Pete Seeger oral history interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier in Beacon, New York, 2011-07-22.
And he gave me the address of the Montgomery Improvement Association. And I called up and got E.D. Nixon on the phone. He was the person that Rosa [Parks] called when she was arrested and she was allowed to make one phone call. And he said, “Rosa, I’ll be right down to pick you up.” But he said, “This is what we need. That teenager that tried to stand up, uh, to the police, uh, was pregnant. We couldn’t have gotten the community behind her. But everybody knows Rosa.” And, uh, don’t know the details, but he also knew that King was a fantastic speaker. And he called up - I found this out later - he called up King and said, uh, “Could we hold a protest meeting at your church?”
And King says, “Well, I’m new here, uh, Brother Nixon, and, uh, let me check with my deacons to make sure they approve. Call me back in two hours.” And two hours later, Nixon calls up. “I’m glad to say, uh, Brother Nixon, that, uh, the deacons approve. You may have the meeting at our church tonight.” And Nixon says, “Reverend King, I’m so glad you said that, because I’ve just told two hundred people we are meeting at [laughing] your church at eight o’clock.”
JM: [Laughing] So, it’s a good thing the deacons said yes.
JB: Sure is.
PS: And, uh, that’s when he made that most important statement, probably several times, “We will win this bus boycott if we are nonviolent.” And I’m sure he had to reiterate this in the future weeks. Uh, there might be some, some, uh, doctors or lawyers, African Americans whose businesses was going to be hurt, saying, “Dr. King, we can make a few compromises, but, uh, this - if we - this will lead to trouble, and, uh, we don’t want to see violence.” And he said, uh, “What are you doing tonight? Uh, can we discuss this?”
And because he’d already gotten phone calls from angry young people, [who] said, “Look, they’ve tried to kill us, uh, and they’ve beaten us. Uh, why don’t we do something to them?” And, uh, he would say, “Are you free tonight? We have to talk this over.” And he’d put these two groups of African Americans facing each other and say, “We have to solve this problem.” And he didn’t need to do too much talking, uh, but they had to each state their position and listen to the other and finally came to a compromise. They would continue, but they would try and find ways there’d be no violence.
And then, of course, this man which should be given more credit in the [laughs] in the Civil Rights Movement, Bull Connor. [Laughter] I knew his name in 1940. I was hitchhiking through the South, and people said, “If you’re going through Birmingham, stay out of the way of Bull Connor. He’s the police chief.”