Many consider that King’s input to the Civil Rights Movement is over-credited and exaggerated. One must recognise that King’s non-violent approach was just one part of the movement for Civil Rights. In addition, the fact that the movement created King, not King created the movement. It was not King but other local figures, for instance, who planned the famous Montgomery bus boycott of 1955. The first student sit-ins of the 1960s also denied that they were under King’s influence. It was the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), rather than King’s organisation that launched the freedom rides and the SNCC that ensured their success. However, King can take credit for the success of the marches on Birmingham and Selma as the organization and manner (which influenced the Kennedy brothers) in which they were carried out were completely down to him. His speeches (most notably “I have a dream” and “Mountain top”) influenced both races in their thousands in their view of racial equality. Certainly, it would be a big overstatement to claim that Martin Luther King single-handedly won blacks civil rights. However, one cannot totally ignore his input in this field by any means. It would certainly be fair to say that, without King, the Civil rights act would, at least been delayed considerably in its passing.
King’s personal key to a successful protest was keeping it peaceful and non-violent. This had mixed success and brought King under a lot of criticism, some claiming that he was an “uncle tom” that sucked up to whites. Privately, King’s own supporters knew that non-violence was not an outlook shared by everyone and fellow civil rights leaders such as Malcolm X condemned King claiming that his methods where unrealistic. Non-violence was unsuccessful in Albany, 61’ and 62’, was ineffective in Chicago and caused both injury and death to innocent blacks throughout all movements. Some argued that for a black man to be submissive to white brutality only increased white self-supremacy and that violent protests gained much more media attention.
King wanted to able to appeal the “decent” white to increase sympathy for blacks in states. To do this he insisted that the right thing to do was to follow Jesus’ teachings and to love your enemy. Thanks to television the protests where accessible to most Americans, many who were shocked at the violent treatment of the peaceful blacks creating the desired sympathy. Many whites joined the SNCC and CORE to protest alongside blacks that King considered a great achievement. One must also predict the result if blacks had practised violent protests. It is likely that far more blacks would have been injured and killed, as white communities were far more resourceful and better equipped. They would have received far less public sympathy as an onlooker would think-“They act like animals so they get treated like animals.” In terms of damage limitation, it has to be said that the peaceful protests were most probably a far better solution than violent protests. It won far more sympathy and built up a reputation that blacks were peace-loving people.
King’s private life also came under attack during the movements. He was a man of poor character. He was hypercritical, egocentric and plagiarised many of his speeches. His sexual behaviour was frowned upon by many and degraded the black movement. He also never took part in any of the marches himself-leading to accusations of cowardice and the fact he put the lives of children in danger made many people think that the march would achieve more bad than good. Many blacks mistrusted King believing that his actions were predominantly for his own needs.
'White leaders valued King's ability to wind down campaigns as much as they dreaded his ability to escalate them.'
In the North, King’s unpopularity was certainly evident with the Chicago march where he attempted to break down the ghettos. They saw King as a hypocrite; a man who spoke of non-violence and peace but stirred up strife and disorder in communities.
King’s leadership qualities also came under question with his actions and beliefs to the Vietnam War. His anti-war stance created an immaturity factor in the eyes of many and gave the white leaders a new weapon-that the blacks were un-patriotic.
Although their were many leaders of the Civil rights movement Martin Luther King was certainly the most conspicuous and the most gifted speaker. His non-violent protest was unique in history and inspired some support to his name. More importantly, it swung the opinion of the neutral in favour of blacks. No one achieved as much as King during the Civil Rights Movement and his orchestrated campaigns strengthened national political strategy. Although some issues in his private life do cloud his image, it has to said that his actions during the Civil Rights Movement overshadow them. Claims that King was a coward for not leading his own Marches quite frankly are ludicrous. Could you name one leader in the twentieth century that actually led and fought in his own wars/battles/movements? Martin Luther King totally deserves credit that he truly is a great leader. His strategy led to a few casualties but the images of blacks being persecuted for doing nothing won sympathy from the public which led to the Civil Rights Act of 64’. Certainly, using children and preventing woman from taking part in the movement certainly was not a great move. However, can you think of any other great leader who did not make mistakes? Martin Luther King is a great leader, period.