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Notes on MIA Mass Meeting at Hutchinson Street Baptist Church, by Donald T. Ferron

Ferron, Donald T.
March 1, 1956
Montgomery, Ala.
Montgomery Bus Boycott


After hours of prayer and song by early arrivals, the mass meeting began at 7:00 P.M. when King and Abernathy entered the church as the crowd sang “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Members of the executive board led prayers and hymns, and then King introduced out-of-town visitors, including his father. Following the pattern of previous meetings, the visitors presented large donations to the MIA and made a few remarks. Transportation coordinator R. J. Glasco asked bus boycotters traveling short distances to walk because of a shortage of cars and drivers. King’s remarks appear below.

Prayer—Rev. B. D. Lambert1—It was during the prayer that two, interesting developments took place. Rev. Lambert impresses me as one who resorts to emotionalism to capture his congregation. This was evinced by his mannerisms, his shouting presentation which latter later flowed into a type of “singing prayer.” It was at this point that the audience began to complain (but not so loudly) by making such comments as “oh! oh!”, “oh, my!”, “Not again!”, and “Why doesn’t he shut up?” The second development was what appeared to me to be a state of discomfort, uneasiness, restlessness on the part of Rev. King. I was in the balcony facing Rev. King and observed him crossing and uncrossing his legs, placing first one and then the other hand over his face. Unless I’m greatly mistaken, {he} mustered all of his resources to prevent his laug smiles from leading to open laughter. It was comical to me to see him “fighting” with himself and to note his definite relief once the prayer had ended.

Hymn— “What A Friend We Have in Jesus”

Rev. King—We have among us tonight a number of “distinguished Guests.”2 “I must decrease that they might increase. God is using Montgomery as a proving ground.” He will “cause democratic conditions to stand where they should stand.” We have now “new dignity” and “awareness.” “We are God’s children.” “We’re walking because we’re tired of” being suppressed “politically.” “We’re walking because we’re tired of” being suppressed “economically;” “we’re walking because we’re tired of being segregated and discriminated. Freedom is the just claim of all men. As we walk we’re going to walk with love in our hearts. Somebody has to have sense enough to cut off the hate.” The “power of love” is very strong; “love your enimies.” The “whole armour of God” is the “weapon of love” and the “breastplate of righteousness.” There is “something about love that transforms; we’re going to keep on in the same spirit.”

1. Lambert was pastor of Maggie Street Baptist Church, a local religious radio personality, and was among the indicted boycott participants.

2. The guests included Owen D. Pelt, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Chicago, where King had delivered a sermon on 12 February 1956; A. Saunders, representing the United Auto Workers in Chicago; Thomas Kilgore, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in New York; a representative of Cleveland ministers; Sandy F. Ray, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Brooklyn; Glenn E. Smiley, national field secretary for the Fellowship of Reconciliation; and King, Sr. More than $12,000 was collected by the end of the meeting. One observer noted that “a high point in the meeting” was King, Sr.’s, presentation. “I am no outsider,” King, Sr., reportedly said; “I have vested interest here . . . and if things get too hot I shall move in” (J. Harold Jones, Notes, MIA Mass Meeting at Hutchinson Street Baptist Church, 1 March 1956). Except for three reporters, Smiley was the only white person in attendance. He wrote in a letter to his wife that evening, “When I made my first point the house almost came apart. . . . You see, there are so few if any white ministers who will come out and speak at all” (Smiley to Helen Smiley, 1 March 1956).


PV-ARC, Preston Valien Collection, Amistad Research Center, New Orleans, La.