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Birmingham, 1963


Martin Luther King, Jr., made history, but he was also transformed by his deep family roots in the African-American Baptist church, his formative experiences in his hometown of Atlanta, his theological studies, his varied models of religious and political leadership, and his extensive network of contacts in the peace and social justice movements of his time. Although King was only 39 at the time of his death, his life was remarkable for the ways it reflected and inspired so many of the twentieth century’s major intellectual, cultural, and political developments.

Marshall, Burke

Burke Marshall was head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, serving from January 1961 through December 1964. Martin Luther King regularly called and wired Marshall for assistance. John Lewis, head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and other civil rights leaders were on a first name basis with Marshall. Wyatt Tee Walker, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), woke Marshall at 1:00 A.M. to inform him of King’s arrest during the 1963 Birmingham Campaign.

Young, Andrew

Andrew Young’s work as a pastor, administrator, and voting rights advocate led him to join Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in the civil rights struggle. Young, who entered electoral politics shortly after King’s assassination, credited King with giving “purpose and sustenance” to his life (Young, 474). “He left his mark on me, both in indelible memories and in the spiritual and practical lessons of our trials and triumphs,” Young recalled. “It is by the quality of those days that I have come to measure my own continuing journey” (Young, 474).

National Council of Negro Women (NCNW)

Founded in 1935 by Mary McLeod Bethune, the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) was the first national coalition of African American women’s organizations. The most influential national women’s organization during the civil rights movement at the time, the NCNW represented 850,000 members, including Martin Luther King’s wife, Coretta Scott King. In 1957 King addressed the NCNW at their annual convention, telling the women, “I have long admired this organization, its great work, and its noble purposes” (King, 9 November 1957).

Wallace, George Corley, Jr.

After pledging “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” in his 1963 inaugural address, Alabama Governor George Wallace gained national notoriety by standing at the entrance to the University of Alabama to denounce the enrollment of two African American students. Martin Luther King described Wallace as “perhaps the most dangerous racist in America today” (King, “Interview”). In a 1965 interview King said: “I am not sure that he believes all the poison that he preaches, but he is artful enough to convince others that he does” (King, “Interview”).

Shuttlesworth, Fred Lee

One of the founding members of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Fred Shuttlesworth brought a militant voice to the struggle for black equality. In 1963 he drew Martin Luther King and SCLC to Birmingham for a historic confrontation with the forces of segregation. The scale of protest and police brutality of the Birmingham Campaign created a new level of visibility for the civil rights movement and contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


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