Martin Luther King, the world-famous icon of the
Negro non-violent civil rights movement and the fight for equal
social rights for the minorities, lived in a place and period in
which segregation was commonplace on buses, in bars, theatres, and
even in churches, according to the colour of the skin - when it was
a dream that "one day little black boys and girls would be able to
join hands with little a white boys and girls as sisters and
The non-violent choice of our author, undivided from the longing for the justice of an entire people, is deeply embedded in a personal and social reality; it does not stem from within a safe and detached oasis, but is rooted in a state of injustice experienced on his own skin from childhood, and consciously shared despite his wealthy origins: starting from when he was very young, unloading vegetables at the general markets in order to become better acquainted with the situation of the poor, until he became a pastor, dedicating his brief life (41 years) as leader of the non-violent protest of the African Americans.
Martin Luther King was born on January 15th 1929 in Atlanta, the capital of Georgia. His father was a Baptist pastor, as he himself would later become, and his mother a teacher. In 1947 he was already ordained pastor and moved to Chester in Pennsylvania a year later where he studied theology. He then became familiar with Ghandi, who became one of his most important points of reference.
In 1953 he married Coretta Scott, who was to become his precious support during the struggles and difficulties, and moved to Montgomery, where, at the early age of 25, he took the lead of a parish. It was the famous episode of Rose Parks, the African American woman who refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white person that triggered the non-violent resistance commitment of King who was suddenly involved in a movement which met not only with the favour of the local churches, but also of the media and the young beat generation.
The reaction to the arrest of the woman was the heavy boycotting of the public means of transport which lasted 382 days, until - amid feelings of joy and surprise - the segregation on public transport in Alabama was declared unconstitutional. The first contrasts arose contemporaneously: on the part of the Ku Klux Clan, a racist organisation, the hooded members of which carried out punitive hunts on African American families and on their white American friends, and by the political world.
1957 marked the founding of the "Southern Christian Leadership Conference", a movement which fought for the rights of the minorities and which was based on the Ghandi policy of non-violence.
Another charismatic defender of the rights of African Americans was appearing on the scene in Harlem, Malcolm X, who followed altogether different methods of social demands. After having been to India to become more closely acquainted with the figure of Ghandi, the Baptist pastor organised a series of sit-ins in Atlanta (sitting in bars and restaurants until being served) in places for 'Whites Only'. He was once again arrested, but this time John Kennedy, candidate for the presidency - then to become his dear friend - personally had him released from jail.
Another aim of the protest became the stronghold of racist America, Birmingham, in 1963, but the police adopted the method of repression, and the leader of the movement, once again imprisoned and isolated, wrote his famous Open Letter from Birmingham Jail 1, criticising the indifference of the ecclesiastical position. Once released, he restarted the protest in which even many students took part; although the reaction of the police was fierce (see photos in which men and women are being attacked by police dogs), an agreement was reached in order that segregation in public places be ceased.
The first threats were arriving, together with the first attacks and arrests, but Martin Luther King stood firm, and on August 28th 1963, an impressive march for freedom was organised on Washington, numbering 250,000 participants (of whom 85,000 were whites!), during which he pronounces his most famous speech, I have a dream. In the meanwhile, on November 22nd 1963, President kennedy, his upholder behind the line, was assassinated in Dallas, to the great sorrow of our author. Nevertheless, the year that followed was a year of great satisfaction for King: the Civil Rights Bill was approved, establishing the elimination of the civil discrimination of African Americans, and their gradual entry into the political world. He subsequently met Pope Paul VI in Rome and received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.
In 1965 he moved to Selma, a city famous for its racism, where he organises another march on the Courthouse of Montgomery which, however, was to cause the assassination of a young Italo-American woman by the Ku Klux Clan. After a stop in Los Angeles to bring back peace and order among his people, and a transfer to Chicago, Martin visited James Meredith in Memphis, Tennesee, who was first Black American student to enrol at the university and that had been wounded; it was here that the Coordination of the non-violent African American students was founded - that had taken the name Black Power - finding therein extremist fringes with which he entered in contrast. At the beginning of 1967, he publicly sided against the Vietnam War, thus entering in conflict directly with the white House. In April 1968, Luther King went to Memphis to take part in a march in favour of the city's garbage collectors (blacks and whites) that were on strike. It was there that, while speaking with his collaborators on the hotel veranda, he was gunned down and assassinated by a man whose identity remains a mystery to this very day. The death of the black leader of non-violence caused rebellion and great commotion everywhere, but was celebrated, according to his will, in a simple and poor manner, with a wooden coffin transported by two mules.