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“Living under the Tension” 145    What then did King contribute to the Montgomery bus boycott? Perhaps most importantly, as he would say the following year, he became a symbol for the movement. He was better educated and more articulate than any of the other black pastors in the city. His winsome personality allowed him to remain above the fray. When conflicts emerged within the movement, King played the role of arbitrator and peace maker, as he did when he met with Uriah Fields following allegations of MIA financial mismanagement. He also had the capacity to connect with professionals and the poor, the highly educated and the illiterate. King became a unify- ing figure whose capacity for personal growth coupled with his significant social skills made him an ideal person to serve as the face of the local movement. His sense of the moment and calm demeanor under pressure as demonstrated in his Holt Street address and through his reassuring words following the bombing of his home solidified his unique role. J. Pius Barbour, King’s friend and mentor from Crozer, wrote during the boycott: “Every now and then God takes a human personality and makes that personality the Symbol of some great social movement. King has become the Symbol of the New Negro in the Negroes struggle. He is the first voice of the new negro. The new negro has had no spokesman. King is the first.” While the protest would have begun without King, and the Supreme Court would have found in their favor regardless, the local peo- ple may well have fractured without his presence. More conservative lead- ership might have prevailed at critical moments, leading to compromise and an end to the boycott. King’s decision not to compromise coupled with his hope-filled rhetoric held the people of Montgomery together for 64 nearly thirteen months. There can be no doubt regarding the deep impact the boycott had on King. Jo Ann Robinson and E. D. Nixon had mobilized the community with the idea of a boycott and had invited King to play a critical role. Seiz- ing upon the arrest of Parks, they created a context within which King could blossom. King gleaned from the sacrifices of maids and laborers who bore the brunt of the hardship by giving up buses for over a year. He also gained valuable experience as the president of the MIA, where he had to marshal resources, navigate through controversies and rivalries, and respond to crises with strategic thinking and skillful decision mak- ing. In addition, he learned the potentially pivotal role the media could

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