How Significant Was Martin Luther King Jr. to the Black Civil Rights Movement? Essay
How significant was Martin Luther King Jr. to the black civil rights movement? There are variations in the exact dates of when the black civil rights movement took place, however an agreement has been made upon 1948-1968. This movement was the result of years of tension between black and white Americans and the rights denied them. With slavery eradicated in 1865, the black community believed that by the 1900s they would be completely free, however, they were still subject to harsh discrimination and often acts of violence.
Much of this discrimination was due to the Jim Crow Laws; however when they were challenged in the 1950’s and were found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in many cases, it caused a great amount of tension due to the conflicting ideas and beliefs of the black community and the white elitists. One civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, became the most famous African-American in our history from his work in the movement, but how significant was he when we consider the other factors that influenced the movement at this time?
To fully understand the reasons for the black civil rights movement we must look to the cause of the people’s grievances. The black community were unhappy with the way they were being treated, however this treatment was acceptable to the authorities under the Jim Crow Laws. These laws allowed discrimination against African Americans, stopping them from entering certain schools, restaurants and hotels, and allowed legal segregation of public transport. The ‘separate but equal’ doctrine was used to justify segregation, however it was a wide known fact that their worlds were not ‘equal’.
There were several civil rights groups dedicated to gaining more rights for black citizens. One of the most influential groups was the NAACP. The NAACP is one of the oldest, largest and most widely recognised civil rights organizations and it still exists today. They now have over half a million members who continue to campaign for equal opportunities: “The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination. Several cases of discrimination were taken to the Supreme Court in the early 1900’s, however the court always voted against the African American in question; that was until the Brown vs. Board of Education case of 1951. This was a case attempting to allow a young African American girl to be allowed into a white school. The child’s father asked the NAACP for help, and together they requested an injunction to forbid segregation in the public schools in that area. In a testimony, an expert witness, Dr. Hugh Speer, stated that: …if the coloured children are denied the experience in school of associating with white children, who represent 90 percent of our national society in which these colored children must live, then the colored child’s curriculum is being greatly curtailed. The Topeka curriculum or any school curriculum cannot be equal under segregation. ” Although the court ruled in favour of the Board of Education, Brown and the NAACP appealed to the court, which led to their case being combined with other cases against segregation in schools in the surrounding areas.
The case was deliberated for a lengthy amount of time but when the court had finally reached a decision on May 17th, 1954 it ruled in favour of the plaintiffs and ordered for schools across America to be desegregated. At the time this was seen as a great step towards further desegregation, however progress was slow: “By 1957 less than 12 per cent of the 6300 school districts in the south had been integrated. ” The next step towards desegregation was the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. One of the NAACP’s most well-known acts at the time of the movement was their involvement in the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955.
The boycott was a reaction to the arrest of Rosa Parks, who had refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white person. Thousands of black people in Montgomery stopped using the bus services and found other ways to travel in order to make a statement to the Montgomery Bus Services. This was the first instance of ‘direct action’ by the black community and could be considered as very significant to the movement as many similar protests took place shortly after the success of the boycott: “Montgomery was the beginning.
It forecast the style and mood of the vast protest movement that would sweep the South in the next ten years”. The boycott was led by Martin Luther King Jr. and was his rise to fame with the boycott lasting 382 days and ending with the Supreme Court declaring the segregation law on buses unconstitutional. As the leader of the boycott, King was seen as an advocate of direct action using non-violent means. Many people claimed that this boycott was the beginning of the civil rights movement, but we must take nto consideration the events that took place even before Ms. Parks set foot on the bus. It was the bus boycott that really brought Martin Luther King Jr. to the forefront of the civil rights movement after some tactical decisions by the boycott organisers: Ralph Abernathy and Bayard Rustin. These were just two of the organisers who saw the possibilities of the bus boycott and how King could enhance their message.
