The Civil Right Movement
Through out the history of African American people struggle for freedom, the struggle took many forms of riots, rebels by leaders who differed in methods but had the same aims. The nonviolent form took the struggle into a new era of struggle techniques. The nonviolent approach which shaped the struggle in 1950’s and 1960’s led the blacks to get their civil rights. The approach was orchestrated by Martin Luther King Jr., mostly in Alabama and Georgia. King’s nonviolent dogma was the solution for the blacks’ desire for freedom, but was opposed to other leaders’ doctrines of violent and militant acts. Major struggles of civil rights took this form which resulted a victory. On the other hand, violent acts and streets riot could only put them in a critical situation with more hatred to them and to their cause. This non-violent movement compared to violent one could make the government accept the idea of almost a peaceful movement than a violent and militant one. And unless the movement gained the support of people especially white people, it would not success.
The nonviolent struggle was promoted before but was not taken seriously. Booker T. Washington realized that blacks should elevate themselves in education and start their economic strength instead of militant actions that was promoted at that time. Economic power and education could affect the long struggle for freedom where the armed struggle could only make it worse. His attitude was obvious in his famous saying “cast down your bucket where you are.”(Atlanta Exposition Address, 1895) Casting down the bucket used to maintain stability and planting the roots which make them stronger in facing white supremacy. His article The Awakening of the Negro shows his experience in Hampton when he had the opportunity to education, and the shift from a coal mine boy into a student who want to understand the dignity of labor which made him realize that he is a man instead of a property. The black had become self-awakened; this could happen through educating the Negro race. His attitudes were described as not militant, and he was portrayed as advocator for American government policy. On the other hand, Garvey disagreed with Washington policy and called it a betrayal to the black race because it would not help them or help their cause. He believed that armed struggle would make whites submit to their demands. Garvey presents in his essay Motives of the NAACP Exposed, (1923) his own interpretation of the motives of the NAACP and how this organization is a mere cover up in order to degrade the black race, starting by enforcing racism among blacks by dividing them into groups differ in their degree of blackness. He explained that this was Du Bois’ way of encouraging the advancement of Negroes by becoming whiter. Du Bios was the founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); the largest and oldest civil right organization in America. He founded it on the base that nonviolent protests and legal actions were the best way to ensure equality for everyone. For instance, the NAACP won the ordinance case in Louisville, Kentucky, that obligated blacks to live in a certain places, because it violates the fourteenth Amendment of United States constitution.
The nonviolent movement for civil rights started with major effects when two black lawyers initiated the desegregation of schools. Both Houston and Marshal new the value of education and how it will help blacks’ endeavor to get their rights. The education of black people was promoted before by Du Bois and Washington. The two lawyers knew that legalizing the struggle was better than rioting in front of the court and this would reflect a good image about black as educated people and nonviolent opposed to their stereotyped image as violent. Brown v. Board of Education was a landmark in the passive journey, on May 17, 1954; the US Supreme Court declared school segregation illegal. This triumph was out of unity and determination of the African American people to gain their rights in a civilized way that portrayed their adoption of the nonviolent theory. Decisions of supreme court could only mean the success of nonviolent method in winning over the government which had no chance but to abide to law.
One figure who used and applied the nonviolent struggle that made a difference in the African American struggle for freedom and civil rights, was Martin Luther king. A Baptist minister and civil rights leader born in Atlanta, Georgia with his family long history in the Baptist church, he grew up on Christianity creed which later played a great role in establishing the SCLC to coordinate civil rights. He saw Christianity as potential force for the advancement of blacks. His doctrine of nonviolent struggle was the outcome of his family deep roots in the African American Baptist church, and his study of liberal theology of Christianity where he shaped his personality and beliefs. He believed that every one is entitled to the basic human rights given to him by God and Law. King’s election as the spokesperson of Montgomery Improvement Association was out of his ability to preach to the mass and affect them by his biblical theologies and philosophic texts which he gained from his religious background and academic training, in addition to his experience with his father. Montgomery became his first station to his nonviolent believes when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the bus for a white person. This event was his first practical place to promote his doctrine. The boycott was a nonviolent form to resist whites’ prejudice actions towards black people.
King’s movement promoted blacks’ rights that the white people refused to acknowledge and fought to prohibit, but the form in which this struggle took made the government show a little cooperation with it. The government had a lot of meetings with leaders and activists such as Martin Luther King meeting with President Dwight Eisenhower in 1957. Another example was when king marched along with his fellow blacks and white sympathizers in a civil rights rally to segregated cities facing violent counterattacks by whites. This could only mean the determination black people to get their freedom will pay off and finally will “Let the freedom Ring” (king’s Address in Washington, 1963) A year Later President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Bill in 1964.
