Receiving the Call

Beset by doubt about his path, young Martin Luther King, Jr. heard Jesus' voice.

Martin Luther King came to Montgomery, Alabama in September 1954 to become pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. He had accepted his first pulpit while completing his doctorate in philosophical theology at Boston University, a decision that marked a fork in the road for a young man who had planned to become a college president someday.

Although the young pastor arrived in Montgomery with no intention of becoming involved in social protest, events prepared the ground for his emergence as leader of the now-famous Montgomery bus boycott that began with Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat to a white man. At the urging of the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, then pastor of the First Baptist Church, King reluctantly accepted the presidency of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), the pastors' group leading the boycott, on the assumption that the controversy would be resolved quickly. Instead, the boycott stretched into 1956, spawning escalating tensions between black leaders and white officials. King, conflicted over his new role, was in crisis.

The pressures of the recent arrests, city crackdowns, and mounting fears had started taking their toll. In an organizational meeting on January 23, a despondent King offered his resignation as MIA president. None of the other MIA board members seriously considered accepting the resignation, but King's self-doubts had been registered loud and clear. He even planned to publish an advertisement in the Montgomery Advertiser reminding townspeople that the boycott was not seeking to challenge segregation laws. The protest was approaching its third month with no end in sight.


The season of police harassments reached a dramatic climax on Thursday, January 26, when King was stopped by two police officers on motorcycles after having chauffeured several Negro workers to their drop-off spot. In a confusing roadside arrest, King was charged with driving thirty miles an hour in a twenty-five-mile-per-hour zone and placed into a police cruiser, which had presently arrived on the scene. As King sat alone in the back seat, he quickly realized that the police car was moving in the opposite direction of downtown. The car then turned into an unfamiliar street, and through a wooded area and over an unfamiliar bridge, and King's hands began to shake. "These men were carrying me to some faraway spot to dump me off," he thought. "Silently, I asked God to give me the strength to endure whatever came."

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