Even with his first ever speech to the black community of Montgomery he gripped his audience by making use of his skills as a minister, connecting with the community’s strong religious beliefs: “We are tired – tired of being segregated and humiliated, tired by being kicked about by the brutal feet of oppression… There comes a time… when people get tired of being thrown across the abyss of humiliation… we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream. It was the immense power of this speech that led him to be such a strong figure of the movement for the twelve years that followed until his assassination: “He had a deep, thrilling voice, which started low and could build up until he communicated an irresistible shared passion to his congregation in church or to his followers in the streets. ” However, Peter J. Ling argues that King knew exactly how to use spoken word to stimulate his audience: “Ultimately, King would also come to see the advantages of a liturgy, which, though communal singing and an emotive style of preaching, prepared ordinary people to do extraordinary things. As president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, King used his influence to gain funds for this group from several different sources. The NAACP did provide some finances to the MIA even though they had originally been sceptical. King saw the need to keep the spirits of the campaigners high and so organised prayer meetings at several churches in Montgomery whilst also negotiating with white leaders in the area.
Just a year after the boycott ended, King saw the need to expand his influence and join forces with civil rights leaders in other areas including Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shutterworth and Bayard Rustin, and so the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or SCLC was formed. The main objective of the organization was to help the local civil rights organizations through non-violent measures. However, the SCLC never orchestrated any major events until they joined with the Congress of Racial Equality in 1963 to co-ordinate one of the most famous events in the history of the civil rights movement.
The Washington March happened on 28th August 1963 with more than 200,000 people marching peacefully to the Lincoln Memorial with the intention of gaining equal rights for every citizen. It was on this day that Martin Luther King Jr. presented his most famous speech “I Have A Dream”. Even to this day people can instantly recognise the speech from just one well-known passage: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today! ” The characteristics of King’s speech still resonate through many other prolific leaders of our time, the most recent being President Barack Obama. Simon Schama told us how each feature of Obama’s speeches reflecting that of King: “Listen to me, says Obama, check out my Cicero, my measures cadence, now legato, now staccato, the latter delivered with narrowing eyes, lips slightly pursed between the calculated pauses; the head still and slightly cocked to one side, as if awaited the promptings of ancestry.
Now who do you hear? You hear my warrant, an even bigger, deeper, preach: Martin Luther King. I am the fruit of his planting; the pay-off of his sacrifice. ” However, Godfrey Hodgson argues that over time the meaning of the speech has become diluted and it no longer represents what it did when it was first spoken: “The speech, its author and the Dream have passed into the postmodern world where cultured icons become international brands.
In the process, not only the context of the speech and its purpose and effect, but its author and the real nature of his Dream have been forgotten, misunderstood and even deliberately misinterpreted. ” One of the arguments against Martin Luther King is presented on the website titled Martin Luther King Jr. – A True Historical Examination which is owned and maintained by the white nationalist group Stormfront. This website makes several accusations towards Martin Luther King, with the most frequent being claims that King’s dissertation which earned him his title as Dr. Martin Luther King was riddled with plagiarism.
This claim has in fact been found to be true and the website cites Volume 78 of The Journal of American History with the article King’s Plagiarism: Imitation, Insecurtiy and Transformation by David J. Garrow in which he writes: “…as can be easily seen in precisely the writings where King plagiarizes extensively, his knowledge of how to quote and foot-note appropriately when he so desired appears to have been quite complete. In light of King’s explicit textual acknowledgement… it appears all but inescapable, upon thoughtful reflection, that King was quite aware of exactly what he was doing. However, this fact does not appear in many writings about the black civil rights movement, which could be due to several reasons. The first and most obvious reason could be that writers, editors, publishers and the public do not want King’s name to be smeared in any way for fear that he may no longer been seen as an inspirational historical figure. Another reason may be that many writers did not see this fact as being significant to the movement as the dissertation was written before King even became a major figure in the movement.
