Martin Luther King
and the Montgomery Story
Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story
The Fellowship of Reconciliation
Nyack, New York, 1959
The Fellowship of Reconciliation was established informally in 1914 by Henry Hodgkin, an English Quaker and Friedrich Sigmund-Schultze, a German Lutheran, who were returning from a failed ecumenical conference in Switzerland hoping to prevent the outbreak of World War 1.
Hodgkin and Sigmund-Schultze pledged to find a way of working for peace even though their countries were now at war.
The FOR was founded formally in Cambridge England in December 1914, and the American organization in 1915.
The FOR has since become an interfaith and international movement with branches in over 40 countries on every continent.
Since its founding the FOR has worked internationally for peace and social justice. It helped organize the National Civil Liberties Bureau (which became the ACLU) as well as the first National Conference of Christians and Jews, as well as international pro-union and anti-war organizing.
In the 1940s it worked against interment of Americans of Japanese descent, and in Europe FOR members rescued Jews and political refugees from the Nazis. In America, in 1947, they sponsored the first inter racial ‘freedom ride’ to challenge discrimination in interstate travel.
In the 1950s the FOR helped organize the American Committee on Africa to support African independence and conducted a six year program to help feed China during a time of famine.
Also in the 1950s the Fellowship worked with Martin Luther King Jr during the Montgomery bus boycott and held workshops on non-violence throughout the South. This comic book was produced as part of that work.
The book was the idea of Alfred Hassler, who was, in 1956, the Publications Director for the FOR. He could see the need for a solid educational tool for non-violence in what was going to be a time of social change. He worked over a two year period to develop the book with Benton Resnick. Resnick is referred to as the writer elsewhere, but that seems erroneous. Resnick was business manager for Toby Press, and has no other writing credit. His son believes he handled only the business and production aspects of the project. My own assumption would be that he was somewhat of a defacto editor, but I don’t think Alfred Hassler needed an editor. It was his project and he knew what he wanted, but Reznick was the guy inside the Al Capp Studio, which was connected to Toby Press.
Benton Reznick is referred to elsewhere as being blacklisted, but this is not easily substantiated. He was allegedly blacklisted after testifying before the senate, but this makes little sense. People also seem to be conflating the US Senate anti-communist hearings with the NY Senate comic book hearings, and i couldn’t find an easy reference connecting him with either.
It has long been known that the art was supplied by the Capp Studio, which did other political jobs including the 1948 anti-Taft book. Al Capp has been described elsewhere as respecting King and his work, and a closet liberal despite the right-wing rhetoric of his work. Recently the cartoonist James Romberger has identified the artist as Golden Age great Sy Berry. The early script was read and commented on by Dr. King and some of his ideas were used in the printed version. No other specifics are known.
The comic is a standard format commercial job: 16 pages, paper covers and about 7 x 10 inches.
The book opens with a quick review of Dr. King’s early life as the son of a prominent Atlanta Pastor, where the Bible was the cornerstone of the family. King is shown as he grows and continues to let the Bible guide him as he finishes his education, marries and returns to the South in 1954.
The narration of the story then shifts to the first person account of a black Southern ‘Everyman’ who explains life under Jim Crow in quick and sanitized comic book language before telling the story of Rosa Parks, whose refusal to surrender her bus seat to a white led to the Montgomery bus boycott. The boycott was successful in keeping blacks off the buses and the Montgomery Improvement Association was created to work for fair treatment towards blacks. Reverend King was chosen as the organization’s leader. The movement for equality is shown to be based in the church, and non-violence and organization are shown to be the reasons for the success of the boycott in the face of violence, intimidation and the bombing of King’s house.
As it becomes obvious that the boycott will end the Improvement Association continues to organize non-violence workshops to effectively deal with the resentment and intimidation that will surely follow. Non-violence is shown to be a workable tool in the real world in the face of increasing violence, KKK marches, cross burnings and church bombings. Segregationist violence outrages the majority of white citizens, and the story closes with the black narrator confiding to the reader that he’s even thrown away his gun.
The second story is titled Martin Luther King Tells How A Nation Won Its Freedom By The Montgomery Method. This is a two page telling of Gandhi’s struggle against the British in India, told as a sermon or speech by Reverend King.
Next is a three page piece titled How The Montgomery Method Works. The foundation is that God loves us as individuals, and as individuals we must act on this love. We are told to remember that God loves our enemies as much as he loves us, and that we must never deny the humanity of any person. The commonality of all humans is stressed as are study, patience and reasoned discourse in the face of intimidation.
This is a beautiful book. It is well written and the art is at the top of professional standards. There were 250,000 copies printed and another 125,000 in Spanish. They were used as teaching tools during the civil rights movement, and not many have survived. Freedom Marchers were told to memorize the book and destroy it. The importance of the book has been attested to by John Lewis, who’s graphic novel March is the story of his own involvement with Dr. King and the civil rights movement.
When Arab Spring Broke out in 2010, protest organizers looked to history and the internet, wanting to know more about Gandhi, King and non-violence, and this is where they found this comic. The comic was eventually translated into four local dialects, and has widely been credited as being as effective teaching tool in 2010 as it had been in 1958.
The new use of the comic was covered as news in the United States and this, along with the continued interest in the comic among collectors, prompted the Fellowship to reprint both the English and Spanish versions in 2011 and again in 2013. Top Shelf has recently published a reprint for the comic market.
Full color reprints of both editions are available from the Fellowship at:
There are plans for Middle Eastern editions.
Notes on the Original and Reprint Editions:
The two reprint editions by the Fellowship are not identified as such and this has caused some confusion among collectors. There are several ways of recognizing the different versions.
First, remember that the reprints have been copied from original editions. This means they look old, but if you look at the white areas with a good magnifying glass you can see a yellow ink pattern. On the cover, this makes the blue of Dr. King’s coat and the green of the car in the left foreground darker than the punchy colors of the original. There is also a noticeable black dot just above Dr. King’s shoulder, directly down from the price. That’s because they’re all copied from an original book with this printer’s flaw. That also means there are possibly original editions with that flaw. The copy of the book used to illustrate this article has a similar blemish, but the scan at top also reflects the original edition’s bright, clear colors on the green car and blue coat
The easiest way to spot the reprints is by the staples. The 1958 original edition has copper staples. The 2011 English reprint has aluminum alloy wire bindings, and the Spanish has a glued binding. The 2011 reprints were in the quantity of 15,000 for the English version and 5,000 for the Spanish Version. The 2013 reprints of the English version have glued bindings, and 25,000 were printed. This means the first edition copies will attract a magnet.
In 2013 there were also versions printed in Arabic and Farsi, in editions of 3,000 each.
Notes and References:
There was a second comic book biography of Dr. King, done by Golden Legacy Comics in the 1970s. Newer comics and graphic novels also exist.
Reference for the history of the Fellowship Of Reconciliation here:
Other details were provided in writing or over the phone by staff members of the Fellowship.
RE: Arab Spring: correspondence with Ethan Persoff. Ethan was the actual source for the comic, but he told me they saw it first here. He has his copy posted here.
At the time, he and I were the only people to have written about the book.
RE: Al Capp’s politics: Golden Age artist Tom Sawyer (Scheuer) worked as Capp’s assistant in the 1960s, he described Capp as a liberal and his conservatism as a business strategy in a 2018 conversation.
Here’s a link to an interview with Andrew Aydin, who co-wrote March.
All text copyright tom christopher
All art copyright Fellowship Of Reconciliation
All copyrights 2004, revisions 2014
All rights reserved