Why Did Some African Americans Reject Nonviolence

Topics: Black people, African American, Martin Luther King, Jr. Pages: 11 (4276 words) Published: March 21, 2006
Joel Blackmore


Black protest in America in the 1960s developed into two opposing stances, the non-violence of the Civil Rights movement in the South and the violent protests of the urban poor blacks and black power organisations in the North. In the early 1960's the main protest form was the Civil Rights movement. This was predicated on non-violent protest. It fo0lowed the principles of non-violence successfully used by Mahatma Gandhi in India. The Civil Rights movement focused

on non-violent protest in the Southern States. Thousands of black and white protesters demonstrated peacefully against segregation—against practice where white people had seating preference in public buses, where black people had to sit at separate lunch counters from whites, had to go round the back of stores to drink from water taps rather than drink at fountains used by whites, where education and schools were strictly segregated so whites had the best education and blacks the worst. Most importantly the Civil Rights movement was just that—a mass campaign to get black people their civil rights—including the right to vote. Thousands of black people and white students from the North poured into the south in protest marches and demonstrations and were frequently met by white violence—police attacking protesters, jailing protesters and white racists including members of the Klu Klux Klan killing, black (and white protesters), and firebombing black churches and homes. Despite this violent reaction by southern whites to the civil rights protests the Civil Rights leaders emphasised that they mush fight through legal challenges and non-violent demonstrations.

A key aspect of the Civil Rights non violent movement was that it was supported by white establishment figures alongside black leaders and organisations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and national leaders such as Martin Luther King, which relied heavily on non-violence, The Civil Rights protests received massive national and international media publicity with white violence against black and white protesters being clearly shown to TV audiences in the North and around the world. The resulting pace of change through the Civil Rights movement in improving the real poverty conditions and discrimination that black people in the south and in the north faced was however very slow. As a result some black people and black leaders began to reject non-violence—they couldn't see non-violence making any real difference to the poverty and injustice that black people in America faced in their daily lives. In the northern city ghettos black people were as segregated in practice as the black people in the south. They were unemployed, harassed by police daily, their children went to all black schools which were much poorly funded than schools for whites.

More radical forms of black protest developed in the mid 1960's and became much more dominant as the decade drew to a close. These more radical forms of black protest often became associated with violence and militancy. The Nation of Islam founded by Elijah Muhammad and made famous by its national spokesman Malcolm X, was the first black organisation that came to the attention of the American media and then the American public. The media called the Nation of Islam ‘the Black Muslims ‘ and portrayed them as being a threat to America through advocating violence against white people. The white press sensationalised the Black Muslims saying they wanted their own separate state and wanted to kill ‘white devils'. Some supporters of the Civil Rights movement began to grow disillusioned with the slow progress they were making and organisations such as the Student National Co-ordinating Committee (SNCC) led by Stokely Carmichael began to move against non-violence and say that black people should be able to use violent protest if they were forced to....
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