Martin Luther King Jr.


If ever was a face and a voice attached to the civil rights movement, it couldn’t just be anyone. This person had to be both educated and a highly respected leader in the black community. This person was Martin Luther King Jr. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was the leader of The Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This body was composed of talented, respected and educated black ministers in the south. Their approach was through a direct-non violence campaign, and these leaders felt that using tactics like boycotting would produce positive results.
On December 1, 1955 there was a major bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama lasting 381 days, which led to a Supreme Court ruling in 1956 ending segregation on local transit. The movement achieved great success, but it also lost the drive. The leaders were looking for rejuvenation, and on February 1, 1960 black college students staged a sit-in at a lunch counter at a Woolworth’s Department Store in North Carolina.
One hundred twenty-seven southern cities became involved in staging sit-ins. The sit-ins received so much attention that certain people felt it had to be better organized.
Ella Baker was successful in organizing a sit-in movement that took place over Easter Weekend titled “The Resurrection of Christ “. One popular student sit-in group was known as the S.N.C.C. which stood for The Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee. 1960 served as a very important year, because of the Presidential election. This was the first year of the televised Presidential debates.
In Sept of 1960 over 70 million people tuned into the Kennedy/ Nixon debates. John F. Kennedy’s brother, Robert, told Coretta Scott-King that JFK would support civil rights. In fact, it was Robert Kennedy who placed bail for Martin Luther King Jr. just before the election. Quickly, word spread through the S.C.L.C. ministers that JFK would be an advocate for civil rights. J.F.K. won the election by 112,000 popular votes and only one percent of the electoral votes. J.F.K. did not come out publicly for civil rights, because there were two parts of the Democratic Party. The northern part of the party was viewed as liberal. In contrast, the southern part was anti-civil rights. So, the blacks had to force J.F.K. into civil rights.
The blacks launched a freedom Ride campaign in the spring of 1961. Blacks would board buses that went into the south to expose the segregation that existed. Riders were beaten in Alabama, Mississippi and windows were smashed. These scenes were shown on the news, and in 1960 over ninety percent of Americans had television sets. This forced Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy, to protect riders.
In 1961 the Interstate Commerce Commission was given heightened authority to move in and integrate facilities. In 1962, J.F.K. activated the Nation Guard to go to The University of Mississippi, because of rioting that was due to a black student enrollment, James Meredith. One of the events that received attention from the President happened in 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama. Blacks held protests, and the police chief, Eugene “Bull” Connor, decided to handle them with an iron fist. He allowed attack dogs, and use of fire hoses on them. He went as bold as to drive a tank into the middle of the demonstrators. This forced J.F.K. to come out, on June 11, 1963, in favor of civil rights. He helped in aiding legislation to end all discrimination that was referred to as “The Second Emancipation Proclamation”. However brutal the movement was, and it was painful, the one event that was viewed as the milestone was Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. This speech is known as the “I have a dream” speech. This event that is formerly known as “The March on Washington” was trying to put heavy political pressure on Congress to act. This effort stalled with the horrific assassination of J.F.K. on November 22, 1963. Seven months later, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act. This law was the ending of legal discrimination, and the “separate but equal era”. But, some blacks did not support the direct non violent campaign. Malcolm X. was one of them. Malcolm was a member of The Nation of Islam, a militant black organization, who felt that blacks should respond to violence; with violence. Although Malcolm X was a staunch opponent of Dr. King and his movement, things started to change when Malcolm went to Mecca. He began to pray and worship which led him to believe that blacks and whites could get along. Malcolm X. was killed by two Nation of Islam leaders in New York in 1965.
One of the most famous pro black militant groups was The Black Panthers. They formed in Oakland, California to police their local community that went ignored by local police. The Oakland Police Department was predominantly white, and would not attempt to police the black communities. Out of the 500,000 people living in Oakland, Ca 250,000 of them were minorities and they were not receiving the protection they so needed. The Black Panthers were highly successful in policing their own community, which led to other smaller chapters forming throughout the country. But, they later decided to take a stronger stance against The United States Government, going as far as supporting the Vietcong and their activities against U.S. war efforts. They were heavily against power structures, specifically imperialistic powers.
1965 was the year of the “race riots”, in which, 750 buildings were destroyed. Forty-three people were killed in Detroit and, all in all, there were 127 race riots in this country.  These riots began to fuel the white backlash towards the movement. Lyndon Johnson, in 1967, formed a commission on the race riots and on March 1968 presented its findings, “Racism”.
White Americans had begun to turn their backs on civil rights and, sadly, on April 4, 1968, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis. Before his death he wanted to spread his campaign to northern cities to fight poor economic conditions. Obviously, he never had the chance.

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