The African-American Civil Rights Movement

Topics: Martin Luther King, Jr., African American, Jim Crow laws Pages: 10 (3246 words) Published: January 8, 2014
Within the context of the period 1865-1968, how significant was the role played by Martin Luther King in improving the position of African Americans? INTRODUCTION “When the definitive history of the American civil rights movement is eventually written, one of the central themes will be that Martin Luther King, Jr. ranks among the greatest political strategists of all time.’’ This is the viewpoint of James A.Colaiaco and he argues that Martin Luther King played the most significant role in the struggle for civil rights and was ‘the most important leader’ of the civil rights movement. This is the argument shared by Great Man historians regarding of one of the greatest debates amongst historians in the 21st century. Great Man historians … the success of the Civil Rights movement as a result top down change and acknowledge Martin Luther King as the figurehead of the movement who drove most significant change. Whereas Social historians, regard history with a ‘bottom up’ perspective, arguing that the local people and less celebrated figures at the bottom forced change up and look at it in terms of a bigger picture. For decades after the civil rights movement in America, Martin Luther King has been regarded as one of the most celebrated and most memorable figures of the movement and his birthday is even marked with a national holiday and it has only been in more recent years that social historians have challenged the significance and credibility of the role he had in improving the position of African Americans. Social historians reach the conclusion that other factors played a much more significant role. Nevertheless, it seems clear that, the Great Man theory of this debate seems to be more truthful and . Great man historians writing about the civil rights movement conclude that Martin Luther King was unique in his abilities and the success of the Civil Rights Movement was mainly the result of Martin Luther King’s The viewpoint of James Colaiaco mentioned above is shared by Great Man historians. Overall it seems clear that had Martin Luther King not have existed, the movement woumld have taken a completely different course to the one it did and the Great Man theory arguing that Martin Luther King played the most significant role in improving the position of African Americans seem more accurate. Martin Luther King was a figurehead and one of the most recognised leaders at the time the Civil Rights Movement had most of its fundamental successes and a man who gave the Movement the positive media coverage it desperately needed to achieve what it did. WEAKER SIDE – Nevertheless, the contribution and role of other factors cannot and must not be ignored, for Martin Luther King would not have been so successful without the contribution of other factors that were pushing for equality throughout the entire period. Some revisionist historians share a similar view of Clayborne Carson which is that ‘If King had never lived, the black struggle would have followed a course of development similar to the one it did.’ This side of the debate, argued by social historians, places much more emphasis on the role that other factors such as the federal government, local grassroots activists and other less celebrated leading figures played over the entire 100 year period. However, with reference to the 100 year period it seems clear that this argument is not very strong as during the short period that Martin Luther King was active; more progress had been made than in the century before, showing just how significant the role he played was. James Colaiaco argues that ‘during the 12 years that King dedicated his life to the civil rights movement, blacks made more progress than in any other period in American history’ because King helped African Americans overcome the ‘damaging psychological effects of generations of oppression, and gave them a ‘sense of unity and dignity’. argue that Martin Luther King’s role in the Civil Rights Movement is over...
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