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Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement

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    This investigation will explore the question: To what extent did Martin Luther King Jr. lead to the end of segregation through the Civil Rights Act of 1964? The focus of this investigation with be between the years 1955-1995, in order to allow analysis of the Civil Rights Movement before they got equal rights, after they got rights, and after Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination up until racism was first defined by the Oxford dictionary.

    First source to be evaluated is an article published by the Steubenville Herald Star Newspaper, “Aftermath of Martin King Jr’s Assassination, 1968” written April 5, 1968. With this source, the origin is valuable because Herald Star is a daily newspaper located in Steubenville, Ohio. Their job is to know what is going on in the world and write about it in order to keep the public informed, indicating that they are knowledgeable on this topic. Furthermore, the publication of this source in 1968, adds to its value, because it tells the readers that Herald Star, was able to analyze a wide range of sources, including government documents, interviews, and statistics. However, the origin is also limited because journalists at the Herald Star are not experts on racism and social topics, which this topic is about and closely related to and therefore they may have misinterpreted some of the facts from the event.

    The purpose of Herald Star Newspaper is to gather information on current events and inform the public, and to “present the most accurate accounts possible” (Herald Star). This is valuable, because it suggests that an extended amount of time has been examined, therefore allowing for connections to be made between the trends discovered. However, because the author has only covered months worth of events in one days worth of current news, limits its value to a historian studying Martin Luther King Jr’s civil rights movements, death, and the effect it had.

    The second source being evaluated is, Gerald Posner’s 1998 book, “‘Killing the Dream’: Ray Was King’s Lone Assassin”, which was written on April 1998. This source’s origin is valuable because it was written by an investigative journalist who has written a dozen of stories about different assassinations. Therefore, the book provides a high quality insight into King’s assassination and the aftermath of his death. In addition to this, because the book was published in 1998, the value of the source is higher because so much time has past it allows an interpretation of contemporary views on King’s assassination to be made. This however, also causes limitations because the time difference makes it a secondary source, which means it fails to analyze deep, extensive research.

    The origin of the source is also limited in that Posner was only 12 years old and probably at the time “didn’t fully understand what was going on” (Bernstein), indicating that he might have tended to shape the book according to his memory, and may have a slightly false insight because he memory could have imagined things more dramatically or differently then what actually happened. Upon examining the source for its purpose, it is perceived that it is trying to uplift the importance of Martin Luther King Jr’s life, and the impact his assassination had on America all across the country. Years after King’s death, the government released documents about his assassination that provides the book with valuable insight. Unfortunately, it is limited in this way also because Posner is biased and may have written it to convince the reader of his point of view. This can therefore cause for some truths that only fit the writers specific need. For example, Posner only writes about bad intentions for police officers during the aftermath of King’s death when in reality the country was in chaos and they were just trying to control it and keep everyone safe.

    Few historians would disagree that Martin Luther King Jr. brought about a dramatic increase in the Civil Rights Movement in the mid 1950s up until his death in 1968. In 1955 King began by leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott (YourDictionary), a change that would affect African Americans for all generations to come. As a whole, in 1964, 58% of people said they approved of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 while only 31% disapproved, (Kohut), with the Selma March, that is credited with assuring the Voting Rights Act, was lead by Martin Luther King Jr. (Kohut). King was therefore responsible for the unquestionable incorporation of African Americans into society. However, historians disagree on the extent to which these changes had long-term effects. While some refer to King as a “pillar of hope and model of grace”, (YourDictionary), by leading to the permanent incorporation of African Americans into society, others refute this statement by arguing that the King’s influence on Civil Rights “doesn’t mean that all these systemic issues of racial inequality have disappeared,” (Wolf).

    Upon King’s death in 1968, the situation regarding Civil Rights was uncertain. Who would be their “pillar of hope”, who would lead them in peaceful protests and share his dreams with a nation of people that didn’t realize they had the same dreams. On the one hand, 1,469 of African Americans were elected as officials for all levels of government (Wolf). Important public figures, such as Kennedy, had always encouraged the implementation of measures to face the “challenges” of maintaining the opportunities gained in the movements. For President Kennedy the challenge wasn’t just passing laws but being able to change people’s heart and minds. He once said, “Law alone cannot make men see right. We are confronted primarily with a moral issue,’ (Wolf).

    However, it is difficult to determine the extent to which the measures defended were a realistic part of the government’s plans. This is due to the fact that politicians of the Democratic Party were more likely to not support the Civil Rights Act than politicians of the Republican Party, who made some of the first public statements defining the attitude of the government towards this change (Enten), are likely to have shaped their addresses so as to encourage African Americans in society, which was not how the Democrats felt. Indeed, the hopes of African Americans in society excelled in materializing, for the immediate post-civil rights period saw a significant growth of opportunities then those gained during the Civil Rights years. In 1970, for example, the participation of African Americans in 1972, the earliest records of African Americans in the labor force, recorded that 8.7 million African Americans; 10% of the 87 million total people in in the U.S. labor force (Toossi). However, the unemployment rates of African Americans in the workforce were 14.8%, where as the unemployment rates of white people were only 7.8% in the year 1975. The African Americans unemployment rates in 1981-1985 rose by .8% from 1975 and reached a max of 19.5% before dropping again (Bureau of Labor Statistics). This may be due to the fact that after King’s death the nation went up into flames, literally.

