During the 1950s and 1960s, the United States experienced several movements, which included the civil rights movement. The civil rights movement advocated for equal rights and fair treatment of African Americans in the United States. Some of the rights that African Americans championed for were voting rights and elimination of racial discrimination. The strategies that the movement employed are peaceful and violent protests. In the peaceful protests, the movement used sit-ins and boycotts, whereas violent protests used riots to present grievances to the federal government. Malcolm X led violent protest, while Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy advocated for peaceful protests. Therefore, a comparative analysis of violent and peaceful protests shows that peaceful protests are more effective than violent protests in the civil rights movement.
Effectiveness of Violent Protests
Riots were among the violent protests that the African Americans employed during the civil rights movement of the 1950-1960s. Significantly, leaders such as Malcolm X were among the organizers of these protests. According to Dagbovie (2010), the Whites, discriminated against African Americans in various ways, and thus, compelled them to form movements so that they could present their grievances to the federal government. It is imperative to understand that during the riots, significant numbers of the African Americans were injured and others lost their lives. King, Harlem, and Watts’ riots were the main riots that took place in the United States during the 1950s-1960s, as African Americans tried to persuade the state to end all forms of racial discrimination and unequal treatment. Although, the riots created vices such as looting, destruction of property, and loss of lives, they initiated some positive results that enhanced the treatment of the African Americans in the United States.
The riots were violent as they usually took place as retaliation for acts of discrimination or unfair treatment against African Americans. For instance, King’s riot, transpired after the arrest and torture of an African American leader, Martin Luther King Jr. The effectiveness of the riots in the civil rights movement of African Americans is apparent from the various actions that the government undertook to alleviate poverty and uplift the living standards of the African Americans. For instance, after the Harlem riot, the government established the program, Project Uplift, which focused on creating permanent jobs for the African Americans (Browne-Marshall, 2007). Thus, the riots were very instrumental and effective in ending racial discrimination and promoting equal treatment of African Americans in the United States.
Effectiveness of Peaceful Protests
Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy were the pioneers of peaceful protests as they championed for the use of initiatives such as sit-ins and boycotts. The excellent oratory skills of Martin Luther King Jr. facilitated a wave of peaceful protests of the African Americans and the White Americans, who supported the elimination of racial discrimination and unequal treatment. One of the major peaceful initiatives used during the civil rights movement was sit-ins, which entailed a group of individuals sitting in a place to protest peacefully. In the early and the late 1950s, a series of sit-ins took place in the United States and most protesters were African American college students. Kynard (2013) highlights that the main areas that sit-ins took place were parks, restaurants, beaches, libraries, and other social areas. During the protests, the participants dressed professionally and sat peacefully in the public places.
Sit-ins were very effective since they did not cause loss of lives or destruction of property, but instead aroused the attention of the government and successfully led to initiatives aimed at minimizing racial segregation. Smith and Wynn (2009) explain that sit-ins were some of the successful strategies employed by leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement in America. Among the major players in the initiative were students, who formed Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to advocate for peaceful protests in the United States. The termination of all forms of racial segregation and elimination of legal barriers linked to voting rights through the creation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was a major breakthrough of sit-ins.
Boycotts also incorporated another initiative of peaceful protests and encompassed refusal to participate in activities deemed as discriminatory. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy were among the leaders of the boycotts. The boycotts peacefully informed the government about the intentions of the African Americans without leading to harm, destruction, or disturbance. Montgomery Bus Boycott was a popular boycott that proved to be successful because it occasioned prohibition of all buses that support racial segregation in Alabama and Montgomery. According to Kynard (2013), the major cause of the boycott was the injustices that African Americans experienced in the hands of the Whites in the United States. The boycott transpired after the arrest of an African American woman, Rosa Parks, when she refused to surrender her position to a White man. Furthermore, another boycott involved football players, who declined to participate in a football match when the Whites refused to offer services such as transport, accommodation, and food to the African American players. The refusal led to boycotts of football by both the African American and the White footballers.
Boycotts were instrumental in the civil rights movement of the African Americans during the 1950-1960s. Although some White individuals, who supported racial discrimination, tried to instill fear by engaging in activities like murder and torture, the force of the movement was unstoppable as it led to a number of achievements. Smith and Wynn (2009) assert that historians cannot underscore the role played by peaceful protests in the management and elimination of racial discrimination and enhancement of voting rights of the African Americans in the United States. The major achievement associated with boycotts includes prohibition of all buses that practiced racial discrimination in Alabama and Montgomery. In addition, the boycotts initiated campaigns for equality and fair treatment of all people in the United States, irrespective of their race, ethnicity, or color.
Violent protests were successful in presenting the grievances of the African Americans during their civil rights movement of 1950s-1960s. The protests compelled the government to introduce laws that minimized racial segregation and inequality. However, the protests led to problems like the loss of lives and destruction of property. For example, during the Harlem Riot, several people lost their lives, many sustained injuries, and the government arrested others (Browne-Marshall, 2007). In contrast, peaceful protests employed initiatives that arouse the attention of the government without the loss of lives or destruction of property. An incisive examination of the effectiveness of peaceful protests indicates that they are better than violent protests because it yielded significant positive outcomes. Therefore, a comparative analysis of violent and peaceful protests elucidates that peaceful protests were effective in promoting equal treatment of African Americans during the civil rights movement.
Civil rights movement in the United States emerged after the Second World War, when the African Americans started demanding for equal treatment and elimination of racial discrimination. Some of the main leaders, who presented the grievances of African Americans included Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph, Abernathy, and Malcolm X. The strategies that the African Americans used in presenting their grievances were either violent or peaceful protests. Remarkably, the peaceful protests were very instrumental in the fight for equal treatment and elimination of racial discrimination in the United States.
Browne-Marshall, G. (2007). Race, Law, and American Society: 1607 to Present. New York: Taylor & Francis.
Dagbovie, P. (2010). African American History Reconsidered. Illinois: University of Illinois.
Kynard, C. (2013). Vernacular Insurrections: Race, Black Protest, and the New Century in Composition-Literacies Studies. New York: SUNY Press.
Smith, J., & Wynn, L. (2009). Freedom Facts and Firsts: 400 Years of the African American Civil Rights Experience. Michigan: Visible Ink Press.