Interview with Coretta Scott King
QUESTION 10
INTERVIEWER:

TALKING ABOUT THE START OF THE BOYCOTT, COULD YOU TALK ABOUT HOW YOU HEARD ABOUT IT, AND WHAT YOUR HUSBAND'S REACTION WAS? WAS HE IMMEDIATELY WILLING TO REALLY BE PART OF IT AND LEAD IT, OR DID HE HAVE TO REALLY THINK ABOUT IT?

Coretta Scott King:

Well, he had no thought that—Martin and I were home, I believe, when, together, when the phone call came from E.D. Nixon, who was a, a leader in the community. He was the President of the NAACP and had worked very actively in the community on some of these problems, and had called for black people to kind of rise up and do something about it. And he felt that this was an opportunity with these young ministers being in town. Dr. King was at Dexter and Reverend Abernathy was at First Baptist Church, and they were very good friends and working together. And he called the both of them, separately of course, and suggested that there ought to be a boycott of those buses. And he started giving background on the history of what had happened with black people, the confrontations that had taken place over the years. And I think, in the conversation, as I understand it, that they had, they decided the ministerial group and some leaders, and that meeting. Martin offered to have that meeting at his church, but it would be the head of the ministerial association, the ministers, it was the Black Ministers' Alliance, that would spearhead it, and then the other leadership was invited in. They had the meeting at Dexter and things didn't go well. The first, the first night that they had this meeting, because somehow the person who was involved in the leadership, perhaps was not the best person to chair the meeting. But somehow they got through it and they did make some plans. The plans, the plans called for a one-day boycott of the buses on December the 5th. And they sent out leaflets all over town, and they talked to the ministers to go to their congregations on Sunday and encourage them to stay off the buses, for one day, to protest this very dreadful situation of Mrs. Parks being arrested, and they all were very excited about it. But then the thing that made for more excitement was the fact that one of the leaflets was picked up by a maid and taken to work with her, and her, mistress, or her boss found it, or took it and read it, and then she called the local newspaper and wanted them to publicize what these blacks were up to, so everybody would know about it in the white community. Well, that was really a great way to publicize our cause. And nobody signed it, you know, they didn't know who was doing it. The whole idea was not to put anybody's name out there. And they realized that there would be some retaliation. So they were trying to get it started before anyone was identified with it. So, the Monday night, December the 5th, there was to be a mass meeting at the Holt Street Baptist Church. In the afternoon of the 5th, there was another meeting of the leadership. And at, that was the time when they decided to form an organization, and in the process of forming an organization they had to select a leader, a spokesperson, a president. And when Martin got to the meeting, he was a little late, and they were talking about the leadership, and they were discussing the fact that whose, whoever named, whosever [sic] name was, was projected, that that person might become a target. And I think then people began to sort of resist the whole idea. And when E.D. Nixon proposed Martin's name, you know, Martin said, "Well, you know, I'm not sure I'm the best person for this position, since I'm new in the community, and, but if, if no one else is going to serve you know, someone has to do it. And, I'd be glad to. I'd be glad to try to do it." And of course, I guess, everybody then assured him they wanted him. So he came home very excited about the fact that he had to give the keynote speech that night at the mass meeting. He only had twenty minutes to prepare his speech. ** So, I was thinking to myself how wonderful it would be if I could get out of this house and go, but my baby was a few weeks old, and my doctor said you have to stay in for a whole month. You know, I didn't have any problems, having the baby, but to stay in a whole month, that was what was required by my doctor. So I was going to be obedient. But then Martin went to his study and he made an outline, as he very often did. And naturally he couldn't write a speech in twenty minutes that was so fateful, really. I mean, that, that particular occasion was to determine the, the future, the destiny of that whole movement. And I think he understood that, because the boycott had been so effective, all day. Martin said it had been ninety-nine and nine-tenths percent, I believe, effective. And therefore if people came out in large numbers that night, then we really had, you know, a movement, and we had to find a way to continue it. And being the spokesman was a trem—pretty tremendous job, an awesome job, really, and not even knowing where it was leading. So when he got there—he told me when he returned that, that there were so many people, they couldn't get near the church. And they, when they got, finally got up to the church, they almost had to be carried over the shoulders of people, he and Reverend Abernathy, in order to get to the pulpit. And of course the excitement of the crowd, certainly, generated great enthusiasm and inspiration in Martin. And he made, I think, a very important speech, that really did determine which direction the movement would go, as well as the tone, I guess, maybe more importantly the tone of the movement. It was to be a nonviolent movement, and he called for Christian love, and to not retaliate with violence. That no matter what violence was perpetrated against us, that we must not retaliate, but that we must love our white brother and let him know that we love them. And that we must continue to struggle in a determined manner so that we would, if we would do that and we would, you know, do it, I mean, as he called for a kind of unity, that he felt that future generations would have to say that, pause and say that there lived a people, a black people, a great people, who injected a new meaning into our civilization. And this was you know, our overwhelming challenge, our responsibility, and our overwhelming challenge, and our responsibility, I believe is what he said. Fortunately, I got someone to tape it, so we have a copy of the speech which we were able to use in the film, the documentary Montgomery to Memphis, which really gave a very important beginning.