“We are tired of being segregated and humiliated, and are tired of being kicked around by the brutal feet of oppression.”1 --Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Following the example of the pacifist civil rights activist Dr. King, many blacks attempted to achieve racial equality by practicing “nonviolent resistance.” Disappointed with what they felt were inadequate improvements in government policies, increasing numbers of blacks turned to more violent means of protest. Although the movement for racial equality began as a predominantly nonviolent struggle, its inability to significantly change the lives of blacks, elicited its transformation into a hostile and radical endeavor.2
The most influential figure in the struggle for equal rights, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., shared his ideas with the nation, encouraging people to engage in civil disobedience. During the 1950’s, Dr. King was a fervent, yet obscure, civil rights advocate. Nearly a decade later, King’s eloquent pleas for racial justice had won the support of millions of people, both black and white. A Baptist minister, he preached “nonviolent resistance,” and organized demonstrations such as sit-ins, boycotts, and marches, in order to protest the mistreatment of blacks.3 Although he was tried and convicted for leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott, it served as a paradigm for subsequent actions throughout the South. This incident also brought national fame to Martin Luther King, Jr., whose advocacy of “nonviolent resistance” attracted a growing number of followers who later ignited a nationwide civil rights movement. King’s massive demonstrations received widespread support from religious, labor, and civil rights organizations. His passion and determination motivated throngs of blacks to unite and strive towards a common goal.4
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an inspiring example for black youth across the nation, who ignited renewed feelings of hope and assertion in the black community. His ideas were the foundation for the newly organized Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which advocated passive resistance in the struggle for racial equality. They believed that attaining a political voice for blacks was a crucial step in achieving equal status. SNCC headed a campaign to register blacks at the polls, promoting active voter participation, and leading to the registration of thousands of black voters.5 Another organization, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), was motivated by King’s efforts. CORE used nonviolent methods of protest to rally against white supremacy in order to end the practice of segregation. To ensure that the federal laws against segregation in interstate carriers were being executed, black and white groups, known as freedom riders, headed south on buses, past the Mason-Dixon line. When asked to move, these courageous individuals refused and as a result, the movement came to wide national and international attention. However, the price for publicity was high; buses were firebombed and busloads of riders were attacked. The wazzu heroism of these riders inspired blacks everywhere to become more involved in the movement.6
Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as other civil rights activists, believed that they could only "bring about" change by massive action. The March on Washington epitomized an increase of black masses in the movement, which demonstrated the degree of public demand for new legislation. Once the Civil Rights Movement became more than a localized event, the government was pressured to appease the dissatisfied masses by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This Act gave Negroes some part of their rightful dignity by integrating public schools and prohibiting job discrimination, however without the vote they lacked strength.7 Securing the Voting Rights Act was a triumph for the Civil Rights Movement, but “it was only one victory; there still remained a massive struggle for dignity, equality, and justice to be won.”8 Although the legislation passed banned segregation, unyielding white southerners flagrantly disregarded the law--segregation still existed. In addition to the prevalence of segregation, life in the inner city grew more unbearable. Poverty was rampant in these predominantly black areas, unemployment remained disproportionately high, and violence still flared against blacks.9 These grievances enraged Negroes, leading them to believe that peaceful demonstration had failed them; therefore, drastic measures now needed to be taken.
The years between the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the assassination of Dr. King in 1968 marked a turning point in the history of the civil rights movement. The leaders of CORE and SNCC, along with other