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The aim of this paper was to review the different perceptions of Martin Luther King and his influence on the civil rights movement in America. Through qualitative means, different sources online were used to gather information on Martin Luther King Jr. character and ideals of social justice and equality. Although Dr. King was viewed as a hero by many, there are those who saw him as a social nuisance and disruptive to business. In addition, others disagreed with his passive resistance model while others thought his methods were a source of communal tension. Nonetheless, Dr. King led civil rights movement in America and saw the repeal of all segregation laws.
Martin Luther King Hero or Trouble Maker
Social justice and equality are a prerequisite for any democratic society to thrive. However, in many multicultural societies, biases, and stereotypes have been placed on the path of equality regardless of a person’s skin color. As a result, humans have enslaved other humans and perpetuated a culture where one race sees itself as being superior to another. America’s evolution from independence was characterized by racial bias and segregation against people of African descent, and this is the culture that Martin Luther King Jr. was born into and tried to change. Through his speeches and social action, he tried to remind America of its responsibility to its African American citizens. In many ways, Martin Luther King Jr. espoused the characteristics of some of the humankind’s greatest men. His passion for social justice, service to others, stand against violence, and belief in equality of all, made Martin Luther King Jr. one of America’s greatest civil rights activists.
America’s first civil war since its independence was fought on the basis of human equality. While most Northern States opposed slavery and wanted it abolished throughout the Federation, States in the South wanted its continuation. Although most believed in the independence constitution that stated that, “all humans are born equal,” practicing that aspect was opposed by many (Jefferson 206). Thus, although slavery was abolished after the Confederates surrendered to the Northern Army, racial segregation and unequal treatment of African Americans continued based on the color of their skin. It is against this backdrop that Martin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929.
Racial segregation in America was legally enforced in many states before 1964. During this period, African Americans had separate schools, housing areas, and employment opportunities, different health care and even military units which were ironically led by white officers Jefferson 206. Any transgression of segregation laws and all the other forms of discrimination was met with arrests and prosecution. For instance, in 1955, Rosa Perks was accused of violating city laws in Montgomery, Alabama and arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white male (Jefferson 206). This was happening in America even after it had gone to war to fight fascism and racial discrimination during the Second World War. The irony of these double standards was captured by the famous columnist of the black newspaper Pittsburgh Courier, George Schuyler who wrote, “Why should Negroes fight for democracy abroad when they are refused democracy in every American activity except taxpaying?” (Jefferson 207). Thus, although African Americans were free of slavery, they were not equal to the other citizens.
The acts of Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama ignited a civil disobedience flame among African Americans who felt disenfranchised by the discriminatory laws all over America.
Thus, the clamor for civil rights did not begin after 1955, and it picked pace after the Rosa Perks incident. Earlier on, there had been attempts in various sectors to end discrimination and racial segregation. For instance, in 1954 in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, the Supreme Court of the U.S.A ruled that segregation in public schools based on race was unconstitutional (History). This ruling provided a reference point for other litigations on segregation later on.
Information that has been used in this paper was gathered qualitatively through the internet. Historical information was reviewed from different websites that provided a basis for the arguments on Martin Luther King. In addition, qualitative self-report on attitude and personal reflection was used to come up with the recommendations and personal views where they appear.
Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement
Born during the period of racial segregation and limited civil rights for African Americans, Martin Luther King Jr. grew to be a great civil rights movement leader. Through his oratory prowess, King galvanized many people to stand up and demand justice and equal treatment. Through peaceful marches and sit-ins, Dr. King and the civil rights movement demanded greater economic freedoms and social liberties that were being denied to African Americans. As a result, he became a hero to many black people not only in America but other countries where people were facing oppressive governments. However, during his activism years before he was assassinated, King was arrested a total of 30 times for civil disobedience and other charges (Thekingcentre). As a result, other people saw him not as a hero but a trouble maker who did not adhere to the law. In addition, some white supremacist business people saw him as disruptive and an inciter and offered a bounty to anyone who killed Dr. King. Nonetheless, I perceive Dr. King as principally law abiding but with great convictions on his beliefs. As such, what he did or asked others to do was to bring out awareness of the divided country that was America.
When a group of people feel oppressed and need to do something about it, they can choose to resist the oppressor passively or aggressively. Martin Luther King Jr. chose the path of peaceful protest against all forms of segregation and unequal treatment. Through his “I have a dream” speech, Dr. King reminds America that it has an obligation to treat all its citizens equally.
As a church minister, Dr. King reminded his congregants that it was better to love the other person than to hate them. For instance, in his sermon “a time to break the silence” in New York Dr. King states, “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death” (Palazzo n.p). However, although the context of this sermon was the Vietnam War, Dr. King was averse to any form of violence regardless of the perpetuator.
Regardless of how good one is, not all people will agree with you. The same can be said of Dr. King’s nonviolent path to civil rights. Other actors were not so passive in the quest and advocated for a violent demand if the government did not listen. In Malcolm X and the Black Panther Movement, the violence narrative found a home. For instance, in his speech in Cleveland, Ohio titled “the ballot or the bullet” Malcolm X makes it explicitly clear that there were no two ways on getting civil liberties from the ‘oppressor’ (Social Justice Speeches). He says, “I believe in action on all fronts by whatever means necessary.” Through his speech, Malcolm was categorical that the option for lack of civil liberties was death. Thus, although they were after the same thing, Dr. King and Malcolm X were different in their approaches.
It is said that patience is a virtue. However, in 1963, Dr. King defied a court order barring him from holding any protest. He held a protest against the treatment of African Americans in Birmingham and was arrested and sent to jail. While in jail, he received a letter from other religious leaders asking him to avoid protests and instead seek dialogue. However, Dr. King answered them in his famous letter from Birmingham jail by stating, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Through this letter, King tried to explain to the religious leaders why it was necessary to demonstrate, sit-in, and disobey unjust civil laws. However, others saw him as an ‘outsider’ who had come to disrupt the peace. They urged him to avoid actions that created tensions between the races. Personally, I think Dr. King was right to take his protests to Birmingham for the injustice that was in Alabama was also being experienced in Birmingham.
There is no doubt that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will live on a beacon of light for those who continue to seek social justice everywhere. Through his street actions and ability to inspire, King was able to lead a great civil rights movement that culminated in the abolishment of all segregation laws in America. However, other people saw King as a disrupter of peace and economic saboteur. In addition, his passive resistance was questioned by other black leaders who wanted a more radical resistance. Nonetheless, Dr. King remains an inspiration to many people around the world.
History.com Staff. “Brown v. Board of Education.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2009,
www.history.com/topics/black-history/brown-v-board-of-education-of-topeka. Accessed 6 May 2017
Jefferson, Robert F. Fighting for Hope: African American Troops of the 93rd Infantry Division in World War Ii and Postwar America. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.
“Letter from Birmingham City Jail.” The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change,
www.thekingcenter.org/archive/document/letter-birmingham-city-jail-0. Accessed 6 May 2017
Palazzo, c. “Martin Luther King, Jr. – Beyond Vietnam – A Time To Break The Silence | Archives | Veterans Today.” U.S. Military Veterans, www.veteranstodayarchives.com/2010/01/19/martin-luther-king-jr-%E2%80%93-beyond-vietnam-%E2%80%93-a-time-to-break-the-silence/. Accessed 6 May 2017
“The Ballot or the Bullet.” Social Justice Speeches, www.edchange.org/multicultural/speeches/malcolm_x_ballot.html. Accessed 6 May 2017