Rhetoric, Religion and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965

By Davis W. Houck; David E. Dixon | Go to book overview

§31 Dr. Mordecai Wyatt Johnson

Dr. Mordecai Johnson’s biography appears in the introduction to his January 10, 1954 sermon in Baltimore, Maryland.

Johnson’s speech at the Prayer Pilgrimage on May 17, 1957 commemorates the third anniversary of the Brown decision. Before 30,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, Johnson and other speakers walked something of a rhetorical tightrope. That is, King and A. Philip Randolph wanted to hold the march as a protest of the Eisenhower administration’s unwillingness to hear black grievances. But in order to bring the resources of the NAACP to bear on the event, King and Randolph had to persuade Roy Wilkins. They did so primarily by arguing that the march would function as a rally for the administration’s voting rights bill. With Wilkins on board, the NAACP eventually convinced the administration, by badmouthing King, to allow the pilgrimage to use the Lincoln Memorial as its staging ground.

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