant and Gandhi.
King preaches endlessly about nonviolence, but his protest movements often lead to violence. He himself has been stabbed in the chest, and physically attacked three more times; his home has been bombed three times, and he has been pitched into jail 14 times. His mail brings him a daily dosage of opinion in which he is by turn vilified and glorified. One letter says: “This isn’t a threat but a promise—your head will be blown off as sure as Christ made green apples.” But another ecstatically calls him a “Moses, sent to lead his people to the Promised Land of first-class citizenship.”
Cadence. Some cynics call King “De Lawd.” He does have an upper-air way about him, and, for a man who has earned fame with speeches, his metaphors can be downright embarrassing. For Negroes, he says, “the word ‘wait’ has been a tranquilizing Thalidomide,” giving “birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration.” Only by “following the cause of tenderheartedness” can man “matriculate into the university of eternal life.” Segregation is “the adultery of an illicit intercourse between injustice and immorality,” and it “cannot be cured by the Vaseline of gradualism.”
Yet when he mounts the platform or pulpit, the actual words seem unimportant. And King, by some quality of that limpid voice or by some secret of cadence, exercises control as can few others over his audiences, black or white. He has proved this ability on countless occasions, ranging from the Negroes’ huge summer March on Washington to a little meeting one recent Friday night in Gadsden, Ala. There, the exchange went like this:
King: I hear they are beating you!
Response: Yes, yes.
King: I hear they are cursing you!
Response: Yes, yes.
King: I hear they are going into your homes and doing nasty things and beating you!
Response: Yes, yes.
King: Some of you have knives, and I ask you to put them up. Some of you may have arms, and I ask you to put them up. Get the weapon of nonviolence, the breastplate of righteousness, the armor of truth, and just keep marching.
Few can explain the extraordinary King mystique. Yet he has an indescribable capacity for empathy that is the touchstone of leadership. By deed and by preachment, he has stirred in his people a Christian forbearance that nourishes hope and smothers injustice. Says Atlanta’s Negro Minister Ralph D. Abernathy, whom King calls “my dearest friend and cellmate”: “The people make Dr. King great. He articulates the longings, the hopes, the aspirations of his people in a most earnest and profound manner. He is a humble man, down to earth, honest. He has proved his commitment to Judaeo-Christian ideals. He seeks to save the nation and its soul, not just the Negro.”
Angry Memories. Whatever his greatness, it was thrust upon him. He was born on Jan. 15 nearly 35 years ago, at a time when the myth of the subhuman Negro flourished, and when as cultivated an observer as H. L. Mencken could write that “the educated Negro of today is a failure, not because he meets insuperable difficulties in life, but because he is a Negro. His brain is not fitted for the higher forms of mental effort; his ideals, no matter how laboriously he is trained and sheltered, remain those of a clown.”
Mencken had never met the King family of Atlanta. King’s maternal grandfather, the Rev. A. D. Williams, was one of Georgia’s first N.A.A.C.P. leaders, helped organize a boycott against an Atlanta newspaper that had disparaged Negro voters. His preacher father was in the forefront of civil rights battles aimed at securing equal salaries for Negro teachers and the abolition of Jim Crow elevators in the Atlanta courthouse.
As a boy, Martin Luther King Jr. suffered those cumulative experiences in discrimination that demoralize and outrage human dignity. He still recalls the curtains that were used on the dining cars of trains to separate white from black. “I was very young when I had my first experience in sitting behind the curtain,” he says. “I felt just as if a curtain had come down across my whole life. The insult of it I will never forget.” On another occasion, he and his schoolteacher were riding a bus from Macon to Atlanta when the driver ordered them to give up their seats to white passengers. “When we didn’t move right away, the driver started cursing us out and calling us black sons of bitches. I decided not to move at all, but my teacher pointed out that we must obey the law. So we got up and stood in the aisle the whole 90 miles to Atlanta. It was a night I’ll never forget. I don’t think I have ever been so deeply angry in my life.”
Ideals & Technique. Raised in the warmth of a tightly knit family, King developed from his earliest years a raw-nerved sensitivity that bordered on self-destruction. Twice, before he was 13, he tried to commit suicide. Once his brother, “A. D.,” accidentally knocked his grandmother unconscious when he slid down a banister. Martin thought she was dead, and in despair ran to a second-floor window and jumped out—only to land unhurt. He did the same thing, with the same result, on the day his grandmother died.
