The Civil Rights Movement was a culmination of the long African-American struggle for freedom, justice, and equality, which was a natural turn of events after the success of the Women’s Rights movement of the first quarter of the twentieth century. Faced with workplace, voting discrimination, with poverty and unemployment, with racial crimes, Black Americans finally attained a level of awareness that produced a mass movement for protecting their interests in the society. The two key figures in the Civil Rights Movement were Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Their goals and strategies often differed but, ultimately, they fought for the same liberties; the word fight is more suitable for the case of Malcolm X’s followers.
Martin Luther King advocated a peaceful approach similar to that of Gandhi, urging African Americans not to get violent and demand establishment of their rights without resorting to the same cruelty with which they had been treated. Martin Luther King actively participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 and from then on was the key figure in the African-American Civil Rights Movement, which peaked in 1963 on the Great March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. On that occasion Martin Luther King made his famous speech “I Have a Dream”. The march helped raise nationwide (and worldwide) awareness of segregation and discrimination with which the African Americans had been treated. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 signified the achievement of the great goal – all citizens of the U.S. were legally equal and African Americans got their legal right to vote.
While Martin Luther King’s non-violent approach was surely the mainstream, there were many other people with a different view on the situation. Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam stood in a contrast to him, advocating the ideas of supremacy of Afro-Americans and effectively demonizing White Americans. Eventually, Malcolm X stopped supporting this radical organization as he understood the need for a broader outlook than Islamist radicalism could allow. He announced his willingness to cooperate with the Civil Rights Movement leaders and was among those who were present at the Senate during the debate of the Civil Rights Bill. Still, he rejected the philosophy of non-violence and thought that Black Americans had to protect themselves and their rights by any means necessary: with the bullet if not the ballot. In his famous speech “The Bullet or the Ballot” Malcolm X urged African Americans to exercise their crucial right to vote, but also to be ready to fight in case the government started violating their liberties.
Related History essays