At that time both Negroes and whites accepted the well-established patterns of segregation as a matter of fact. Hardly anyone challenged the system. Montgomery was an easygoing town; it could even have been described as a peaceful town. But the peace was achieved at the cost of human servitude.
Many months later, an influential white citizen of Montgomery was to protest to me:
“Over the years we have had such peaceful and harmonious race relations here. Why have you and your associates come in to destroy this long tradition?”
My reply was simple: “Sir,” I said, “you have never had real peace in Montgomery. You have had a sort of negative peace in which the Negro too often accepted his state of subordination. But this is not true peace. True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice. The tension we see in Montgomery today is the necessary tension that comes when the oppressed rise up and start to move forward toward a permanent, positive peace.”
I went on to speculate that this was what Jesus meant when he said: “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Certainly Jesus did not mean that he came to bring a physical sword. He seems to have been saying in substance: “I have not come to bring this old negative peace with its deadening passivity. I have come to lash out against such a peace. Whenever I come, a conflict is precipitated between the old and the new. Whenever I come, a division sets in between justice and injustice. I have come to bring a positive peace which is the presence of justice, love, yea, even the Kingdom of God.”
Excerpt from: “Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story” by Martin Luther King, Jr.