A bright student, he skipped through high school and at 15 entered Atlanta’s Negro Morehouse College. His father wanted him to study for the ministry. King himself thought he wanted medicine or the law. “I had doubts that religion was intellectually respectable. I revolted against the emotionalism of Negro religion, the shouting and the stamping. I didn’t understand it and it embarrassed me.” At Morehouse, King searched for “some intellectual basis for a social philosophy.” He read and reread Thoreau’s essay, Civil Disobedience, concluded that the ministry was the only framework in which he could properly position his growing ideas on social protest.
At Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pa., King built the underpinnings of his philosophy. Hegel and Kant impressed him, but a lecture on Gandhi transported him, sent him foraging insatiably into Gandhi’s books. “From my background,” he says, “I gained my regulating Christian ideals. From Gandhi I learned my operational technique.”
Montgomery. The first big test of King’s philosophy—or of his operating technique—came in 1955, after he had married a talented young soprano named Coretta Scott and accepted the pastorate of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.
On Dec. 1 of that year, a seamstress named Rosa Parks boarded a Montgomery bus and took a seat. As the bus continued along its route, picking up more passengers, the Negroes aboard rose on the driver’s orders to give their seats to white people. When the driver told Mrs. Parks to get up, she refused. “I don’t really know why I wouldn’t move,” she said later. “There was no plot or plan at all. I was just tired from shopping. My feet hurt.” She was arrested and fined $10.
For some reason, that small incident triggered the frustrations of Montgomery’s Negroes, who for years had bent subserviently beneath the prejudices of the white community. Within hours, the Negroes were embarked upon a bus boycott that was more than 99% effective, almost ruined Montgomery’s bus line. The boycott committee soon became the Montgomery Improvement Association, with Martin Luther King Jr. as president. His leadership was more inspirational than administrative; he is, as an observer says, “more at home with a conception than he is with the details of its application.” King’s home was bombed, and when his enraged people seemed ready to take to the streets in a riot of protest, he controlled them with his calm preaching of nonviolence. King became world-famous (TIME cover, Feb. 18, 1957), and in less than a year the Supreme Court upheld an earlier order forbidding Jim Crow seating in Alabama buses.*
Albany. Montgomery was one of the first great battles won by the Negro in the South, and for a while after it was won everything seemed anticlimactic to King. When the sit-ins and freedom-ride movements gained momentum, King’s S.C.L.C. helped organize and support them. But King somehow did not seem very efficient, and his apparent lack of imagination was to bring him to his lowest ebb in the Negro movement.
In December 1961, King joined a mass protest demonstration in Albany, Ga., was arrested, and dramatically declared that he would stay in jail until Albany consented to desegregate its public facilities. But just two days after his ar rest, King came out on bail. The Alba ny movement collapsed, and King was bitterly criticized for helping to kill it.
Today he admits mistakes in Albany.
“Looking back over it,” he says, “I’m sorry I was bailed out. I didn’t under stand at the time what was happening.
We thought that the victory had been won. When we got out, we discovered it was all a hoax. We had lost a real opportunity to redo Albany, and we lost an initiative that we never regained.”
But King also learned a lesson in Albany. “We attacked the political power structure instead of the economic power structure,” he says. “You don’t win against a political power structure where you don’t have the votes. But you can win against an economic power structure when you have the economic power to make the difference between a merchant’s profit and loss.”
Birmingham. It was while he was in his post-Albany eclipse that King began planning for his most massive assault on the barricades of segregation. The target: Birmingham, citadel of blind, diehard segregation. King’s lieutenant, Wyatt Tee Walker, has explained the theory that governs King’s planning: “We’ve got to have a crisis to bargain with. To take a moderate approach, hoping to get white help, doesn’t work.
They nail you to the cross, and it saps the enthusiasm of the followers. You’ve got to have a crisis.”
The Negroes made their crisis, but it was no spur-of-the-moment matter. King himself went to Birmingham to conduct workshops in nonviolent techniques. He recruited 200 people who were willing to go to jail for the cause, carefully planned his strategy in ten meetings with local Negro leaders. Then, declaring that Birmingham is the “most thoroughly segregated big city in the U.S.,” he announced early in 1963 that he would lead demonstrations there until “Pharaoh lets God’s people go.”
