3 December 2014
Throughout the United States’ history ,questions have been raised regarding civil disobedience. Questions such as, “Is it ethically correct to punish individuals for non-violently protesting something that they believed was unjust?” or “Are there some laws that one has an ethical obligation not to abide by?” Civil disobedience could be found throughout U.S. history but perhaps the best examples of civil disobedience would have to come from the civil rights movement, with key protesters such as Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. All three of these important civil rights activists believed that segregation was unjust and everyone should be equal. In most cases civil disobedience occur in an attempt to stand for a good good ethical cause, and therefore many may agree it is not ethically correct to punish those who participate in it. Nick Grier states in the Three Principles of Civil Disobedience that when committing civil disobedience one must follow three principles, which are that “ one must obey the rule of the land” , “ you should plead guilty to any violation of laws” , and “ you should attempt to convert your opponent by demonstrating the justice of your cause”. 1Many performers of civil disobedience like Martin Luther King abide by these three principles of civil disobedience. As Martin Luther King states in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” I will first to advocate to obey just law” and “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws”. He says this to support his claims that it is right to commit civil disobedience towards an unjust law, but in the process one has to obey the laws that are just. 2 One of the most significant acts of civil disobedience during the civil rights movement was in 1955 when Rosa Parks decided not sit at the back of the bus when asked by the bus driver.3 In the those times there were segregation laws that states that whenever the bus began to fill and a white person entered the bus, then blacks had to give up their seats. Rosa Parks believed that it was unjust to have to let whites to make blacks give up their seats to whites. She was arrested that day for breaking the law. 4 Her arrest enraged others and caused African Americans to boycott the Montgomery bus system for 381 days, which in turn led to Supreme Court case that banned segregation on public transportation. 5 Politicians at the time of these incidents had to consider how it was their ethical responsibility to hold everyone by the same standards and providing equality to everyone. They often struggled in trying to change the politics because of many of their white constituents not being in favor of change. Many people, especially whites believed that segregation was okay and therefore made very difficult to pass legislation at times. Even with these obstacles in 1963 John F. Kennedy promised a Civil rights bill. After his murder, Lyndon B. Johnson became president and passed a civil rights bill that outlawed discrimination based on race, religion, nationality, and sex in employment. 6It also promised equal access to public accommodations. The civil rights act contained had accomplished what the civil rights leaders had so passionately fought for and desegregated America, making everyone equal under law. Civil rights activists viewed the laws that they were protesting as unjust. They believed it was wrong to discriminate and have to keep whites and blacks separate in public settings. Rosa Parks, for example, viewed it as unjust to have to give up your seat simply because you were of a different skin color. The historical actors that dealt with civil rights activists and their civil disobedience could have handled the situations differently. Government officials often acted hastily and harshly to non- violent protests. For example, in Birmingham Martin Luther King applied for a permit for a parade, and when he was denied the permit, he...
Cited: Shi, David E., and Holly A. Mayer. For the Record. a Documentary History of America. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007. Print.
Suber, Peter. "Civil Disobedience." (1999): n. pag. Print
Nick Gier. "Three Principles of Civil Disobedience : Thoreau, Gahndi, and King." University of Idaho, n.d. 2006
King, Martin L. "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." Letter. 16 Apr. 1963. MS. N.p.
Henretta, James A., David Brody, and Lynn Dumenil. America. a Concise History: Since 1865. N.p.: n.p., 2006. Print
Emily Wax-Thibodeaux. "Ferguson Protesters: The Peaceful, the Elders, the Looters, and the 'militants '" Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2014
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