King’s Court: Leaders Who Moved Alongside Martin

We had no alternative except that of preparing for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and national community. - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Andrew Young.

Hosea Williams.

Ralph Abernathy.

John Lewis.

Bayard Rustin.

Diane Nash.

Martin Luther King [Jr.] strategized, traveled, marched, advocated and fought alongside a crew of freedom fighters during the Civil Rights movement. Some names like Lewis’s we would become intimately familiar with as he would transition into federal politics. Others such as Rustin and Nash would become familiar to later generations upon deeper examination of the intersections of gender and orientation to the movement.

King was a giant, almost mythical figure in the crusade for equality for Black America, and was the recipient of most of its flowers. But he did not mobilize in isolation. He was in regular counsel with a trusted team of friends...advisors...co-conspirators who knew his sensibilities and worked tirelessly to advance Black America’s lot in this country.

What 21st-century activism has reinforced is movements of change with the highest levels of efficacy do not revolve around one individual. Collective progress has long been the order of the day.

Here’s a brief profile of some of the members of “King’s court”. Leaders who mobilized with Martin and endured many of the pains and frustrations he experienced in trying to appeal to the consciousness of America. Shouts out to:

Andrew Young

photo credit: thoughtco.com

New Orleans native Andrew Young joined Martin Luther King amid the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Young, who at the time was a pastor in an Alabama church, took an interest in pursuing voting rights for Black Americans and crossed paths with King while on his voter advocacy journey.

King and Young would work closely in leadership roles within the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) until the time of King’s assassination. Young would later utilize his advocacy background in the world of local and national politics, becoming the first Black person to serve as a U.S. congressman from Georgia since Reconstruction and later a two-term mayor of Atlanta.

He is one of the only associates of Dr. King that is still alive, at 88 years old.

Hosea Williams

photo credit: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Hosea Williams was a native of Attapulgus, Georgia, and raised by his grandfather after his mother died during childbirth. By the time he became acquainted with Dr. King, he had already endured a lifetime of racial terror including a near lynching when he was a teenager for befriending a white girl and nearly killed for drinking from a “white’s only” water fountain as a post-World War II, purple heart veteran.

Williams, like Andrew Young and Dr. King, was an ordained minister and very well-educated. He joined the Savannah, Georgia branch of the NAACP after the water fountain incident, later becoming connected with King through the SCLC. Williams was responsible for coordinating Black voter registration drives in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer of 1964, and later played a lead organizing role in the Selma to Montgomery, Alabama march in 1965.

Williams died in 2000 at the age of 74.

Ralph Abernathy

Ralph Abernathy was a minister and co-founder of the SCLC, who along with Dr. King, organized the historic Montgomery bus boycotts. Abernathy, a native of Linden, Alabama was also a World War II veteran, and like his peers dual-degreed, receiving his undergraduate degree from Alabama State College and his master’s degree from Atlanta University.

Abernathy was an early mentor to King and the two founded the Montgomery Improvement Association, largely in response to the arrest of Rosa Parks. The Montgomery bus boycott, catalyzed by Parks’s arrest, was core to Abernathy and King’s partnership and would later influence their work and formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Abernathy died in 1990 at the age of 64.

John Lewis

photo credit: Photo by Kypros/Getty Images

John Lewis was one of King’s youngest colleagues/fellow advocates in the Civil Rights movement. As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), he played a hand in helping organize the historic March on Washington and was one of its speakers.

Lewis who was also a participant in the Freedom Rides of 1961 was also subjected to multiple arrests and brutal beatings in his time as a field organizer in the Civil Rights movement. He famously suffered a fractured skull while marching on the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the iconic voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

He would later, like Andrew Young, enter national politics becoming a U.S. Congressman in 1986 for Georgia’s 5th District in the House of Representatives. Lewis coined the phrase “Good Trouble” and use it as a mantra to fight for disenfranchised Americans during his 34-year career in Congress.

Lewis died in 2020 at the age of 80 after a nearly year-long battle with pancreatic cancer.

Bayard Rustin

photo credit: history.com

Bayard Rustin was a speechwriter and key organizer in the Civil Rights movement, most notably a central figure in the organization of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Rustin met Dr. King in the 1950s and began working with him as an organizer and strategist in 1955.

Rustin is credited for teaching King about Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of non-violent resistance and advising him on tactics of civil disobedience. As an openly gay man organizing in the 1950s and 1960s, Rustin had been arrested multiple times for publicly engaging in “homosexual activity”, and general civil disobedience. His international travel and experiences with various human rights organizations lent nuance to the primarily southern, Christian-led movement King orchestrated.

Rustin died in 1987 at the age of 75.

Diane Nash

photo credit: Alabama Chanin Journal

Diane Nash played an integral role in integrating lunch counters through sit-ins, the Freedom Riders, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Selma Right-to-vote movement and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. As a young activist with SNCC, Nash was a frontline advocate in the Freedom Rides of 1961in the fight to desegregate public transportation in the South.

As a native of Chicago and student at Howard University, Nash would later forge a relationship with Dr. King through the attention garnered by the Freedom Rides. She would ultimately drop out of college to become a full-time activist with the SCLC.

Nash later played a considerable role in the Selma Voting Rights Campaign which would ultimately lead to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King awarded Nash the SCLC’s Rosa Parks award in 1965 for her contributions to civil rights.

Ms. Nash eventually returned to her hometown of Chicago where she is a fair housing advocate at the tender age of 82.

About the Author

Donney Rose is a poet, essayist, Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, advocate, and Chief Content Editor at The North Star. He believes in telling how it is and how it should be

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