Martin Luther King was the most important factor in helping Blacks gain more civil rights in the 1960’s

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Last updated: November 6, 2019

After the American Civil war, 1861-1865, there were still problems for Black Americans even though slavery had been abolished.

Black Americans in the south were especially affected as this was where many of the slaves had worked. After being freed most stayed, leading to hatred and non-acceptance when Blacks were officially granted equal rights to whites. The southern states were not happy about this and decided to invent a set of laws in the 1890s called ‘Jim crow laws’ that prevented Blacks from having these rights.The Supreme Court ruled that the term ‘separate but equal’ was fair.

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From 1896, Blacks in the southern states had separate facilities like different wash basins, public toilets and waiting areas. This was justified by claiming that each group had the same facilities, yet this was not always the case. The segregation extended to public transport, juries, neighbourhoods, government, police, law, press courtrooms and even took away their right to vote. The segregation spread to the armed forces and black soldiers were treated differently in the Second World War.When blood transfusions were given to wounded soldiers, blood from Blacks and Whites were kept rigorously separate and Black soldiers rarely made it to the frontline. As a result of the racism, the Ku Klux Klan was born. Founded by racist southern whites, they reigned fear over Black communities, giving Blacks names like “Negros” and committing crimes like kidnappings, tar and featherings, floggings, branding with acid, mutilation and murder, that supported their racist and prejudice views. However, in the 1950’s people began to stand up for the rights of Blacks.

Events like the murder of Emmet Till and situation at Little Rock high school began to make a difference. Emmet Till was a 14 year old visiting the south. In 1955, he allegedly said, “Bye baby” to a white girl and later that night the father of the girl killed him. It caused uproar within white and black communities because the murderers were found not guilty by an all white jury and people began to sympathize with Blacks who were so brutally and unfairly treated. At Little Rock high school in Arkansas Black students scheduled to start at the school in 1957 were stopped from going by troops sent by Orval Faubous.President Eisenhower then sent troops to protect them. This again caused uproar, because of the force that was required to make Faubus obey the national law and again there was much sympathy towards Blacks, which assisted their cause.

However, this also had a negative effect because many southern rights thought it was highly unfair that they had been forced to integrate their schools. People like Mr. Brown and Rosa Parks also made a difference.

In 1954, Mr. Brown tried to force the Topeka board to accept his little girl Linda into a white school.He succeeded and “Separate but equal” was ruled unconstitutional in schools. Rosa Parks was the inspiration of the “Bus Boycott” in Montgomery Alabama. She refused to give up her seat to a white person in December 1955 and was arrested and fined. In retaliation to this, Blacks began a peaceful protest where no Blacks would ride the buses, which went on for a year.

Eventually, segregation on public transport was deemed unconstitutional and bus companies were forced, due to huge loss of money to accept Blacks as equals on public transport.The Boycott was a key event not only because it abolished segregation in buses but because it was the event that introduced Martin Luther King as a leader in the civil rights movement as an organiser of the Boycott. Throughout the 1960s he became a very prominent figure in the fight for civil rights. However, there is a lot of evidence that doesn’t support the view that King was the most important factor.

For example there were many other Black civil rights activists on the scene as well as King in the 1960s, all that arguably had a positive effect on Black civil rights.In 1961, a group of young white and black volunteers mainly involved in the two organizations called CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee), who organized a “Freedom ride” on interstate buses to tests the Supreme Court decision that interstate transport was to be non segregated. These nonviolent protests were effective because they portrayed the Black and white peaceful protesters in a much better light than the angry racist mobs that beat and tried to kill the protesters.However, there were some Black protesters who were dissatisfied with the rate of change and believed that peace could only get them so far, and favoured violence if necessary. The Black Muslims founded in 1930, were lead by Elijah Muhammad and had a strict Islamic code of behaviour. They strongly believed that Blacks were better than whites and disagreed with the idea of integration, favouring the idea of having a place for just black people. Malcolm X was a spokesperson for the Black Muslims and shared their views.

He criticized the peaceful King and saw him as a “Lackey of the white establishment”, “Fool”, and “Uncle Tom” and said that Blacks must help themselves with violence if provoked. He perceived white people as devils who had been bleached in the years following creation. These extreme views, could have helped the civil rights movement by forcing or scaring whites to comply with their way of thinking although it more likely caused more harm than good as hatred and violence toward whites would only increase their view that Blacks were not as good as whites and more primitive.In 1964, Malcolm X broke away from the Black Muslims and began a non-religious Black Nationalist group – the organization of Afro-American Unity. They fought for basic human rights and resorted to violence if necessary or if provoked.

