On 5 December 1955, Lawrence Reddick attended the first mass meeting of the Montgomery bus boycott. Although he recalled feeling “baffled” by what was taking place, he did “realize that something socially significant was happening” and began to take copious notes (Reddick, 235). Throughout 1956 and 1957, as his notes materialized into a manuscript for a book, Reddick became friends with Martin Luther King, Jr., while conducting interviews with the bus boycott leader. In his biography of King, Crusader without Violence (1959), Reddick called King a “national asset,” claiming that King “symbolizes an idea that meets a fundamental need of our times. His way is needed in the painful transition through which the South is presently passing, and his way is needed by the American nation in a divided world” (Reddick, 233–234). For more than a decade, Reddick chronicled the events of the civil rights movement and assisted King in writing many of his public statements and speeches.
Born in Jacksonville, Florida, Reddick received his BA (1932) and MA (1933) from Fisk University, and his PhD (1939) in history from the University of Chicago. Upon earning his PhD, Reddick was named curator of the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature at the New York Public Library. Before joining the faculty at Alabama State College in 1956, Reddick taught at a number of colleges, including Atlanta University and the New School for Social Research.
In 1956 King appointed Reddick chairman of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) History Committee, to record the events of the bus protest. Having completed his own account of the bus boycott for the spring 1956 issue of Dissent, Reddick later agreed to help King recount the events for Stride Toward Freedom (1958).
Reddick accompanied King and his wife Coretta Scott King on their month-long India trip in 1959. On the way the group stopped briefly in Paris, where Reddick introduced the Kings to Richard Wright. Of that meeting, Reddick wrote: “Coretta and I threw in a point now and then but we were content to observe the giants in intellectual action. Both were short and brown-skinned but Dick was intense, always reaching for a thought or phrase while Martin was relaxed and un-spirited” (Papers 5:4). Once they arrived in India Reddick meticulously recorded the events of the trip. The publication of Crusader without Violence followed the trip.
In January 1960 King praised Reddick for being a “friend, not only to me and to Coretta, but to our total movement” (Papers 5:356). Reddick, however, paid a high price for supporting the movement, when he was fired from his post as chair of the Alabama State College History Department by President H. Councill Trenholm at the request of Governor John Patterson. In Reddick’s defense, King released a statement extolling the historian’s “unswerving devotion to the ideals of American democracy, and his basic commitment to the ethical principles of the Christian faith.” He further admonished Governor Patterson and the State of Alabama for sinking to “a new low” by “seeking to bring a halt to the creative movement for human rights by making an example of a man who has committed no crime” (King, 16 June 1960). Reddick was fired in June 1960. His colleagues, English teachers and MIA stalwarts Mary Fair Burks and Jo Ann Robinson, resigned at the close of the spring semester.
The following fall Reddick began teaching at Coppin State Teachers College in Baltimore, Maryland. Although no longer in Alabama, Reddick continued to work with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, providing content for the organization’s newsletter. In addition, Reddick continued to offer King suggestions on his public statements. After it was announced that King would receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Reddick wrote King, offering ideas for his acceptance speech. “I believe that you would want to say that you accept the award for the thousands of Negro Americans and their white friends who have struggled for equality and democracy in America but have resolutely done so nonviolently” (Reddick, 25 November 1964). Reddick further suggested that King connect the civil rights struggle with the international liberation struggle by referring to the peace work in South Africa done by Nobel laureate Albert Lutuli. In his acceptance speech, King wrote: “You honor the dedicated pilots of our struggle, who have sat at the controls as the freedom movement soared into orbit. You honor, once again, Chief Lutuli of South Africa, whose struggles with and for his people, are still met with the most brutal expression of man’s inhumanity to man” (King, “Acceptance Address for the Nobel Peace Prize,” 108).
In 1978 Reddick accepted a position teaching African American history at Dillard University in New Orleans. He retired in 1987, after 40 years of teaching. Following his death in 1995 the Association of Third World Studies honored Reddick’s academic contributions by establishing the Lawrence Dunbar Reddick Memorial Scholarship Award.
King, “Acceptance Address for the Nobel Peace Prize,” in A Call to Conscience, ed. Carson and Shepard, 2001.
King, Address Delivered during “A Salute to Dr. and Mrs. Martin Luther King,” at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, 31 January 1960, in Papers 5:351–357.
King, Statement on the firing of Reddick, 16 June 1960, MLKP-MBU.
King to Mary Fair Burks, 5 April 1960, in Papers 5:406–408.
Reddick, “The Bus Boycott in Montgomery,” Dissent 3 (Spring 1956): 1–11.
Reddick, Crusader without Violence, 1959.
Reddick to King, 25 November 1964, MLKJP-GAMK.