Roles of Civil Rights Advocates

Throughout the Civil Rights Movement during1954-1968, there were many people who fought for civil rights for African Americans and many activists who brought attention to the movement. There were many activists who rose and created change for African Americans. Some activists who brought attention to the movement had many different roles and approaches in the Civil Rights Movement. Activists like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael were very influential activists who had very different tactics to achieve civil rights but had one

Martin Luther King Jr., born Michael King Jr., was a very influential activist during the Civil Rights Movement. King was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. King was very aware of racism at a young age. King could recall times when he would walk by lynching areas and encountered segregated bathrooms at a young age. When King was a young boy, two of his white friends were forbade from socializing with him because of his race. King used the issues he faced throughout his life to help empower him in the Civil Rights Movement. King was a strong activist who played a big role in the civil rights movement from the 1950’s until his assassination in 1968. King wanted equal rights for everyone and fought for it through peaceful protest. King did not think violence was the answer to gain civil rights. In Martin Luther King Jr: Civil Rights Leader King said, “We are not advocating violence. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. Love them and let them know you love them” (12). King was a part of many big events that helped obtain civil rights such as; the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and was an influential member of SCLC.

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During Kings life, he was very adamant in his education. Kings mother taught him how to read before he started school and he became very intelligent, entering Morehouse College at the age of 15. King graduated from Morehouse College in 1948 at the age of 19 and received his doctorate at the age of 26. At Morehouse, King was inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience. This essay helped fuel Kings urge to become active in the fight for civil rights.

When King graduated from Morehouse, he was called upon by the church and he used this to create a platform for his approach for civil rights. Throughout the Civil Rights Movement King used his religion as a symbol of his nonviolent approach to the movement. King was a very religious person and was a minister in his early life. King was the president of the Southern Christion Leadership Conference (SCLC) from 1957 until his death in 1968. The SCLC believed that they could start the movement in different ways than protest. The SCLC and King began to bring African Americans together to prepare them for voting. King believed strongly in education opportunities for African Americans. King and the SCLC believed that a change for African Americans could form if they could vote for change. King helped the SCLC gather African Americans into colleges and churches to teach them ways to overcome disenfranchisement methods such as literacy tests, by teaching them how to read and write.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference or SCLC was established in 1957 and was a group that consisted of many people who joined together to help African Americans achieve equality. The goal SCLC hoped to achieve was restoring the good in America through nonviolent resistance. Church and religion played a major part in the lives of African-Americans in the South and church leaders helped many black communities during the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King was a Baptist minister at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery when Rosa Parks refused to give her seat up in December 1955. He became head of the MIA (Montgomery Improvement Association) and played a significant role in the Montgomery boycott. Soon after, King was elected as the president of SCLC because of his nonviolent approach during the boycott.

After police arrested Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on the bus, people began to protest and boycott the Montgomery Bus Station. People elected Martin Luther King Jr., minister of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church at the time, to lead the Montgomery Bus Boycotts. During the boycott, people refused to ride on city buses to protest the segregated seating. On June 5, 1956, a federal court ruled that any law that segregated seating on public transportation violated the 14th Amendment, “…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The Montgomery Bus Boycott was significant in many ways. First, it is commonly known as the earliest mass protest for civil rights in the United States, leading the way for civil rights for African Americans. Second, attention was brought to King due to his nonviolent approach during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Shortly after the boycott he became the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or SCLC.

King was also an influential leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Kings involvement dates all the way back to his position on the Executive Committee of the NAACP and his involvement in marches, rallies, and protests. King was a key asset for the NAACP because of the attention and media coverage he received for his peaceful and nonviolent outlook on racism.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was another significant event King participated in during the Civil Rights Movement. The march was held on the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation in Washington, DC. The March on Washington brought many different civil rights groups together such as the NAACP, SNCC, and the SCLC. The march was held on August 28, 1963 and was one of the biggest civil rights rallies in history. The march made headlines in many newspapers and news media and helped form the foundation for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Many activists, including Malcolm X, opposed the march for its nonviolent approach. Though the march was controversial, it brought over 200,000 people to Washington, DC. The march began at the Washington Monument and proceeded to the Lincoln Memorial where many people delivered speeches. At the march, King delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech where he called for civil and economic rights for African Americans and demanded the end of racism.

Shortly after the march, King was arrested for protesting and sentenced to time in the Birmingham Jail. While in jail, King wrote his Letter from a Birmingham Jail that gained an abundance of attention. In his letter, he addressed that he wanted to continue to use nonviolent tactics to approach racism because of his religion and explained why he committed the crimes he had been arrested for. In it he said “I am here because injustice is here. I would agree with Saint Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all.” Because of the injustice African Americans had faced their entire lives, King believed they deserved change. In 1968, five years after he was released from jail, King was fatally shot on the balcony of his second-story hotel room in Memphis, TN by an assassin. King was pronounced dead shortly after.

Another activist that was very adamant during the Civil Rights Movement was Malcolm X. Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, was born on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. His mother, Louise Norton Little, was a stay at home mother. According to Malcolm X, American Muslim Leader, X’s father was a Baptist minister and a devoted supporter of Marcus Garvey, and his civil rights involvement provoked death threats from the white supremacist organization known as the Black Legion, forcing the family to move twice before Malcolm X reached the age of four. When X was a young boy, he watched as his house was burned at the face of racism. Despite his father’s efforts to avoid the Black Legion, their home was burnt to the ground and two years later, Earl Littles body was found on the town’s railroad tracks. His death was ruled a suicide and Malcolm X’s mother was committed into a mental facility and X and his siblings were put into an orphanage.