Malcolm X said “Fight them and you will get your freedom. ” I think this helped more towards achieving Civil rights because the views were much less extreme and applied to a lot more black people as it was a non religious group and was fighting, not for a separate state for Blacks, but for pure Human rights.However, the willingness to use violence may have given the wrong idea about the general picture of Black people. In 1966, Stokely Carmichael became leader of the SNCC (Student nonviolent coordinating committee). His beliefs were less peaceful than the original organization as Carmichael was inspired by Malcolm X however; it was not religious like the Black Muslims were. He believed in Black power and adopted the slogan, “Black is Beautiful”. He said black people should take control of all aspects of their lives, even if it meant by violent means.These being less extreme views than Black Muslims and only violent when they saw absolutely necessary could, although breed hatred through violence, reap some sympathy from Whites.

This is because the violence they use is being used, not through hate, but through trying to gain basic rights, which many White people could realize. On the other hand, out of the Black power group came the Black Panthers, formed by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton. They were particularly dissatisfied with the rate of change and its 1970s leader Eldridge Cleaver said, “A black pig, a white pig, a yellow pig, a pink pig – a dead pig is the best pig of all.We encourage people to kill them. ” It was an extreme militant group that urged blacks to take up arms and get Whites to grant them equal rights through force. This way of getting rights, although could lead to direct change, is also very risky. It wouldn’t have won respect from many whites because they used violence as a first option, and don’t show Whites that they can rise above the brutality of white racists and it would encourage Whites to be more hostile to Black people. But not only Black people were fighting for Black Civil rights, there were white activists too.

There were many White volunteers involved in the freedom rides, who put their lives at risk for the Civil Rights movement. Earl Warren was the judge when many of the laws like the desegregation of schools and buses were passed by the Supreme Court. President Eisenhower signed the bill that allowed interstate highway system, supported the U. S. Supreme court decision in which segregated (“separate but equal”) schools were ruled to be unconstitutional and placed the Arkansas National Guard under federal control when Faubous refused nine black students into a initially white school.Both the actions of these men were directly responsible for, not initiating but allowing the change that so many other people had put effort into achieving. President Kennedy, although proposing the Civil rights act, was thought to be lukewarm towards the Civil rights movement and many activists criticized him for his inadequacy.

However, after his death came Lyndon B. Johnson. He successfully passed the Civil rights Act of 1964 outlawing most segregation and a second bill allowing Blacks from the south a chance to vote.

He also arrested four Ku Klux Klan members in connection to the death of a social worker and condemned the organisation publically. Johnson was just as important as King because if it weren’t for his actions, despite being largely opposed by Whites from the South, then segregation and inequality wouldn’t have been made illegal and Kings protests would have been in vain. There were also White people who had an unintentional impact on civil rights, who despite originally being against the movement had a positive effect.

On 7th of March 1965, Sheriff Jim Clark attracted the attention of the U.S. press when he brutally unleashed his men on hundreds of peaceful marchers on a protest march from Selma to The capital of Montgomery. Captured on national television, America watched on as the Sheriff beat and tear gassed the innocent crowd and many people reprimanded his actions. Eugene ‘Bull’ Connor was also a part of a similar incident.

He became a symbol for the fight against integration for using fire hoses and police attack dogs against unarmed, non-violent protest marchers. This spectacle was again broadcasted on national television.These events served as one of the catalysts for major social and legal change in the south and helped to ensure the civil rights act of 1964.

Therefore, Connors tactics helped to bring about the very change he was opposing. Governor George Wallace also provoked the rage and sympathy of white and blacks through a number of ways. He recruited the head of the Ku Klux Klan, Asa Carter who was one of the most racist men in Alabama, to be his main speech writer. In June 1962, he told voters in a campaign that he refused to integrate Alabama’s school, even to the point of “standing in the schoolhouse door. This he did in 1963 at the University of Alabama and contained to resist the demands of Kennedy and even resorted to closing all Birmingham schools. His determination to stop the Civil rights Movement, despite being largely opposed by the President, and the extremeness of his views made him popular with many white supremacists however, a lot of Americans were unsure about Civil rights and incidents like these may have encouraged them to side with Blacks. There were also events that shocked people like the bombing at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

Four young girls, who had been attending Sunday school, between 14 and 11, were killed in the blast. The Church had been a place for many activists such as Martin Luther King met up to organise a campaign to register African Americans to vote in Birmingham. A member of the Ku Klux Klan was identified as the man to have placed the bomb under the church steps by a witness. However, he was not found guilty for murder and was only sentenced 6 months in jail for possessing the dynamite illegally and fined a hundred dollars.This thoughtless brutality and loss of such young life would have enraged many people and convinced them to support the Civil rights cause, because it was an injustice and showed how horrible white racists could really be. However, it was still inevitable that white extremists like George Wallace would still have backed this terrorist attack despite the cruel way the young girls were killed. He was in fact blamed for the killings because in one of his speeches he said Alabama needed a few “first class killing”.

