Racism/ Marin Luther King term paper 16439

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Martin Luther King

The early years

Martin Luther King Jnr. was born on 15 January 1929. His father, Daddy King, was the pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. King took his duties beyond serving his church, and was involved with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. This was probably the influential thing in king s (jnr.) early life that later made him accomplish what he did.

King first met racism at the age of six, when a white friend s father said that they could no longer play together because King was coloured . His own parents explained about slavery and also made an important point: Don t let it make you feel you are not as good as white people.

King s progress through school was fast. At 15 he went to Morehouse College, a theological college in Connecticut. Here, he expressed doubt about the value of religion, but was eventually convinced of its relevance to the civil-rights struggle. At 19 he was ordained. With a degree in sociology he went to Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, to study for a degree in divinity He came top of his class and graduated in 1951. He went on to study for a doctorate in systematic theology at Boston University.

After completing his studies, King felt that he should return home. Accompanied by his new wife, Coretta, he began work at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama. The church was attended mainly by the educated black middle class. Once installed, he set about organizing his congregation. His interest in the community and his effective oratory made him a popular and respected figure.

Montgomery, in the Southern heartland, had strict segregation laws; for example, rules about what black passengers could and could not do on buses. Resentment at these rules ran high. On 1 December 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white and was taken to jail. On 5 December the local black ministers met to discuss organizing a boycott. King, at only 26, was elected their spokesman.

Out of this meeting came the Montgomery Improvement Association. King had 20 minutes to prepare an address to be given to about 5,000 people. His speech had two major thrusts: democracy and overthrowing oppression. He urged blacks to stand up for themselves and also appealed to their self-discipline. The bus company and the city refused to agree to their demands, so the MIA organized a car pool, which the police harassed, arresting black drivers, including King. On 1 February the MIA s lawyer challenged the Alabama segregation laws in a federal court. At the end of February a grand jury charged the MIAs leadership with breaking a 1921 anti-boycott law Rather than wait to be arrested, all 89 leaders presented themselves at the courthouse in front of a cheering crowd.

The boycott ran for 381 days, attracting national and international interest. The Supreme Court banned segregation, serving an order on Montgomery s white officials on 20 December 1956. King received worldwide acclaim and the approval of white liberal America.


Soon after, King helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, nonviolent movement aiming to banisl segregation. In 1957, the SCLC turned its attention to voter registration. King believed in democratic change and that it was vital for blacks to use the right to vote The 1957 Civil Rights Act redressed the fact that they did not have the vote ii many states, but the response to the registration drive was disappointing.

Despite the SCLC s slow progress, King worldwide reputation was growing. H deliberately kept the race issue to the fore not clouding his message by associating,witth other radical political movements. Nor, given the Cold War, did he wish to give his enemies any chance to accuse his movement of Communist influence.

In 1960 King became involved in the sitin movement; black students would go to

caf s and such and demand service. King j)articipated in Atlanta where he and 5 1 others were arrested in October. He had to appear before an ultra-bigoted white judge, who sentenced him to four months hard labour. King was clearly being victimized. Two days later he was granted bail after the intervention of Senator Robert Kennedy, future Attorney-General and brother of the then Presidential candidate, John Kennedy.

Once in power, the President s support for civil rights was tepid. He did not want to alienate Democrat voters in the South. Black students took the initiative, forming the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee to try to speed up federal adoption of civil rights. They protested in some of the most reactionary parts of the South. whey were beaten up, arrested, jailed and shot, but they did not give up. The Congress of Racial Equality started Freedom Rides, traveling with whites and trying to use all the facilities en route, a protest that was greeted with white mob violence. As a result of the Freedom Rides, the Interstate Commerce Commission finally outlawed segregation in 1961.


The next confrontation took place in the town of Albany, Georgia. Chief of Police, Laurie Pritchett, had made plans to deflate the protest. He had read King s book Stride Towards Freedom, and realized that brutal handling of the demonstrations would lead to federal intervention, a grave threat to Southern segregationists. Anticipating King s arrival and tactics, he drilled his men for months so that they would handle the demonstrators effectively without violence. The Albany movement faded out, without gaining any of its demands, and riven by dissension.

