Sometimes, the familiar looks sharper from a different perspective. In the new book “The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement” (Simon & Schuster, $26), author Taylor Branch offers a new point of view about a well-known story.
In 1954, the Supreme Court rendered a decision in the case Brown v. Board of Education about the same time Rosa Parks refused to relinquish her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus.
Martin Luther King Jr. had recently been drafted as president of a new protest committee. Just before giving a speech, he told a friend, “This could turn into something big.”
“He was twenty-six,” says Branch, “and had not quite twelve years and four months to live.”
Students, wishing to do something for the growing movement, began holding sit-ins. Few of them made any impact initially, but one at a Woolworth's in Greensboro, N.C., changed everything.
Volunteers offered to relieve sitters while others organized to have sit-ins elsewhere, mostly in cities with Negro colleges.
Nonviolent protest was key to the sit-ins' success, and workshops were quickly formed to teach the students how to deal with everything crowds could (sometimes literally) throw at them. Arrests were made, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was founded.
By 1963, King had a court. Hollywood backed him. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference was behind him.