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163 conclusion On March 25, 1965, King addressed a gathering of some twenty thousand people crowded around the steps of the Alabama State Capitol to celebrate the successful end to an arduous four-day march from Selma to Montgomery: Today I want to tell the city of Selma, (Tell them, Doctor) today I want to say to the state of Alabama, (Yes, sir) today I want to say to the people of America and the nations of the world, that we are not about to turn around. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) Yes, we are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. The burning of our churches will not deter us. (Yes, sir) The bombing of our homes will not dissuade us. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) The beating and killing of our clergymen and young people will not divert us. We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) The wanton release of their known murderers would not discourage us. We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) Like an idea whose time has come, (Yes, sir) not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. (Yes, sir) We are moving to the land of freedom. (Yes, sir)1 His speech poignantly captured the remarkable fusion that had evolved between the civil rights movement’s overarching narrative, the Exodus , and its principal means of mass protest, the march, a fusion that occurred in the 1963 Birmingham campaign two years prior. It represented the culmination of a process that began almost a decade previously and that continued throughout King’s career, through which he connected the struggle for racial justice in the United States to the biblical story of the Exodus, in which God miraculously delivered the nation of Israel from Egyptian slavery and brought them across the Red Sea, through the wilderness, and into the Promised Land. 164 CONCLUSION The purpose of this book has been to trace that process from its earliest point in King’s career to its climactic moment in Birmingham, noting the ways that he adapted and applied the story to people and events within the movement’s history. It began with King’s “Death of Evil on the Seashore” sermon, delivered on July 21, 1955, in which King sought to convince his hearers that they were seeing the ancient story played out once more in their own day. He placed them in the story as the chosen people of God, long oppressed but now set free, yet he fashioned their role as one of sympathetic witnesses to the overthrow of their enemies. Most importantly, he situated them within the story’s plot at the far side of the Red Sea, looking back on the “death of evil,” as if the journey to the Promised Land had already begun— and this, five months before they would begin to engage in any organized collective action. Throughout the Montgomery bus boycott, King continued to call on the Exodus as a resource for making sense of what his hearers were experiencing, but now with the form and content adapted to the new demands of sustaining a protracted protest against segregation on the city’s buses. In his boycott rhetoric, King’s references to the biblical story most often took the form of a “code” in which a phrase or even a single word—the long night of captivity, the Egypt of segregation, the Promised Land of freedom and justice—called to mind the larger story. During this period, the previously version of the story, which emphasized the Red Sea crossing as a miracle accomplished almost without Israel’s being aware that it was happening, and which included no mention of the wilderness, became expanded to include an emphasis on the necessity for human action to complement God’s providence. This period also saw the introduction of the wilderness as a predictable and essential element in the journey to freedom’s land. King offered the most complete exposition of the Exodus “paradigm ” in his “Birth of a New Nation” sermon, delivered on April 7, 1957, shortly after his return from Ghana. This sermon presented the full plot structure on which references to the story from this point on would be based. It negotiated the tension between the need for human agency and the assurance of God’s providence. It presented a more complex version of the character...


Subject Headings

  • King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968 -- Language.
  • Exodus, The -- Sermons.
  • Exodus, The.
  • African Americans -- Civil rights -- History -- 20th century.
  • Civil rights movements -- Southern States -- History -- 20th century
  • Civil rights movements -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • King, Martin Luther, -- Jr., 1929-1968 -- Oratory.
  • Rhetoric -- Social aspects -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Rhetoric -- Religious aspects -- Christianity -- History -- 20th century.
  • Rhetoric -- Political aspects -- United States -- History -- 20th century
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