How far was Martin Luther King's leadership responsible for the gains made by the civil rights movement in the years 1955 - 1968?

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How far was the leadership of Martin Luther King responsible for the gains made by the civil rights movement in the years 1955-1968?

By 1968, there had been significant gains made by the civil rights movement due to a number of different reasons. These do include Martin Luther King’s leadership style and his philosophy towards peaceful protesting however other reasons such as the Federal government and the shift of public opinion can be argued to be equally important. Most importantly, however, is the role of other civil rights organizations aside from King’s SCLC such as C.O.R.E, S.N.C.C, and the N.A.A.C.P. I will be arguing that without the crucial gains made by these organizations, King would not have had anything to apply his leadership to, alongside the fact that there would not have been enough support for the movement as a whole, as we notice through the joint collaborations between these organisations.

Martin Luther King undoubtedly played a major role in the campaign. His great strength was his ability to inspire. Despite these strengths, he was a diverse figure and received heavy criticism from the other organisations which hindered his support towards the gains made for the movement. During his leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Martin Luther king organized a variety of peaceful protests in the war for civil rights. Martin Luther King was responsible for the Birmingham campaign that targeted Birmingham for two main reasons. Only 10% of the black population was registered to vote and as the freedom rides had shown that the local police chief Bull Connor would react violently to protests. King saw this as an opportunity to attract media attention that would go on to not only increase support for the movement but also take a step closer to the desegregation of the city. Due to the failure of the Albany movement a couple of year before, King knew his tactics would decide the success of this campaign, thus setting clear goals for the campaign and having a clear idea of what he wanted to achieve. This careful planning and clear targets led to a successful campaign. SCLC authorities were able to achieve 2 main successes: large departmental stores were to be desegregated, and racial discrimination in employment was to be ended. Despite the success of the campaign, King didn’t achieve the overall objectives for the desegregation of schools, public parks and administrative buildings. This demonstrated a common criticism of King showing that his, and the involvement of the SCLC was seen to be too soft in the negotiations two days after the campaign. Other criticisms involve local black leaders feeling that King had not worked with them and ignored initiatives such as a boycott of segregated stores and the SCLC was condemned for recruiting children and putting them in danger. As many historians argue, I do agree that Martin Luther King’s Leadership style and his philosophy of non-violent protesting played a vital role within the civil rights movement however I will be arguing as other historians believe, that he was merely the face of the movement and without the groundwork and legal work carried out by the other civil rights organizations, King wouldn’t have moved away from non-violent protesting and the progress towards racial equality would have been significantly slower, or wouldn’t have been achieved at all throughout the whole of the United States. It is also thought that if he had worked more efficiently with the other organizations, it may have sped up the process.

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His campaigns in the North were far less successful and also help highlight the limitations of his philosophy. A good example is the Chicago Freedom Movement of 1966 as it resulted in an apparent failure that led to further criticism of his leadership and tactics. The first rally on the 10th of June 1966 produced far less support than he was expecting as 30,000 out of the 100,000 that King was expecting turned up and the threat of increased violence forced Mayor Daley to act. Perhaps the most significant mistake thought to be made by King was the obtainment of a ...

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