Contrasting Methods Of The Civil Rights Movement

Martin Luther King was the most important figure in the Civil Rights Movement. His non-violent methods sparked the passage of many important pieces of legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The methods of King contrasted greatly with those of other civil rights leaders who believed violence was a viable answer to racial injustice. Conversely, King's non-violent and legal methods of protest made him the most productive and respected leader in the quest for racial equality tracing all the way back to the Civil War era.

To contrast the non-violent and militant aspects of the Civil Rights Movement, one must examine the key document of the time. The essence of King's beliefs can be summed up in the following excerpt from his now famous 1963 "I Have A Dream Speech:"

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. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny, and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

King used boycotts such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, where he first gained national recognition. He utilized sit-ins, called on legislators on the federal and state levels, and led marches in his fight for racial equality regarding public accommodations. The 1963 "March on Washington" was, and still is, seen as the high-point of the Civil Rights Movement. It was there that King addressed over 200,000 peaceful protesters in their fight for constitutional rights and call for government action.

In contrast with the non-violent resistance of King's segment of the Civil Rights community, another faction of those who were demanding civil rights emerged. This group developed the "Black Power" movement, and their methods went beyond the peaceful approach of King's supporters. This militant faction upheld the use of violence as one means by which Blacks could empower them- selves in order to gain a greater share in the political and economic life of America. Their methods were often seen as violent, illegal and immoral by the white community, and they were even rejected by certain individual leaders in the non-violent element.

One outgrowth of the anger caused by segregation and discrimination was the wave of urban riots that gripped American cities during the 1960s. Riots erupted in Watts, within Los Angeles, Newark, and Detroit. Many Americans felt the urban violence was connected to and associated with the Black Power movement and instigated by leaders such as Malcolm X, who called for the use of "any means necessary" to end white domination in America. (Malcolm X died in 1965 as a result of the violence that he ultimately came to reject when he parted ways with the Black Muslims). Since Blacks had been systematically denied access to the middle class for so long, the militant aspect of the movement felt it was time to overthrow the white power structure by replacing it with an aggressive and anti-establishment black activism.

King's followers and the Black Power advocates did have common bonds. They both utilized the media to express their dissatisfaction with the status quo. When peaceful demonstrators where viciously beaten and attacked by the police of southern towns, the moral outrage of the nation and the world gave King's non-violent tactics additional effectiveness. The black Militants also used the electronic and print media to disseminate their brand of equality, although the mainstream of American society was not as willing to accept what they were hearing. Both groups tried to create awareness among whites and activism among blacks.

King persisted time and time again that his non-violent methods were to be preferred over more violent methods in order to accomplish the goal which all of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement shared; to end racism and promote desegregation. Racism will probably never be ended for good, but, thanks to the non-violent methods of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his followers, it is at a lesser degree today than it has ever been before. His nonviolent, legal, and moral methods showed many white Americans that black Americans were not inferior to them based solely on their skin coloration. King showed how all of the problems concerning racism could be solved through peaceful demonstrations and not through violence, which only succeeded in making some white Americans dislike black Americans more.

Joe L.

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