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Outline, Address to MIA Mass Meeting at Bethel Baptist Church

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Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr.

Date: January 14, 1957

Location: Montgomery, Ala.?

Genre: Speech

Topic: Churches - vandalism

Martin Luther King, Jr. - Threats/attacks against


Returning to Montgomery after a Sunday evening address in Nashville, King delivered an emotional prayer at the MIA’s regular Monday night mass meeting. After exhorting the audience to remain nonviolent— “Don’t shoot back, even though it may be difficult”— he declared that if “anyone should be killed, let it be me.” The press reported that King then collapsed at the pulpit and had to be led to his seat by two ministers.1 King initially disputed the news accounts: “It was simply a matter of people breaking down. . . . I decided it was time to stop the prayer because the audience had gone almost to pandemonium. I shed no tears nor was I overcome with emotion. To the contrary, I was calm and balanced throughout.”2 King later acknowledged having been “in the grips of an emotion I could not control” and that he, “for the first time, broke down in public.”3 King had written the following outline on the verso of the program for the Birmingham Emancipation Day Celebration, at which he spoke on 1 January.

{over the last weekWe have been the victims of a 

  1. Over the last few weeks we have been the victims of the most startling and appalling expression of man’s inhumanity to man. Several of our people have been needlessly beaten, one of humble ladies— an expectant mother— has been viciously shot, and to climax it all two of our churches homes and six [four] of our churches have been bombed.4 It is tragic and terrible for men to bomb the homes of other men, but to bomb the house of God is even more tragic and terrible. When men sink this low they are have fallen to a level of tragic barbarity devoid of any moral sensitivity.

  2. As far as I can see we are th suffering today because we have committed three crimes5

  3. Now why we have to suffer like this I do not know. But I am sure that it has some purpose. It may be that we are called upon to be God’s suffering servants through which {whom] he is working his redemptive plan.

  4. Let us not become bitter as a result of this situation. Let us continue to love.

  5. Let us take a new stand on non-violence. How are we to meet violence.6

  6. We must keep standing up.

1. Nelson Cole, “King Collapses in Prayer During Negro Mass Meeting,” Montgomery Advertiser, 15 January 1957.

2. “Negro Minister Questions Plan For All-White Buses,” Montgomery Advertiser, 16 January 1957; see also King to Fannie E. Scott, 28 January 1957.

3. King also remembered that, “unexpectedly, this episode brought me great relief” (Stride Toward Freedom, p. 178).

4. Rosa Jordan was shot on 28 December as she rode a Montgomery city bus.

5. According to news reports King elaborated on this point, noting that Montgomery blacks were “apparently guilty of three crimes: first, being born a Negro; secondly, merely desiring to have human dignity; and third, humbly following what is the law of the land” (Cole, “King Collapses in Prayer During Negro Mass Meeting”).

6. King reportedly added: “Stand firm on love and peace. . . . [Of] white men willing to take destructive measures in their hands, harm them not because they already stand before God and the world reeking with the stench of Negro blood” (Cole, “King Collapses”).

Source: MLKP, MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.

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