March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963
Celebrated as one of the civil rights movement’s most courageous young leaders, John Lewis, a founding member and chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), greatly contributed to student movements of the 1960s. He described Martin Luther King as “the person who, more than any other, continued to influence my life, who made me who I was” (Lewis, 412).
As the “Queen of Gospel,” Mahalia Jackson sang all over the world, performing with the same passion at the presidential inauguration of John F. Kennedy that she exhibited when she sang at fundraising events for the African American freedom struggle. A great champion of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King called her “a blessing to me… [and] a blessing to Negroes who have learned through [her] not to be ashamed of their heritage” (King, 10 January 1964).
Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered at the 28 August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, synthesized portions of his previous sermons and speeches, with selected statements by other prominent public figures.
While attending Virginia Union University in 1953, Walter Fauntroy was asked by Wyatt Tee Walker to make a room available for Martin Luther King, who was traveling from Atlanta to Boston to attend graduate school. Several years after their meeting, Fauntroy recalled the “lasting effect” of King’s visit, particularly the impact of two sermons that King had shared with him. “When first I heard your name mentioned in connection with the Montgomery boycott, I thanked God that He had placed in that crisis the man with the message for our time,” Fauntroy wrote to King in June 1960 (Papers 5:470).
As co-founder of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), James Farmer was one of the major leaders of the African American freedom struggle. In a 1997 interview, Farmer said: “I don’t see any future for the nation without integration. Our lives are intertwined, our work is intertwined, our education is intertwined” (Smith, “Civil Rights Leader”). Farmer credited Martin Luther King and the Montgomery bus boycott with educating the public on nonviolent tactics: “No longer did we have to explain nonviolence to people. Thanks to Martin Luther King, it was a household word” (Farmer, 188).
An influential Chicago minister and politician, Archibald Carey maintained a close relationship with Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1957 Carey visited the King home while participating in the Montgomery Improvement Association’s (MIA) annual Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change.
Daisy Lee Gaston Bates, a civil rights advocate, newspaper publisher, and president of the Arkansas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), advised the nine students who desegregated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. Martin Luther King offered encouragement to Bates during this period, telling her in a letter that she was “a woman whom everyone KNOWS has been, and still is in the thick of the battle from the very beginning, never faltering, never tiring” (Papers 4:446).
Following the 1955 merger of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), the AFL-CIO became an ally of civil rights organizations. Martin Luther King spoke of the shared goals of the civil rights and labor movements, noting in his 1961 address to the fourth AFL-CIO national convention that both African Americans and union members were fighting for “decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community” (King, 11 December 1961).
I planned to use for the textual basis for our thinking together that passage from the prologue of the book of Job where Satan is pictured as asking God, "Does Job serve thee for nought?" And I’d like to ask you to allow me to hold that sermon ["Why Serve God?"] in abeyance and preach it the next time I am in the pulpit in order to share with you some other ideas.