Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught the practice of nonviolent resistance - the most effective, practical, and moral way for African Americans to achieve their civil rights. King preferred the term “active resistance” rather than the more familiar term “passive resistance”, since pacifism implies that force is not required to achieve a goal. This active protest was aimed towards eliminating the limitations set on blacks registering to vote. Unfortunately, nonviolent protests were still met with force. This painting shows the excessive violence by state troopers against civil rights protestors as they attempted to march peacefully from Selma, Alabama to the state capital in Montgomery. It became known as “Bloody Sunday”, March 7, 1965.
600 individuals began the march that day, but were met by troopers at the end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. They were determined that the protesters would go no further and would be turned back. The participants in the march were turned back to Selma after many suffered injuries at the hands of the police from beatings with nightsticks, whippings, trampling with horses from mounted lawmen, and rounds of tear gas. 19 were hospitalized and more than 50 reported injuries.
In the foreground is John Lewis, who later became a congressman, receiving a beating that resulted in a fractured skull. He was the organizer of the march and asked those who were protesting with him to remain nonviolent even in the face of violence. A photograph of the incident as well as footage from that day were nationally televised. It shed light on the injustice of that area of the south and was a catalyst for the Selma to Montgomery March.
Dr. King was not present at the march on that day. He flew into Selma to show his support the very next day and was instrumental in organizing future gatherings to make the march to Montgomery. He is depicted here iconically as the proponent of nonviolent resistance and in solidarity with those who did march and their organizers, especially John Lewis.
Background re: MLK, Jr.
The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister, and the most recognized leader of the American Civil Rights Movement until his assassination on April 4, 1968. Throughout his adult life he championed non violent resistance and civil disobedience as means of protest toward Civil Rights abuses, primarily toward African American Citizens. His influence using these techniques carried over to poverty, segregated housing, and Vietnam war issues, and resulted in him being arrested multiple times. He was the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, (SCLC) organizing it, unsuccessfully, in a struggle against segregation in 1962 in Albany, GA. He helped organize the nonviolent protests in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. He helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
On October 14, 1964, King won the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. In 1965, he helped organize the Selma to Montgomery marches. He alienated many of his liberal allies with a 1967 speech titled "Beyond Vietnam". J. Edgar Hoover considered him a radical and made him an object of the FBI's COINTELPRO from 1963 on. FBI agents investigated him for possible communist ties, and reported on them to government officials, and on one occasion mailed King a threatening anonymous letter, which he interpreted as an attempt to make him commit suicide.
King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in numerous cities and states beginning in 1971; the holiday was enacted at the federal level by legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Hundreds of streets in the U.S. have been renamed in his honor, and a county in Washington was rededicated for him. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was dedicated in 2011.