For whatever reason, King’s plagiarism is no longer a part of the general public’s understanding of the movement and therefore cannot be seen as significant to the movement over time, even if it was significant at the time. The views presented on the website Martin Luther King: A True Historical Examination are extremely biased and ignore many of King’s achievements, therefore it cannot be seen as a reliable source of information, but can still be used as a valuable insight into opposing attitudes. Despite King’s iconic reputation, there was some disappointment among people within the movement: King had agreed to lead a symbolic march to the bridge. State troopers and Sheriff Clark waited on the other side and then seemed to leave the road open, inviting King to lead a march past the troopers on the road to Montgomery… Ralph Abernathy, King’s associate in SCLC, recalled that SCLC workers ‘felt betrayed’ and that King lacked courage. ” This lapse in faith gives us a good indication that King was not the only diving force in the movement, because even without complete confidence in King the SCLC still carried on fighting to gain civil rights for black citizens.
In a biography, Peter J. Ling argues that King’s reputation would have diminished if it were not for his assassination: “Martyrdom in Memphis rescued King’s reputation in a way that his struggling efforts to mobilize a non-violent army of the poor against the federal government seemed to have little chance of doing”. There were many people in America were strongly against the black civil rights movement and what Martin Luther King Jr. was trying to achieve, and it was for this reason that King was the victim of many assassination attempts.
The first of these occurred in 1958 when his house was bombed during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, after this, several more attempts were made, but on April 4th 1968 one was successful. Martin Luther King Jr. was standing on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel at approximately 6. 00pm when he was shot dead; the assassination was investigated by the FBI which led to James Earl Ray being charged with the murder of Martin Luther King. In the FBI’s investigation they looked into the motive of the assassination and found that while in prison Ray openly expressed his racist attitudes: An inmate with Ray… stated that Ray hated Negroes. He further stated that Ray had said that all the Negro prisoners inside the penitentiary should be killed. He also responded that on several occasions Ray had said he would Kill Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. , if the price were right. ” From this statement it appears that the assassination was an act of racial hatred with a financial incentive. Another inmate stated that “Ray commented if he ever got out of jail he was going to make himself a “bunch of money,” and Ray further said a “Businessmen’s Association” had offered $100,000 for killing Martin Luther King. It is necessary to assess the impact the assassination had upon the both the followers of the movement and the opposition to the movement, and after King’s constant appeals for non-violence throughout his life’s work it is surprising to hear of the actions that took place as a result of his death: “For a week 100 towns and cities saw major riots, with 46 killed, 3000 injured and 27 000 arrested. It took 21 000 federal troops and 34 000 National Guardsmen to restore order after $45 million worth of property had been damaged. This display of violent rebellion dilutes King’s historical significance because it suggests that his message of non-violence did not truly pass through into his followers, raising the question did they ever really believe in his ideals? The only change that came from the assassination was the passing of a weak fair-housing act which made discrimination in renting and buying houses illegal, however there was very little that could be done if discrimination did occur as it was left to the individual to act.
The movement itself suffered greatly after King’s assassination as King’s successor Ralph Abernathy did not have the same presence and authority that King once had and with Nixon replacing Johnson as President of the United States a crackdown on civil rights campaign made it increasingly difficult for the movement to progress. Before King’s death a new and rather different movement was emerging with ideas of ‘Black Power’. It was through this movement that a man formerly known as Malcolm Little became just as famous at Martin Luther King.
Malcolm Little became Malcolm X after joining the Nation of Islam, a Muslim civil rights group led by Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm X is best known for his extremist views and his violent intentions, however, this was not always the case. When Malcolm first joined the Nation of Islam he strongly followed the preaching of Elijah Muhammad and became a quite prominent speaker for the group. Unfortunately it was Malcolm’s more extremist views that made his name and subsequently led to his suspension from the movement: “Look at the American Revolution in 1776. That revolution was for what?
For land. Why did they want land? Independence. How was it carried out? Bloodshed… You haven’t got a revolution that doesn’t involve bloodshed. And you’re afraid to bleed. I said, you’re afraid to bleed. ” In Malcolm’s autobiography it is clear how he descended from being an advocate of non-violence to a very violent character. It may be this change in attitude that caused Malcolm X to be so significant to the movement as it was a gleaming example of the frustration and desperation of the black people; he was living proof of how far the black nation were willing to go.
