Ethics & Religion
January 21, 2016
Martin Luther King:
A Christian Hero
By Mike McManus
lived in Montgomery, Alabama where the Civil Rights Revolution began
when Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus on December 1,
I was 14 and unaware that on December 4 Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., a
26-year-old local pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and other Negro
pastors, called for a "Bus Boycott" by all black riders. Some 42,000
Negro bus riders boycotted the system the next day.
Initially, their demands were modest - not an end to segregated seating,
but hiring of black drivers and a first-come first-seated policy with
whites seated up front, and blacks from the rear.
I remember seeing hundreds of Negro maids trudging miles on foot from
their homes to work. Blacks organized car pools and Negro taxis charged
only 10 cents, the bus fare.
On June 5, 1956 a Montgomery federal court ruled that any law requiring
racially segregated seating on buses violated the 14th Amendment to the
Constitution, adopted in 1868 after the Civil War. It guarantees all
citizens, regardless of race, equal rights and equal protection. The
city appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which upheld the lower court
decision on Dec. 21, 1956, and the boycott ended. It had lasted 381
Six days before the decision was announced, King preached a sermon:
"Always be sure that you struggle with Christian methods and Christian
weapons. Do not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you
press on for justice be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using
only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.
Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using
violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of
a long and desolate night of bitterness."
He acknowledged that "Honesty impels me to admit that such a stand will
require willingness to suffer and sacrifice. So don't despair if you are
condemned and persecuted for righteousness sake...Often you will be
called an impractical idealist or a dangerous radical. Sometimes it
might mean going to jail."
Indeed, on January 30 King's home was bombed as were four black churches
by KKK members who were later arrested. "That brought moral and
financial support," King wrote in an early article.
Though I delivered Montgomery newspapers and read them, I was unaware of
King's leadership role. Sadly, he simply wasn't covered by the white
The Bus Boycott was America's first mass protest on behalf of civil
rights. King emerged as the national leader of what became the Civil
His leadership was challenged by other black leaders at the time, such
as Malcolm X, a member of the Nation of Islam. Like King, Malcolm X was
a brilliant orator, but he sneered at King's emphasis on nonviolence -
especially loving white people who mistreated black people: "Whoever
heard a revolution where they lock arms...singing `We Shall Overcome'?
Just tell me. You don't do that in a revolution. You don't do any
singing. You are too busy swinging."
Fortunately, Malcolm X never had more than a handful of followers. King
did lead a revolution with a clear Christian vision. A few days after
the Supreme Court decision, King explained his strategy in a magazine,
"The Christian Century."
"First, this is not a method for cowards; it does resist. The nonviolent
resister is just as strongly opposed to the evil," as a person who uses
violence. "But his mind and emotions are always active, constantly
seeking to persuade the opponent that he is mistaken."
Secondly, "nonviolent resistance does not seek to defeat or humiliate
the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding." Third, "the
attack is directed against the forces of evil rather than against
persons caught in those forces...The tension in this city is not between
white people and Negro people. The tension is at bottom between justice
He asserted that "At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of
love" which is not some "sentimental emotion." He explained, "It is the
love of God working in the lives of men, not because we like them, but
because God loves them, loving the person who does the evil deed while
hating the deed he does."
"Finally, nonviolence is based on the conviction that the universe is on
the side of justice...Good Friday may reign for a day, but ultimately it
must give way to the triumphant beat of the Easter drums. Christ will
rise up and split history into A.D. and B.C."
Today a statue of King - not Malcom X - looks toward the Jefferson
Copyright (c) 2016 Michael J. McManus, President of Marriage Savers and a
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