    All across the nation people set fire to buildings and held violent protests in the street. This could have affected the employment rates of African Americans but we can’t know for sure because the first records of their employment begin in 1972. It also could have been a result of mistreatment in the workforce. It therefore appears that the employment of African American workers during the Civil Rights movement, was shortly reversed after conflict before starting to grow again, leading revisionist historians to argue that the effects of this event were limited due to the persistence of white people, more specifically the democratic party keeping African Americans out of society (Enten).

    The early years of the Civil Rights period is what really helped lead to African Americans success in gaining rights for all future generations. King’s “I have a dream speech” inspired thousands people to move towards racial equality. King delivered his speech in 1963, about one year before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 granting African Americans equal rights and abolishing segregation (Americans Civil Rights Timeline). Additionally, King also was an advocate for nonviolent protest in the Memphis Sanitation Worker Strike in 1968. Along with also having a key role in establishing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, a civil rights organization that supports the philosophy of nonviolence (YourDictionary).

    All of King’s peaceful protests were significant. They didn’t need to create violence to get what they wanted. In fact by being peaceful in their protests they were showing white people how they are civilized people; meanwhile white people are beating, threatening, and killing African Americans, making the white people look less human and more like humans, an ironic thought sense they saw African Americans as animals. In fact, after King was assassinated and people got violent with their protests and riots, there were 40+ deaths, 2,500+ injuries, and 15,000+ people arrested (Steubenville). These figures indicate that violence is not the way to go and that the changes brought about by Martin Luther King Jr with the Civil Rights movements were more moderate, civilized, and well thought out protests, than suggested by enthusiastic modern historians. Perhaps in an effort to analyze an extensive time period, they might have failed to examine short-term trends, consequently venturing to claim that ‘Civil Rights Movements had clearly accelerated the ethnic difference of the U.S. in the labor force,’ (Toossi).

    It therefore seems that the Martin Luther King Jr. was indeed, responsible for an incorporation of African Americans into society during the years of the Civil Rights Acts, an increase that is likely to have lead to a change in the perspective of white employers and public officials towards African Americans, and might have played an important role in the rise in African Americans employment during the late post-rights period. However, evidence regarding the percentage of African Americans that were to form part of the post-rights labor force suggests that the conflict did not secure a permanent incorporation of civil rights African American workers into the American labor force. The Civil Rights Movement can therefore be seen as responsible for a number of significant ideological changes regarding African Americans employment but its direct influence in terms of persistence of African Americans participation in the labor force appears to have been modest.

    This investigation has allowed me to gain insight into some of the methods used by historians, as well as to the challenges that historians face when carrying out historical investigations. Through this investigation, I have learned a new skill that is important to have when studying history. By having to make deep analyzations of the sources I used, forced me to think about the different points of view on a same subject and used those thoughts to come to a conclusion that I believed is most true. In the process of carrying out my investigation, I had to read various newspapers recording on the events, I analyzed different websites, watched documentaries and watched a few public addresses and videos of events about the subject of my study. Almost all of these methods are used by historians when carrying out their own investigations.

    By comparing evidence from different types of sources, I also came across some challenges that most historians would also most likely come across. For example, there were times when I was researching a specific event and wanted direct answers to my questions, but more often than not I didn’t get the direct answers that I wanted from around the country on April 5th, 1968, reported on the events of Martin Luther King Jr’s death, and the aftermath that resulted in riots, protests, and violence. Others, for example The Nobel Media, reported solely on Martin Luther King Jr’s bibliography. Even though I found it hard to come to a conclusion in the beginning, as I continued my investigation I began to realize all the hard work historians have to put into an investigation to get results.

    History, unlike math, is open to interpretation there is no absolute truth or answer to our investigations. This does not mean that all ideas of a historical event are open to acceptance. sources helped me draw a conclusion because the limitations eliminated sources that may not have been an accurate account. For example, I considered the evidence presented by Stanford University more valuable than John Solomon’s article because Stanford University focused specifically on King’s life, and the impact he made before and after death, while Solomon’s article was just a bunch of newspapers reporting only on the assassination. This meant that I tended to side with Stanford’s point of view more often because I thought that their version of the events were most likely more correct and well-researched than Solomon’s. Herald Star seemed to imply that King’s death only made things worse, and even though it had an unique point of view, I labeled this primary source as only somewhat valuable for my investigation, because it was a piece of writing talking solely about the riots, and being published in 1968 the day after King’s assassination means that it was analyzed before any major effects of his death could take place to be fully assessed considered.

    Through it all my investigation has opened my eyes to the difficult tasks and challenges that historians face, and it has also allowed me to see the importance of analyzing reliable historical sources when forming an argument or opinion.

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