Stanford University The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute
Letter from Birmingham Jail
Part Four: Redefining Leadership
  1. Opening Activity: Play the audio of King's first speech as President of the Montgomery Improvement Association at Holt Street Baptist Church on December 5, 1955. Students can also follow the text of the speech and see a photo of the meeting in the Holt Street Baptist Church. Explain to students that the boycott had begun that morning after JoAnn Robinson circulated handbills asking for citizens to stay off the buses. Thousands of people came to the meeting that night to support a call for continuing the boycott. While they listen to the speech, have students choose their favorite quote and explain the reason for their choice. After listening ask students to explain how King's position as a minister contributed to his role as a leader within the boycott.
  2. Classroom Activity: Choose 7 students to perform a dramatic reading of the Montgomery Improvement Association minutes from January 30th, 1956. The Roles should include a narrator, Rev. Alford, Rev. Binion, Mr. E.D. Nixon, Mr. White, Rev. King, and Mr. Saye. You will need to show your students the parts for the narrator. The narrator should read the passages without quotation marks. You may want to highlight the narrator parts for easier identification.
  3. Discussion/Reflection Questions: Who led the boycott? Many argue that King led the boycott. Is this an accurate characterization? In the MIA meeting King states, "From my limited contact, if we went tonight and asked the people to get back on the bus, we would be ostracized." Did the people create and sustain the boycott or did Martin Luther King, Jr. inspire them to sustain the boycott? What was the legal strategy of the NAACP? What was the relationship between the MIA and the NAACP?
  4. Classroom Activity: Using the King Encyclopedia ask students to examine the role of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), the Women's Political Council (WPC) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). As the students read the entries from the King Encyclopedia, have them record their findings on the Redefining Leadership Handout. You may want to split students into groups of three and assign one organization to each of the three students. The students will report to their partners or to the class their findings.



  Documents:     Resources and Handouts:  
  Assignment Options:        
  • Offer one of the following articles for students to read Clayborne Carson's Martin Luther King, Jr.: Charismatic Leadership in a Mass Struggle or The Unexpected Emergence of Martin Luther King, Jr. Ask students to reflect on the definition of leadership and King's unique position as a minister. Do ministers today play an influential role in communities?
  • Ask students to prepare for a debate. Start by giving the students Ella Baker's statement, "The movement made Martin rather than Martin making the movement." Ask students to support or criticize the statement using concrete details about the bus boycott.

Who led the Montgomery Bus Boycott?

What was the role of WPC, MIA, and NAACP in causing institutional change?

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