Topic: HistoryUnited States

Last updated: August 7, 2019

‘Martin Luther King, Jr. remains arguably the most recognisable African American figure in world history..

.King became the lightning rod for the civil rights movement that emerged in the wake of the successful boycott’, is what Dr Street argues. Many historians would agree that he was a very significant factor in the fight for black civil rights and the success that King achieved. However, a number of scholars have argued that the leader-centered narrative obscures the vital contributions of ordinary people in communities throughout the South, and the nation, to the struggle. The Civil Rights Movement was successful because of the collaboration of leadership skills by the grassroots throughout the years.They worked together in a state of mutual interdependence to create equality for African Americans.

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Martin Luther King was a very significant, non-violent and influential person who played a role in the development of Black Civil Rights, up until his death in 1968. His charisma made him the leading spokesman for black Americans in the years 1956-68. From the 1950s onwards, Martin Luther King’s influence gradually started to increase as he became the leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) during the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956, which was seen as the ‘spark’ of the protest movement for the Black Civil Rights. He later formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, which dedicated itself to expand the rights of black Americans through the use of peaceful protesting. In April 1963, he established the Birmingham Campaign, a city he described as ‘the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States’. During this, there were boycotts, sit-ins and marches all taking place but it resulted in King being arrested and lots of violence from the Birmingham police department that was televised. This encouraged people to support the movement, due to such drastic measures taken place and shown worldwide.

The ‘I have a dream’ speech was delivered the same year–the highlight of the March on Washington, which aimed to encourage the passage of the civil rights bill and increase the promotion of black employment opportunities. His last significant public appearance was in 1965, where his aim was to get more African American voters in the south. To encourage this he led a march in Selma Alabama where again, he was arrested and the marchers were attacked and this also was televised. This increased the support from the public on behalf of King and the protesters. A national guard was ordered by President at the time Lyndon Johnson, to protect King and the protesters, enabling them to complete the march without being attacked. This resulted in the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. April 4th 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated by James Earl Ray which caused huge upheaval in urban areas from mourners and riots in many American cities.

This shows that Martin Luther King had a huge impact on society, due to everything that he accomplished within society and for black Americans. However, he only came about and influenced the later stages of the civil rights movement and even then, was only active for a short period of time.The media put MLK in a good light, making him seem more popular than he actually was – he wasn’t as revered as the media perceived him to be. Robin Kelley emphasizes the important contributions of working-class African Americans.

These activists, Kelley shows, organized some of the earliest civil rights demonstrations—sit-ins, marches, and other efforts to challenge segregation—long before the conventional dates for the beginning of the movement. The fight for civil rights did not begin when Martin Luther King came to light. The involvement of Martin Luther King merely began after Rosa Parks act of defiance in Montgomery in 1955. 100 years earlier, Black Americans had taken control of their destiny by running away from the continuation of slavery in 1863, though it was meant to have been abolished by the current president at the time, Abraham Lincoln. Though the abolition of slavery was perceived to be something that would benefit the slaves at the time, it also brought about many problems within the economy, socially and politically.


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