Laying the Groundwork for Nonviolent Change

One of the key aspects of King’s leadership was his ability to coalesce support from many types of organizations including labor unions, peace organizations, southern reform organizations, and religious groups. As early as 1956, labor unions, such as the United Packinghouse Workers and the United Auto Workers contributed to the Montgomery Improvement Association and peace activists such as Homer Jack alerted their associates to the activities of the MIA. Activists from southern organizations such as Myles Horton’s Highlander Folk School and Anne Braden’s Southern Conference Education Fund were in frequent contact with King. In addition, his extensive ties to the National Baptist Convention provided support from churches all over the nation; and his advisor, Stanley Levison insured broad support from Jewish groups and trade unions.

King’s recognition of the link between segregation and colonialism resulted in alliances with groups fighting oppression outside the U.S., especially in Africa. In March 1957, King traveled to Ghana at the invitation of Kwame Nkrumah to attend the nation’s independence ceremony. Shortly after returning from Ghana King joined the American Committee on Africa agreeing to serve as vice chairman of an International Sponsoring Committee for a day of protest against South Africa’s apartheid government. Later at a SCLC sponsored event honoring Kenyan labor leader Tom Mboya, King further articulated the connections between the African-American freedom struggle and those abroad: “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality”.

During 1959 he increased his understanding of Gandhian ideas during a month-long visit to India sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee. With Coretta and MIA historian Lawrence D. Reddick in tow, King met with many Indian leaders, including Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Writing after his return, King stated, “I left India more convinced than ever before that nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom”.