On 5 December 1955, the first day of the Montgomery bus boycott, thousands of Montgomery’s black citizens gathered at Holt Street Baptist Church for the first mass meeting of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his first address as MIA president, telling the crowd, “There comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression” (Papers 3:72).
First organized in 1909 as part of Bethel Baptist Church, Holt Street Baptist Church was built in 1913 on the corner of South Holt Street and Bullock Street in Montgomery. Under the pastorship of A. W. Wilson for more than 50 years, the church was a frequent site of protest meetings during the boycott.
In his memoir, Stride Toward Freedom, King recalled that he had a mere 20 minutes to prepare the 5 December address, one of the most important speeches of his career. He found himself torn between delivering a speech militant enough to keep the boycotters motivated yet “moderate enough to keep this fervor within controllable and Christian bounds” (King, 59). King spoke of the injustices suffered by black bus passengers like Rosa Parks, and reminded the crowd of its Christian faith that justified protests grounded in nonviolence. He concluded, “When the history books are written in the future, somebody will have to say, ‘There lived a race of people, a black people, “fleecy locks and black complexion,” a people who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights. And thereby they injected a new meaning into the veins of history and civilization’” (Papers 3:74). Thundering applause followed King’s speech and Ralph Abernathy read the resolutions drawn up by Abernathy, King, and others on the resolution committee. The crowd overwhelmingly voted in favor of the resolutions, including not to ride the buses until their demands were met.
Throughout the boycott, Holt Street served as a meeting place for strategic planning sessions as well as other mass meetings. On 25 June 1956, more than 5,000 protesters at Holt Street voted to continue the protest after the federal district court decision in Browder v. Gayle. Holt Street was also the site of the MIA’s annual Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change.
U. J. Fields, Minutes of Montgomery Improvement Association Founding Meeting, 5 December 1955, in Papers 3:68–70.
King, MIA Mass Meeting at Holt Street Baptist Church, 5 December 1955, in Papers 3:71–79.
King, “The Montgomery Story,” Address Delivered at the Forty-seventh Annual NAACP Convention, 27 June 1956, in Papers 3:299–310.
King, Stride Toward Freedom, 1958.
Seay, I Was There by the Grace of God, 1990.