Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975
Although he avoided publicity and was reluctant to assert himself as a leader, Robert Parris Moses became one of the most influential black leaders of the southern civil rights struggle. His vision of grassroots, community-based leadership differed from Martin Luther King’s charismatic leadership style. Nonetheless, King appreciated Moses’ fresh ideas, calling his “contribution to the freedom struggle in America” an “inspiration” (King, 21 December 1963).
As national director of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) from 1966 to 1968, Floyd McKissick’s tenure with the organization was dominated by controversy over Black Power. Although the media was quick to focus on areas of disagreement between McKissick and Martin Luther King, the two leaders sought to downplay their differences, stressing their “brotherhood” and areas of mutual respect and agreement (Wehrwein, “Dr. King and CORE Chief”).
As editor of Fellowship, the magazine of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Alfred Hassler helped publish a comic book, “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story,” to publicize the Montgomery bus boycott. Martin Luther King thanked Hassler for his support, stating: “You have done a marvelous job of grasping the underlying truth and philosophy of the movement” (Papers 4:303).
Vincent Harding, Martin Luther King’s colleague and a theologian, historian, and nonviolent activist, reflected upon the last year of King’s life, writing, “Martin looked more beleaguered, harassed, and desperate than I had ever seen him before” (Introduction to “Unfulfilled Dreams,” 189). Having met King in 1958, Harding had a long sense of perspective.
In 1962, Martin Luther King wrote a letter recommending his lawyer and advisor, Clarence B. Jones, to the New York State Bar, stating: “Ever since I have known Mr. Jones, I have always seen him as a man of sound judgment, deep insights, and great dedication. I am also convinced that he is a man of great integrity” (King, 29 May 1962).
Martin Luther King often criticized nationalism, whether in the guise of Adolf Hitler’s tyranny or Senator Joseph McCarthy’s attacks against un-American activities. In 1953, when King was still in graduate school, he preached a sermon against nationalism, saying, “One cannot worship this false god of nationalism and the God of christianity at the same time” (Papers 6:133).
President Johnson’s five years in office brought about critical civil rights legislation and innovative anti-poverty programs through his Great Society initiative, though his presidency was marred by mishandling of the war in Vietnam. Though Martin Luther King, Jr., called Johnson’s 1964 election “one of America’s finest hours” and believed that Johnson had an “amazing understanding of the depth and dimension of the problem of racial injustice,” King’s outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War damaged his relationship with Johnson and brought an end to an alliance that had enabled major civil rights reforms in America (King, 4 November 1964; King, 16 March 1965).
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.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began monitoring Martin Luther King, Jr., in December 1955, during his involvement with the Montgomery bus boycott, and engaged in covert operations against him throughout the 1960s. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was personally hostile toward King, believing that the civil rights leader was influenced by Communists. This animosity increased after April 1964, when King called the FBI “completely ineffectual in resolving the continued mayhem and brutality inflicted upon the Negro in the deep South” (King, 23 April 1964). Under the FBI’s domestic counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) King was subjected to various kinds of FBI surveillance that produced alleged evidence of extramarital affairs, though no evidence of Communist influence.
Student activist Julian Bond first met Martin Luther King in 1960 when he was a student at Morehouse College. The two became better acquainted when Bond joined the small staff of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which shared an office with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In 1966, when Bond was refused his elected seat in the Georgia House of Representatives, King preached against the legislature’s action and organized a march in support of Bond.