On January 30, 1956, an unidentified suspected white supremacist terrorist bombed the Montgomery home of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. No one was harmed, but the explosion outraged the community and was a major test of King’s steadfast commitment to non-violence.
King was relatively new to Montgomery, Alabama but had quickly involved himself in the civil rights struggle there. He was a leading organizer of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which began in December of 1955 after activist Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated city bus to a white passenger. The boycott brought King national recognition, but also made him a target of white supremacists. He was speaking at a nearby church on the evening of January 30 when a man pulled up in a car, walked up to King’s house, and tossed an explosive onto the porch. The bomb went off, damaging the house, but did not harm King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, who was inside with the couple’s seven-month-old daughter Yolanda.
News of the bombing spread quickly, and an angry crowd soon gathered outside King’s home. A matter of minutes after his home had been bombed, standing feet away from the site of the explosion, King preached non-violence. “I want you to love our enemies,” he told his supporters. “Be good to them, love them, and let them know you love them.” It was a prime example of King’s deeply-held belief in nonviolence, as what could have been a riot instead became a powerful display of the highest ideals of the civil rights movement.
King added that “if I am stopped this movement will not stop,” a sentiment he repeated throughout his life. Later that same year, while the boycott was still in effect, someone fired a shotgun at the Kings’ home, and they continued to receive death threats and intimidation—including a threatening letter from the Federal Bureau of Investigation—until King was assassinated in 1968. The bombing was only one chapter in a long history of violence against civil rights leaders and African Americans that continues to this day. Bombings, shootings and arson at African American churches remain shockingly common in the United States—a massacre committed by a white supremacist at a church in Charleston, South Carolina claimed nine lives in 2015, and in 2019 the son of a local sheriff’s deputy was arrested and charged with a string of arson attacks on African American churches in Louisiana.