Honoring MLK Six Decades After the Mass Struggles of 1963

MLK at 1963 Detroit march with CL Franklin.

By Abayomi Azikiwe – January 11, 2023

On January 16 in the United States, the 94th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will be commemorated as a federal holiday.

Since 1986, the third Monday of January has been designated in tribute to the martyred Civil Rights and Antiwar leader who was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee during the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s (SCLC) intervention in support of the sanitation workers’ strike for recognition from the racist city government of Henry Loeb. African American sanitation workers were subjected to near slave-like conditions despite the passage of legislation such as the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964-1965.

The mass Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. had gained momentum in the aftermath of the brutal lynching of Emmett Till in Mississippi in August 1955. Mamie Till Bradley Mobley, the mother of Emmett, militantly condemned the racist lynching of her son prompting mass rallies in several cities such as Detroit.

Later, on December 1 in Montgomery, Ms. Rosa Parks, a longtime labor and civil rights activist, was arrested for violating the segregation laws of the State of Alabama. Parks refused to give up her seat on a public bus to a white passenger. Several days later the African American community embarked upon a year-long boycott of the city buses. They defied the threats and intimidations by the racist city administration. Dr. King and other leaders were subjected to unjustified arrests and the bombings of their homes.

The case against segregation in Alabama was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court resulting in a victory in November 1956. After the highest court confirmed the unconstitutionality of the segregated bus system, the boycott was called off by the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA).

According to a source on the historic ruling by the Supreme Court:

“Aurelia S. Browder v. William A. Gayle challenged the Alabama state statutes and Montgomery, Alabama city ordinances requiring segregation on Montgomery buses. Filed by Fred Gray and Charles D. Langford on behalf of four African American women who had been mistreated on city buses, the case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld a district court ruling that the statute was unconstitutional. Gray and Langford filed the federal district court petition that became Browder v. Gayle on 1 February 1956, two days after segregationists bombed King’s house. The original plaintiffs in the case were Aurelia S. Browder, Susie McDonald, Claudette Colvin, Mary Louise Smith, and Jeanatta Reese, but outside pressure convinced Reese to withdraw from the case in February. Gray made the decision not to include Rosa Parks in the case to avoid the perception that they were seeking to circumvent her prosecution on other charges.”

After the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the movement accelerated. In 1960, African American college and university students began the mass sit-in struggles throughout the South including Greensboro, North Carolina and Nashville, Tennessee. In April 1960, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was formed while the following year, the freedom rides commenced resulting in additional legal victories outlawing segregation in interstate travel….

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