Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American clergyman and Nobel Prize winner. He was one of the principal leaders of the American civil rights movement and an advocate of nonviolent protest. His challenges to segregation and racial discrimination in the 1950s and 1960s convinced many white Americans to support the cause of civil rights in the United States. After his assassination in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. became a symbol of protest in the struggle for racial justice. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 King in Atlanta, Georgia to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King.
His first name was listed on his birth records as Michael instead of Martin. Apparently, their family doctor thought that his father’s name was Michael who was known as Mike throughout his childhood. Later on his first name was changed to Martin. King attended elementary and high school at local segregated public schools, where he excelled. He entered college at nearby Morehouse College at age 15 and in 1948 graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. He was ordained as Baptist minister at the age of 18. He graduated with honors from Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania in 1951.
King also went to Boston University where he earned a doctoral degree in systematic theology in 1955. King’s public-speaking abilities developed slowly during his collegiate years. While in Morehouse College he won a second-place prize in a speech contest although he received Cs in two public-speaking courses in his first year at Crozer. However, by the end of his third year at Crozer, professors were praising King for the powerful impression he made in public speeches and discussions. Later on, King’s public-speaking abilities became renowned during his involvement in the civil rights movement
. Martin Luther King, Jr. was exposed to influences that related Christian theology to the struggles of oppressed peoples during his education. His studies of the teachings of Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi influenced his attitude on nonviolent protests. He was also influenced by the sermons of white Protestant ministers who preached against American racism. A very important person who shaped King’s theological development was Benjamin E. Mays who was the president of Morehouse College and who was also a leader in the national community of racially liberal clergymen.
While studying in Boston University, King met Coretta Scott who was a music student and native of Alabama. The two were married in 1953 and eventually would have four children. King accepted his first pastorate at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama in 1954. This church has a well-educated congregation and had recently been led by a minister who had protested against segregation. In 1955, while King was serving as a pastor in Montgomery, Alabama, the black community has a long-standing grievances about their maltreatment in city buses. The blacks are often bullied and only allowed to sit at the back portion of the bus.
In December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a leading member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was arrested because of her refusal to give up her seat for a white passenger. This event led to the formation of Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) where King was chosen to be the president. Their association directed the bus boycott in Montgomery that lasted for more than a year. In February 1956, they filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking an injunction against Montgomery’s segregated seating practices. The federal court ordered the city’s buses to be desegregated.
The city government appealed the ruling to the United States Supreme Court and by the time the Supreme Court upheld the lower court decision in November 1956, King was already a national figure. He wrote a memoir of the bus boycott entitled Stride Toward Freedom in 1958. His memoir provided a thoughtful account of that experience and further extended King’s national influence. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was founded with his help in 1957. The SCLC is an organization of black churches and ministers that aimed to challenge racial segregation.
King became the SCLC’s president and with other SCLC leaders encouraged the use of nonviolent direct action to protest discrimination and segregation. Their activities included demonstrations, boycotts and marches. These activities provoked violent responses from some whites that eventually forced the federal government to confront the issues of racism and injustices in the South. King made alliances in the north and in 1960 went back to Atlanta and became a co-pastor to his father at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. King led SCLC in a series of protest campaigns in the early 1960’s that gained national attention.
In 1961, the first campaign was held in Albany, Georgia. SCLC joined their local demonstrations against segregated restaurants, hotels, transit, and housing. However, this protest was not successful. In 1963, the SCLC joined a local protest in Birmingham, Alabama. Teenagers and school children were encouraged to join. The chief of police, Eugene Connor, was angered and sent police officers with attack dogs and ordered firefighters to aim high-pressure water hoses against the marchers. The police attack on young protesters were shown in newspapers and on televisions around the world.
King was arrested and sent to jail for creating disorder in the city. . He wrote a letter – “Letter from Birmingham Jail” – which argued that individuals had the moral right and responsibility to disobey unjust laws. His letter was widely read at the time and has added to King’s standing as a moral leader. Because of the violence in the Birmingham protest, it brought about a national reaction that built the support for the struggle for black civil rights. The protests forced white leaders to end some forms of segregation in Birmingham.
More importantly, the demonstrations gave courage to many Americans to support national legislation against segregation. On August 28, 1963, King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech which in part states: “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 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. ”
He delivered this speech during the 1963 March on Washington, a massive protest in Washington, D. C. , for jobs and civil rights. The speech and the march created the political momentum that resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This Act prohibited segregation in public accommodations, as well as discrimination in education and employment. King was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize for peace because of his effectiveness as a leader of the American civil rights movement and his highly visible moral stance. In 1965, SCLC joined a voting-rights protest march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital of Montgomery.
