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Martin Luther King’s affect on African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement

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    American was synonymous to the word ‘segregation’ before the 1960s. The blacks (mainly the African Americans) were oppressed to the core. The condition would have been the same, had there not been historic personalities like Martin Luther; discrimination would have blackened the entire nation.


    Discrimination prevailed in schools, job places, government offices and in all institutions. Black people’s children were not given admission in white people’s schools and were not allowed to share anything with them. Society became a playground of discrimination. Blacks were not given any freedom and were forbidden from entering white majority areas. Institutional racism, the reluctance of white institutions to serve people of color, was very much prevalent in United States.  Institutions were historically set up to serve only white communities. These institutions function on the basis of race. They operate on the policy of segregation. Institutional racism is the concept that one race is superior to other. Organizations and institutions (both government and private) do racial discrimination, marginalizing the inferior faction. These institutions offer their service only for superior faction and ill-treat people of color. Institutional discrimination is found in almost all sectors in different forms. Discrimination prevails in schools, job places, government offices and in all institutions. Educational institutions give preference to superior people in the case of admissions. In certain universities and colleges in United States, ethnicity and racial status also matters for the selection of students. Applicants belonging to inferior race are given least preference in providing jobs also. People belonging to superior race are getting high preference in all governmental and non-governmental dealings. Inferior faction will be denied justice during court matters also. Law enforcement officers would not show much interest on the complaints given by inferior race people. The supreme white majority of America developed biological and socio-cultural distinctions with which they devalue our interests.

    They considered the color of the skin (lightness or darkness) as the criterion of segregation (differentiating marker). This segregation has resulted into isolated, ill developed and racially segregated society which promotes racial mistrust, useless conflicts and various other discriminations that have finally block the society from attaining equality and progress. These biological and socio-cultural distinctions has also resulted in systemic inequalities, and stands as a hurdle to the development of the society and personal improvement of individuals, which has ultimately contributed for the widening of the socio-economic gap between white majority group and our community (non-white minority). Cultivation of racism has resulted in the suppression or dehumanization of the inferior races.


    By the sixties, however, various groups like Martin Luther King’s SCLC, Black Nationalist Movement, the Nation of Islam and Black Panthers arose that fought for the cause of justice of the negatively privileged blacks in America. There arose great social protests in the leadership of various leaders like Martin Luther King. The civil rights Movement as well as the escalating war in Vietnam in the sixties was the most important of these protests. Even though there were few organizations that were formed to promote the goals of equality and social justice in the land of America, they all hardly served the purpose. Martin Luther opted peaceful methods and attempted to bring a major change in the established system. Other groups opted for disciplinary violence and a separation of the races. Martin Luther opted for non-violent protests and said that “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored…. I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth” (Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963)


    Rallies, confrontations, strikes and protests filled the roads and the whole thing became a national movement itself. Martin Luther emerged as the favorite leader of the black Americans, during these times. He organized rallies, marches to call attention to the systematic discrimination against black minorities in the American society. He planned only nonviolent confrontation and expected a positive response from the oppressive white majority that there happen a major social change that would eliminate discrimination in the society. Martin Luther approached Presidents Kennedy as well as Johnson to convince them to make legislation that would put off the cruel discrimination against the African Americans. Martin Luther was awarded Nobel Peace prize in 1964 for his peace war. He was an advocate of non-violence. On his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, December 10, 1964 he said that “After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I received on behalf of that movement is profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.”

    The values he popularized were the basis of his struggle. He said that “If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love” (Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, December 10, 1964) He also opined that “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law”. The Civil Rights movement after 1960 contributed much for the elimination of racial barriers to education and employment. Martin Luther King boldly questioned the morality of mainstream America and forces them to end the racial abuse and segregation in the south to a certain extent. The role of the mainstream media was also crucial in those days as it informed the world about the African-American struggle for civil rights. Media was of great help to Martin Luther’s attempt also as it educated the entire world about the struggle that was going on in America.

    Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech overturned the fundamental American concepts of equality and made America understands that the stupidity of segregation on the basis of the skin color. The highly valued speeches of Martin Luther are still reverberating through the American minds. He illustrated the plight of the African Americans and the need for a change in his soaring moral oratory. It was nothing but the influencing speeches of Martin Luther that helped the country to focus on the racial discrimination that had demolished the society to the core. “But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plain of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force; and the marvelous new militance, which has engulfed the Negro community, must not lead us to a distrust of all white people” I Have a Dream Speech, Washington, DC, August 28, 1963. The African Americans realized from the words of Martin Luther that they are not born to be slaves and they have every right to fight for their rights. He admonished the nation about in his letter from the Letter from a Birmingham Jail on April 16, 1963 that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly…. In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action”.

