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Dr. King's very first public speech, the voice still continues to inspire generations

The Civil Rights Movement serves as one of the greatest milestones in American history and, to this day, resonates with thousands across the country, inspiring others to speak up to injustice, stand up for one’s rights and embrace one another in love and unity.

Professor Lorn Foster was at Pacifica Institute on Monday, January 27, 2014, in memory of this powerful time in history and in honor of the esteemed man who lead the way, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Prof. Foster spoke about the revolutionary speech that, in one sense, started it all.

Dr. King delivered his first speech on December 5, 1955 at the Holt Street Baptist Church as the people gathered for the first mass meeting of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) for which Dr. King served as president. It was during this speech that the African-American people of Montgomery Alabama decided that they were going to continue their bus boycott and unite in standing up for their rights to equality. This boycott would grow into the one of the most powerful revolutions in American history, the African-American Civil Rights Movement. As he began his words, Prof. Foster commented, “We are blessed that this speech was given at a time when audio tape was available as we can listen to these great words directly from Dr. King’s own voice.”

Prof. Foster described Dr. King as a master of rhetoric and eloquent speaker. He also brought attention to the fact that King had had only 20 minutes to prepare for his very first speech as a civil rights activist on that eve of Dec. 5, 1955. It was the reservoir of knowledge already present in his mind that served in making his first public speech as effective and beautiful as it was, he said. The trials and tribulations Dr. King and his family went through were a living example of the fact that he cared for something that was larger than himself and his family. He refused to stop preaching and fighting for his cause even as his house was set on fire and his family was endangered, explained Prof. Foster.

Prof. Foster described E.D. Nixon, Rosa Parks, and Dr. King as the three powerful figures that came together to generate that initial spark for the revolutionary civil rights movement as they inspired hundreds to stand up with them in their cause. In his Holt Street Baptist Church speech, Dr. King made it clear that he did not see himself as “the other”. He was well aware that he and the hundreds standing there that night listening to him were American citizens, and he was determined to stand up for the rights that came with their citizenship, explained Prof. Foster. Describing democracy as the greatest form of government, Dr. King assured his people that they had every right to protest, to speak up against the oppression they had suffered for so many years.

Segregation had never been challenged to that day, noted Prof. Foster and went on to say, and here was Dr. King urging his people to stand up and protest for their rights as equal citizens to this country. He did this with an absolute renunciation of the use of violence. The only weapon in our hands is the weapon of protest, said Dr. King.

Dr. King urged the hundreds gathered before him to stick together, to become one force in bringing about justice and said, whatever we do, we must keep God in forefront. He referred to justice as being the equivalent of love, “correcting that which revolts against love”. As Prof. Lorn Foster concluded his lecture with a beautifully concise summary of Dr. King’s first speech, he said, “Martin Luther King Jr.’s commitment to democracy, his commitment to America as a citizen and his commitment to justice and love were all present in his first speech.” That evening on Holt Street Baptist Church, Dr. King finished his soulful speech by speaking out to his people that, one day history books would write of “a people who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights”. He was right. And that very speech marked the beginning of a civil rights movement that would continue to fill hearts and inspire the many generations that would follow…

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