Martin Luther King against Segregation

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Segregation can be described as the enforced separation of different racial groups within a country. Throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, African Americans faced segregation, as well as discrimination, in their daily lives. They were constantly receiving unfair treatment from governments, employers, police, and other city workers. African Americans’ lives were restricted because they were immediately judged by the color of their skin, resulting in automatic unfair treatment.

However, many people believed that this was unjust and wrong, and were looking to change it. One of these people was Martin Luther King Jr., a civil rights activist during this time period. He dedicated his time and efforts to fight for African American rights, like others during the Civil Rights Movement. Unlike many, who resorted to violence to gain these rights, King only used peaceful means of protest. This included boycotts, marches, demonstrations, strikes, and sit-ins, and other methods of passive resistance. Witnessing the harsh and unfair lives of African Americans throughout his life urged Martin Luther King Jr. to take action and organize different groups and peaceful protests to help advance the civil rights movement.

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For nearly a century, African Americans had to sit in the back of city buses because of the Jim Crow Laws enforced in the South that legally segregated them from whites. Rosa Parks, a black woman who experienced this unfair treatment regularly, decided to challenge these laws. On December 1, 1955, she refused to give up her set to a white person on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. By doing this, she had violated the Jim Crow Laws. Instead of complying with the bus driver when he told her to get up, she did not listen. When she continued to refuse, the driver stopped at the nearest pay telephone ans called the police. Within minutes, two policemen in a squad car arrived and arrested her (Hazen 7). A civil rights group called the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) had been established by Martin Luther King and other black leaders earlier that year, and Dr. King was elected president. When they heard about Parks’ brave action, they supported her in taking her case to the Supreme Court. The MIA also encouraged black communities in Montgomery to boycott the bus line and expect the same treatment as whites when it came to seating. Taking it even further, nineteen black ministers, including Dr. King, organized a bus boycott in Montgomery. To spread the news, college students distributed 35,000 leaflets that informed the city about what was going on.

After all the work that Martin Luther King and others put in, the montgomery Bus Boycott finally began. Starting on December 5, no African Americans rode busses in Montgomery. On this important day, Rosa Parks also went to trial. Instead of buses, African Americans used alternate modes of transportation. 18 black taxi companies started charging just ten cents so that those who did not have cars could get to work every day without spending too much money on transportation. When city officials threatened to fine black cab drivers if they did not charge a minimum of 45 cents, Dr. Martin Luther King organized a car pool (Hazen 8). By taking all of these actions, the city came together to fight for equal treatment for African Americans. However, they experienced problems along the way. On February 21 of 1956, Dr. King and 24 other black ministers were accused of breaking a boycotting law which was rarely used. As a result, Martin Luther King had to pay a fine of 500 dollars. Even after these complications, he continued with his work and traveled the country, giving speeches and raising money to further support the boycott. With all of these efforts, the boycott continued for almost a year.

After the Montgomery Bus Boycott ended, it had many lasting impacts on the country. After not riding the city buses for 382 days, the law was changed and African Americans got equal treatment on buses. The Jim Crow Laws had been struck down by the Supreme court, making the boycott successful. Blacks started riding the buses again, this time free to sit in any seat they chose (Hazen 8). Rosa Parks and Dr. King noted the progress they made by being the first to board the bus. This achievement marked the beginning of a long struggle to gain civil rights for all. Birmingham was known for being the most segregated city in America, and it was extremely problematic for civil rights activists and other African Americans who were trying to gain equality. Throughout 1957 to 1963, blacks continued to get attacked and their homes were constantly in danger of being bombed. In Birmingham alone, 18 unsolved bombings occurred. So many bombings rocked Birmingham that the city came to be called “”Bombingham (Hazen 17). Things were so bad that any black leader risked their safety if they faced or confronted any white racist. Freedom riders, a group of people also fighting for equal rights, were also attacked. Hoping to diminish all of this chaos, in 1962 the federal court ordered the public facilities to be integrated in Birmingham. However, local officials did not follow these orders and closed all of the city’s parks, playgrounds, pools, and golf courses instead. As a result, the city remained segregated. This was exactly the reason why Dr. King, and a group that he establishes called the Southern Christian Leadership Congress (SCLC) chose Birmingham as one of their battlefields in 1963.

By choosing Birmingham as a place where they organized many of their protests, the SCLC and Martin Luther King were taking a huge risk. They knew that the city was the most segregated place in the country and that integrating it would not be an easy task. However, they believed that in order for the Civil Rights Movement to advance, they needed to take action everywhere, and in Birmingham it probably mattered most. On April 3, the SCLC starts a protest that they called Project C (C for Confrontation). The demonstrations continued for several days and included marches, pickets, and prayers. All was well, until the police showed up 3 days later. The demonstrators were beat with nightsticks, attacked by police dogs, and then arrested and sent off to jail. Afterwards, the Alabama circuit judge forbid more demonstrations because of Police Commissioner Eugene “”Bull Connor, who was strongly against civil rights for African Americans. Dr. King and others ignore this racist’s orders and protest anyways. However, this time not only are the protesters arrested, but so is Dr. King. He goes to jail and while spending 8 days in solitary confinement writes the “”Letter From Birmingham Jail. The letter was ostensibly conceived in response to a letter that had recently run in a local newspaper, which had claimed that the protests were “”unwise. There was disapprovement of the immense tension created by the demonstration (“”Letter From Birmingham Jail Online). Dr. King responded to this disapprovement by assuring in his letter that the tension caused is beneficial to the outcomes of the protests and necessary for growth.

