The civil right movement in United States was at its peak in the period between 1955 and 1965. The movement provides a climax of the history of struggle by African Americans for their freedom, justice and equality in American society. The movement existed predominantly as a Southern struggle against segregation and state supported racial inequalities that served to oppress the blacks.
The civil rights movement set off with the US Supreme Court decision on Brown v. Board of Education and culminated with the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. The civil rights movement discussions often feature heroic personalities such as Martin Luther, Rosa parks, and the large scale protests in Washington which featured the civil rights narrative which has become a very important aspect in US history (Newman 24).
The civil rights movement account for a small proportion of the centuries long black freedom struggle. The origins of the blacks struggle can be traced back to the 16th century when slave trade was dominant in society. There was massive transportation of Africans to the new world as slaves and some of the slave captains resisted such movement and abandoned the ships consequently drowning in massive waters. Those who were captured resisted enslavement and cultivated their humanity in many ways.
They still maintained their African heritage and developed new cultural forms from which they based their livelihood in the new society. They also resisted slavery by plotting rebellions and killing their masters. It is therefore evident that in no time in history did the African Americans accept the status quo and with every succeeding era of struggle, they significantly raised their social status.
The civil rights movement marked the climax for black liberation and struggle for equality. In addition to altering race relations in America, the civil rights movement influenced among other things the women’s liberation movement and the drive to overcome apartheid in South Africa. Indeed, even though the civil rights movement did not achieve all its intended goals, it continues to have a great impact on the modern social relations and serves as an agent and a model of the quest for human rights.
This was heavily influenced by the civil rights activists who dedicated their lives and resources to the fight for freedom and equality. The interview with Martin Luther King Jr. is a reflection dedication and commitment by activists to improve lives of future generations in African American society. My personal interview with a neighbor, Samuel Williams, who lived through the civil right movement period further emphasize on the success of the movement where he compares the civil rights movement era and the modern era.
Personal interview with Samuel Williams
During my personal interview, seventy years old Samuel Williams recalls the hardships and struggles that he encountered while growing up in a country where black people were treated unfairly and forced to live under harsh and inhuman conditions.
He painfully narrates about his childhood experiences as a black kid living in a white neighborhood. His mother worked in a white family as a housekeeper and since she was a single parent, Samuel Williams had to move in with her at the servant quarters in the family house. It was in these settings that young Samuel understood the social status of African Americans in the American society.
He watched his mother work tirelessly in the white family’s household for over fourteen hours and did not understand why his mother struggled with finances while she worked for so many hours. Being a rather reserved woman, Samuel’s mother never explained why they could not dine together with the whites or why he attended a different school from the white family’s children.
The fact that his age mates from the neighborhood refused to play with him and often referred to him as “nigger” made him very angry. Samuel Williams narrates of an incidence where three white kids in the neighborhood beat him up and demanded that he and his mother “should go back to where they belonged”. After this incidence, his mother resigned from work and they moved back to their home in Texas. This was the moment when Samuel Williams knew that something had to be done to alter the status quo in American society.
Samuel Williams was a teenager when the civil rights movement set in. He admired the civil rights activists’ effort to influence black people to liberate themselves. He constantly attended their rallies and took an active role in civil rights awareness in his school.
In his early 20s he met Martin Luther in person during a conference they had attended in college. He claims that this was the ‘turning point’ in his life. He influenced his friends and neighbors to join in the civil rights demonstrations and promoted the civil rights awareness among the African Americans.
The civil rights movement period was characterized by conditions that created an unprecedented moment in the history of black freedom struggle and led to lasting gains in the fight for equality. The initial stages were characterized by massive grassroots activism (Ezra 7).
Thousands of protestors of all ages and backgrounds held demonstrations in major cities in United States which created an avenue for massive participation in the freedom struggle. Samuel Williams felt that the large number of demonstrators gave the civil rights movement vitality and momentum consequently ensuring its survival despite the setbacks and opposition emanating from the dominant white rule.
The civil rights movement received unmatched support from non black race allies (Ezra 7). Indeed, during this period, the whites were more willing to help than any other period in history and donated a lot of resources to aid the blacks in their endeavors.
Samuel Williams recalls an incidence when a white family offered to assist his mother in paying for his college fee, which she declined. Since the social institutions were dominated by whites in all aspects, willingness to help played a significant role in ensuring positive outcomes of the movement.
The movement further received significant backing from the government with various Supreme Court decisions giving the freedom fighters the necessary legal support to demand racial equality. The congress also passed several civil rights legislations which enabled the federal government to enforce anti racial discrimination statutes and the white house further proved supportive through speeches, executive orders and mobilization of federal resources (Adamson 6).
Role of Activists
Samuel Williams observed that activists and welfare rights groups provided the best influence in the workings of the civil rights movements. An interview conducted by Playboy magazine on Martin Luther King Jr. is a clear demonstration of the influence activists had on people like Samuel William and society at large. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist preacher and a political activist who lived a relatively short but influential life.
His life was an inspiration to most people across the world especially the African Americans who relied on his insight and leadership in the fight for racial equality and freedom (Hatt 4). The young leader influenced his family such that after his death, Coretta Scott King, his wife succeeded him in the civil rights movement after which she spent her life making the dream for equality a reality (Jet 33).
Playboy further sought to identify the moment when the civil rights leader became aware of the racial prejudice that was present in the country since he had been raised in a financially stable and socially insulated family environment. In his response, Martin Luther clearly recalled an incidence that occurred when he was fourteen.
He and his teacher had traveled to Dublin, Georgia where he won the oratorical contest and on their way back home, white passengers in the bus demanded that they should be given their seats and when they hesitated, the passengers insulted them. This according to Luther, this was the moment that he was most angry with the segregation and inequality in America.