Awaiting King in Birmingham was Public Safety Commissioner Theophilus Eugene (“Bull”) Connor, a man who was to become a symbol of police brutality yet who, in fact, merely reflected the seething hatreds in a city where acts of violence were as common as chitlins and ham hocks. As it happened, Bull Connor was running for mayor against a relative moderate, Albert Boutwell. To avoid giving campaign fuel to Connor, King waited until after the April 2 election. Between Jan. 16 and March 29, he launched himself into a whirlwind speaking tour, made 28 speeches in 16 cities across the nation.
Moving into Birmingham in the first week of April, King and his group began putting their plans to work. Bull Connor, who had lost the election but refused to relinquish power, sent his spies into the Negro community to seek information. Fearing that their phones were tapped, King and his friends worked up a code. He became “J.F.K.,” Ralph Abernathy “Dean Rusk,” Birmingham Preacher Fred Shuttlesworth “Bull,” and Negro Businessman John Drew “Pope John.” Demonstrators were called “baptismal candidates,” and the whole operation was labeled “Project C”—for “Confrontation.”
The protest began. Day after day, Negro men, women and children in their Sunday best paraded cheerfully downtown to be hauled off to jail for demonstrating. The sight and sound of so many people filling his jail so triumphantly made Bull Connor nearly apoplectic. He arrested them at lunch counters and in the streets, wherever they gathered. Still they came, rank on rank. At length, on Tuesday, May 7, 2,500 Negroes poured out of church, surged through the police lines and swarmed downtown. Connor furiously ordered the fire hoses turned on. Armed with clubs, cops beat their way into the crowds. An armored car menacingly bulldozed the milling throngs. Fire hoses swept them down the streets. In all, the Birmingham demonstrations resulted in the jailing of more than 3,300 Negroes, including King himself.
The Response. The Negroes had created their crisis—and Connor had made it a success. “The civil rights movement,” said President Kennedy in a meeting later with King, “owes Bull Connor as much as it owes Abraham Lincoln.” That was at best an oversimplification; nevertheless, because of Connor, the riots seared the front pages of the world press, outraged millions of people. Everywhere, King’s presence, in the pulpit or at rallies, was demanded. But while he preached nonviolence, violence spread. “Freedom Walker” William Moore was shot and killed in Alabama. Mississippi’s N.A.A.C.P. Leader Medgar Evers was assassinated outside his home. There was violence in Jackson, Miss., in Cambridge, Md., in Danville, Va. In Birmingham, later in the year, a church bombing killed four Negro Sunday-school children, while two other youngsters were shot and killed the same day.
Those events awakened long-slumbering Negro resentments, from which a fresh Negro urgency drew strength. For the first time, a unanimity of purpose slammed into the Negro consciousness with the force of a fire hose. Class lines began to shatter. Middle-class Negroes, who were aspiring for acceptance by the white community, suddenly found a point of identity with Negroes at the bottom of the economic heap. Many wealthy Negroes, once reluctant to join the fight, pitched in.
Now sit-in campaigns and demonstrations erupted like machine-gun fire in every major city in the North, as well as in hundreds of new places in the South. Negroes demanded better job opportunities, an end to the de facto school segregation that ghetto life had forced upon them. The N.A.A.C.P.’s Roy Wilkins, a calm, cool civil rights leader, lost some of his calmness and coolness. Said he: “My objectivity went out the window when I saw the picture of those cops sitting on that woman and holding her down by the throat.” Wilkins promptly joined a street demonstration, got himself arrested.
“Free at Last.” Many whites also began to participate, particularly the white clergy, which cast off its lethargy as ministers, priests and rabbis tucked the Scriptures under their arms and marched to jails with Negroes whom they had never seen before. The Rev. Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, executive head of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., declared: “Some time or other, we are all going to have to stand and be on the receiving end of a fire hose.” Blake thereupon joined two dozen other clergymen in a protest march—and was arrested.
In the months following Birmingham, Negroes paraded, demonstrated, sat in, stormed and fought through civil rights sorties in 800 cities and towns in the land. The revolt’s basic and startling new assumption—that the black man can read and understand the Constitution, and can demand his equal rights without fear—was not lost on Washington. President Kennedy, who had been in no great hurry to produce a civil rights bill, now moved swiftly. The Justice Department drew up a tight and tough bill, aimed particularly at voting rights, employment, and the end of segregation in public facilities.