However, these people had an indirect impact on Civil rights because their actions only acted as catalysts for Martin Luther King to exploit. Martin Luther King was seen as one of the main figures in the civil rights movement and he first came on the scene during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He was the leader of the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) set up in January 1957; therefore he had a good position to fight segregation. His beliefs in non-violence were inspired by Gandhi, and his protests were originally derived from Gandhi’s techniques.He made several protests of this nature in the 1960’s. Events like the lunch counter sit-ins and large, well publicized marches were of much help to the Civil rights cause. The SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee) organized lunch counter sit-ins, which were widely publicized. Volunteers would sit in all white lunch counters, some black and white together or just as a group of blacks.

They were treated very badly and attacked verbally and physically. Some shop keepers and other whites would pour boiling hot tea or hit them, yet they still did not retaliate with violence.As these people bravely took the abuse of white racists they were respected because they showed the world they could rise above the White violence. On other peaceful protests like the Selma to Montgomery March and protests in Alabama also helped the cause because of the actions of men like Eugene ‘Bull’ Connor and sheriff Jim Clark who treated the crowds of innocent peaceful protesters so badly and cruelly that their actions were looked down upon and they received large amounts of bad press for their reputations but good for the Civil rights movement as it made many people sympathize with Black people.King exploited this press as, using it to put Blacks in a better light than the Whites that attacked them. It again proved that despite being attacked and beaten they could still rise above it and not retaliate which would have earned them some respect.

The march on Washington which was lead my Martin Luther King was one of the main events that lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It had a huge impact because so many people took part; it was the largest march on Washington ever at the time.It took place on August 28th 1963 and was in aide of jobs and freedom. An estimated 200,000 African Americans and 50,000 Whites took part, who all listened to Kings powerful and inspiring “I have a Dream” speech. Despite the march not being universally supported because of fears of violence and condemned as “the farce on Washington” by Malcolm X it went extremely well and received plenty of much needed press attention, well over 500 hundred cameramen, technicians and correspondents.It had such an impact because it showed the unity of Blacks and Whites who wanted a goal, and tried to achieve it in a non violent and respectful way and was broadcasted all over America. Kings peaceful protests put him in a different set from many other activists all together, because he had an entirely different approach.

He didn’t fight violence with violence as it would only breed hate. Instead he tried to rise above it and use racial hatred against racists.The more Blacks took and accepted the violence but still didn’t give up with their cause even if it didn’t seem to be making much of a difference in effect made more difference because it proved that Blacks could act better than Whites at times and caused many people who were “on the fence” about civil rights to support equality. However, is methods of protesting were only as effective as they were because so many normal people supported him and made the difference.

If King had done what he did alone, no one would have listened, but because of so many Americans, some putting their lives on the line and taking abuse from the racist whites then would have been unable to make a difference. Kings was assassinated on April 4th 1968 by James Earl Ray when he was visiting Memphis Tennessee. His death lead to a wave of rioting in over 60 cities. Lyndon B. Johnson declared a national day of mourning and on the same day, more than 300,000 people attended the funeral of the lost civil rights leader. This shows that even in death, he still made an impact.As many people were so angry at the assassination, hence the riots, and the fact his death was nationally recognised shows that he was a much loved member of society because of what he did, and what he did was not likely to be forgotten any time soon after his death. Despite all the other activists who had a positive effect on the Civil rights movement I think that Martin Luther King’s techniques and ideas were the most effective and most largely contributed to the changes made in 1964 and 1965.

This is because I think his ideas were more accessible to blacks and whites as it favoured peace rather than violence against whites.It wasn’t strictly religious but used religious ideas like non-violence whilst organisations like the black Muslims may have put non believers off. Not only that but its views were not extreme, therefore becoming more accessible to all Americans.

However I don’t think that racism was eliminated completely by his actions because of the riots in over 60 different cities following his assassination. Even today racism is still a rather prominent problem. The case of Rodney King raised public outrage, which was a brutal incident thought to have been racially motivated.Rodney King, a black motorist, beaten with batons, whilst being filmed by a bystander, by four white policemen in Los Angeles in 1991 when he resisted arrest following a high-speed car chase.

This event increased tensions between the black community of LA and the LAPD and also sparked issues like police brutality, unemployment and poverty within black communities. Later in 1992, the policemen were charged, but found not guilty by a predominantly white jury. This led to the Los Angeles riots of 1992 where 53 people were killed in criminal acts such as arson, looting, assault and murder which lasted for over six days.After the riots, pressure mounted for a retrial of the four policemen and the final verdict was reached in 1993, nearly a year after the riots. Two of the four policemen were convicted.

The fact that an event so racially motivated, violent and fatal could have happened so long after the civil rights act shows that racism is still engrained in society and although King succeeded in playing one of the most important roles in making equality law, it takes more than the law to change the way people think.

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