Those Who Lifted Dr. King Up
|Women at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom|
Perhaps the greatest American leader and orator of the 20th century, Martin Luther King didn't create the movement that changed history. Nor did Rosa Parks kick start the movement herself. Thousands of ordinary African Americans and white allies had been laying the groundwork for years and were ready to act when things came to a boil in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. Historian Vincent Harding reminds us:
"It's very important to recognize that King was not operating in a vacuum, that he was operating in a situation of ferment. In Montgomery, leadership was being taken by women — ordinary, marvelous African-American women. It was those women who were prepared to respond to Rosa Parks’ personal initiative. When she refused to move to the rear of the bus, women who had been involved in various kinds of political activism were ready. One of those women ran off 35,000 copies of a stencil by herself the night after Mrs. Parks’ arrest in order to let people know about it. And she saw to it that her students passed it out in important places. King came out of that ferment — people decided they were going to let Mrs. Parks’ arrest become a catalyst for their movement as a community and they knew they needed a spokesperson."