To cap the summer’s great storm of protest, the Negro leaders sponsored the now famous March on Washington. It was a remarkable spectacle, one of disorganized order, with a stateliness that no amount of planning could have produced. Some 200,000 strong, whites and blacks of all ages walked from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. There, the Negro leaders spoke—Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph, Young and SNICK’s Lewis.
But it was King who most dramatically articulated the Negro’s grievances, and it was he whom those present, as well as millions who watched on television, would remember longest. “When we let freedom ring,” he cried, “when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing, in the words of the old Negro spiritual,
“Free at last,
Free at last.
Thank God Almighty,
We are free at last.”
Even the Unions. The march made irreversible all that had gone before in the year of the Negro revolution. In that year, the Negroes made more gains than they had achieved in any year since the end of the Civil War. A speedup in school integration in the South brought to 1,141 the number of desegregated school districts. In the North, city after city re-examined de facto school segregation and set up plans to redress the balance. In 300 cities in the South, public facilities—from swimming pools to restaurants—were integrated, and in scores of cities across the nation, leaders established biracial committees as a start toward resolving local inequities.
New job opportunities opened nearly everywhere, as the nation’s businesses sent out calls for qualified Negro help—and, finding a shortage, began training programs for unskilled Negroes. Banks, supermarkets, hotels and department stores upgraded Negro employees. In Philadelphia, Cleveland and New York, pressure on the A.F.L.-C.I.O. construction unions—the most notorious Jim Crow organizations in the North—produced progress toward training of Negro apprentices. San Francisco’s tile setters, Memphis’ rubber workers and St. Louis’ bricklayers opened their union rolls to willing beginners. Television and Madison Avenue blossomed with Negro actors and ad models in “non-Negro” roles. In Denver, Sears, Roebuck & Co., which hitherto had had one Negro employee (dusting shelves), hired 19 more Negroes for a variety of jobs. To varying degrees it was the same way in Houston, at Grant’s five and ten, and in San Francisco, where Tidewater Oil took on a Negro for executive training. Even in the South, the job situation improved. Negroes began moving into professional positions in North Carolina’s state government. Three Nashville banks agreed to hire Negroes in clerical positions, and some white-collar jobs opened in South Carolina.
Still, for every tortuous inch gained, there are miles of progress left to be covered. There remain 1,888 Southern school districts where segregation is the rule—and scores of other districts where desegregation sits uneasily in token form. Though Montgomery buses are technically integrated, the city’s other public facilities still are not. Team sports are still carefully segregated in a large number of Southern institutions; the NBC television network recently canceled coverage of the annual Blue-Gray football game because Negroes are not eligible to participate. Only 22 states have enforceable fair-employment laws on the books. And not counting Mississippi, where there is a total absence of integrated public facilities, those in other Southern states are so spotty and inconsistent (a downtown lunch counter, yes; the city swimming pool, no) that it is hard for a Negro nowadays to know where he may go and where he may not.
Backlash. In general, housing is still the Negro’s toughest barrier. Here and there—for example, in Denver’s Park Hill residential section, where Negro home buying at first created flurries of panic—colored families have been able to move into white sections with little trouble. But the major metropolitan areas of Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Los Angeles continue to fill up at the heart with Negroes while whites form a suburban collar on the outside. California used to pride itself on its progressive attitude, and boasts a fair-housing law on the books to prove it. Now it has been struck with a campaign by the 40,000-member California Real Estate Association to nullify the law.
The white counterattack in California reflects one natural consequence of the Negro’s militant position: a backlash reaction, derived from the notion that “the Negro is pushing too far, too fast,” and that he is also threatening the unskilled white man’s job security. James P. Mitchell, Eisenhower’s onetime Labor Secretary, now San Francisco’s human-relations coordinator and a friend of the Negro feels that “militancy could quite easily antagonize important people who are now prepared or preparing to do something. What Negroes have to remember is something they tend to forget: that they are a minority, and that they can only achieve what they want with the support of the majority.” Says Los Angeles Housewife Maureen Hartman: “I don’t see why the Negroes are weeping and wailing. This is not Birmingham. They can go anywhere. They can vote, hold good jobs, eat in the best restaurants. Just what do they expect from us?”
Reexamination. What the Negroes expect, and what they are getting to a degree that would have been astonishing at the start of 1963, is a change of attitude. “A lot of people,” says Chicago’s Negro Baptist Minister Arthur Brazier, “are re-examining their motives. Even if this means that a lot of hidden prejudices have been uncovered in Northerners, good will be gained from the fact that Americans have been forced to act on days other than Brotherhood Days and Weeks.”
