On December 31, 1957 the Philadelphia Tribune reported on an event held by the Philadelphia Cotillion Society honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his contributions to the civil rights movement. Dr. King, who a few months prior to the event helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, gained national fame when he led the Montgomery bus boycott just two years prior. The organization, the nation’s oldest black cotillion society, awarded Dr. King the Sapphire Cross of Malta. Along with Dr. King, members of Philadelphia’s clergy, many civic and social leaders, and over 6,500 people were entertained by hundreds of school children who performed a ballet titled “The Wizard.”
The highlight of the night was Dr. King’s speech in which he called on African Americans to respond to white racism with love. King, whose own home and church were bombed earlier in the year said, “Negroes in the south feel that even though bigoted white mobs will bomb their homes and churches, we will continue to love them. They may deny us our right to live like free peoples, but we will continue to love them.” His insistence upon nonviolent protest, even in the face of violent resistance, is the single most important factor in the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act bills less than a decade later.