King saw great importance in the need for equal voting rights, throughout his life he placed great faith in the power of the vote. In the south many black Americans faced problems doing something as simple as registering to vote such was the extent of the intimidation they were subjected too. In Mississippi, 42% of the state's population was black but only 2% registered to vote in the 1960 election. However, more and more did register throughout the South and in 1960, their support (70%) helped to give the Democrat J F Kennedy the narrowest of victories over Richard Nixon.
MLK rose to prominence following the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955. He was appointed leader of the Montgomery Improvement association which was set up during the boycott. The boycott itself lasted for a total of 382 days and proved to be a great success for members of the black community. As a result of the boycott the Supreme Court ruled segregation on the buses to be unconstitutional, a finding which owed great thanks to the Linda Brown case of 1954.
Following the Montgomery Bus Boycott the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was set up, with King Being elected its president. The SCLC was committed to the use of non-violence and its motto was "Not one hair of one head of one person should be harmed." The importance of the SCLC's involvement was simply because the churches that represented the black population in the South were potent organisations. Now that they had combined their power and influence, this power was multiplied.
King and the movement made effective use of peaceful marches and protests, one of the most notably being in the highly segregated city of Birmingham, Alabama. He believed that if the SCLC could succeed there it could succeed anywhere. King and the SCLC arrived in the town demanding desegregation and an end to racism in employment. Only limited progress was made a first and king was imprisoned. Another march was arranged for the beginning of May. As predicated the Police over reacted and ordered police dogs and water canon to be used on the protestors. This was watched by people all over the word, including President Kennedy. This over reaction from the police created publicity that the civil rights movement needed. He believed that if the SCLC could succeed here it could succeed anywhere. King and the SCLC arrived in the town demanding desegregation and an end to racism in employment. Only limited progress was made a first and king was imprisoned. Another march was arranged for the beginning of May. As predicated the Police over reacted and ordered police dogs and water canon to be used on the protestors. This was watched by people all over the word, including President Kennedy. This over reaction from the police created publicity that the civil rights movement needed. Two important and positive conclusions were drawn following the protests. One of which was that the white business community decided that a few concessions ( e.g. abandoning segregation in many shops) was less damaging than the continued chaos and the threat of loss of profit due to successful boycott of businesses. Secondly President Kennedy decided that law and order had broken down in Birmingham and that these scenes would be repeated unless he took federal action on civil rights. In the end Kennedy’s decision was more significant for the pursuit of civil rights than the local and limited concessions won in Birmingham.
The violent scenes in Birmingham were now followed by significant action of Civil Rights. King had argued powerfully that “waiting was no longer an option”, in order to maintain pressure the civil rights movement organised a march on Washington on 28th August 1963. The march was officially called: “The March on Washington for jobs and freedom”. The march attracted between 250,000 and 400,000 people. The final speaker was Martin Luther King and it was here that he made his legendary 'I have a Dream' speech which was heard throughout the world and did a huge amount to publicise the civil rights movement in America and across the world. The actions of the peaceful and disciplined protestors contrasted sharply with their opponents, who continued to be violent.
Lyndon B Johnson became a highly important contributor to civil rights for blacks arguably inadvertently. Johnson was John F Kennedy’s vice president and only became president following Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. After JFK’s assassination he announced his vision of a “great society” , “with an end to poverty and racial injustice”. In conjunction with the civil rights movement, Johnson overcame the resistance of the south and was able to convince congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act made universal what has already common practice in other areas of the US, but not the in the South. The act was originally proposed by JFK and he had already lined up the necessary amount of votes to have the bill pass through the House of Representatives before his death. Johnson believed that he owed it to the late President to continue work on civil rights legislation and managed to get the bill through the senate and it was signed into law on July 2nd 1964. It is thought that after he had signed the bill, as he put down his pen, Johnson told an aide, "We have lost the South for a generation", anticipating a coming backlash from Southern whites against Johnson's Democratic Party. Johnsons work is massively significant; he along with Kennedy was the first president to take on congress with a civil rights bill. Unlike other presidents he did not use the excuse of having no southern democrat support to be able to pass the bill through congress. Johnson was also the first president to arrest and prosecute members of the KKK since Ulysses S G some 93 years earlier; this highlights clearly his commitment to the lives of African Americans.
Following the passage of the civil rights act Johnson and the civil rights movement moved on to the subject of voting rights. The Voting rights acts was passed by Johnson in 1965. The act outlawed any form of discrimination in voting, thus allowing millions of southern blacks to vote for the very first time. After the signing of the act Johnson states now “those who are equal before god shall now be equal in the polling booths”. The act was hugely important to the blacks of the south; however it was not welcomed wholeheartedly by the Blacks of the north, whom already had voting rights. They were far more concerned with their poor economic and social condition.