In the Post-Reconstruction Period of the late 19th and early 20th century in the American South, the struggle for civil rights of the African American population had a variety of leaders and approaches. Early leaders like Booker T. Washington championed a concept of selective acceptance and upliftment upon meeting certain social and economic criteria, an individual would be accepted in White society. This was the opposite idea of universal acceptance and integration in which blacks were considered citizens despite their economic or social background. Martin Luther King Jr. championed this later concept in American society for African Americans and rejected the earlier concepts that African Americans had to be accepted by White Americans. He rejected earlier concepts of African American assimilation and instilled the idea of equality amongst all people. His philosophy of nonviolent resistance, inspirations, and laws that came about helped him become a prominent leader within society.
Martin Luther King Jr. rejected these earlier ideas of Booker T. Washington. Washington was one of the earlier activists for the civil rights movement that believed Africans Americans had to meet certain criteria to be accepted in society (Jackson 256). He often toured with prominent African American leaders to prove that they had value. He did this while not violating the segregation of Jim Crow laws within transportation. He rented his own car to avoid racism while traveling (Jackson 262). He appeared as if he was doing the right thing but in reality, cooperating with the segregation system was wrong.
For example, in the book, Crimes of the Century, the author talks about The Scottsboro boys. They were nine black men that were suspected of raping two white females and as a result they were sent to prison. The courts took five years to prove that the young men were innocent. This shows how they were discriminated because of their skin color. The author acknowledges interviews that were taken of inmates in prison and one of them was Haywood Patterson. Patterson states, “Color is more important than evidence down there. Color is evidence. Black color convicts you” (Geis 75). Patterson’s view contrasts with Washington’s philosophy. In the quote by Patterson, he disagrees with the idea of assimilation, because to the white community, color is everything. Therefore, telling the Scottsboro men to conform to the expectations held in society for black individual will not make any differences because they will still face discrimination regardless.
In accordance to Patterson’s ideology, Martin Luther King Jr. disagreed with the idea of assimilation of blacks. K wanted to overcome unjust laws and make sure all people were treated equally regardless of race and ethnicity. King criticized Washington for tolerating the segregation system during a time in which they were supposed to increase anti-black violence.
King’s idea opposes Washington because he did not believe that blacks should appease the white people. He believed one had a moral responsibility to fight against inequality. Furthermore, in the captivating book, Martin Luther King Jr, The Making of a Mind, King says, “Washington’s method underestimated the structures of evil and allowed for too little freedom in the present and too little promise in the future” (Ansbro 201). Washington’s ideology gave no hope to African Americans as he had the same mentality as white people that they were inferior, but King gave hope to people and demanded freedom. There ideas were opposing but King’s approach was more successful than Washington because he was focused on a higher goal— his vision of an America that would unite in brotherhood and harmony.
One of King’s most successful method for the civil rights movement was the practice of nonviolent resistance to achieve the goal of equality. According to Cohen in “What is Civil Disobedience” she states that Civil disobedience is an act of protest, deliberately unlawful, conscientiously and publicly performed” (Cohen 39).King’s ideology of nonviolent resistance is the reason for the changes that occurred within society. An example of nonviolent movement to protest against unjust systems were the Sit-Ins. A Sit-In is where groups of people come together, and they go to an establishment that has segregated areas and they publicly disobeyed those segregations. An example of a Sit-In was a movement in which four African American students walked to an all-white lunch table at a store in Greensboro, North Carolina. They sat and waited to be served when the service was declined although they were being verbally harassed and threatened with violence, and because of this act they were arrested.
The movement led by King bought significant changes as the Jim Crow laws were removed. This method of civil disobedience was effective because students, and leaders were uniting to end discrimination and fight for equality. The reason a lot of people followed him during his marches and protests is because of his drive and dedication to risk it all for humanity. Not a lot of leaders did that which makes him unique from the rest of the activist.
King inspired Leaders like Elle Baker, the director of Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to organize “direct action” protests (Carson 17). Baker agreed with King’s philosophy which then motivated her to take a part in the movement and expand on his ideas to make changes. Similarly, he motivated leaders like Roy Wilkins and Thurgood Marshall into a nonviolent movement that was a compromise between the more extremist and more conservative NAACP elements which made segregation illegal (Carson 18). King knew how to communicate and urge other to make a difference in society rather than being silent to injustice. His leadership roles, and ideas are what inspired many people to come together for the cause of justice.
Along with inspiring people, King influenced new laws to take place. Examples of two legislations that were passed as a turning point for equality were the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights of 1965. In Purdum’s book, An Idea Whose Time Has Come, he states, “the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned discrimination in public accommodations”(Purdum 330). This means that segregation was not allowed in public places. For instance, women could work and do the same job as men, but women would receive less pay as compared to men because of gender inequalities. This explains how before this law came into effect, there were many gender inequalities and racial discrimination that occurred within society. Because of this, it ensured that employers could not deny employees their rights regardless of their race, color, and ethnicity. Similar to the Act of 1964, the Voting Rights of 1965 protected another right of humanity. The Voting Rights Of 1965 ensure to put an end to poll taxes and literacy tests. Before this act, there were poll taxes that prevents poor African Americans from Voting and it required them to take literacy tests in order to vote but most of them failed the test since they were uneducated.
Purdum states, “Together, the 1964 and 1965 acts were the most important laws of the twentieth century and a high-water mark of shared civic purpose, national unity, and hope that the nation might yet live up to its founding creed” (Purdum 331). This quote explains how these were powerful acts that gave African Americans their rights under the law which they were fighting for a long period of time. The laws were significant because it outlawed barriers that prevented African Americans from exercising their rights and freedom. King fought very hard for these laws to be established, so seeing it enforced demonstrates how he has impacted on society by the changes that took place.
In conclusion, while legal segregation ended, there is still a functional segregation in American society. King’s vision of an America without prejudice and racism has yet to be achieved, although we have made progress and evolved over time. There is no way African Americans could have gotten this far if it were not for him bringing leaders who were effectively protesting against inequality. While there are still things that need to improve, he made a lot of positive changes, which makes him a significant leader and a spokesmen for the civil rights movement. In his famous “I have a Dream Speech” King says, one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed” (King, par. 13). His dream became a reality as we are now living up to that creed by the way different races are interacting with one another and how we are less segregated. He goes on to say, ”With this faith [ of one day being equal] we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day” (King, par. 18). This explains his whole purpose for and advocating against unjust laws. He wanted peace and for all individuals to unite together in brotherhood.
King was a successful leader compared to earlier activists because he lost his life simply for the message he stood firmly upon, which proves his dedication and willpower to risk everything for humanity without fearing the outcome of his action. Today, he is a symbol of freedom around the globe, and his legacy remains vital.