How the Automobile Helped Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive Civil Rights in America


Getting to the rally was the first step. And the car was how he got there. 

The automobile served great purpose throughout Martin Luther King Jr.’s journey. And it was crucial to MLK during the Civil Rights movement and in fighting for civil rights for many Black Americans in the U.S. Here are some facts about how the automobile greatly impacted this historic time.

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5 Ways the Automobile Served a Great Purpose for Martin Luther King, Jr.

1. Freedom – To Get to the Events that Changed the Course of History

When asked to describe what driving a car feels like, most people use one word: freedom. The same goes for Martin Luther King, Jr. Having an automobile gave him some freedom. He was able to get around more quickly and privately. He was also able to skip public transportation because he had access to a car.

There’s a great photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. where he was put into the backseat of a police car with a K-9. The dog was supposed to intimidate him but instead, he quickly made friends with him. This was a perfect example of how he used kindness in every situation.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

2. A Safer Way to Get Around

Most of the time, anyway. Police were known to harass drivers during this time but it was far more difficult to oppress people in a car than on a bus. In some cases, people would purposely try to damage a Black American person’s car. This was an inevitably dangerous time. But imagine being a mom with children on a bus and a fight breaks out or everyone is arrested? Imagine being bullied for your seat just because of what you look like? Public transportation became dangerous during the boycott that lasted for a year; buses were even set on fire.

3. Ability to Boycott Public Transportation

If the automobile didn’t exist, the chance to boycott would have been slim. During the boycott, Black Americans who owned cars drove all around picking up and dropping off others where they needed to go. The movement was very strong.  Similar to the Women’s rights movement, the automobile was an important weapon to have. It not only symbolized freedom but power and a shot at a better life.

Related: Turn Your Family Road Trip Into a Learning Adventure

4. He Found a Way Around Segregated Travel

Black Americans with enough money were able to drive their own cars since the 1920s. This was the way around the horrible segregation that existed on public transportation. But it wasn’t all perfect and things got harder during the Jim Crow era. If an American family wanted to travel, they couldn’t stay in just any hotel or use a roadside restroom. They had to pack up the car and camp out (or inside the car). In fact, there was an annual Green Book created and published by Victor H. Green for Black American travelers. This guidebook provided a list of hotels, taverns, restaurants, and more. The Green Book also helped Black Americans stay safe and avoid places where they could be treated with prejudice.

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5. The Chance to Live the American Dream and Create Memories with his Family

Martin Luther King, Jr. was often photographed with his wife and young children. You can see that they were a great joy in his life. They were only 12, 10 and 5 when their father was assassinated. Sadly, his life was cut too short. Martin Luther King Jr. lived his life through example. He taught us that kindness and protesting peacefully, not violently, is the way to fight back. He spoke words of love, light, and change.

“Sometimes I feel like, why do I have to share my father with the world? And then I come back to a place where I say, you know what, if you had to do all this over again … I would still have the story be the same.“ -Bernice King, 2018

Lillie Morales is an entrepreneur mama- writer, photographer, and an Editor at She loves fast, pretty cars- ones... More about Lillie Morales