How much impact did Martin Luther King have in changing civil rights for black Americans? Essay
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The struggle of black people in America for freedom, justice, and self-definition stretches from the colonial and early nineteenth-century slaveholding era to the twenty-first century, but its intensity has varied from one period to the next. One of the most intense periods occurred in the 1950’s and 1960’s, when struggling was usually associated with the psychological and strategic use of nonviolence. Martin Luther King (MLK) was one of many Civil Rights leaders that bought publicity to the movement and issued nonviolence through marches and boycotts.
Nevertheless, the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) would have occurred with or without Martin Luther King Jr., but without King, the CRM would not have had the same impact on society.
The first major campaign King was involved in was the Montgomery bus boycott, which occurred in the 1955-56. The bus boycott was started by the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) who instructed Rosa Park to refuse to give up her seat for a white person. NAACP constructed a legal court case against the segregation laws and the black people of Montgomery began to take direct action against bus companies by refusing to travel on the buses. This was affecting bus companies because more than half of their consumers were black people and so profit would be lost. King bought publicity to the bus boycott with his leadership and took the limelight away from the NAACP, who were behind the success of integration of buses.
It was not the bus boycott alone that integrated buses, the NAACP taking litigation to the Supreme Court was vital because it changed desegregated buses. The bus boycott alone wouldn’t have changed segregation laws. According to Sanders, King was being credited for the integration of buses when it should have gone to the NAACP for starting the bus boycott and the activist, “it was a protest of the people… not a one-man show.” This portraying King in being a glory-seeker who was only interested in self-promoting and gaining fame because it was the NAACP, rather than King who bought success to Montgomery.
If black Americans were going to escape poverty and second class citizenship they would need education. Segregation of schools was claimed to be fair and equal, however, the black children attending black schools had poor funding compared to white children attending white schools. Oliver Brown with the help of the NAACP, not MLK, challenged the integration of school by drafting a successful court case to the Supreme Court, who declared that segregation was against the law and the constitution of the USA. The Board of Education in Topeka and other education boards had to be forced to integrate public schools.
However, according to River Editors, “101 Southern politicians vowed to fight the decision, arguing it was contrary to the Constitution.” This showing that Southern politicians refused to implement the constitution. This may be the reason why in 1956 that there were six Southern states that did not have a single black child attending schools where there were white children. The NAACP are significant to the CRM because the organisation presses for civil rights legislation. Without the NAACP, the success of integrating schools and buses would not have happened. The organisation is vital to the CRM. NAACP had a great impact in changing the civil rights for black Americans because they gave them the chance of being educated in schools that would be for whites and to seat on buses without having to get up their seats for white people.
American democracy was a model for those countries struggling against Soviet oppression so the treatment of black Americans portrayed America into being brutal to minority within its borders. There were communist propaganda used against the capitalism America, majority of them mentioning Jimmy Wilson. Dudziak states that Jimmy Wilson was “the centre of international attention” for being sentenced to death in Alabama for stealing less than two dollars of change. This was thought to be the most severe consequence of American racism. The petty crime bought to surface international concern because Wilson’s case received international coverage. There were critical articles being published in newspapers all across the world and the communist used Wilson’s story as propaganda. The Jimmy Wilson case bought publicity all around the world due to communist propaganda and aided the CRM. This showing that King is not the only one to bring publicity to the CRM.
The March on Washington which was organised and successfully lead by King without the support from President Kennedy and Roy Wilkins. The aim of the March was to encourage to pass a civil rights bill through public relations, media attention gave the March national exposure because it impressed people all around the world. The March may have had a part in passing the Civil Rights Bill (CRB) of 1964 as it showed a united nation. President Kennedy death could be also credited in passing the CRB. When President Kennedy was assassinated, the bill was left in the hands of Vice President Lyndon Johnson. The civil rights bill passed could be a way to honour President Kennedy.
The situation in Selma was that only 23 black Americans were registered to vote when there were 29,000. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) made Selma, Alabama, the focus of its efforts to register black voters in the South. The March, protesters were attempting to March from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery and were met with violent resistance by state and local authorities. The world watched, the activists being attacked harshly when they were fighting for the right to vote. Selma made people at home feel uncomfortable with the state and local authorities’ treatment to innocent people. Along with the Civil Rights Bill, the Voting Rights Act was one of the most significance pieces of civil rights legislation. Its effects greatly reduced the disparity between black and white voters in the U.S. and allowed a greater number of African Americans to enter political life at the local, state and national level. According to Sanders, “Johnson and Congress probably would not have passed the Voting Rights Act without Selma.”
This shows the importance of Selma had on the CRM because the Voting Rights Act is important because it takes away the second class citizenship and takes a leap to equality between the whites and blacks in America. Selma was about more than winning a federal act; it emphasised the political pressures King was negotiating between movement radicalism. Selma was a key to improving lives for black Americans since it was publicly televised around the world showing the treatment of innocence people making a stand for equality. It pushed the Voting Rights Act to enable black people the right to vote. However, Sanders also states that “Selma had raised a great deal of money because Selma was in the headlines, then the SCLC left and spent the money to the North.” The untrustworthy leadership of King had left the people in Selma to fund on their own for the right to vote. This shows that King cannot be trusted when he makes a public stand to help people in need.
King and his SCLC were unsuccessful in Chicago, they overestimated the racism in the North. Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO) had encouraged and supported the SCLC in Chicago and were both out-witted by Mayor Daley. Black people living in Chicago lived in racial inequality, majority of black people in Chicago were living in slums. There were less press coverage on the Chicago Freedom Movement (CFM) and the federal government did not help the CFM because President Johnson was an ally of Mayor Daley, who threatened to fine people a great lot of money if they joined in the marches. This limited the activist because they couldn’t afford paying the fine when they are living in poverty. However, what occurred in Chicago was the purpose of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which is a legislation to provide equal housing opportunities. It made it legal for someone to be decimated for their race, or national origin when buying a house. It was a federal crime to force or threaten injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone because of their race, colour, religion, or national origin.
Overall, King is the one radiant name of the fight for racial equality that everyone knows, he stole the limelight from those that have been forgotten or who were not accorded the recognition they deserved. King played a wonderful leader for the CRM because he bought publicity through his peaceful protest and winning the Nobel Peace Prize. To have a day for himself shows the impact he made to the life of black Americans during the CRM. King may have helped the CRM before his assassination, but was given too much credit because others, such as Ralph Abernathy, Claudette Colvin, Kasturba Gandhi, Malcolm X and etc. where forgotten. After King’s death the life of black Americans did not brighten up because the fight for equality still occurring with new leaders.