Program Success February 2015 | Page 6

under apartheid , with terrible consequences for America ' s standing among nations . How could America have convincingly inveighed against the Iron Curtain while an equally oppressive Cotton Curtain remained draped across the South ?
Even after the Supreme Court struck down segregation in 1954 , what the world now calls humanrights offenses were both law and custom in much of America . Before King and his movement , a tired and thoroughly respectable Negro seamstress like Rosa Parks could be thrown into jail and fined simply because she refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus so a white man could sit down . A six-year-old black girl like Ruby Bridges could be hectored and spit on by a white New Orleans mob simply because she wanted to go to the same school as white children . A 14-year-old black boy like Emmett Till could be hunted down and murdered by a Mississippi gang simply because he had supposedly made suggestive remarks to a white woman . Even highly educated blacks were routinely denied the right to vote or serve on juries . They could not eat at lunch counters , register in motels or use whites-only rest rooms ; they could not buy or rent a home wherever they chose . In some rural enclaves in the South , they were even compelled to get off the sidewalk and stand in the street if a Caucasian walked by .
The movement that King led swept all that away . Its victory was so complete that even though those outrages took place within the living memory of the baby boomers , they seem like
Martin Luther King
Struggle for Racial Equality Doomed Segregation Changed America
Jack E . White February 2015 ancient history . And though this revolution was the product of two centuries of agitation by thousands upon thousands of courageous men and women , King was its culmination . It is impossible to think of the movement unfolding as it did without him at its helm . He was , as the cliche has it , the right man at the right time .
To begin with , King was a preacher who spoke in biblical cadences ideally suited to leading a stride toward freedom that found its inspiration in the Old Testament story of the Israelites and the New
Testament gospel of Jesus Christ . Being a minister not only put King in touch with the spirit of the black masses but also gave him a base within the black church , then and now the strongest and most independent of black institutions .
Moreover , King was a man of extraordinary physical courage whose belief in nonviolence never swerved . From the time he assumed leadership of the Montgomery , Ala ., bus boycott in 1955 to his murder 13 years later , he faced hundreds of death threats . His home in Montgomery was bombed , with his wife and young children inside . He was hounded by J . Edgar Hoover ' s FBI , which bugged his telephone and hotel rooms , circulated salacious gossip about him and even tried to force him into committing suicide after he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 . As King told the story , the defining moment of his life came during