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Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s: Martin Luther King’s Nonviolent Resistance


Social movements have been viewed as emerging from pure political or economic reasons. Social movements were usually organized by different layers of the population despite their age, gender, and income, when the society was not satisfied with the things in the community. These processes were usually geared toward the liberation of their sectors by means of protests or any violent ways. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s are usually referred to as merely political or economic. However, a deeper vision of the situation can allow developing an opinion that these movements also carried intellectual and ideological message. The social movements emerged during that period because of deep seated ideologies that were intended to attain equality, freedom, and eventually liberation of certain layers of the society. More importantly, the social movements were non-violent, but they were able to achieve their social goals successfully. Therefore, the literature revised conducted in relation to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s will focus on ideological and intellectual nature of social protects for the liberation of the African Americans focusing on the following questions. What was the message of Martin Luther King? What were the most important issues facing the African American community those days? Does the society still face the same problems? Were the goals of the Civil Rights movement achieved? At hindsight, Martin Luther King was one of the most influential figures in the social movements that emerged during the 1960s. Being an African American, he had all rights and power to take part in the violent aggressive acts against the American government. However, he chose another step to achieve the goal, having shown that African Americans are not savages, and are also educated. He was one of those who spearheaded a protest against the injustices that were experienced by the African Americans in the American society that time.

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History of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States

History states that Africans had suffered from slavery from the white Americans and the British Empire. At the times of the war for independence, African Americans were promised freedom and the Americans used their physical and military skills in the promotion of Christianity and in winning wars. Indeed, the African Americans were among those who really fought in the name of liberty and the flag of the United States. The African Americans basically stood up and were counted as the defenders of liberty in the history of America. However, when the USA became the independent country, everyone forgot about the contribution of African Americans in the independence war and their rights remained limited. The main message of the Civil Rights Movement was expressed in the following words of Martin Luther King:

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

This was the goal and the African Americans tried to reach this goal by means their raised social and political power. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s was the first large scale war for the freedoms and equality of the African Americans in the US community after the abolishment of the Constitution.

The New Social Movements Theory

The social movement that occurred in the 1960s gave equality to the African Americans. This possibility was created a later and even nowadays the problems still occur and the equality is not reached in the way as it was expected (Wolf), but the very fact that the social movement carried intellectual and ideological nature played an important role in the history of African American rights. The social movements such as the abolitionists in the 1960s were a result of the desire for substantial transformation from the intellectual and ideological dimensions. In other words, it was a culmination of a call by the deprived groups or sectors particularly the African Americans to introduce substantial changes that were rooted from the intellectual development of the time. Thus, the said social movement was not purely violent and political but non-violent and intellectual in nature.

The new social movement theory tries to explain that the social movement during the 1960s was not centered on political or economic concerns. It was a period of transformation through ideological justification and foundation. Though political and economic aspects were the facades of the African American movements as Ashley and Grenville state, it was deeper than those from the perspective of the new social movement theory. New social movements were focused on certain issues such as equality, freedom, liberty, and others and not only the grabbing of political power or economic rights. Additionally, the emancipation of the African Americans during that time was also a strong desire for cultural identity that was deprived of them because of racial discrimination.


One good example of the new social movement was the transcendentalism advanced by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Apparently, transcendentalism had contributed greatly in the social movements of the 1960s. It was a movement that formulated a new trend that contributed a lot in the intellectual culture of Western world. It is said that it is a resistance against the influence of the England to the United States. It was an opposition to the existing intellectual climate at that time. The said movement was advanced by a group of highly educated individuals who had lived before the American Civil War. The movement was born out of the intense desire of this highly educated class to form a distinct kind of literary pieces that would eventually change the intellectual climate of the times (Lewis).

There was a gradual movement to replace the influence of England to the United States when the Americans won their freedom from said nation. It was inevitable that a new literary trend had to establish to remove the influence of the colonizers to the former colony, as observed in the said case. Subsequently, an intellectual group had emerged that initiated the new movement. As the Americans became independent, this group became aware that there was also a need for them to become independent in the field of literature. This group of transcendentalists introduced a new trend in literature, essays, novels, philosophy, and poetry which were all peculiar for other European nations. The literary pieces that were created by this group offered a new way to look at the world in terms of its spirituality and religion.

