The struggle for racial equality in the US is one summarized and symbolized by Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech but there is more to it than the speech. Various individuals lost their lives in the struggle for equality while others were victims of the inhuman nature of the racist. The period between 1954 and 1968 experienced heightened coordinated mass action against discrimination throughout the country and the occurrence of various events that transformed the struggle for equality from mere pockets of violence or resistance to regional movements which had the numbers to force the leadership of the regions to listen to their demands. During the struggle four key events were monumental to the eventual success of the racial equality campaigners. The activities of Martin Luther King Jr and Fannie Lou Hamer, the black power movement and Malcolm’s The Ballot or the Bullet speech were all very influential in the achievement of racial equality.
Fannie Lou Hamer Activities
Fannie Lou the last born of a family of 20 is most remembered for her famous statement, “Is this America?” Having seen her parents struggle through the oppressive system that was designed to make sure the blacks remained subjugated, the fire of liberation was ignited quite early in her life (Locke, 28). She became one of the most iconic women leaders and a role model to many women not only in the liberation struggle but also in the current generation. The boldest activism step that she took which also happened to be the birth of her black liberation activism career was when she volunteered to join a group that intended to visit the courthouse so as to register. The first attempt was fruitless but she was relentless in her pursuit for registration and was finally registered as a voter in January 1963. However this had its consequences; subsequently her husband and daughter lost their jobs and were constantly harassed and intimidated but this did not deter her.
Despite the numerous challenges and setbacks that she experienced, Fannie continued being an active member of SNCC where she championed for voter registration. Her career hit the limelight as she was among the founders of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), a tool that formed the platform for the development of her career. The party’s greatest achievement came when the government was focused on making sure that voter registration for black people was impossible and actually succeeded in registration of over a thousand black people. The party and Hamer’s greatest moments happened when it established offices in Washington and received support from various delegations and successfully held a convention whose proceedings were aired on television. Hamer, a black woman highlighted the plight that the blacks were facing the black in Mississippi, the violence that was associated with the enrollment of James Meredith, the murder of three young civil right workers and the murder of Medgar Evers along her own tribulations. She also made an attempt to run for congress a period during which she was confronted by a white man and she responded with one of the most quoted phrases “……Now I’m sick and tired of being tired and sick.” Hamer successfully imparted courage and chased timidity and self-pity among the Negroes.
Martin Luther King Jr. Philosophy
Martin Luther King Jr.is the most symbolic black leaders in the history America and his whole life seems like an event. However in the black liberation struggle, the momentous breakthrough for Dr. King happened in 1957 when several clergymen met and formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and King was elected as the first president. King’s dream for SCLC was that it would mobilize committed Christians to rally and defeat the evil of segregation through the use of non violent means. He intended to impart this philosophy among the black people in the south, a tactic that was successful in Montgomery when blacks boycotted the city’s bus company for 381 days and successfully lobbied the US Supreme Court to outlaw segregation in the state of Alabama (Washington, 5). The revolutionary changes of the blacks own perception and the resistance of the reactionary elements in the south formed just the right environment for his philosophy.
King’s non-violent approach was based on five main principles through which King influenced the blacks support. The first was that this approach was not for the cowards but individuals who strongly opposed to the evil. The approach seeks only friendship and understanding but not humiliation of the opponent. The third principle was that the method seeks not to attack individuals but the evil forces of segregation. The final two principles were that it also avoided internal violence of spirit as well as believed that the universe was on the side of justice (Washington, 9). This philosophy was crucial to King’s success in mobilizing masses to join in marches for black rights to vote, labor rights and desegregation among other civil issues. His efforts in the south were motivated by the symbolic success in Montgomery Bus boycott. King and SCLC also championed the Birmingham demonstrations which lasted over two months and culminated with King being arrested as they aimed at creating a crisis parked situation that would inevitably lead to negotiations (Washington, 46). King would later lead the Washington march for Jobs and freedom whereby made his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech. He was later assassinated in 1968 but his efforts to achieve equality for the blacks bore fruits.
Black Power Movement
The black power movement was a movement that was designed for the African Americans living in oppression and segregation to liberate themselves. This was a clear definition of V.O. Key, Jr. words who wrote that for a new group to carve out a place in the politico-social order a new group had the task of fighting for the reorientation of the older. The blacks therefore had to redefine themselves and the perception that they had for life. The movement was inspired by Hans Morgenthau view of political powers and the ability of individuals to manipulate words to fit their intention. The power of words was crucial for the emancipation of the blacks as it what that they said that they believed and therefore it was only the blacks that would emancipate themselves by redefining their view of life. This started by disowning of the ‘Negros’ title and the blacks were either black people, African-Americans or Afro-Americans and therefore the oppression of ‘negroes’ started and ended with the whites. There was a wave of increased pride and interest in the history and culture an aspect that never existed prior to the movement. This was evidenced by Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be inducted to be inducted into the armed forces based on his political and religious grounds.
This was the inception of a movement that would make its mark in years after 1967. The next step of the movement was to advance what the civil rights era had achieved. This was through political modernization which was aimed at getting rid of racism through radicalization of the basic institutions of the society. The movement also rejected to be assimilated into the middle class America as the movement was not ready to make the mistake its predecessors had made. Though most of the achievements were after1968, the movement imparted pride in the blacks a factor that was crucial to their liberation from discrimination.
Malcolm X Bullet or Ballot Speech
The speech delivered by one of the best orators in the history of America was one that changed the fight against racism in the 1960s. The speech delivered in Cleveland bolstered the nationalism of black people in America to a whole new level. He specifically outlined that he was not against the whites but against exploitation, degradation and oppression of the blacks in America. He emphasized on the importance of unity among the blacks regardless of the religion or any other affiliation. The most outstanding part of the speech was that time was no longer running out but it had actually run out. Therefore it was time for action and it was either the ballot or the bullet. This was an ultimatum for the government to facilitate voting for the blacks instantaneously.
The speech was not aimed at coercing the whites and the government in general but also awakening of the blacks’ resistance. In his speech he categorically warned that the “dark people are waking up. They are losing their fear of the white man.” This was not only a threat but also a motivator for the blacks. The speech also emphasized on the need for creation of awareness among the blacks of their economic, political and social influence. The empowerment of the blacks was crucial to the liberation from segregation of the blacks.
The struggle for liberation was one that was fought not by the faint hearted but the strong at heart and will. The individuals who made landmark events went through tribulations and struggles but overcame all to deliver their race from oppression and segregation. These were just among the lucky who managed to escape the glaring jaws of death in the name of oppressive whites and the government of the day to live and inspire those who had spirit but no heart to fight for their liberation. Some of the liberators such as Martin Luther King Jr. died for what they believed and though did not live to see their dreams come true, their efforts bore fruits.
Carmichael, Stokely, and Charles V. Hamilton. “Black Power.” Black power: the politics of liberation in America. Vintage ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1992. 34-56. Print.
King, Martin Luther, and James Melvin Washington. A testament of hope: the essential writings of Martin Luther King, Jr.. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986. Print.
Locke, Mamie E. “Fannie Lou Hamer.” Women in the civil rights movement: trailblazers and torchbearers, 1941-1965. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Carlson Pub., 1990. 27 – 34. Print.
X, Malcolm. “The ballot or the bullet.” Malcom X speaks: selected speeches & statements. 2nd cloth ed. New York: PathfinderR, 1989. 23 -44. Print.
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