Wrote this piece for Fck Prison the other day:
MLK was arrested 29 times in his life. The first time was for driving 30 MPH in an area with a speed limit of 25 MPH. Obviously, they weren’t just getting him for speeding. At the time, MLK (age 27) was leading the year-long bus boycott in Montgomery. One of the ways the boycott was made possible was through community carpooling. They had meetup locations, volunteer drivers, and a daily schedule.
A month into the boycott, however, the mayor implemented a “get tough” policy in an effort to end the boycott. As a result, more people were getting pulled over to have their paperwork checked and people waiting for rides were questioned and often arrested for hitchhiking. The cops also followed MLK one January afternoon after he picked up a few people to arrest him for a speeding violation.
MLK explains in his first book, Stride Toward Freedom, that he was surprised about getting arrested, but he was even more surprised by the conditions in the jail—boards as bed, torn up mattresses, the toilet out in the open. On this day, he was exposed to a side of segregation and oppression that he never knew before. He says his experience strengthened his commitment to freedom.
-Rachel Wagner 2021