The Leaders of Civil Rights Movement: Malcolm X, Martin Luther King


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African Americans didn’t have political say for a long time, but they were still expected to pay taxes and contribute to the economy. The 15th Amendment “prohibited the use of race as a qualification for the suffrage” (Foner), when the Amendment was passed, white supremacy in the south wasn’t ready to give African Americans that kind of control. They decide to put barriers up to try and prevent them from voting. They implanted the Grandfather clause Act, the Literacy test and the poll tax. The Grandfather clause, “exempted from the new requirements descendants of persons eligible to vote before the Civil War” (Foner). During the Civil War, slaves were fighting to be free from their owners, an African American would not be able to vote during that time. The literacy test also had to be done and African Americans had to pass a reading and writing test, which only few could do because many of them had little to no education. The Poll tax was a tax that everyone who wanted to vote needed to pay. Since slaves were owned by white farm owners and didn’t make a cash wage, they instead were paid by having a house and food, even though they were treated badly and didn’t have the best of things, that’s how they survived. Since no cash flow happened in the farms, no African Americans had the money to pay for the tax and therefore couldn’t vote.

They came to battle these laws and unfair treatment through protests and boycotts. Martin Luther King Jr. was a major influence during this movement. He believed in peaceful and nonviolent protest even if they received retaliation. The Selma to Montgomery march was another step in the fight for civil rights. Martin Luther King Jr. brought almost 600 protesters to march to Montgomery, Alabama to try and register to vote. White supremacy was very prominent in the south, so with word about the march they wanted to do anything to stop them. “When the marchers reached the bridge leading out of the city, state police assaulted them with cattle prods, whips and tear gas” (Foner). The peaceful, nonviolent protesters that just wanted to register to vote, but since white supremacy was not ready to allow African Americans to have that power, they decided to fight back but more violently. The outcome of the protests was effective and so devastating that it got lots of public support which led to an act being quickly passed. “The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which allowed federal officials to register voters” (Foner). The Voting Rights Act changed the life of African Americans forever since they gained their right to suffrage and had their voice in politics.

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Since African Americans have been suppressed for so long, and their peaceful protests were falling on deaf ears. They decided to take matters into their own hands and riots started to break out across the country. In Harlem, “50,000 persons took part in this ‘rebellion’ attacking police and firemen, looting white-owned businesses, and burning buildings” (Foner). The attack on white was a major shock and took lots of man power to control. Police and military was used to break the riot up but too much damage and lost was already made. The violence was so bad and happening across the country that people believed this could be the start of a racial civil war. Governor Otto Kerner said “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white- separate and unequal”, this didn’t settle the thoughts of the people as their was no plan on how to eliminate the threat.

A powerful African American rights movement was Malcolm x, he believed that African Americans needed to use force and should have control. A lot of violent protesters led by Malcolm X, saw all the destruction that was caused and actually turned to follow Martin Luther King Jr,’s nonviolent ways. “Malcolm X had insisted that blacks must control the political and economic resources of their communities and rely on their own efforts rather than working with whites” (Foner). Malcolm x thought that trying to work and get along with whites would lead to nowhere and is a waste of time. The whites wanted nothing to do with African Americans and still thought of them as nothing less than dirt on the bottom of their shoes. Black Power was founded by Malcolm X and was the motto for many civil rights marches. It was meant as a power word for African Americans that lost faith in the federal government trying to protect their rights.

One of the most famous African American civil rights leaders was Martin Luther King Jr. He was known for his peaceful and nonviolent protest and boycotts, some examples from earlier are, Selma to Montgomery march and the Montgomery bus boycott but he was involved with many more. He believed and knew that if they were to act out with violence, then the government would not pass any laws and there would be greater casualties and more tension. His ‘I have a dream’ speech is one of the most popular speeches in history. This speech was to end racism and allow future generations of whites and African Americans live in peace, as equals and among each other. MLK was assassinated on April 4 at his hotel in Memphis when he was supporting a strike. The lost of MLK took a major toll not only on the African American community but also the whole nation. African Americans were oppressed by white supremacy for years and they always wanted to know what it felt like to have their designated civil rights and freedom. Everyone no matter their race or gender has three liberties in life, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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