    African Americans were boosted thorough the words of Martin Luther as he said “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained” (Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963). On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, the dream leader of African Americans, was assassinated in Memphis when he was organizing a garbage workers strike. Even though the African Americans do not have their beloved Martin Luther with them they keep his words to his heart. They remember him saying “I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” (I Have a Dream Speech, Washington, DC, August 28, 1963).


    Graves, Curtis M. & Hodges, Jane A. (1986). Famous black Americans: Folder games for the classroom. Silver Springs, MD: Bartleby Press.

    Pete Daniel, “Going Among Strangers: Southern Reactions to World War II,” Journal of Southern History, 77 (1990), p. 893.


    Henry Hampton, Steve Fayer and Sarah Flynn, eds., Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s Through the 1980s (New York: Bantam Books, 1980), pp. xxv-vi.


    Harvard Sitkoff, “Harry Truman and the Election of 1948: The Coming of Age of Civil Rights in American Politics,” Journal of Southern History, 37 (1971), pp. 597-616; and Monroe Billington, “Civil Rights, President Truman and the South,” journal of Negro History, 58 (1973), pp. 127-39.


    C. Vann Woodward, Thinking Back: The Perils of Writing History (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986), p. 84.


    Richard H. King, “Citizenship and Self-Respect: The Experience of Politics in the Civil Rights Movement,” Journal of American Studies, 22 (1988), pp. 8-9.


    Robert J. Norrell, Reaping the Whirlwind: The Civil Rights Movement in Tuskegee (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1983); and William H. Chafe, Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina and the Black Struggle for Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980).


    Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (London: Gollancz, 1959), p. 54.


    Hanes Walton, Jr., The Political Philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Company, 1971); John J. Ansbro, Martin Luther King, Jr., The Making of a Mind (New York: Orbis Books, 1982).


    Adam Fairclough, “The Preachers and the People: The Origins and Early Years of the SCLC, 1955-1959,” Journal of Southern History, 52 (1986), pp. 403-40.


    James A. Colaiaco, Martin Luther King, Jr.: Apostle of Militant Non­violence (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988), p. 39.


    David L. Lewis, “Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Promise of Non­violent Populism,” in John Hope Franklin and August Meier, eds., Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982), p. 282; Voices of Freedom, p.113.


    “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” in Martin Luther King, Jr. Why We Can’t Wait (New York: Signet Books, 1963), pp. 86-7.


    Julius Lester, Look Out, Whitey! Black Power’s Gon’Get YourMama  (New York: The Dial Press, 1968), p. 104.


    Stephen B. Oates, Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Harper and Row, 1982), p. 362.


    August Meier and Elliot Rudwick, CORE: A Study in the Civil Rights Movement, 1942-1968 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975), p. 330.


    Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (New York: Harper and Row, 1967), p. 4.


    Milton Viorst, Fire in the Streets: America in the 1960s (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), p. 345.


    Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (New York: E. P. Putnam, 1968), p. 1.


    Mike Royko, Boss: Richard. Daley of Chicago (New York: Dutton, 1971), p. 141.


    Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Making of a Mind


    Newsweek, 15 April, 1968


    Voices of Freedom, p.340


    Steven F. Lawson, “Freedom Then, Freedom Now: The Historiography of the Civil Rights Movement,” American Historical Review, 96 (1991), pp. 462-63.


    Where Do We Go From Here, p. 30. For other critiques of Black Power, see Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, pp.233-35, and Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (New York: W. W. Morrow, 1967), pp. 426-7; 544-5; 547-53.


    To Redeem the Soul of America, p.371


    Wallace Terry, Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War By Black Veterans (New York:

    Random House, 1984), p. 172.


    Richard Lentz, Symbols, The News Magazines, and Martin Luther King (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990), p. 237. For other reactions to the speech, see: Colaiaco, Martin Luther King, Jnr., pp. 179-82.


    Adam Fairclough, “Martin Luther King, Jr. and the War in Vietnam,” Phylon, 45 (1984), p. 25.










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