Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X
“We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that justice too long delayed is justice denied.” Martin Luther King Jr,. Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963. This quote from King is clearly pushing for equality that must be obtained through a more powerful force. Certain laws known as the Jim Crow Laws were passed in the south that segregated colored and white people, or restricted them completely. In the north discrimination was still rampant as well. The Civil Rights Movement was a movement that took place primarily in the fifties and sixties, which stated that all people are equal before the law. The Supreme Court has always been a major element in this movement, whether they were helpful or not. Specific components in the Civil Rights Movement were major Supreme Court cases, leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X, and a political response that helped gain more African-American equality.
One of the first Supreme Court cases that defined African-American’s place in society was Plessy vs. Ferguson in1896. “It is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it,” Justice Henry Brown, writing for the majority. According to this passage, there is no real superior race. Colored people have chosen to be the inferior group. This case establishes the term ‘separate but equal’, because the court thinks that segregation is not harmful since they do not acknowledge an inferior or superior group. The results of this were the segregated facilities of such things like restrooms, restaurants, schools, stores, and so much more. This case did not favor civil rights. Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote in dissent, “In my opinion, the judgement this day rendered will, in time, prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the Dred Scott Case.” Harlan clearly did not support what the majority did and saw the inevitable outcome. Plessy vs. Ferguson acted as a road block and delayed any major change from taking place in favor of equal rights.
The Brown vs. Board of Education of 1954 Supreme Court case was primarily about the segregation of schools and how it affects colored children’s ability to learn. “The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group,” Chief Justice Earl Warren, writing for a unanimous court. Warren concluded his argument by saying the term commonly used to justify such rules, ‘separate but equal’ has no place anymore. This case was a victory for the movement because we can see the desire for a transformation in education segregation, yet no immediate changes came about until later. The Supreme Court had changed its stance on segregation for the better by deeming segregation in schools unconstitutional. This affected African-Americans because equality was now much closer than it had previously been before.
In 1955 there was a Brown vs. Board II case held to quicken the process of applying new rules which would reflect what was already understood and stated in Brown vs. Board I. This helped better equality laws become a reality. Still the south resisted the new integration for some time. In 1957 nine colored students in Little Rock, Arkansas known as “little rock nine” tried to attend Central Highschool, a predominantly white school. They were met with a violent protest and did not continue there.
Two major leaders in the Civil Rights Movement were Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X. These two had different approaches to gaining equality under the law. Martin Luther King was a Reverend at his Baptist Church and resorted to actions that would stand up for colored people without violence. He called this direct action. Negotiation had not worked previously. That is why King implemented direct action as well, to grab the nation’s attention to a problem that so desperately needed to be solved. “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed,” Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963. Those who are privileged and were raised that way are not likely to see the true reality of their counterparts. Many are not completely willing to give up their superiority and become equal to the oppressed group like they say they would.
Malcom X on the other hand, was slightly more forceful. “I am for violence if non-violence means we continue postponing a solution to the American black man’s problems—just to avoid violence,” Malcom X, The autobiography of Malcom X. He was clearly sick of the oppression and lack of progression in the civil rights movement. Although the African-American community had come further from their previous place in society, which was slavery, they were still unequal in many ways. Because of this lack of change that had come from non-violence, Malcom X is saying he supports violence in this situation, though it is not necessarily ideal.
Both of these men were excellent activists for what they believed in. Their approaches were slightly different. Martin Luther King Jr. used non-violent protesting and marches to gain the public’s attention and to promote the civil rights movement. Malcom X did have similar views, but more intense. He promoted violence if and only if it helped achieve equal rights for colored people. “Let sincere whites go and teach non-violence to white people,” Malcom X, The Autobiography of Malcom X. This was what he truly wanted. Both of these men were also assassinated eventually. X was killed during a rally in 19656. Martin Luther King had received a Nobel Peace Prize for his works. He was killed in 1968 at thirty-nine years old.
By the sixties, the legislature had finally made progress on creating improved equal rights. The Supreme Court decisions and protests had lead to major political responses by the Presidents during this time. The first major civil rights act put in place since the 15th Amendment was implemented in 1957. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act, which stated that anyone found preventing the voting rights of colored people will be prosecuted and voter fraud will be investigated. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson and said there would be equal employment for everyone, limited voter literacy testing, and legally integrated facilities. The next year he signed the Civil rights Act of 1965 which pushed the statements of the previous act even further. This act right out banned voting literacy tests and took the first step to putting a stop to poll taxes. In addition to these Civil Rights Acts, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was put into place soon after King’s assassination. This act stated that there should not be any housing discrimination against anyone of any sort. These major Civil Rights Acts were a huge achievement for the colored people of America.
The Civil Rights Movement was a major movement for equality for all under the law. The Supreme Court decisions made during this movement had an extreme effect on the outcome of this era. Popular activists Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X had a tremendous impact on this movement by delivering inspiring speeches and organizing protests that promoted need for change. Finally, the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1964, 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 were established to increase equal rights of the law. Together, the Supreme Court stance, civil rights activists, and laws put into place all contributed and aided the Civil Rights Movement.