Characters

Dream

Rosa Parks

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on December 1, !955, she was physically tired, but no more than you or I…. In fact, under other circumstances, she would have probably given up her seat willingly to a child or elderly person. But this time Parks was tired of the treatment she and other African Americans received every day of their lives, what with the racism, segregation, and Jim Crow laws of the time. ”

“Our mistreatment was just not right, and I was tired of it,” writes Parks in her book, Quiet Strength, (Zondervan Publishing House, 1994). “I kept thinking about my mother and my grandparents, and how strong they were. I knew there was a possibility of being mistreated, but an opportunity was being given to me to do what I had asked of others.”

The rest of Parks’ story is American history… her arrest and trial, a 381-day Montgomery bus boycott, and, finally, the Supreme Court’s ruling in November 1956 that segregation on transportation is unconstitutional.

Prior to her arrest, Mrs. Parks had a firm and quiet strength to change things that were unjust. She served as secretary of the NAACP and later Adviser to the NAACP Youth Council, and tried to register to vote on several occasions when it was still nearly impossible to do so. She had run-ins with bus drivers and was evicted from buses. Parks recalls the humiliation: “I didn’t want to pay my fare and then go around the back door, because many times, even if you did that, you might not get on the bus at all. They’d probably shut the door, drive off, and leave you standing there.”

Rosa Parks – who celebrates her 89th birthday this year – spends most of her time in Detroit but winters in Los Angeles. Her day is filled with reading mail “from students, politicians, and just regular people”, preparing meals, going to church, and visiting people in hospitals. She is still active in fighting racial injustices, now standing up for what she believes in and sharing her message with others. She and other members of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development have a special program called Pathways to Freedom, for young people age 11-18. Children in the program travel across the country tracing the Underground Railroad, visiting the scenes of critical events in the civil rights movement and learning aspects of America’s history.

“We don’t have enough young people who are concerned and who are exposed to the civil rights movement, and I would like to see more exposure and get their interest,” Parks says, pausing to reflect, “but I think it should just be history, period, and not thinking in terms of only Black History Month.”

Parks has met many renowned leaders and has traveled throughout the world receiving honors and awards for her efforts toward racial harmony. She is appreciative and honored by them but exhibits little emotion over whom she has met or what she has done. Her response to being called “the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement” is modest· “if people think of me in that way, I just accept the honor and appreciate it,” she says. in Quiet Strength, however, Parks is careful to explain that she did not change things alone. “Four decades later I am still uncomfortable with the credit given to me for starting the bus boycott. I would like [people] to know I was not the only person involved. I was just one of many who fought for freedom.”

Martin Luther King, Hr

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born at noon Tuesday, January 15, 1929, at the family home, 501 Auburn Avenue, N.E., Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Charles Johnson was the attending physician. Martin Luther King, Jr., was the first son and second child born to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr., and Alberta Williams King. Martin Luther King’s maternal grandparents were the Reverend Adam Daniel Williams, second pastor of Ebenezer Baptist, and Jenny Parks Williams. His paternal grandparents, James Albert and Delia King, were sharecroppers on a farm in Stockbridge, Georgia.

He married the former Coretta Scott, younger daughter of Obadiah and Bernice McMurray Scott of Marion, Alabama on June 18, 1953. The marriage ceremony took place on the lawn of the Scott’s home in Marion. The Reverend King, Sr., performed the service.

Four children were born to Dr. and Mrs. King: Yolanda Denise (November 17, 1955 Montgomery, Alabama); Martin Luther III (October 23, 1957 Montgomery, Alabama); Dexter Scott (January 30, 1961 Atlanta, Georgia); Bernice Albertine (March 28, 1963 Atlanta, Georgia).

Education

Martin Luther King, Jr. began his education at the Yonge Street Elementary School in Atlanta, Georgia. Following Yonge School, he was enrolled in David T. Howard Elementary School. He also attended the Atlanta University Laboratory School and Booker T. Washington High School. Because of his high score on the college entrance examinations in his junior year of high school, he advanced to Morehouse College without formal graduation from Booker T. Washington. Having skipped both the ninth and twelfth grades, Dr. King entered Morehouse at the age of fifteen.

