USA: the struggle for freedom and self-respect.

Position:Diaspora
 
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1 December 2004 marks 49 years since Mrs Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man--an arrest that gave birth to the civil rights movement in the US. It shows how far America, then the home of apartheid, has come. Here, Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr, tells how the struggle for freedom and self-respect for African-Americans was interwoven with the life of her slain husband. This extract is from her book, The Words of Martin Luther King. We re-publish it here in remembrance and celebration of Rosa Parks' courageous and glorious action on that cold evening of 1 December 1955. Please read on ...

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My husband, Martin Luther King Jr, was a man who had hoped to be a Baptist preacher to a large, Southern, urban congregation. Instead, by the time he died in 1968, he had led millions of people into shattering forever the Southern system of segregation of the races.

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He had fashioned a mass black electorate that eliminated overt racism from political campaigns and accumulated political power for blacks beyond any they had ever possessed in the United States. Above all, he brought a new and higher dimension of human dignity to black people's lives.

I met Martin in Boston in 1952, when he was 23 years old. I had grown up in rural Alabama, attended Antioch College in Ohio, and was studying music at the New England Conservatory. Martin was working toward a doctor of philosophy degree at Boston University.

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Before coming to Boston, Martin had earned a BA in sociology from Morehouse College in Atlanta and a BD from Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. His father, Rev Martin Luther King Sr, a sharecropper's son, was pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. His mother, Alberta Williams King, was a minister's daughter. Martin felt a deeply serious call to the ministry when he was a 17-year-old junior at Morehouse. At 18, he was ordained and made an assistant pastor at Ebenezer Church.

I thought I did not want to marry a minister, but Martin was an unusual person. He was such a good man. If he ever did something a little wrong, or committed a selfish act, his conscience devoured him. At the same time, he was so alive and so much fun to be with. He had a strength that he imparted to me and others that he met.

Martin always had a deep commitment to helping his fellow human beings. He told me that the turning point in his thinking about how to reconcile Christian pacifism with getting things done came while he was at the seminary, when he learned about the revered Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi.

Martin later wrote in Stride Toward Freedom: "Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale ... It was Gandhian emphasis on love and non-violence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking for so many months."

Martin and I married in 1953. The next year, Martin took up his first pastorate, at the...

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