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Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR)

Martin Luther King’s relationship with the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) began during the Montgomery bus boycott, when FOR veteran Bayard Rustin and FOR national field secretary Glenn E. Smiley came to Montgomery, Alabama, to help support local efforts to challenge racial segregation nonviolently. King also developed a cordial relationship with former FOR chairman A. J. Muste, whose absolute pacifism King had questioned while a student at Crozer Theological Seminary.

Farmer, James

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).

Crozer Theological Seminary

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.

Black Nationalism

Achieving major national influence through the Nation of Islam (NOI) and the Black Power movement of the 1960s, proponents of black nationalism advocated economic self-sufficiency, race pride for African Americans, and black separatism. Reacting against white racial prejudice and critical of the gap between American democratic ideals and the reality of segregation and discrimination in America, in the 1960s black nationalists criticized the methods of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and other organizations that sought to reform American society through nonviolent interracial activism. In his 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King described himself as standing between the forces of complacency and the “hatred and despair of the black nationalist” (King, 90).

Montgomery Bus Boycott

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.

Birmingham Campaign

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).

"Beyond Vietnam"

On 4 April 1967 Martin Luther King delivered his seminal speech at Riverside Church condemning the Vietnam War. Declaring “my conscience leaves me no other choice,” King described the war’s deleterious effects on both America’s poor and Vietnamese peasants and insisted that it was morally imperative for the United States to take radical steps to halt the war through nonviolent means (King, “Beyond Vietnam,” 139).

Carmichael, Stokely

As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Stokely Carmichael challenged the philosophy of nonviolence and interracial alliances that had come to define the modern civil rights movement, calling instead for “Black Power.” Although critical of the “Black Power” slogan, King acknowledged that “if Stokely Carmichael now says that nonviolence is irrelevant, it is because he, as a dedicated veteran of many battles, has seen with his own eyes the most brutal white violence against Negroes and white civil rights workers, and he has seen it go unpunished” (King, 33–34).

Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)

Founded in 1942 by an interracial group of students in Chicago, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) pioneered the use of nonviolent direct action in America’s civil rights struggle. Along with its parent organization, the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), CORE members provided advice and support to Martin Luther King during the Montgomery bus boycott. King worked with CORE throughout the late 1950s and into the mid-1960s, when CORE abandoned its dedication to nonviolence and adopted black separatist policies.

Bevel, James Luther

Credited by Martin Luther King with initiating the Children’s Crusade during the Birmingham Campaign of 1963, James Bevel emerged as a civil rights leader from the ranks of the Nashville, Tennessee, student movement. Bevel was at King’s side during many of the major campaigns of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and was at the Lorraine Motel at the time of King’s assassination in 1968.


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