For Antwan T. Lang, a member of the Chatham County Board of Elections in Savannah, Ga., Dr. King’s words meant we cannot be afraid to learn from one another and understand our differences and similarities.
“My hope is that one day white America will understand that we harvest no hate, but we want to be seen not as a Black man, Black entrepreneur, Black superintendent, Black doctor, Black lawyer, Black teacher, Black insurance agent, Black funeral director, but as a human being wanting to freely be ourselves without having to walk on eggshells in fear of becoming a statistic,” he said.
“It is clear to me that our protest and our plea to America is that we want to be free, to simply be a human being with real feelings, emotions, dreams and goals,” Mr. Lang said, “to be able to live long enough to accomplish those goals, dreams and ambitions.”
“Oh no, Brother Gray. This is no ploy at all. If we are to succeed, I am now convinced that an absolutely nonviolent method must be ours amid the vast hostilities we face.”
— Dr. King’s response in 1955 to a suggestion that his nonviolence tactics were for attention.
Fred D. Gray was the lawyer who represented Rosa Parks, Dr. King and the Montgomery Improvement Association during the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, the event that inaugurated the 20th century civil rights movement. The quote, found in Mr. Gray’s account of that battle, “Bus Ride to Justice,” was Dr. King’s response to a suggestion that his commitment to nonviolence was a ploy to gain attention in the press.
“I became a lawyer so I could use the law for the purpose of destroying every act of segregation that I could find,” Mr. Gray said. “There were other people whose roles were to make speeches, and others who demonstrated, but you had to put it all together and do it in a nonviolent fashion.”
Regarding the protests over the past year against killings of unarmed African Americans by police officers, Mr. Gray said: “I think we’re going to have to go back to what Martin said about nonviolence and social change. All the things that Dr. King did, all the things we did in the Montgomery bus boycott were to get rid of racism and inequality. We were able to do a little bit, but not do it all.”
Ellen Barry, Elizabeth Dias and Richard Fausset contributed reporting. Susan Beachy contributed research.