Martin Luther King Jr., an Atlanta native, first became involved in the civil rights movement in Montgomery, Alabama, where he headed the Montgomery Improvement Association and, with activist Ralph David Abernathy, organized the Montgomery bus boycotts in 1955. The boycotts led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1956 that segregation on Montgomery buses was unconstitutional.
In August 1957 King and Abernathy launched the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Atlanta, with King serving as president. Over the next decade, King led the March on Washington in 1963, which promoted the importance of equality and jobs for African Americans, and carried on the work for suffrage begun by Dobbs and Bacote. In 1965 he was present when U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into federal law. King worked tirelessly to reinforce his nonviolent approach in the face of rising Black power but was shot dead in 1968 while supporting a workers’ strike in Memphis, Tennessee.
King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, was an influential activist in her own right. Scott King was present at both the March on Washington in 1963 and the Selma to Montgomery march in Alabama in 1965, and she often used her singing talents to raise funds for these protests. Other women, including Bernice Johnson Reagon, also used the power of music to express their support for the civil rights movement.
Scott King traveled to India with her husband in 1959 to study the philosophy of civil disobedience pioneered by Mahatma Gandhi decades earlier, but her focus remained in the South. She went to Memphis immediately after her husband’s death to oversee the march that he had been planning and soon thereafter established the King Center in Atlanta to honor his life and work. She later worked for the National Organization for Women on the Equal Rights Amendment, and in the 1980s she worked with anti-apartheid groups in South Africa, where she established friendships with both Winnie and Nelson Mandela. In recognition of her contributions, Scott King became the first woman and the first African American after her death to lie in state at the capitol rotunda in Atlanta.