King: The Courage of His Convictions
Question: Was Martin Luther King's approach t gaining equal
rights effective? What methods did he use, and what methods
competed with those of King for the attention of black
activists and the American public during the 50's and 60's?
"King: The Courage of His Convictions."
In the 1950's and 1960's, blacks in America began to demand that they have equal rights. At the forefront of the cry was Martin Luther King, whose approach to gaining equal rights was most effective. He encouraged his fellow people to demand their constitutional rights by protesting non-violently.
King embraced the policies of civil disobedience, boycotts, sit-ins, and legislation to achieve the ultimate goal of total equality. Militant black activists tried to undermine the Reverend's work with the use of violent backlashes and by using any means necessary to achieve their goals. They wanted to change the American power structure. I feel that back in those days the media had a major role to play in the civil rights movement. If they had chosen to, the media could have chosen to cover and dwell on the militant side of the movement. This would create a negative attitude to the American public, especially to those who were against equal rights for blacks by giving them the opportunity to make statements such as, "Well, if they're going to act like that...." Instead I feel the media did the right thing i focusing on the good being done by Martin Luther King and other black leaders who followed his doctrine.
The non-violent and eloquent fight by King put pressure on Congress, which passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964. It prohibited discrimination in most public places, forbade employers or unions to discriminate on the basis of race, and created the Equal Opportunity Commission to provide enforcement. King, however, was not satisfied enough, and wouldn't be until the right of black people to vote was protected. To achieve this goal, King once again took to the streets to demonstrate peacefully. This time it was in Selma, Alabama, March 7, 1965. The day turned dark as demonstrators were brutally beaten and dispersed by troopers while millions of Americans witnessed it first- hand on television. This event put extreme pressure on President Johnson and Congress to act. On March 15, Johnson addressed both houses of Congress urging them to pass a voting rights bill. He stated, "The Constitution says that no person shall be kept from voting because of his race or his color. We (he and members of Congress) have all sworn an oath before God to support and defend that Constitution. We must now act in obedience to that oath." His bill quickly became law and thus the twenty- fourth amendment was passed, prohibiting the payment of a poll tax or any other tax as a prerequisite for voting in an election.
I feel hardly any legislation would have been passed on the behalf of civil rights in this country had it not been for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose unwillingness to give up on his convictions in the face of harsh bigotry and whose non-violent approach won over the sentiments of the leaders of our nation.
Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of the U.S.: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965.