Often the changes in attitudes are tiny in scope but broad in meaning. No longer do the starters at Miami’s municipal golf courses ask a trio of white men if they will accept a Negro fourth; they merely assign the Negro, and the foursome heads onto the course. A New York adoption agency is asking white families to take Negro children. Louise Morgan, a former Chicago advertising executive, says: “I had conned myself into thinking I was a liberal. The rude awakening occurred less than a year ago, when a Negro writer and his family sought an apartment in my building and were turned down. I had met him. He was bright and a gentleman. Yet I didn’t lift a finger to help him. That’s all changed now.” In California, Real Estate Dealer Richard S. Hallmark quit his job in protest over the commonly accepted methods of restricting Negro house buying. “I had never sold to a Negro family in my life, but it grated on my conscience,” he says. “I’m tired of people telling me they don’t give a goddam about the law and that they’re just not going to sell or rent to ‘niggers.’ I’m not a martyr or a crusader, but this made me ashamed. The colored people are here to stay, so we might as well get used to it.”
In addition to marching in demonstrations, clergymen are welcoming Negroes to their all-white congregations in many places, and are mounting mail campaigns to Congress in support of the civil rights bill. Several Roman Catholic archdioceses now require a specific number of sermons on race relations.
The National Council of Churches has budgeted $300,000 to support civil rights activities.
A Different Image. The most striking aspect of the revolt, however, is the change in Negroes themselves. The Invisible Man has now become plainly visible—in bars, restaurants, boards of education, city commissions, civic committees, theaters and mixed social activities, as well as in jobs. Says Mississippi’s N.A.A.C.P. President Aaron Henry: “There has been a re-evaluation of our slave philosophy that permitted us to be satisfied with the leftovers at the back door rather than demand a full serving at the family dinner table.” With this has come a new pride in race. Explains Dr. John R. Larkins, a Negro consultant in North Carolina’s Department of Public Welfare: “Negroes have a feeling of self-respect that I’ve never seen in all my life. They are more sophisticated now. They have begun to think, to form positive opinions of themselves. There’s none of that defeatism. The American Negro has a different image of himself.” Moreover, says U.C.L.A.’s Negro Psychiatrist J. Alfred Cannon, “We’ve got to look within ourselves for some of the answers. We must be able to identify with ourselves as Negroes. Most Negro crimes of violence are directed against other Negroes; it’s a way of expressing the Negro’s self-hatred. Nonviolent demonstrations are a healthy way of channeling these feelings. But they won’t be effective unless the Negro accepts his own identity.”
Where most Negroes once deliberately ignored their African beginnings and looked down on the blacks of that continent, many now identify strongly with Africa—though not to the point where they would repudiate their American loyalties—and take pride in the emergence of the new nations there. Some Negro women are affecting African-style hairdos; Negroes are decorating their homes with paintings and sculpture that reflect interest in African culture. There has been a decline in sales of “whitening” creams, hair straighteners and pomades, which for years found a big market among Negroes obsessed with ridding themselves of their racial identity.
The Lull. There has been an inevitable lull in visible civil rights activity since the March on Washington, and this has disheartened some Negroes. Says Richard L. Banks, secretary of the Governor’s advisory committee on civil rights in Massachusetts: “When the Negroes are not in the streets any more, I’m awfully afraid that some of the people who responded will forget it.” But the lull is deceptive, and it is probably best described by James Baldwin. Says he: “This lull is like a football huddle. People are reassessing. They are planning. We will flush the villain out.” In fact, most Negro leaders are waiting for the outcome of the civil rights bill in Congress, and are counseling patience until at least the end of this month. They are also carefully gauging the position of Lyndon Johnson. So far, the President’s resolute support of the civil rights bill has been encouraging. Says the Rev. L. Sylvester Odom of Denver’s African Methodist Episcopal Church: “Personally I wouldn’t be surprised if President Johnson gets more out of Congress than President Kennedy could have. He may not get as deeply into the hearts of the people, but he may do pretty well with the Congress, and after all that is what counts.” Agrees Virginia-born Social Psychologist Thomas Pettigrew: “Johnson will be tougher with the South. He knows them. Kennedy treated the South as if it were South Boston. As a Southerner, I know damn well you don’t treat the South that way. Johnson won’t play patty-cake with them.”
