In December 1956, the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) held the first of its annual conferences on nonviolent direct action, called the Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change. The theme of the 1956 institute was “Freedom and Dignity Through Love,” and it included an address by Martin Luther King, Jr.
In addition to King’s address at the opening of the mass meeting, the 1956 institute included a forum with T. J. Jemison of Baton Rouge, C. K. Steele of Tallahassee , Fred Shuttlesworth of Birmingham, and B. D. Lambert of Montgomery; a Women’s Night with featured addresses by Lillian Smith and Nannie H. Burroughs; seminars on nonviolence presented by Glenn Smiley, William Holmes Borders, and Gardner Taylor; and a closing address by J. H. Jackson of the National Baptist Convention.
Institutes held in the following years typically included mass meetings, public forums, seminars on nonviolence, women’s nights and youth nights, and other public events. To broaden the presentation topics, experts on various aspects of civil rights and nonviolent resistance, such as Harris Wofford and James Lawson, were brought to Montgomery to join MIA leaders in discussions and addresses on nonviolent tactics, voter registration, and citizen education.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) also held institutes on nonviolence. In 1959, in Atlanta, SCLC, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the Congress of Racial Equality conducted the Institute on Nonviolent Resistance to Segregation. William Stuart Nelson and Richard Gregg, internationally known scholars of nonviolence, gave addresses, and Ella Baker, James Lawson, Will Campbell, Ralph Abernathy, and King led discussion groups. Institutes subsequently sponsored by SCLC featured activists such as Wyatt Tee Walker and Dorothy Cotton.