Peaceful Means of Protest
During the tension-filled times of the 1950's and 1960's, the civil rights movement, one name
stands out as a leader for peace. Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr. lead many of the peaceful
demonstrations protesting the segregation between
blacks and whites. His peaceful approach to many
of the obstacles in the way of integration
was the most successful during that time period.
Other more violent means of protest such as the
efforts of Malcolm X and whites protesting
integration were considered less seriously and seen as a
greater threat to society.
Examples of King's peaceful protesting against segregation were apparent during the 1955-1956 Montgomery bus boycott. It began when a 43 year old black woman, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat to a white man. Dr. King was appalled when she was arrested and urged the black population of Montgomery to join together and stand up to the dehumanization of segregation. Together with local community leaders, King produced and distributed nearly 7,000 leaflets persuading blacks to completely avoid riding to buses work, town, school, or elsewhere. Instead, people should take cabs, carpool, or walk. King was worried that the boycott was unethical, would turn violent, or would intimidate blacks ( Patterson, 1989, p. 5). However the boycott was successful with nearly 100% participation level. In 1956 the Supreme court affirmed a decision
declaring that state and local laws supporting segregation on buses were unethical. On December 1, city busses were integrated showing that the boycott had been successful.
The civil rights movement took a big step forward during the Greensboro sit-ins. The spontaneity for the first sit-in almost certainly caused the initial euphoria. Each day of the sit-ins the number of participants increased. The pressure they put on Woolworth's, their original target, caused profits to be decreased by 50% in 1950. Eventually on July 25, the first black person was allowed to eat at the lunch counter. These sit-ins also caused the formation of crucial organizations. Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded by the students involved in the sit-ins. SNCC drafted a code to be used by the entire non-violent movement. Some of the points in the code included don't strike back, don't laugh out, don't hold conversations with floor walkers, and remember love and non-violence (Blumberg 1991 p75). Though King was not directly involved in the sit-ins, he was the moral leader and inspiration for the whole movement.
Knowing King's strong belief in equality and integration, when Philip Randolph planned The March on Washington he asked King to organize and speak at the event. The purpose of the demonstration was to demand strong federal protection of black rights and to inspire the people. Other unsuccessful demonstrations had been planned in the past but failed due to the use of militant, more violent means of protest. Many government officials were strongly against The March on Washington, fearing it would become a sit-in. King convinced them it would be only a "Peace Pilgrimage." The idea was encouraged by the black and white anti-segregation population and on August 28,1963 over 200,000 supporters surrounded the reflecting pool to hear King, among others, speak. People of all different ethnic and religious groups were greatly inspired by his speech. As quoted in Blumberg p123, "never before had leading representatives, of the Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish faiths identified so closely and visibly with black demands."
Martin Luther King Jr.'s approach to protesting against segregation was effective because of his use of passive resistance. His demonstrations appeared to be serene, but underneath they were strong enough to stand up to bitter opponents such as the Ku Klux Klan and the local police. Violence and hate were constantly expressed towards King and his followers, but they rose above
the madness in an effort to work for equality and unity - peacefully.
Freedom Bound: A History of the American Civil Rights Movement
Robert Weisbrot; Civil Rights Freedom Struggle Rhoda Lois Blumberg;
Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Freedom Movement Lillie Patterson;
Parting the Waters, America in the King Years Taylor Branch.)