In the last chapters of his autobiography Malcolm wrote: “And in the racial climate in the country today, it is anybody’s guess which of the ‘extremes’ in approach to the black man’s problems might personally meet a fatal catastrophe first – ‘non-violent’ Dr. King, or so-called ‘violent’ me. ” As it so happened, it was Malcolm who was to meet his end first when he was assassinated in 1965, three years before Martin Luther King Jr. It could be claimed that this was because the white people saw Malcolm as more of a threat than Dr.
King; however it could also be argued that it was due to people being so strongly against his views. Some people may argue that both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were assassinated simply due to their race rather than their work, along with many unfortunate victims before them. On August 28th 1955, a 14 year old boy African-American boy was brutally murdered for whistling at a white woman. Emmett Till was taken from his uncle’s home in Chicago by two white men who proceeded to viciously beat him before shooting him in the head.
His body was found three days later at the bottom of the Tallahatchie River attached to a cotton gin fan which had been tied to his neck with barbed wire. This act of uninhibited violence shocked the nation and many individuals pleaded for the FBI to be called in. However, the bare minimum amount of action was taken for this case and his killers were never convicted. A lot of people were disgusted by how the case was treated, below are just two examples of the reaction of the people: Telegram September 1, 1955 To: Bert Crownell, Attorney General’s Office
From: Bernard Lucas, President, Warehouse Distribution, Union Local 208, Chicago. Illinois We are convinced that the brutal and savage lynching of Emmett Till in Mississippi is part of the lynch hysteria being whipped up in the South to impede the desegregation of the public school system as decreed by the Supreme Court. Therefore we demand that you take the necessary steps to prosecute those responsible for this lynching and to also prosecute those who are whipping up the lynch hysteria. Western Union Telegram September 6, 1955 To: J. Edgar Hoover, Director, FBI From: Lester Banks, Los Angeles, California
The world will regard America’s sense of justice as a hollow mockery if the white men who brutally lynched young Emmett Till in Mississippi are not punished. I do not mean Mississippi justice. There is as much justice in Mississippi as in Communist Russia. This case legally falls under your jurisdiction and should be prosecuted in a federal court as Emmett Till’s civil rights were violated. Although these telegrams were sent to people who were high in the American legal system, the people who wrote them would not have been deemed important, and therefore their opinions would not have created much of an impact.
These telegrams show the opinions of individual people within America; therefore they are not a good depiction of the majority’s attitude towards the case of Emmett Till. One of the least typical incidents in the movement which created a great amount of debate was the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School. The incident occurred in 1957 when nine black students attempted to enrol at the highly respected high school. The students were met by a hostile crowd who shouted abuse and the Arkansas National Guard who under the instructions of Governor of Arkansas, Orval E. Faubus, barred the entrance to the school.
However, the tables were turned when President Eisenhower intervened and the students were eventually led into the school by the same National Guards who had once barred their way. One girl, Elizabeth Eckford, did not receive the message that all 9 of the black children were to arrive together for their own safety, so she was left to walk to the school alone and received a great amount of abuse on her way (see Appendix 3). The photograph of Elizabeth Eckford and Hazel Bryan was seen by thousands of people on the cover of a newspaper so everyone could see the real force of racial hatred. However, this hatred was not to last.
Hazel Bryan, who in the photograph appears to be the embodiment of racial hatred in white students, went on to completely change her views of black citizens: “Her whole outlook towards black people had changed. At the Barnes & Noble in Little Rock, she perused the sections on black history. ” It is changes like this that show the true impact of the civil rights movement on the way individuals view the black community, changing the mind-set rather than just the legislation. In conclusion, the black civil rights movement was intended to create integration within America and gain more rights for black citizens.
There were numerous civil rights leaders but many of these are no longer a part of the popular imagination, the main two who remain well-known are Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. The two men had a few similar aims but their methods were completely contrasting with King being an advocate of non-violence and Malcolm X encouraging violence against whites. The movement achieved many successes in both legislation and changing the views of many white citizens with the help of the civil rights organizations that had been set up throughout America.
