The most important person to have made a significant change in the
rights of Blacks was Martin Luther King. He had great courage and passion
to defeat segregation and racism that existed in the United States, and it
was his influence to all the Blacks to defy white supremacy and his belief
in nonviolence that lead to the success of the Civil Rights movement.
Martin Luther King was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia
where the city suffered most of the racial discrimination in the South,
and, in addition, the Ku Klux Klan had one of it’s headquarters there. But
it was his father, Martin Luther King Sr. who played an important role in
shaping the personality of his son. M.L. Sr. helped to advocate the idea
that Blacks should vote. He was involved with the National Association for
the Advancement of Coloured People, an important Civil Rights group. These
efforts to improve the way of life for Blacks could be seen by his son.
In December 5, 1955 King began to be significant in the changing of
the Black man’s way of life. The boycott of the Montgomery Bus was begun
when Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat on a bus to a white man on
December 1st. Two Patrolmen took her away to the police station where she
was booked. He and 50 other ministered held a meeting and agreed to start a
boycott on December 5th, the day of Rosa Parks’s hearing. This boycott
would probably be successful since 70% of the riders were black. The bus
company did not take them seriously, because if there was bad weather, they
would have to take the bus. The Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA)
was established to co-ordinate the boycott. They had a special agreement
with black cab companies, in which they were allowed to get a ride for a
much cheaper price than normal. Blacks had to walk to work, and so they did
not have time to do any shopping and therefore the sales decreased
dramatically. On January 30, while M.L was making a speech, his house was
bombed. Luckily his wife and baby had left the living room when the bomb
exploded, but a black mob formed and was angry about what had happened, and
Policemen were sent to the scene to control the situation, even though they
were outnumbered. King, however, because of his strong belief in
nonviolence, urged the crowd to not use their guns and to go home.
The news coverage increased on the Montgomery boycott as months
passed. He travelled to many places and made speeches in order to raise
money for the MIA’s legal fees. When he returned he found that he was
charged for breaking an anti-boycott law. He and the others were found
guilty, but they appealed the sentence. When in November 13, the MIA was
fined $15,000, at the same time, the Supreme Court found the Alabama’s
segregation laws were unconstitutional. That night the KKK looted 40 cars
in hopes of scaring the Blacks. But the black people did not hide in their
homes and turn the lights off. They stayed on their porches and waved
showing that they were not afraid of them at all. By 1957 Martin Luther
King became a national figure. Time magazine wrote a story on him, and his
ideology of nonviolence began to spread throughout the country. The boycott
gave a strong psychological push of courage that would continue until
Blacks obtained what was morally right.
What made Martin Luther King striking was his conviction on
non-violence. He believed that this belief could give blacks a superior
level of morality over whites. This ideology was important for his success
in later years. As a result, it helped restrain the use of violence from
whites to blacks and vice versa. This philosophy was tested during the
Montgomery bus boycott. Before the successful boycott, blacks used violence
in order to protest racism. During the boycott, however, on both sides
violence was not a measure to be taken. When someone bombed King’s home,
the fact that violence was used against a nonviolent group made the idea of
the black man’s cause more agreeable.
Whites, as a result of the boycott, realised the threat for blacks to
be equal was increasing. They used legal measures to break up the NAACP
(National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People). In time the
NAACP became very weak, and so the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership
Conference) became more significant to the black man’s cause. It was lead
by King, Rustin, Levison, and Baker, and was a Negro church which
represented “the most stable institution of the Southern Negro community”.
The party gave a tremendous morale strength in the goal for the equality of
blacks. The SCLC was stronger than the NAACP because it did not depend on
state officials. Because there were no membership lists, it was difficult
to single out individual black followers.
It is noteworthy to mention one incident that occurred in 1958 when he
made visits to promote his book. A demonic woman attempted to stab him.
When he was rushed to a hospital, he later found out that if he had tried
to take out the knife or if it moved in any way, he would have died because
the tip of the knife was touching the aorta of his heart. King’s will and
courage to fight for civil rights was affected by the achievements of
Gandhi’s philosophy. On February 10, 1959, he toured India and admired
Gandhi for his achievements in breaking down the caste system, which was a
system in which the hierarchy of social classes dominated the country.
His influence onto black students was incredible. They felt the
courage to revolt against segregation. For example, on February 1, 1960,
there was a group of black college students in Greensboro, North Carolina,
who sat down in a lunch room for whites. This tactic became popular and was
being used everywhere. As a result, King suggested that they create a
permanent organization. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
(SNCC) was formed.
One of the instrumental factors which aided King to his role in the
Civil Rights Movement was Senator John F. Kennedy’s support for his
beliefs. Kennedy showed his support when King, for example, was found
guilty of driving with an invalid license, and was find $25 plus one year’s
probation. When police arrested him again during the probationary period,
he was sentenced to four months in a jail which demanded heavy labour. This
jail was also the home of KKK criminals. Senator Kennedy promised to help
King and by doing so, won the support of 75% blacks. King urged for Kennedy
to help the Civil Rights Movement, and so the Congress of Racial Equality
(CORE) decided to see for themselves whether the banning of segregation was
actually working. These civil rights activists were called Freedom Riders.
But white activists beat them and burnt the buses they were on. King
realised that the media was a very powerful tool when they covered the use
of violence by the KKK.
The continual effort to strengthen the message for rights can be
outlined in Birmingham, Alabama. After King and three other leaders were
released from jail (they were arrested because during one of his organized
protests), they were surprised to find that 1000 youths were protesting.
Though 900 were arrested, the next day 2500 children were protesting. Water
hoses were used by authorities to fight the blacks. Attack dogs were also
used to control the mob. But when the public was shown of the violent
methods, it increased the sympathy onto King’s cause. Despite this, 3000
youngsters demonstrated the next day. There was no more space in the jails
and finally the business leaders of the community realized that the would
need to start negotiating, or they would suffer financially.
The height of King’s career was in 1964, when the Civil Rights Act was
enacted. It was sent through Congress by President Kennedy in 1963, but he
did not live to see it go through. He was assassinated on November 22,
1963. His successor, President Johnson, passed it through Congress. It
allowed the federal government to enforce any racial discrimination in
public areas like restaurants and hotels. It allowed the government to hold
federal funds from places where racism existed. It also prohibited
discrimination in the voter-registration procedures. Whites previously
discriminated Blacks from voting if they were illiterate, but the Act
forbade this. M.L.’s success was acknowledged when he was awarded the Nobel
Prize in the same year.
A tragic day struck on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tenn.. He was
planning to participate in a Poor People’s March to Washington. While
standing on the balcony of the motel where he was staying with his
partners, he was killed by a bullet which was shot by James Earl Ray. On
March 10, 1969, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced 99 years in prison.
Martin Luther King was able to achieve the impossible. He was an
ambitious man who wanted to make a difference in the lives of every
American Black. Step by step, he organized demonstrations and made speeches
to further strengthen his cause. His philosophy of non-violence played a
key role in the success of the right to be free. Carved on his crypt is a
phrase he said many times:
Free at last, free at last
Thank God Almighty
I’m free at last.