Martin Luther King entered the Christian ministry and was ordained in February 1948 at the age of nineteen at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia. Following his ordination, he became Assistant Pastor of Ebenezer. Upon completion of his studies at Boston University, he accepted the call of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama. (This biographer skipped King’s two years at Crozer Theological Seminary!) He was the pastor of Dexter Avenue from September 1954 to November 1959, when he resigned to move to Atlanta to direct the activities of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. From 1960 until his death in 1968, he was co-pastor with his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church and President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Dr. King was a pivotal figure in the Civil Rights Movement. He was elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization which was responsible for the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott from 1955 to 1956 (381 days). He was arrested thirty times for his participation in civil rights activities. He was a founder and president of Southern Christian Leadership Conference from 1957 to 1968. He was also vice president of the national Sunday School and Baptist Teaching Union Congress of the National Baptist Convention. He was a member of several national and local boards of directors and served on the boards of trustees of several institutions and agencies. Dr. King was elected to membership in several learned societies including the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Speeches

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s lectures and remarks stirred the concern and sparked the conscience of a generation; the movements and marches he led brought significant changes in the fabric of American life; his courageous and selfless devotion gave direction to thirteen years of civil rights activities; his charismatic leadership inspired men and women, young and old, in the nation and abroad.

Dr. King’s concept of somebodiness gave black and poor people a new sense of worth and dignity. His philosophy of nonviolent direct action, and his strategies for rational and non-destructive social change, galvanized the conscience of this nation and reordered its priorities. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, for example, went to Congress as a result of the Selma to Montgomery march. His wisdom, his words, his actions, his commitment, and his dreams for a new cast of life, are intertwined with the American experience.

Dr. King’s speech at the march on Washington in 1963, his acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize, his last sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, and his final speech in Memphis are among his most famous utterances The Letter From Birmingham Jail is one of the most important American documents.

Death

Dr. King was shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, by James Earl Ray. James Earl Ray was arrested in London, England on June 8, 1968 and returned to Memphis, Tennessee to stand trial for the assassination of Dr. King. On March 9, 1969, before coming to trial, he entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to ninety-nine years in the Tennessee State Penitentiary. Dr. King had been in Memphis to help lead sanitation workers in a protest against low wages and intolerable conditions. His funeral services were held April 9, 1968, in Atlanta at Ebenezer Church and on the campus of Morehouse College, with the President of the United States proclaiming a day of mourning and flags being flown at half-staff. The area where Dr. King was entombed is located on Freedom Plaza and surrounded by the Freedom Hall Complex of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic Site, a 23 acre area was listed as a National Historic Landmark on May 5, 1977, and was made a National Historic Site on October 10, 1980 by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

E.D. Nixon

Born in Lowndes County in 1899, Edgar Daniel (E.D.) Nixon worked as a Pullman porter for forty-one years. Although he had less than two years of formal schooling, he rose to become one of the dominant forces behind the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. He is best known for his role in the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955. Long an activist for voting rights, E. D. Nixon served as Alabama State President of the NAACP for many years. He was well acquainted with Rosa Parks who had served as secretary of the Alabama NAACP chapter. When Mrs. Parks was arrested on a city bus for refusing to give up her seat to a white man, E. D. Nixon helped post her bond to get out of jail. He was also instrumental in founding the Montgomery Improvement Association, which promoted the boycott in the black community. As treasurer, Mr. Nixon raised nearly $100,000 and found five cars to shuttle thousands of Montgomery blacks to and from work each day. He was also involved in the choice of a young charismatic preacher to head up the Montgomery Improvement Association: 26-year-old Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Mr. Nixon remained active in the Montgomery community well into his 80s, including working full time in the Cedar Park public housing development. Before his death at the age of 87, E. D. Nixon had received 215 awards.