Although Martin Luther King Jr. was an extremely influential figure in the movement and is still seen as an inspirational man, it is clear that he was not the only driving force; it was the unity of the black community and their common aims which allowed the movement to make an impact. It is clear that King played a huge part in the success of non-violent measures and was an immensely significant leader; however he would not have been able to achieve any of his triumphs without the support of influential white leaders.
With Martin Luther King still being the most widely known African leader of his era, having countless streets and avenues named after him, having a national holiday in his honour and having his own memorial statue, it seems fair to say that he was significant both at the time and across time and his influence still exists to this day. Appendix 1 Summary of Martin Luther King’s Life from Civil Rights in the USA, 1863-1980. Appendix 2 Basic chronology of the black civil rights movement from The Civil Rights Movement: Struggle and Resistance Appendix 3
A photograph taken at Little Rock when Elizabeth Eckford attempted to enrol at the Central High School September 4th 1957. http://www. telegraph. co. uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/8813134/Elizabeth-Eckford-and-Hazel-Bryan-the-story-behind-the-photograph-that-shamed-America. html Bibliography Websites Civil Rights Act: http://www. spartacus. schoolnet. co. uk/USAcivil64. htm http://www. enotes. com/major-acts-congress/fair-housing-act Civil Rights Movement: http://www. history. com/topics/civil-rights-movement www. civilrightsmovement. co. uk/black-civil-rights-history. html Jim Crow Laws: ttp://www. spartacus. schoolnet. co. uk/USAjimcrow. htm Voting Rights Act: http://www. spartacus. schoolnet. co. uk/USAvoting65. htm Brown v. Board of Education: http://www. watson. org/~lisa/blackhistory/early-civilrights/brown. html Malcolm X: http://www. spartacus. schoolnet. co. uk/USAmalcolmX. htm http://www. malcolmx. com/ Rosa Parks: http://teacher. scholastic. com/rosa/interview. htm#brave http://www. achievement. org/autodoc/page/par0bio-1 Southern Christian Leadership Conference: http://www. spartacus. schoolnet. co. uk/USAsclc. htm Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee: http://www. partacus. schoolnet. co. uk/USAsncc. htm The Congress Of Racial Equality: http://www. core-online. org/History/history. htm Emmett Till: http://www. pbs. org/wgbh/amex/till/filmmore/ps. html http://www. youtube. com/watch? v=VYutH25593c&feature=related Martin Luther King: http://www. americanrhetoric. com/speeches/mlkihaveadream. htm www. nobelprize. org/nobel-prizes/peace/laureates/1964/king-bio. html www. martinlutherking. org http://mlk. kpp01. standford. edu/index. php/encylopedia/quotes-contents? category=Religion National Association For The Advancement Of Coloured People: www. naacp. rg Opposing Views: www. stormfront. org www. martinlutherking. org Little Rock Central High School: http://www. telegraph. co. uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/8813134/Elizabeth-Eckford-and-Hazel-Bryan-the-story-behind-the-photograph-that-shamed-America. html Books Tosh, J: The Pursuit of History (4th Edition), Pearson: London, 2006 Marwick, A: The Nature of History (3rd Edition), Palgrave Macmillan, 1989 Zinn, H: A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present, Harper Perennial, 2005 Schama, S: The American Future: A History, Bodley Head, 2008 Paterson, D & Wlloughby, D. & S. Civil Rights in the USA, 1863-1980, Heinemann, 2001 Martin Riches, W. T: The Civil Rights Movement: Struggle and Resistance, Palgrave, 1997 Hodgson G: Martin Luther King, Quercus, 2009 Ling, P. J: Martin Luther King Jr, Routledge, 2002 Documents FBI main file on Martin Luther King Jr. (excised) – from http://vault. fbi. gov/Martin%20Luther%20King,%20Jr. Martin Luther King Jr. ’s speech “I Have A Dream” – from http://www. americanrhetoric. com/speeches/mlkihaveadream. htm The Journal of American History, Vol. 78, June 1991 – King’s Plagiarism: Imitation, Insecurity and Transformation by David J.