Martin Luther King Jr. has already met with President Johnson, and he is similarly optimistic. “I’ve had a good deal of contact with him in the past several years,” says King. “He means business. I think we can expect even more from him than we have had up to now. I have implicit confidence in the man, and unless he betrays his past actions, we will proceed on the basis that we have in the White House a man who is deeply committed to help us.” Thus the support of the President for a strong civil rights bill provides a basis for high Negro hopes. Though Negro leaders acknowledge that laws do not change people’s hearts, they want the satisfaction of knowing that a federal law supports them in, for example, their demands for equal voting rights and the right to share public accommodations with white men. If the civil rights bill circumvents these specifics, or if it should fail to pass altogether, the leaders are determined to push their revolution all the more strongly in 1964.
The Year Ahead. Some believe that demonstrations may have passed their peak of effectiveness. Says Boston N.A.A.C.P. Leader Tom Atkins: “One of the problems with these damn demonstrations is that you have to keep making them more exciting.” But among those who do not agree is Martin Luther King Jr., and his preparations for 1964 are well under way. “More and more,” he says, “I have come to feel that our next attack will have to be more than just getting a lunch counter integrated or a department store to take down discriminatory signs. I feel we will have to assault the whole system of segregation in a community.”
King’s most intensive efforts will be centered on Alabama and Mississippi, “because there the problem is greatest. The Negro suffers more and more. How to deliver an all-out attack? This is what we have to think about. I’m thinking now in terms of thousands and thousands of people. They would have to be students, mainly because, for financial reasons, working adults find it difficult to remain in jail.” Very soon King may press an offensive in Danville, Va., which, he says, is “the most difficult immediate situation we face. The town has a notorious record of police brutality. I don’t agree that there has to be violence in the future, but this will depend on events. For instance, if a filibuster in Congress stands in the way of meaningful legislation, the Negro could be driven to despair and violence.”
King’s mission is to turn that potential for violence into successful, direct, nonviolent action, and he works at the job 20 hours a day. He has moved back with his wife and four children to Atlanta, where he shares the pulpit of the Ebenezer Baptist Church with his father. His house, near the church, is an old, two-story, four-bedroom place. Paintings with African themes and a photograph of Gandhi hang on the walls. There is a threadbare scatter rug in the living room, two chairs protected with plastic, and a couch in need of a new slip cover. One of the keys is missing on the old grand piano. King likes to play the piano, although, as his wife says, “he starts off the Moonlight Sonata as if you’re really going to hear something, but he fades out.”
King rises at 6:30 a.m. and goes to his study for 45 minutes of reading. Then he has fruit juice and coffee for breakfast, and at 9 o’clock drives to his office in one of his two cars (a 1960 Ford and a 1963 Rambler). There he goes to work in a 16-ft.-square room filled with perhaps 200 volumes on Negro and religious subjects; he checks his mail (about 70 letters a day), writes his speeches and sermons, confers with aides and, by telephone, with civil rights leaders around the country. He usually eats his lunch at his desk, then continues working, often until 2 or 3 o’clock the next morning.
Redemption. More and more, King spends his time in airplanes, journeying to the far corners of the U.S. to speak and preach to huge audiences. He traveled about 275,000 miles in 1963 and made more than 350 speeches. Wherever he goes, the threat of death hovers in the form of crackpots. “I just don’t worry about things like this,” he says. “If I did, I just couldn’t get anything done. One time I did have a gun in Montgomery. I don’t know why I got it in the first place. I sat down with Coretta one night and we talked about it. I pointed out that as a leader of a nonviolent movement, I had no right to have a gun, so I got rid of it. The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important. If you are cut down in a movement that is designed to save the soul of a nation, then no other death could be more redemptive.”
It is with this inner strength, tenaciously rooted in Christian concepts, that King has made himself the unchallenged voice of the Negro people—and the disquieting conscience of the whites. That voice in turn has infused the Negroes themselves with the fiber that gives their revolution its true stature. In Los Angeles recently, King finished a talk by saying: “I say good night to you by quoting the words of an old Negro slave preacher, who said, ‘We ain’t what we ought to be and we ain’t what we want to be and we ain’t what we’re going to be. But thank God, we ain’t what we was.'”
After 1963, with the help of Martin Luther King Jr., the Negro will never again be where or what he was.
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