Martin L. King - Southern Christian Leadership Conference

Southern Christian Leadership Conference

In 1957, King, Ralph Abernathy, and other civil rights activists founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The group was created to harness the moral authority and organizing power of black churches to conduct non-violent protests in the service of civil rights reform. King led the SCLC until his death.

On September 20, 1958, while signing copies of his book Stride Toward Freedom in Blumstein's department store on 125th Street, in Harlem, King was stabbed in the chest with a letter opener by Izola Curry, a deranged black woman, and narrowly escaped death.

Gandhi's nonviolent techniques were useful to King's campaign to change the civil rights laws implemented in Alabama. King applied non-violent philosophy to the protests organized by the SCLC. In 1959, he wrote The Measure of A Man, from which the piece What is Man?, an attempt to sketch the optimal political, social, and economic structure of society, is derived. His SCLC secretary and personal assistant in this period was Dora McDonald.

The FBI, under written directive from Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, began telephone tapping King in the fall of 1963. Concerned that allegations (of Communists in the SCLC), if made public, would derail the Administration's civil rights initiatives, Kennedy warned King to discontinue the suspect associations, and later felt compelled to issue the written directive authorizing the FBI to wiretap King and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. J. Edgar Hoover feared Communists were trying to infiltrate the Civil Rights Movement, but when no such evidence emerged, the bureau used the incidental details caught on tape over the next five years in attempts to force King out of the preeminent leadership position.

King believed that organized, nonviolent protest against the system of southern segregation known as Jim Crow laws would lead to extensive media coverage of the struggle for black equality and voting rights. Journalistic accounts and televised footage of the daily deprivation and indignities suffered by southern blacks, and of segregationist violence and harassment of civil rights workers and marchers, produced a wave of sympathetic public opinion that convinced the majority of Americans that the Civil Rights Movement was the most important issue in American politics in the early 1960s.

King organized and led marches for blacks' right to vote, desegregation, labor rights and other basic civil rights. Most of these rights were successfully enacted into the law of the United States with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

King and the SCLC put into practice many of the principles of the Christian Left and applied the tactics of nonviolent protest with great success by strategically choosing the method of protest and the places in which protests were carried out. There were often dramatic stand-offs with segregationist authorities. Sometimes these confrontations turned violent.

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