To avoid the mistakes of Albany, the SCLC inner council met to plan a campaign in

Birmingham, Alabama, a town renowned for its racism and a fertile recruiting ground for the Ku-Klux-Klan. Eugene Bull Connor, its Public Safety Commissioner, was an unrelenting bigot. The SCLC hoped to provoke him into violence to discredit him. Initially he showed restraint, though King was jailed. While in solitary confinement he read an attack on the aims of the protest by white clergymen. In response he wrote the Letter from Birmingham City jail . This did much to persuade the Northern churches over a million copies were printed to follow their consciences and to urge demonstrations against racism.

King was tried locally, and convicted of criminal contempt. When he came out of jail, he found that the protest was receiving less support than he had hoped. James Bevel, a young activist in his team, suggested recruiting children. Thousands of black schoolchildren converged on the starting-point for the demonstration. Connor cracked, and King achieved the sort of publicity that the campaign craved.

Connor ordered his men to wade in brutally, setting dogs on demonstrators and bystanders alike, and having the fire service hose them down. Hundreds of children were arrested. This was fully reported in the world s media and seen on TV in the US and overseas. President Kennedy went on television on 11 June and declared civil rights to be a moral issue. On 19 June a new Civil Rights Bill

was submitted to Congress. King to be getting the commitment he from the white Government.


To maintain the pressure, decided to hold a Mar Freedom in Washington. August 1963, 250,000 demons turned up in the nation s capital. By the Lincoln Memorial, King remind audience of Lincoln s Emancipation Proclamation and then fell back rhetoric of the black Baptist preacher

I have a dream that one day this will nation will rise up and live out the true meaning its creed, We hold these truths to ii evident, that all men are created equal; I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, Sons of former slaves and of former slave holders will be able down to sit together at the table of brotherhood I have a dream one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. ....I have a dream that one day in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

The crowd responded ecstatically but Southern whites did not easily surrender a system that favoured them. Black leaders were worried about lack of support from Northern whites. Meanwhile, as civil-right leaders were attacked and jailed, the FBI looked on. King accused the FBI of supporting Southern segregationists making him a marked man in the eyes of

J. Edgar Hoover, the Director. Obsessed with the threat of Communism, Hoover insisted that his agents find links between King and Communism. Throughout 1963 and 1964 the FBI pursued King, and tried to prevent him receiving the honours and awards being showered on him, one of which was the Nobel Prize for peace in 1964.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act had not enfranchised all Southern blacks and Kingmade this his next aim. He turned his attention to Selma. The local sheriff, Jim Clark, was a typical redneck. On 7 March 1965, 600 demonstrators began a march from Selma to Montgomery. Clark s men and state troopers, mounted and on foot, assaulted them with batons, whips and tear gas. This was seen on television and America was disgusted. President Johnson called in federal troopers to protect the marchers, showing the first Government support for the campaign. He had been considering a voting rights bill and the nation s reaction spurred him on. The bill was presented to Congress on 6 August1965. It seemed as if the struggle was over.

Yet over half the black population of the US lived in the North, with the same rights

as whites, but their economic position prevented them from enjoying these rights. Within days of the bill being signed, on 11 August 1965, a massive riot occurred in Watts ghetto of Los Angeles.

Watts was a revelation to King. He realized that the economic problems of blacks were even greater than those of discrimination. He decided to take the nonviolent protest to

the North, but he alienated his white liberal support, and received minimal response from urban blacks.

The Vietnam War was absorbing the Government s attention at this time. King had not spoken out against it because it would have lost him Johnson's support, but the escalating cost of the war at the expense of the War on Poverty initiative at home destroyed King s faith in the American dream. He denounced the war outside the UN building in New York. Johnson was furious, as was most of the media. Riots broke out in Detroit and elsewhere, in which 83 people, mostly black, were killed.


King decided that his real target should be economic injustice and began the Poor People s Campaign. On 18 March 1968 he went to Memphis to support dustmen striking for union recognition and a wage rise. Ten days later, he led a protest to City Hall, which quickly degenerated into violence. King s supporters persuaded him to organize a more successful march.

On 4 April, he learnt that a federal judge had rejected the city s request that the planned march should be banned. But King never made it to the event: that evening, standing on his motel balcony, he was shot. We may never know who conspired to assassinate him -- it has been suggested that the FBI was involved, as it feared his becoming a black Messiah.

In 1983, Congress recognized King s stature as a human rights campaigner by making his birthday a national holiday, just as are those of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.


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