Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy ride the first integrated bus in Montgomery, Alabama
Ernest Withers (1922–2007)
Gelatin silver print, 1956 (printed later) King proved to be the ideal choice to orchestrate and sustain the Montgomery bus boycott. As a relative newcomer to Montgomery, he was able to bring together all factions of the black community without regard to past rivalries. Through inspirational addresses delivered at mass meetings in Montgomery’s black churches, King galvanized support for the boycott and clearly articulated the case for nonviolent action, declaring, “We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love; we must meet physical force with soul force.” He found a strong ally in fellow Montgomery minister Ralph Abernathy, and during the course of the boycott the two men forged a strong working relationship and a deep friendship. Continuing for an unprecedented 381 days, the bus boycott ended only after the United States Supreme Court ruled bus segregation unconstitutional. When the first integrated bus rolled through Montgomery on December 21, 1956, King and Abernathy sat side by side.
Selected Portraits / Curator's Statement
As we mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, I believe it is important to remember King not merely as a dreamer but as a doer. In his thirteen years of public life as an advocate for civil rights, economic opportunity, and world peace, King motivated others not only by communicating his vision for a brighter future but by acting boldly to challenge injustice. Despite enormous odds and the ever-present risk of failure, King led by example, exhibiting courage and character as he maintained his steadfast commitment to nonviolent resistance and direct action. Anyone can dream of a better and more just world. Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to making that dream a reality.
This exhibition has been funded by the Guenther and Siewchin Yong Sommer Endowment Fund and an anonymous donor.
The Washington Post: Martin Luther King Jr. exhibit is brief but powerful