The Montgomery bus boycott looms as a formative turning point of the twentieth century: harbinger of the African American freedom movement, which in turn inspired movements for freedom around the globe; springboard for the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. in civil rights, human rights, and peace- making; launching pad for the worldwide era of upheaval known as the "sixties," which lasted nearly two decades and dominated the rest of the century; marker of the midcentury divide between modern and postmodern. The bus boycott stands for all times as one of humankind's supreme democratic moments, a monumental struggle to actualize the American dream of freedom, equality, and constitutionalism. The nonviolent uprising of 1955 and 1956 represented a new founding of American democracy that pushed the nation a quantum leap closer to keeping faith with its parchment principles.
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution gave birth to the United States as a promise of freedom, something new in the eighteenth- century world. At that time American freedom meant independence from Great Britain and liberties for propertied Anglo-Saxon men. It remained an unfulfilled promise for nine out of ten inhabitants of the new world. African Americans, white women, wage workers fought to make their birthright real. They constructed a handle on freedom that they called "equal rights," a rallying cry that ascended from hush arbor and soap box, pulpit and tea table, penny press and fiery tract, to the Capitol and the White House.
Abraham Lincoln crystallized the nation's second founding halfway through the holocaust of Civil War when he emancipated slaves and spoke the incantation of Gettysburg. The Gettysburg Address gathered the "full measure" of the war's death and devastation--hauntingly reflected by the awful battlefield backdrop--to illuminate and consecrate the watchword of