Just outside of Selma, police beat and tear-gassed the marchers. This day became known as Bloody Sunday. The Selma march created support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This act suspended the use of literacy tests and other voter qualification tests that often had been used to prevent blacks from registering to vote. President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law in August 1965. Later amendments to the act were banned. In 1968, King went to Memphis, Tennessee, to support striking black garbage workers. On April 4, a sniper in Memphis assassinated him.
News of King’s assassination resulted to shock and anger throughout the nation and the world. In 1969, an escaped white convict named James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to the murder of King. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison. Martin Luther King’s dream was to have equality and justice for all especially the black people. Segregation and racial discrimination are the things that he fought for. But what is racism or racial discrimination? Where did it stem from? What has caused it? Racism refers to a belief that advocates discriminating against people based on an ascribed race.
It often includes the belief that people of a particular race has a particular aptitude and characteristics. Some people believed that races could be ranked or scaled. Others divide people into groups based mainly on skin color. Racism is not the same as racial prejudice. Racism can also be referred to as a system of oppression. Institutional racism is based on the notions that one race is superior to other races. Organizations, institutions and other groups that practice racism usually discriminate or marginalize a certain class of people who share a common racial designation.
The majority or dominant group in a society commonly applied racism because it is the group that has the means to oppress others. Majority groups usually constitute a higher proportion of a given population. Minority group, on the other hand is a group of people who share a common ethnic, racial, or religious backgrounds. They usually constitute a comparatively small proportion of a given population. Most often, they have fewer rights and less power than majority groups. One of the reasons for having minority group in a particular society is immigration.
Based on history, racism has been an integral part of America. It started during the time of America’s colonization by the Europeans. During the colonization, African slaves and other Europeans (those who are serving indentured servitude) both served the European colonizers. A few Africans were given freedom and land grant and became landowners. In 1676, Nathaniel Bacon led a revolt against the Governor of Virginia because of his exploitation of poorer colonists. Bacon died and the revolt died with him. However, what concerned the Governor and the rich landowners was the multi-racial support of Bacon’s rebellion.
This lead to decision the only African slaves will be used. Furthermore, anti- miscegenation laws were passed on so that intermarriages between European and other races were prevented. This change led to the long period of slavery in American society and the social rift along color lines soon become ingrained in colonial American culture. On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that freed all slaves in the United States. Only slaveholding border states which is not still a part of the Union were exempted from this proclamation.
Slavery was ended in the whole United States by virtue of the declaration of the 13th Amendment on December 18, 1865. However, discrimination against black and other minority groups continued. Proofs of discrimination are the existence of Jim Crow laws, the enactment of Minimum wages, educational disparities and segregations in schools, and the widespread criminal acts done by local and vigilante groups. The fight of Martin Luther King and his supporters, which has been mentioned in the early part of the research, led to the abolition of segregation and the granting of voting rights to black.
However, King’s dream of equality and non-prejudice and justice for everyone has not been fulfilled yet. There are still places in the United States where racial discrimination could still be observed. Hispanic people are of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Latin Americans are often viewed as a monolithic group in the Anglo-American society. They are called Latinos and are portrayed as passionate or violent people. The influx of Hispanic immigrants, whether legal or illegal, has elicited anti-Latino sentiments especially in areas that have traditionally has no or had a very few Hispanic residents.
On the other hand, places like California and Southern Florida where Hispanic Americans have long been present, racial tensions between Hispanics and non-Hispanics are sometimes visible, more often when Hispanics gain economic and political clout. Due to the diversity of background of Hispanic people in the United States, racist policies also vary widely. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo granted American citizenship to Mexicans living in America after the Mexican War. The intermarriages of Anglo-Americans and Hispanics in the Southwest that produced mestizos are still socially excluded from “whites” of Northern European descent.
Racism against Arab Americans is proportionately rising with the tensions between the American government and the Arab world. In 1973, weeks after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, an Ivy League graduating class wore Arab dresses in racist mockery. During the 1991 Gulf War and the Oklahoma City bombing and the Teheran embassy hostage crisis in 1979 racism against Arab Americans escalated. Discrimination and cultural violence against them profoundly increased after the September 11th terrorists attacks in the United States. In 2001, a Sikh man was killed in Phoenix, Arizona.