Born in Atlanta Georgia, Martin’s father was a minister at an African American church while his mother was a teacher. While his parent taught him that color did not matter, Martin was fully aware of the racial segregation which was evident in the Southern region (Hall 6). Indeed, when he was six, he became friends with a white boy but the white boy’s father refused his son to play with an African American Child.
This made the issue of racial segregation more evident in Martin Luther’s early life. Samuel William claimed that what motivated him to take an active role in the civil rights movement was his identification with Martin Luther’s life where he felt that they shared similar experiences which made them acknowledge the need for social change in America.
During the interview, Playboy magazine enquired on the events that led to Martin Luther king junior emergence as a civil rights leader. Martin vividly recalls the occurrence (in 1955) when Rosa Parks was apprehended for failing to surrender her seat in the bus. This incidence drove the African Americans to boycott the buses which marked a major step in the fight for freedom.
In his book, Thomas Jackson argues that it was through his public agency, the bus boycott (of 1956), and the Memphis cleanliness employees strike (1968) that Martin Luther King Jr. developed the freedom dream (Jackson 1). Martin Luther was conscious of the issues that were facing the blacks in America (i.e. opposed bigotry, imperialism, poverty, political discrimination) and viewed the American civil rights movement as a means of expressing human rights revolution.
Through his dream, Luther envisioned a world where the all men would sit together in brotherhood regardless of their skin color but on the basis of their character (Haley 1). Samuel William viewed that the dream was the hope through which the African Americans lived through the period into the future and confirms the climax of achievement of Luther’s dream by citing the election of an African American president, Barrack Obama.
Through out the (interview) process, the Magazine enquired more about the isolation laws and why in the activist views it was ethically right for faction of civil rights movement to refuse to accept (segregation) laws that were considered unwarranted while it as incorrect for those who were for segregation to resist unjust laws (Playboy Magazine 1).
In response, Martin Luther complained about court injunctions. While the first amendment allowed any group of people to stage a peaceful demonstration, the civil rights activist wondered why the authorities were determined to block the African American civil rights demonstrations.
During my interview with Samuel Williams, he complained of the court injunctions prevalent at the civil rights movement era claiming that they formed the means through which the governing authorities constantly sabotaged the blacks’ attempts to liberalize themselves. In fact these laws outlawed one of the oldest civil rights organizations NAACP which further served to frustrate the civil rights movement efforts in the fight for equality.
Martin Luther King explained that the decision to disobey court injunctions was aimed at resisting the law which threatened to break the civil rights movement.
He further confirmed that the move was intensely thought of and he had even taken measures to clarify that the movement was not advocating for lawlessness in society, rather, it was a demonstration that the African Americans were not willing to put up with a judicial process that only served the interest of the whites and promoted the rules of segregation while perpetuating injustices among the blacks.
Martin Luther King also felt that the segregationists knew that what they were doing was morally wrong and this continued to haunt their conscience.
Martin Luther and other civil rights activists faced numerous hardships during the quest for freedom and eventually cost him his life at the age of thirty nine. In a personal interview conducted by Joe Azbell of Montgomery Advertiser after Luther King was convicted following the boycotts in 1956, King displayed a considerable amount of optimism by claiming that victory would be achieved and asserted that such victory would be greater than any race.
He hoped that the movement would improve the lives of people at Montgomery which would be heavily influenced by moral and spiritual forces (Anonymous 1). Their effort to liberalize blacks, as observes by Samuel Williams, was the driving force through which African Americans sought to liberalize themselves.
Despite setbacks faced by civil rights activists, the continued to be optimistic that the situation would improve. Martin Luther felt that one day all God’s children would have food and clothing, material wellbeing, culture and education for their minds, and freedom for their spirits. Further, Martin Luther asserted that equality would some day in the future be achieved where men and women would walk together and live together in harmony and in spirit of brotherhood.
The American civil rights movement demonstrates diligent efforts by the African Americans in their fight for social liberation. Activists played a major role in influencing the masses to engage in the fight for freedom. For instance, Martin Luther King Jr. played a key role in the movement and is widely recognized for his influence and strategy of non violent protests as a means of demanding equal rights. His famous speech ‘I have a dream’ continues to influence most societies in the modern age.
The influential leader gained massive support from African Americans and gained substantial government support due to his strategy and abilities. The personal interview with Samuel Williams reveals the influential role of activists in the civil rights movement in absence of which would probably result in maintenance of the status quo in America.
Adamson Heather. The Civil Rights Movement: An Interactive History Adventure. Minnesota: Capstone Press, 2009. Print.
Anonymous. “Interview by Joe Azbell on Martin Luther King J.,” Blackside Inc, 1986. Web.
Ezra Michael. Civil Rights Movement: People and Perspectives. California: ABC CLIO, 2009. Print.
Haley Alex. “Play Boy’s magazine January 1965 interview with Martin Luther King, Jr.” Awesome Inc. Web.
Hall, M. C., Martin Luther King Jr.: Civil Rights Leader. Minnesota: ABDO, 2008. Print.
Hatt, Christine. Martin Luther King. London: Evans Brothers, 2008. Print.
Jackson, Thomas. From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr. And The Struggle for Economic Justice. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007. Print.
Jet, Magazine. The Weekly Source of African American Political and Entertainment News, Volume 109 ISSN 0021-5996. New York: Johnson Publishing Company.
Newman, Mark. The Civil Rights Movement. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004. Print.
Playboy Magazine, “January 1965 Interview With Martin Luther King.” Playboy. 2011. Web.