Are Martin Luther King Junior’s ideas so different from today’s Black Lives Matter movement?
“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it is demanded by the oppressed,” Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a leader of his time with a dream and a plan. His encouragement and planning of nonviolent direct action, which was sometimes illegal, to spotlight injustice in his country was what gave the country change when many didn’t want it. Today, the Black Lives Matter movement is doing the same thing and has similar goals that Dr. King did. Each protest, demonstration, or Black Lives Matter shirt catches the attention of politicians and D.C. The general public must become aware of the injustice done to marginalized groups before it becomes important to those in positions of power. And many times what catches attention is violent, purposely so, and neither Dr. King nor #blm is afraid of that. Dr. King’s less socially acceptable actions may no longer be as publicized as his peaceful ones, but today’s movement’s are. How people see today’s protesters may very well be what they would’ve seen fifty years ago.
Each movement’s decisions and practices were not socially acceptable, and even sometimes viewed as violent antagonists, but are essential for change. The skeptics and opposers for each movement, whether in 20th or 21st century America, have similar cries. According to PBS, 59% of white people find the Black Lives Matter movement to be distracting from real problems, and 42% don’t support it. In 1964 the majority of the country found civil rights activist violent, pushing too fast, and hurting their own cause, according to Mic. However, today it might be hard to find a harsh word on movement that gave America countless changes to how society functions cohesively.
Dr. King, who is now looked at as one of the greatest and most influential leaders in American history, practices weren’t as cookie cutter as the TV specials people will watch on Monday. In 1963, King endorsed and trained those in the Birmingham Children’s Crusade, where thousands of children skipped school to flood the streets for 4 days. It led to protesters as young as five years old being beaten, arrested, pepper sprayed, attacked by dogs, and power hosed by police officers and firemen. Even Malcolm X, who is often perceived as a violent member of the Black Panther Party, did not agree with the decision of putting children’s lives on the line. What King did isn’t the kind of movement that is read in history class, but one that is starting to come up on the news.
But, the acts of violence against these children by the police were televised, and seen next morning in the newspapers. The world became alarmed, and it heavily impacted John F. Kennedy to finally support civil rights legislation publicly. The monumental Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed a year after this turning point. King knew violence, or ‘tension’, is what was essential for change.
Movements have to be disruptive in order to call attention and create change. Comfortable people don’t want change, but when a man is kneeling during the national anthem on Sunday night, protesters are flooding the streets, or having die-ins in their mall, people become uncomfortable. People wake up and see the injustice. The Montgomery bus boycott losing the white man’s money and the shutdowns of streets during police brutality protests caught attention. Little kids getting beat on the six o’clock news ruins dinners, and legislators start negotiation. Martin Luther King and the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement know that change will have to be demanded and shook out of the hands of the law and everyday society.
While in solitary confinement for a mass prayer demonstration, King was smuggled a newspaper with an open letter from eight white liberal clergymen titled, “A Call for Unity.” The open letters denounced their support for King and his allies’ practices of protesting in the streets instead of speaking to the courts. After reading this, King began to write his response on the same newspaper. “The Birmingham Jail Letters,” or “The Negro is Your Brother” showcase the similarities in King’s viewpoint and the actions of the Black Lives Matter, which is to highlight issues with tension to create a space for growth.
“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. I just referred to the creation of tension as a part of the work of the nonviolent resister. This may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word ‘tension’. I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth,” King wrote.
Civil disobedience magnified and continues to magnify the injustice found in society and leads to legislative action. The movements thrive off of creating tense situations that made the world watch the violence that followed. The Black Lives Matter movement uses civil disobedience, such as an over-2,000-activists protest in the mall of America, or on Black Friday in 2015 Oakland, California when fourteen were arrested for blocking a subway train after Mike Brown’s death was justified by a grand jury. Each case of civil disobedience was reported on, discussed, and watched by America. The movement continued the conversation on the issues by not letting America forget.
It’s only been three year since the first use of the hashtag #blacklivesmatter occurred after Trayvon Martin’s death was ruled justified. Dr. King wrote that letter nine years after the start of Civil Rights movement. It took ten years for the major Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed segregation and discrimination. Some may be discouraged by the lack of improvement our country had come in regards to human rights issues, like police brutality, others maybe soaking in BLM’s somewhat bad reputation, but this is only the beginning for them and for the rest of America. How this movement and the society they reside in will change and transform in the next decade is still to be seen, but the Black Lives Matter movement will continue to be loud and disruptive enough for Dr. King’s approval.