Content thumbnail Becoming King: Martin Luther King Jr.
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Introduction What if Martin Luther King Jr. had never accepted the call to preach at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery? Would he have be- come a famed civil rights leader? Would the bus boycott movement have succeeded? How was the subsequent course of American history altered by the contingencies that brought together King and the Montgomery movement? Although it may be difficult for those who see King as a Great Man and national icon to imagine contemporary America without taking into account his historical impact, Troy Jackson allows us to understand the evolution of King’s leadership within a sustained protest movement ini- tiated by others. Rather than diminishing King’s historical significance, Jackson’s revealing, insightful account of the Montgomery bus boycott invites a deeper understanding of the many unexpected and profound ways that movement transformed King as well as other participants. Jack- son points out that King himself was aware of his limitations and the accidental nature of his sudden fame. Even as he rose to international prominence as spokesperson for the boycott, King often cautioned against the tendency of others to inflate his importance. “Help me, O God, to see that I’m just a symbol of a movement,” he pleaded in a sermon de- livered after the successful end of the boycott. “Help me to realize that I’m where I am because of the forces of history and because of the fifty thousand Negroes of Alabama who will never get their names in the pa- pers and in the headline. O God, help me to see that where I stand today, I stand because others helped me to stand there and because the forces of history projected me there. And this moment would have come in history even if M. L. King had never been born.” He added, “Because if I don’t 1 see that, I will become the biggest fool in America.” Troy Jackson was a colleague of mine in the long-term effort to pub- lish a definitive edition of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his xi

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