Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the famed Black American leader who rose to become an iconic figure in the Civil Rights Movement, was targeted by racists who wished to silence his message of peace.
Although MLK was nonviolent in his campaign, his detractors would not follow suit. On this day in 1956, King’s home in Montgomery, Alabama was bombed by opponents of his work during boycotts against racist acts in the Deep South.
The bombing was especially jarring considering that although King was not home at the time of the bombing, his wife, Coretta, just had their first child, Yolanda. King was away organizing members as part of the Montgomery Bus Boycotts that began in 1955.
The boycotts took place in December of that year after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to move from her seat in favor of a White person, which was the law in Alabama and other states in America at the time.
The family lived in a home on the grounds of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where King, then 27 years old, served as the pastor. Because of the volatile nature of King’s work, threats against his life by white supremacists were common. According to Ms. Shirley Cherry of the Dexter Parsonage Museum, the King family received a call just three days before the bombing.
“We’re tired of your mess. And if you aren’t out of this town in three days, we’re going to blow up your house and blow your brains out,” said the caller. King was reportedly shaken by the call but as a man of God, he used his faith as his shield.
King was away at an evening meeting with other boycott workers when the bomb exploded on the front porch of the home. The bomb was strong enough to cause damage to the house by blowing out the windows. King was told of the bombing and rushed home to be by his wife’s side. Luckily, his family was unharmed.
At the home, a group of armed Black men seeking vengeance on King’s behalf gathered outside with some White police officers. King addressed the crowd and reporters, repeating his common message of nonviolence.
“If you have weapons, take them home. If you do not have them, please do not seek them. We cannot solve this problem through violence. We must meet violence with non-violence. Love your enemies; bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you. Remember this movement will not stop, because God is with it,” said King after he demanded silence from the angry crowd.
After he said those words, the crowds left.
A lawsuit was filed the day of the bombing by the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) to challenge the bus segregation laws. In the days after, E.D. Nixon, who worked with King as was the local chapter president of the civil rights group NAACP, had his house bombed as well.
No arrests were ever made in the violent attacks.
The nine-room house, built in 1912, has been restored to its appearance when Dr. King and his family lived there. Much of the furniture in some rooms was actually used by Dr. King.