Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Don't Give Up the Fight: Resources

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Don't Give Up the Fight: Resources

Article excerpt

Martin Luther King Day isn't just for history lessons. It's also a spur for a debate about civil rights, says Colin Hynson.

Around the world, the struggle for civil rights goes on. We have watched the Arab Spring emerge, with people demanding rights that we in the West take for granted, and the fight against repression in Burma is starting to bear fruit. But even in Europe, where civil rights are enshrined in law, the fight to hold on to them continues.

In London, the camp at St Paul's Cathedral has become part of the worldwide "Occupy" movement. Protesters use the non-violent language and techniques of the civil rights movement but, like others in similar campaigns, they have been both condemned and misunderstood; several of the Occupy camps in the United States have been broken up by the police. Yet this movement can be a good starting point for a discussion about the "rights" the protesters are fighting for, and whether their techniques are the right ones.

As Martin Luther King Day approaches, it is a good time to reflect on one of the most powerful civil rights movements in modern history, led by a man who was prepared to die for his beliefs but never to kill for them. What would he have made of the Occupy movement? Or the disorder seen throughout British cities last August?

From the early 1950s to the mid-1960s African-Americans fought for their civil rights, led by Dr Martin Luther King, whose championing of non- violent direct action has served as an inspiration for civil rights movements around the world.

After the abolition of slavery in 1865, black Americans struggled to place themselves on equal terms with white Americans. States in the South made it legal to separate black and white people in public facilities like schools and restaurants; some states even denied black people the vote. Despite a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (founded in 1909) and a 1954 Supreme Court proclamation that segregation was illegal, it continued throughout the South until a new civil rights movement emerged to take up the fight.

The catalyst came on 1 December 1955, when Rosa Parks rode on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and refused to move from a seat allocated to white people. When she was arrested, a young minister called Martin Luther King organised a local boycott of the bus company. Thousands of people took part and it was such an effective protest that segregation on buses in Montgomery came to an end a year later.

Twelve months on, at Little Rock in Arkansas, nine black students tried to enrol at an all-white school and the state governor sent in local troops to block them. But just over a year later all the schools in Arkansas were integrated.

Protests against segregation subsequently fanned out across the southern states. By the end of the 1960s more than 70,000 people had taken part, all of whom were non-violent, even when violence was used against them by the police or by white opponents. In 1961, 13 volunteers (seven black and six white) known as the "Freedom Riders" drove two buses to challenge segregation in bus stations. They were attacked by members of the Ku Klux Klan, badly beaten and left undefended by local police. But the protesters' peaceful persistence led to victory when the US government banned segregated buses across the country. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.