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A King Behind Bars

His faith in the moral, persuasive power of civil disobedience landed MLK in jail dozens of times in the 1950s and '60s.

Over the course of his time fighting for civil rights, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed 29 times. His "crimes" ranged from loitering and civil disobedience to obstructing a sidewalk and driving 30 in a 25-mile-per-hour zone. Far from the iconic images of King delivering his "I Have a Dream" speech to hundreds of thousands on the Washington Mall, these photos offer a glimpse of the hard-fought and lonely moments when King found himself on the other side of the law. (Pictured above: King sits in a Montgomery police station following his arrest on February 24, 1956.)

February 24, 1956: Montgomery, Alabama Don Cravens/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images February 24, 1956: Montgomery, Alabama King is arrested—and fingerprinted—for his role in a city-wide boycott of segregated buses, sparked by Rosa Parks in December 1955. King and other leaders of the Montgomery movement plead not guilty to the charges. September 3, 1958: Montgomery, Alabama Charles Moore/Getty Images September 3, 1958: Montgomery, Alabama King is arrested for "loitering" at a Montgomery courthouse while attempting to attend the arraignment of a man accused of assaulting his close friend and confidant, Rev. Ralph Abernathy. (Pictured: Two police officers escort King away from the courthouse.) Montgomery officers push King across a police desk while his wife and fellow activist Coretta Scott King watches, on September 3, 1958. Charles Moore/Getty Images Montgomery officers push King across a police desk while his wife and fellow activist Coretta Scott King watches, on September 3, 1958. December 1960: Atlanta, Georgia Donald Uhrbrock/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images December 1960: Atlanta, Georgia King is arrested for violating his parole from a separate arrest for assisting a student sit-in two months before. During the October sit-in, King was booked along with over 250 students, and jailed for eight days. He was only let out after Robert Kennedy called Georgia governor Ernest Vandiver and Judge Oscar Mitchell seeking the civil rights leader's release. December 16, 1961: Albany, Georgia Bettmann/Bettmann Archive December 16, 1961: Albany, Georgia While protesting local segregation laws, King and over 700 demonstrators are arrested for obstructing the sidewalk, disturbing the peace, and parading without a permit. King refuses to pay the fine. (Pictured: Police Chief Laurie Pritchett tells King and Dr. William G. Anderson that they are under arrest.) King waits in the Police Chief's office following his arrest in Albany on December 16, 1961. Two days after this picture is taken, King and other leaders of the Albany movement negotiate a deal with the city to release all jailed protesters and desegregate buses; a deal the city ultimately turns back on once King leaves town. Bettmann/Bettmann Archive King waits in the Police Chief's office following his arrest in Albany on December 16, 1961. Two days after this picture is taken, King and other leaders of the Albany movement negotiate a deal with the city to release all jailed protesters and desegregate buses; a deal the city ultimately turns back on once King leaves town. April 12, 1963: Birmingham, Alabama Bettmann/Bettmann Archive April 12, 1963: Birmingham, Alabama King and Rev. Abernathy are arrested for demonstrating without a permit. While in jail, King pens his historic “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” defending his belief in nonviolent resistance to systematic racism. (Pictured: Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor pulls King by the seat of his trousers while arresting him for failing to provide a permit.) June 12, 1964: St. Augustine, Florida Bettmann/Bettmann Archive June 12, 1964: St. Augustine, Florida King and Rev. Abernathy are arrested for demanding service at a white-only restaurant. Six days later, Abernathy and other protesters are arrested at the Monson Motor Lodge for refusing to get out of the pool, even after the motel manager poured a bottle of hydrochloric acid into the water. November 2, 1967: Birmingham, Alabama Bettmann/Bettmann Archive November 2, 1967: Birmingham, Alabama King spent five days in a Birmingham jail after the Supreme Court upheld a prior conviction for demonstrating without a permit. The Supreme Court’s decision prompted King to release a statement saying that, though he personally believed the sentence set a dangerous precedent, he would ultimately accept the consequences of his actions. “Our purpose when practicing civil disobedience is to call attention to the injustice or to an unjust law which we seek to change.” Pictured, a portion of a telegram sent from boxer Muhammad Ali to King while he was in jail in Birmingham. The full telegram reads, "Hope that you are comfortable, not suffering any physical pain." Mario Tama/Getty Images Pictured, a portion of a telegram sent from boxer Muhammad Ali to King while he was in jail in Birmingham. The full telegram reads, "Hope that you are comfortable, not suffering any physical pain."