In this picture, Carmichael (on the right) marches with Dr. King (left) in “The March Against Fear”. Carmichael was initially a non-violent resistor and leader of the SNCC. It wasn’t long after this march with King that Carmichael began moving in a different direction. (Thanks to History.com for the photo)
Many Americans think of the Civil Rights Movement as starting in the mid 1950’s, but the reality is that the movement had its genesis much earlier. Even many of the iconic events of the movement such as the freedom rides, boycotts and marches had already happened before the fifties; they simply hadn’t yet gained the powerful spotlight of the national media.
The Civil Rights Movement was certainly a clashing of cultural ideas, but it was much more than that. The Civil Rights Movement was a re-examination of human freedom and dignity, not to mention a refining of American culture and a rethinking of what it means to be an American citizen.
The Civil Rights Movement led to rifts not only between Americans content with the status quo and Americans demanding change, but also to splits within the very movement itself.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophies of non-violent resistance often clashed with the black power message of Stokley Carmichael and others.
One could say that the effective and forceful agenda of black power and black nationalism were birthed out of the Civil Rights Movement. The ideas themselves did not originate with the movement, but found impetus as a parallel and even counter agenda to the movement.
Despite the differing approaches in bringing about an end to the plight of African-Americans, it was the same encrusted cultural and societal norms that brought about the revolution in the first place. At the time of the Civil Rights Movement, African-Americans were still treated like second-class citizens based on nothing more than the color of their skin and on the negative stereotypes that white Americans associated with their race.
Having said that, it is important to remember the words of Martin Luther King who stated: “We are not going to allow this conflict…to deteriorate into a struggle between black people and white people. The tension…is between justice and injustice.”
Part of the greatness and the genius in the non-violent resistance of King’s version of the Civil Rights Movement was the steady focus on pointing out the injustices of a society and of a government that claimed freedom and equality for all while denying them for some.
King didn’t allow the agenda to be about hating people of another race, since that would rather be self-contradictory to both the aims and the methods the movement. Instead, King constantly and consistently preached a message of justice, freedom, and dignity for all humans, regardless of race or social position.
In the next blog post, we will examine the definition of civil rights.