After the disappointing outcomes of the previous protests, the SCLC decided to change their tactics, hoping for better results. In May of 1963, instead of their usual demonstrations, they started to march with students. Dr. King and others thought that the police would be less aggressive towards children, and also the nation’s emotions would be affected if they see kids getting hurt.On May 2, a group of nearly 1,000 black student left the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and started marching downtown. They ranged in age from 6 to 18 (Hazen 17). The next day, another 1000 students assembled at the church to march again. Unfortunately, this time there were police and firefighters waiting for them. They pointed their hoses at the demonstrators so that they were knocked against buildings and cars because of the powerful jets of water. In addition, all of the marchers were arrested and jailed. Once again, Connor does everything he can so that African Americans are at a disadvantage. He makes their trip to the jail uncomfortable by giving them the least possible number of paddy wagons and local school buses to ride there. What had started out as a peaceful demonstration had turned violent very quickly, and it surprised the nation and the world. After the shocking events in Birmingham which were unexpectedly violent, even more problems began to arise.

Matters got even worse when a agreement reached between the SCLC and some of Birmingham’s business leaders making concessions to blacks was denounced by Bull Connor and other city officials (Hazen 18). Later, on May 10, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), a violent terrorist group, held a rally where they delivered racist speeches, and burned crosse. They also bombed the hotel where Martin Luther King was staying. Luckily he was not hurt, but Birmingham was nevertheless out of hand. To prevent further violence, President Kennedy dispatch federal troops to Fort McClellan, 30 miles from Birmingham (Hazen 18) Kennedy also ent the strangest civil rights bill ever drafted which would later be called the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Even more work was done to help African Americans gain their rights when different civil rights groups and their leaders started planning a crucial march. By 1963, 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, the South was still segregated with many unemployed blacks ,and the rest working minimum wage jobs. Even though blacks were legally freed from slavery and black men were given full voting rights after the Civil War, the Jim Crow LAws still kept them segregated. Businesses and governments discriminated against African Americans, and 21 states did not allow interracial marriage. Overall, blacks were not equal to whites, and it was a huge problem. On May 24, 1962, Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, wrote a letter to the Department of the Interior about permits for a march at the Lincoln Memorial in the fall.

The letter was on behalf of many groups, such as the Negro American Labor Council (NACL), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), SCLC, and others. Plans for the march were stalled when Udall encouraged the groups to consider he Sylvan Theater at the Washington Monument due to the complications of rerouting traffic and the volume of tourists at the Lincoln Memorial (“”March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom Online). Pretty much, he was against the march and was intentionally stalling it. In March of 1963 Randolph telegraphed King that the NACL had begun planning a June march “”for Negro job rights, and asked for King’s immediate response (Randolph, 26 March 1963) (“”March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom Online). After being notified by Randolph, Dr. King joins him and James Farmer of CORE, as well as Charles McDew of the SNCC in organizing the march. They also joined together with Roy Wilkins of the NAACP and other leaders of various organizations and started planning the March on Washington. Throughout the summer, other organizations joined to participate in the march including the National Urban League, National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice, and many others. ALthough the march gained much support, President Kennedy did not approve. He believed that the march would turn violent, resulting in the bill’s passing chances being decreased.

Kennedy met with leaders to try and stop the march, but later figured out that it was no use and supported Dr. King and the rest. Although minor complications took place while planning, the March on Washington was a huge success and progressed the movement for civil rights even further. On August 28, 1963, the March on Washington finally took place, marking 100 years after slavery ended. Its purpose was to gain support for the civil rights bill and also to stress the importance and need for jobs. The march exceeded all expectations. While the Big Six had hoped for several thousand participants, more than 200,000 showed up! A quarter of them were white (Hazen 20). The marchers came by many means of transport. Some took chartered buses or special trains, while others got there by car, bike, or even on foot.

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The types of people that attended was diverse, including singers, actors, presidents and leaders of organizations, and civil rights veterans. Many celebrities and public figures came to entertain and support the marchers including Jackie Robinson, Joan Baez, Mahalia Jackson, Lena Horne, Bob Dylan, amongst others. The highlight of the march was when Dr. King gave his famous “”I Have a Dream speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. In his speech, he talked about the difficulties African Americans faced and how important it was to fight against segregation and discrimination. He also said that his dream was to one day see everyone treated as equals. Many people watched the march on TV and were impressed that there were so many people, yet no violence. This had a great impact on the nation’s views about the movement The March helped to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which integrated public facilities and threatened to not fund states who practiced discrimination. The March on Washington also led to the Selma to Montgomery marches that were the reason the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would later be passed.

Because of Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts, African Americans got one step closer to gaining the civil rights that they deserved. Before the long fight for equality began, African Americans woke up everyday knowing that they will have to face discrimination and segregation, for no reason other than their differing skin color. If King had not taken a stand and made people realize that this was wrong, this country might not have been the same as it is today. Although slow, the process that he chose worked very well. His perseverance gained the respect of many and his powerful speaking motivated his audiences. Overall, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the the perfect person for the job, and he played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement.

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Martin Luther King Against Segregation. (2020, Apr 08). Retrieved from