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).
After completing his undergraduate work at Morehouse College in 1948, Martin Luther King attended Crozer Theological Seminary near Chester, Pennsylvania. King was drawn to the school’s unorthodox reputation and liberal theological leanings. It was at Crozer that King strengthened his commitment to the Christian social gospel, developed his initial interest in Gandhian ideas, was first exposed to pacifism, and developed his ideas about nonviolence as a method of social reform.
Sparked by the arrest of Rosa Parks on 1 December 1955, the Montgomery bus boycott was a 13-month mass protest that ended with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public buses is unconstitutional. The Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) coordinated the boycott, and its president, Martin Luther King, Jr., became a prominent civil rights leader as international attention focused on Montgomery. The bus boycott demonstrated the potential for nonviolent mass protest to successfully challenge racial segregation and served as an example for other southern campaigns that followed. In Stride Toward Freedom, King’s 1958 memoir of the boycott, he declared the real meaning of the Montgomery bus boycott to be the power of a growing self-respect to animate the struggle for civil rights.
In April 1963 King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) joined with Birmingham, Alabama’s existing local movement, the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR), in a massive direct action campaign to attack the city’s segregation system by putting pressure on Birmingham’s merchants during the Easter season, the second biggest shopping season of the year. As ACMHR founder Fred Shuttlesworth stated in the group’s “Birmingham Manifesto,” the campaign was “a moral witness to give our community a chance to survive” (ACMHR, 3 April 1963).