We Shall Overcome

Peter Ling analyses Martin Luther King's involvement with non-violent protest in the USA. 

'We Shall Overcome' was the anthem of the southern civil rights movement in the United States, and it captured its religious idealism. Almost as soon as the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56 catapulted him to fame, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr was a major symbol of, and spokesman for, this aspect of the movement because of his championing of the philosophy and tactics of non-violence. Accordingly, this article seeks to examine the role and practice of non-violence over the course of King's career, which was tragically cut short by his assassination on 4 April 1968.

Non-violence and King

The classic non-violent demonstrations of 1960 and 1961 - the lunch counter sit-ins and Freedom Rides on interstate buses - were not the work of Martin Luther King. The protesters were student activists, most of whom were not associated with King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). This reminds us that the movement was much more than King, and that non-violence covered a wide variety of tactics, besides the marches and rallies that are most closely identified with King himself.

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