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Part Four: Redefining Leadership


  1. Opening Activity: Play the audio (ca. 15min) of King's first speech as President of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) at Holt Street Baptist Church on 5 December 1955. Students can also follow the text of the speech and see a photo of the meeting in the Holt Street Baptist Church. Explain to students that the boycott had begun that morning after Jo Ann Robinson circulated handbills asking for citizens to stay off the buses. Thousands of people came to the meeting that night to support a call for continuing the boycott. While they listen to the speech, have students choose their favorite quote and explain the reason for their choice. After listening ask students to explain how King's position as a minister contributed to his role as a leader within the boycott.
  2. Classroom Activity: Choose 7 students to perform a dramatic reading of the Montgomery Improvement Association minutes from  30 January 1956. The roles should include a narrator, Rev. Alford, Rev. Binion, Mr. E.D. Nixon, Mr. White, Rev. King, and Mr. Saye. You will need to show your students the parts for the narrator. The narrator should read the passages without quotation marks. You may want to highlight the narrator parts for easier identification.
  3. Discussion/Reflection Questions: Who led the boycott? Many argue that King led the boycott. Is this an accurate characterization? In the MIA meeting King states, "From my limited contact, if we went tonight and asked the people to get back on the bus, we would be ostracized." Did the people create and sustain the boycott or did Martin Luther King, Jr., inspire them to sustain the boycott? What was the legal strategy of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)? What was the relationship between the MIA and the NAACP?
  4. Classroom Activity: Using the King Encyclopedia ask students to examine the role of the MIA, the Women's Political Council (WPC) and the NAACP. As the students read the entries from the King Encyclopedia, have them record their findings on the Redefining Leadership Handout. You may want to split students into groups of three and assign one organization to each of the three students. The students will report to their partners or to the class their findings.

Assignment Options:

  • Ask students to prepare for a debate. Start by giving the students Ella Baker's statement, "The movement made Martin rather than Martin making the movement," (Baker, 19 June 1968). Ask students to support or criticize the statement using concrete details about the bus boycott.