It was a racially-motivated incident because the man’s beard and turban was a reminder of Osama bin Laden. In Houston, Texas, an Indian American candidate for the Houston City Council lost to his opponent because of anti-Asian Indian campaign made by the supporter of his opponent. Although the allegation has been denied, the Indian American lost during the election. A few groups still openly advocate white supremacy in the United States. These groups include the Ku Klux Klan, the National Alliance, Aryan Nations, and several smaller groups like the White Order of Thule.
A number of small white supremacist groups have recently been started as a reaction to the influx of Somali and Hmong immigrants particularly in the Midwest. Some of these groups target teens. Some recording companies are distributing openly racist songs in popular teen hangouts. The changing racial make up of the United States population has caused the inclusion of other races in the equation. Presently, Latin Americans and Asian Americans are the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States. These groups have redefined the relationship between races.
At least four states, namely, California, Texas, Hawaii and New Mexico including the District of Columbia are deemed to be “majority minority” states meaning whites are not the majority of the population. Several acts and proclamations have been enacted and declared by the former presidents of the United States to abolish racial segregation, discrimination and prejudice. It can be said that these acts and proclamations have paved the way for better lives and opportunities for “non whites”. America has come a long way from its slavery days during the colonial American era to the present.
It can be said that a part of King’s dream, his dream for his children to be recognized not by the color of their skin but by the content of their characters, has been realized. This is shown in today’s acceptance of the black population in the American society. African-Americans can be seen in the different sectors of the society. There are now black doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers and politicians. They enjoy both economic and political clout. The use of the terms “niggers” or “negroes” are considered politically incorrect. They enjoy all the benefits that a “white American” enjoys.
Yet, the other part of King’s dream has not been fulfilled, that is, his 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. ’ America has yet to rise up and live out the meaning of its creed. Why has America not live up to its creed? When America opened its door not only to the Europeans and Africans but also to several other races, the result is a diversified American population in terms of ethic and cultural backgrounds. These differences contributed to the racial prejudice of the white Americans to non-whites.
The long-ingrained social rift along color lines, which goes back to colonial American culture, has been deepened. Also, immigrants from other countries are easily intimidated by white Americans. They usually come from countries that were colonized by the United States. They have the mentality that white Americans are superior to them. They also normally come to America in search of greener pasture. These immigrants arrive in the United States with only limited amount of money. They are prey to abusive white Americans when their cash run out. The influx of immigration created more problems than benefits.
The high immigration rates threatened America’s common culture and increased competition for jobs. Wages were lowered. Only employers profited while injuring labor, and especially harming those at the bottom of the job market. The increase in immigration also led to new issues. In the later part of the 20th century, issues arose about whether group identity challenged national identity. Many Americans wanted to preserve a sense of national unity while respecting social diversity. They debated the pros and cons of bilingual education, the impact of multiculturalism, and the merits of affirmative action policies in education and employment.
The debate over affirmative action is likely to continue, in public and in the courts. Americans will have to balance individual rights against group rights, to consider problems that involve national identity versus group identity, to be both colorblind and race-conscious, and to foster unity while appreciating diversity. E pluribus unum (from many, one) thus remains a vital concept. The experience of the last decades of the century suggests that the pursuit of American ideals—of liberty, equality, and democracy—is a process that rests on conflict as well as consensus.
Nature dictates that people agree and disagree with one another. If everybody agrees with everybody, life would be boring. There would be no ups and downs, no joys and sorrows. For now, King’s dream will remain unfulfilled. REFERENCES C. S. King, My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. (1969) Robert J. Norrell, Martin Luther King, Jr. Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Standard 2004. Norman Dorsen and Jethro K. Lieberman, Civi Rights and Civil Liberties, Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Standard 2004 David J. Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. , and the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference (1986) David L. Lewis, King: A Critical Biography (1970). Bullock III, C. S. & Rodgers Jr. , H. R. (1976) “Institutional Racism: Prerequisites, Freezing, and Mapping”. Phylon 37 (3), 212-223. Woolf, S. H. , Johnson, R. E. , Fryer Jr, G. E. , Rust, G. , & Satcher, D. (2004). “TheHealth Impact of Resolving Racial Disparities: An Analysis of US Mortality Data”. American Journal of Public Health, 94 (12), 2078-2081. Rosten, Leo (1968) “The Joys of Yiddish” Martin Luther King, Jr. : I Have a Dream (1986 History Film) Racial liberalism era Zoot Suit Riots inner city
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