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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr. The 1950s and 1960s was a time full of hate, conflict, violence, discrimination, segregation, inequity and prejudice towards Americans that were not of European decent. The civil rights movement was introduced in 1964; it protected African Americans; giving them equal access to and opportunities for the basic privileges and rights under the law of the United States. The movement therefore addressed primarily three areas of discrimination: education, social segregation, and voting rights. Martin Luther King Jr was a social activist; who was one of the most influential figures in the civil rights movement using non-violent protests. Since 1950, Martin Luther King Jr has been successful in advancing the change in racial rights in America. Martin Luther King’s enormous effect on the citizens of America and his views on nonviolence and equality makes him one of the most influential people of the twentieth century.
Martin Luther King witnessed injustices at a very young age; first hand growing up in the deep south. Born on the 15th of January 1929, Atlanta, Georgia, United States, King was significantly influenced by many different people and experiences. His studies of Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings influenced his views on effective ways of protesting as well as achieving equality and his parents helped nurcher his mindset, faith, semiconsciousness and courage. At 6 years of age King had an experience that shaped the way he viewed racial rights; when a white playmate he had known for 3 years entered Atlanta’s segregated school system is friend’s father told his son that he could no longer play with Martin Jr. “I will never forget what a great shock that was to me “King later recalled. His main goal in life was to abolish racial discrimination in public areas including education, employment, voting and transportation through the use of nonviolent protests. Martin Luther King had a vision of a land where each person would be judged by the content of their character, rather than the colour of their skin. He valued equality, non-violence, a belief in democracy and a belief that Christianity had a role to play in bringing about social justice in American society. He sought to raise public consciousness of racism to end racial to put an end to racial discrimination and segregation in America.
Martin Luther King’s progress in the civil rights movement was displayed in his involvement in non-violent protests with the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 and the southern Christian leadership conference in 1957. The Montgomery Buss boycott was significant on several fronts. It is widely regarded as the biggest mass protest on behalf of civil rights in America, setting the stage for additional large-scale actions outside the court system to bring about fair treatment for African Americans. Second, in his leadership of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), Martin Luther King emerged as a prominent national leader of the civil rights movement while also solidifying his commitment to nonviolent resistance. King’s approach remained a hallmark of the civil rights movement throughout the 1960s. Shortly after the boycott’s end, he helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a highly influential civil rights organization that worked to end segregation throughout the South. The boycott brought national and international attention to the civil rights struggles occurring in the United States. Through a combination of the MIA and the SCLC Martin Luther King used the power of words and acts of non-violent resistance inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. These methods of protest ultimately gained awareness; which is the reason why the MIA and the SCLC set the tone for the civil rights movement. Finally, in the November of 1956, the US Supreme court declared that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional, and the boycott was brought to an end. Almost nine months after the SCLC was initiated Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Civil rights act of 1957 into law to protect voter rights. The law allows federal prosecution for those who supress another’s right to vote.
The SCLC was instrumental in the civil rights campaign in Birmingham, Alabama, in the spring of 1963, and the March of Washington in August of that same year, during which King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, nearly a quarter of a million people gathered for a March for Jobs and Freedom to urge Congress and President John F. Kennedy to pass a national civil rights bill. Martin Luther King’s primary purpose for his speech was to expose the American public to the economic basis of racial inequality. Therefore, the focus of the march was the need to increase jobs and economic opportunities for African Americans, in order for them to realize racial equality. King’s speech was especially important on this last point, for the “I Have a Dream” section of the speech was an eloquent plea for a society based on racial harmony. Nevertheless, while King’s speech is best remembered for his vision of racial equality, its true import lies in the fact that the renown accorded the speech helped advance the multifaceted goals of the march, thus helping to pave the way for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Americans could no longer ignore the injustices of poverty, segregation, and violence against African Americans. The March of Washington pressured the U.S. government into desegregating the civil rights and labour law that outlaw’s discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin. This civil rights act signed on July 2nd, 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson; prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities, and made employment discrimination illegal. This document was the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. Four years later in 1968 on April 11, President Johnson signed the fair housing act, providing equal housing opportunity regardless of race, religion or national origin.
Before these 4 laws were put in place by the U.S. Supreme Court; African Americans were deprived of 19 basic human rights and freedoms, these include:
This is the reason why Martin Luther King was such an influential figure during the civil rights movement; because without his leadership, resilience, knowledge and mindset, African Americans may never have gained these 19 basic human rights and freedoms that we all take for granted.
Martin Luther King’s impacts were not limited to America and in the 1950/60’s; through the use of Television communication Martin Luther King gained awareness using shock tactics this then forced the American government to intervene. He successfully convinced the world that that non-violence was always a superior weapon. It had a moral edge and it was always successful. King opened up opportunities for African Americans and dramatically increased white acceptance of the concept of racial equality. It is arguable that without King’s work, we would not have been able to elect an African American President in 2008. Segregation in America has been abolished in an official manner, although we still see discrimination in other ways. Certain cities continue to struggle with violence and a need for equal pay and equal opportunity. African Americans have since gained full voting and housing rights along with more human rights then ever before. The long-term effects of his action were that they put into motion a series of protests against the inequality of African-Americans and others. For example, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was a student group that formed to protest segregation. Their group was an outgrowth of the SCLC. Other groups, including the women’s rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s, were inspired by Martin Luther King’s tactics and commitment to advocating his cause through non-violent protests and speeches. Martin Luther King’s brilliance and peaceful strategies inspired others to attempt to gain equality. King has truly changed the lives of all African Americans in his time and subsequent decades.
To conclude the essay, Martin Luther King Jr is remembered for his tireless work during the Civil Rights Movement and his dream that one day everyone would be treated as equals. Through this Martin Luther King was and still is an influential figure in advancing the change for racial rights in America. King led a brief life filled with many great accomplishments. His non-violent approach to protesting, his legions of followers, and his true belief in the ability of mankind to live in peace went a long way toward the advancement of civil rights during this tumultuous time in history. His leader/ influential role in the MIA and the SCLC has led to many changes in the Civil rights movement. Although prejudice remains, the tide is shifting in a way where the racists of the world are scorned, and not innocent African Americans. We are still far from King’s Promised Land. Yet no matter how heartbreaking the setbacks are, forward is the only direction we can go – as King preached – “If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward”.
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