X left school at an early age and moved to Harlem where he became involved in crime. X began abusing drugs and stealing. When X was 19, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. While in prison, X began to study the beliefs of the leader of the Nation of Islam (NOI), Elijah Muhammad. Muhammad taught X that the white society aggressively worked to keep African Americans from empowering themselves and achieving political, economic, and social equality and success. Muhammad suggested that Malcolm Little changed his name to Malcolm X to drop the “slave” name that his ancestors acquired. Throughout his imprisonment, X gained an abundance of knowledge of the NOI and began to teach their beliefs when he was released from prison. X gained recognition as one of the founding members of NOI and was published in newspapers and had interviews on television. X began to challenge the non-violent approaches of Martin Luther King Jr., urging his followers to fights back with “any means necessary” and said, “If you think we are here to tell you to love the white man, you have to come to the wrong place.” X believed that African Americans should not cower from their enemies, but rise up and fight back.

X was soon “silenced by Muhammad for nine months for receiving fame for the Nation of Islam. After X was “silenced” by Muhammad, he changed his beliefs and founded the group known as “Muslim Mosque”. X remained as an influential leader of the Civil Rights Movement and an outspoken public voice of the Black Muslim Faith, despite not being a member of the NOI any longer. X soon received many death threats from members of the NOI and experienced the bombing of his home. After several assassination attempts, his enemies were successful. When X was at a speaking engagement in the Manhattan Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965, three gunmen rushed Malcolm onstage. X was declared dead after arriving at the nearest hospital.

Though X left school at an early age, he fought for African Americans right to an equal education. X believed that African Americans deserved the same opportunities to education as white students. X soon got the attention of African Americans all over the world, and they started to fight for equal educational opportunities for African Americans.

Another influential activist during the civil Rights Movement was Stokely Carmichael. Stokely Carmichael, born Kwame Tore, was born on June 29, 1941 in Port of Spain, Trinidad. When Carmichael was only two, his family moved to the Bronx where Carmichael began to expand his education, and was accepted into Bronx Highschool of Science. While Carmichael was in high school the Civil Rights Movement exploded into action. Carmichael was not interested in becoming an activist for civil rights until one day during his senior year of high school he saw four African American freshman students from a school in North Carolina stage a sit-in. When Carmichael watched the protestors sit in silence when food and drinks were thrown on them, he was inspired to act. He soon began participating in the movements around New York City and traveled to West Virginia and North Carolina to participate in sit-ins.

Carmichael was very invested in his education throughout his life. Though he was given offers to attend all-white universities, Carmichael chose to attend Howard University in Washington, DC. At Howard University Carmichael studied Philosophy. His major in college helped him become more and more involved in the Civil Rights Movement and he soon joined an organization known as the Nonviolent Action Group, closely related to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Carmichael would travel south to join the “freedom riders” where African Americans would ride city buses in attempt to integrate them. During the freedom rides, riders were often pulled from the buses and beat and burned, while some were bombed, and often killed. During one of the freedom rides Carmichael was arrested for pitching a tent, and sentenced to jail is Jackson, Mississippi.

After graduating from Howard University in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, Carmichael stayed in the South and continued to constantly participate in sit-ins and voter registration drives. Though Carmichael strongly believed in a nonviolent approach, his views suddenly changed after he watched police beat African American protestors. When Carmichael observed that both violent and nonviolent protestors were getting beat, he began to distance himself from the nonviolent approaches. In 1965, Carmichael joined Martin Luther King Jr. in his “Freedom March” though he did not agree with Kings nonviolent approach. At the march Carmichael began to express his views on “black power”. Many people retaliated against his views, claiming they were “anti-white” and promoted violence. Though Carmichael never explained what “Black Power” truly meant, people believed that the term “Black Power” was used to encourage African Americans to gain political and economic power. Carmichael encouraged African Americans to steer away from the “typical standards” set by white supremacists and wanted them to expand their power to help achieve civil rights for all African Americans.

Carmichael became chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and began to turn against Kings nonviolent approaches. Carmichael soon told the white members of SNCC that they were no longer welcome in the group and secluded it to only African Americans. After Carmichael became chairman of SNCC, he left the group to become a leader for the Black Panther. Soon after he became chairman of SNCC, Carmichael left and became Prime Minister of the Black Panthers where he spent the next two years traveling around the country and speaking about Pan-Africanism. In 1969 Carmichael quit the Black Panthers and left the United States to permanently reside in Conakry, Guinea, where he dedicated his life to Pan-Africanism. When asked to explain his departure from the U.S., he said, “America does not belong to the blacks.” Carmichael dedicated himself to the study of Pan-Africanism, until his battle with pancreatic cancer ended on November 15, 1998.

Though the activists fought for civil rights, it was not until later, in 1964, that the Civil Rights Act was passed that ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The Voting Civil Rights Act of 1965, as signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, intended to overcome legal blockades at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote as promised by the 15th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was also passed that panned housing discrimination and explained housing discrimination as “”refusal to sell or rent a dwelling to any person because of his race, color, religion, or national origin””. The activists pushed through with their efforts to get equality, though they received many death threats and even experienced the bombing of their homes. African Americans and activists showed courage and bravery throughout the movement and continued unbothered by the attempts made by white supremacists to halt civil rights.

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