King’s non-violent method was a result of his study and his belief in the Christian doctrine and the faith in the determination of the African Americans to obtain their freedom. His inspiration could also be maintained and enhanced by Gandhi’s methodology. King Visited India to study Mohandas Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence, which characterized the civil rights movement in bus boycotts. Gandhi’s fought the British with his nonviolent policy that united all Indians in a common cause. He tolerated the violence and vicious actions towards his people in order to get their freedom. His famous attitude was not to evoke the British troops even when he was jailed. King advocated this in his speech I have a Dream in 1963 at the Lincoln memorial in Washington,” 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.” The dream of the African American is to be equal with others and to have what whites have. This dream can only be accomplished by the peaceful march into the hearts and the minds of the white people. King’s bearing the cross and having faith in God in fulfilling this dream. He encouraged African Americans to neither become bitter in their struggle nor going back to the use of violence to achieve freedom. His ideas are likened to Cabral’s idea of cultural resistance in which people react against an oppressor by holding out to their culture. Cabral also encouraged his people to take a nonviolent approach in the pursuit of freedom. This approach by both Cabral and King were opposed by many activists in the journey of freeing the Negroes’ crippled freedom and rights. On the other hand Malcolm X insisted that violence was needed for a “real revolution.” Malcolm refuted King’s claim of a Negro revolution by insisting that a revolution requires bloodshed and fight for the ownership of land. Like Douglass, Nat Turner and Malcolm mocked the attempt of peaceful revolution and rallied blacks to use force to gain their rights. The government witnessed the effect of leaders as Malcolm on people which groups adopted such the Black Panthers. This group emerged after the assassination of Malcolm X in February 1965, and embraced the slogan “by any means necessary.” The government had no choice but to support the nonviolent movement with discretion to remain in control especially after the riots in the Watts section in Los Angeles ghettos where the real power of the blacks appeared and feared. The violent practice resulted fear which could contributed to the success of the opposed practice.
Major demonstrations were the product of king’s nonviolent movement which filled the journey of the civil rights with examples and marked its importance. The march in Selma, Ala to the state capital in Montgomery was one of the series of the nonviolent demonstrations by black that opposed the violent attitude of others which gave it a national wide support of both white and black all over the country and resulted the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The expansion of king’s dogma to other cities like Atlanta in Georgia launched the first massive campaign blacks’ freedom. Many groups were formed such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) which was one of the associations that expanded from Montgomery. The SNCC increased the activists among students who could be a strong group if controlled, but this was difficult as the students grew more militant which could jeopardize the whole struggle. Activist of the SNCC wanted more militant action which opposed to king’s dogma. He came out of Atlanta without achieving anything.
The nonviolent mode of the civil rights movement had made all the difference in shaping the mold of their freedom. The southern peaceful cause was a success in the journey of the blacks’ struggle. Leaders could disagree with methods used but they sure would agree on one aim; which is the freedom of the African American people. King’s achievements led to his winning the Noble Peace Prize in December 1963 for his efforts of nonviolent and peaceful struggle which was not for him as a person but as leader of great people who this prize was the result of their efforts. The diplomatic approaches proved its efficiency refute others who think only of the armed and violent struggle as the way to accomplish aims.
All of these men were working toward the same goal; freedom for African peoples all over the world. Some like Malcolm and Turner insisted that revolution and force were necessary to gain freedom while King and Cabral both rallied for nonviolent ascertainment of freedom and equality, because that is the only way to gain the support and sympathy of both the government and the people. This sympathy which could force the government fear division in the country and their fear of bad publicity as a major democratic country. At the end the method proven to work was the nonviolent which resulted the success of the biggest civil rights movement in the history of the Afro-American people.
– Zinn, Howard. 1999. Peoples History of the United States .
– Bearing the Cross
– Williams, Juan.2001. Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil rights Years, 1954-1965.
– Festle J. Mary. 2005. Listening to the Civil Rights Movement Essay of Dr. Festle. Elon University in Elon, North Carolina, USA.]
– Booker T. Washington. The Awakening of the Negro. Atlantic Monthly 78 (1896): 322-328.
– King, Martin. August 28, 1963. I Have A Dream. http://www.mecca.org/~crights/dream.html
– Carson, Clayborne. Martin Luther King, Jr. American National Biography. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds. (New York, Oxford University Press, 1999).
– King Papers Project. http://www.stanford.edu/group/King.htm
– Du Bois. (Nd) W.E.B. Du Bois and the NAACP. American Library