Garrow Research Diary September I discussed my coursework project with my tutor, Janet Hughes and we confirmed my chosen title, we chose to change it slightly from my original choice. We felt that the term ‘black civil rights movement’ created a less restrictive topic than ‘desegregation’. I also began some light research on the period 1955-1968 which comprised of short summaries on the internet. This helped me to gain a rough idea of what happen in this period but did not provide any insight into significant factors.
Some research questions I will consider are: * What was King’s role in the movement? * How did the movement achieve its goals? * How did Malcolm X’s approach to civil rights differ from King’s? October I read the first few chapters of Martin Luther King by Godfrey Hodgson, however I did not find it to be of much use to me so I discontinued reading it in order to move on to more productive research. I did a large amount of research online because I found it easier to access and having a wider variety of resources than the library.
My search topics were: Martin Luther King Jr. , The National Association of Advancement for Coloured People (NAACP), speeches and writings of the black civil rights movement and events of the black civil rights movement. Some of the websites I visited did not seem very credible so I was wary of the information I had retrieved from them. The NAACP website was surprisingly uninformative with much of the information being about its current ventures and only a small piece on its history. I printed off speeches by both Martin Luther King Jr. nd John F. Kennedy; the two have very different ways of speaking which I think will be interesting to look into. November I read large amounts of information on History. com which I found very useful. I gave me a lot of other areas to look into, which was helpful as I had been struggling to find specific parts of the movement to focus on. I also researched laws that were passed at the time that were relevant to the movement, and people and organizations who played a part in the movement. Spartacus. du was very useful as it provide concise information and sources that I may be able to use in my coursework. I watched part of the programme entitled The Story of Emmett Till; it gave a more personal perspective to the event. I will be looking into some new research questions: * How did the public react to the handling of the case of Emmett Till? * Why were the new laws passed? * How effective were organizations compared to individual leaders? December I read a large section of The American Future: A History by Simon Schama and found this quite intriguing.
It was much more opinionated than most other things I have read and gave a whole different perspective to the significance of each person and event associated with the movement. It was a quite passionate account of the movement and it also related to the present, mostly Barack Obama, which will help me to write about the significance over time. January I began writing my coursework, starting with just the introduction. However, I was unhappy with my first attempt so I began again. My second attempt seemed better, including more about the movement itself.
I also created a coursework plan so I could decide how to structure my essay. This may however be subject to change as I continue writing. February/March I began writing about certain aspects of the movement in separate documents, beginning with Malcolm X, the bus boycott of 1955 and the murder of Emmett Till. When I was happy that I had included all of the necessary information, I worked on combining these together along with my introduction to form the first part of my full coursework.
I also created my bibliography and after reviewing it I decided that what I lack in resources was textbooks, therefore, I went to my college library and took out two textbooks which seemed appropriate to my studies. The first of the two textbooks, The Civil Rights Movement: Struggle and Resistance by William T. Martin Riches, proved to be very detailed, however I preferred to read Civil Rights in the USA, 1863-1980 by David Paterson, Doug and Susan Willoughby, as I found the layout and writing style much more suited to my needs.
Another book which I found useful was The Nature of History by Arthur Marwick, which helped me learn to assess the period as a historian. Whilst reading these three books I continued to write my coursework, and although the progress has been slow, I feel as though my writing is beginning to come together to form a real assessment of the historical significance. I have now included information about the Jim Crow Laws, the Brown vs. Board of Education case and how Martin Luther King became a significant figure in the movement.
I plan to review my coursework as a whole when it feels appropriate, because for now I feel it would be best to continue writing, to get as much done as I can to have a full first draft. April After some further research I came across a website which goes against everything else I have read. This website is useful to me because it provides an opposing view from the perspective of the neo-Nazi white nationalist group Stormfront. The website makes many accusations against Martin Luther King Jr. , however the sources they provide are not strong support for their claims.
After having written a reasonable amount more of my essay I have reassessed some of the material and removed parts which seem to be slightly repetitive and moved some sections to a more appropriate position, allowing the essay to flow better. With my essay completed I have tweaked a few parts in order for it to make better sense and rearranged a few more to give better flow. I have made a few more changes to my essay after looking at some biographies and reading John Tosh’s The Pursuit of History which made me understand sources better.