In comparison with other intellectual groups that also had influenced the prevailing thinking of the world, such as the enlightenment thinkers of the 18th century that focused on the material content of reality, spirituality was the priority of the transcendentalists. If rationality and scientific experimentation were the tools for analysis of the enlightenment thinkers, Holy Scriptures were the instrument of awareness of the transcendentalists. Transcendentalists were the philosophers of the new generation that mainly concentrated on higher form of spirituality. They came when the time was craving for new ways of interpreting the very materialistic and scientific based thinking. They were trying to replace rationality by intuitive and more experiential way of interpreting life.

For instance, Emerson and his group formulated their new literary pieces by reading the Hindu and Buddhist scriptures. Their novels were basically a response to the dominant ideological truth that is widespread in the Western world. Emerson and his groups strongly argued that the truths contained in the Eastern philosophy were also believable and could be an alternative approach to the Western philosophy that emanated during the enlightenment period.

Transcendentalism believes that rationalism and materialism have led the human race into a stage where a person couldn’t find hope in pursuit of life. The said perspective brought new hope to the world as it transformed the dominant thought into a higher spirituality. It was advanced by the transcendentalism that the world has to turn its attention into the divine spirit instead of scientific perspective. As a result of a the spiritual calling of this new perspective, many groups in the United States have actively participated in the fight for social reforms, upholding of human rights and the abolition of slavery. The basic belief that humanism means the nurturance of the human soul by means of freedom and truth has been the founding principles of transcendentalism that is why social reforms and other human rights activism were advocated.

The importance of the human soul and the enhancement of one’s spirituality affected the American society in general. There have been changes in the said society because of the strong adherence of many activists groups to the ideas of transcendentalism. For instance, women and the black slaves were released from the bondage of suffering because of the oppressive nature of slavery society. One major source of the change of such system was the view of transcendentalism that all human beings have the right to be free and express their being and spirituality. All human beings regardless of gender and race have the right to have their own life. This mentality permeated in the consciousness of most Americans since the inception of Transcendentalism that had clearly contributed to the social reforms needed of the time particularly of the liberation of the African Americans.

Civil Disobedience

Another foundation of new social movement theory was the Civil Disobedience of Henry Thoreau. It advocates a principle that would go against the will of the state. Civil Disobedience is about the role of the government and how the citizens would rebel against the existing system if is oppressing. If it is the duty of the government to protect the welfare of its citizens, Thoreau claims that it is also the duty of the citizens to disobey the state if it is unjust. He actually proposed that citizens have the duty to disregard the power of the state if it nullifies its basic obligation to protect the general welfare.

With the above assumptions made by Thoreau, it is apparent that he was advocating a strong principle against the state. In other words, the authority of the state is not that absolute. Ignoring the rights of the citizens would automatically invalidate the duty of the state to control the citizens. This is quite a revolutionary approach to the existing political thought during that time.

With Thoreau’s principles of civil disobedience, deprived sectors like the African Americans had their ways of protesting against the government through non-violent means. Martin Luther King Jr. was instrumental as well in the liberation of the Blacks from the bondage of oppression through non-violent ways. In particular, his speech entitled, ”I Have a Dream,” was very influential in emphasizing that freedom and justice should be given by the American government to the black people. The speech was purely intellectual and did not instigate violence but was so effective in raising the awareness of the African Americans about equality.


The new social movement theory is quite applicable in the social movements during the 1960s. The social movements were non-violent, intellectually driven and founded on virtuous ideologies that led to equality among men regardless of gender, skin color, race, age, and others. The basic assumption of such social movements is that the authority of the state is not that absolute. Ignoring the rights of the citizens would automatically invalidate the duty of the state to control the citizens. This is quite a revolutionary approach to the existing political thought during that time. It was a movement that formulated a new trend that contributed a lot in the intellectual culture of Western world that positively affected the new era.


Title: Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s: Martin Luther King’s Nonviolent Resistance

I. Introduction

Topic: TheCivil Rights Movement of the 1960’s as intellectual and ideological struggle for the equality of African Americans in the US society.

Question: What was the message of Martin Luther King? What were the most important issues facing the African American community those days? Does the society still face the same problems? Were the goals of the Civil Rights movement achieved?

Introductory Literature Review:

The role of Martin Luther King in the Civil Rights Movement

The contemporary issues African Americans still face in the modern society

The role of the intellectual nature of Civil Rights Movement in 1960s and its reflection in the contemporary society

Thesis: (Argument):

Martin Luther King helped African Americans show their intellectuality and prove that they were the deserving members of the American society and could gain equal rights along with white Americans with the power of thought and word, without violence.


The focus on intellectually and ideological power of African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement allowed contribute more to equality in comparison to the possible outcome if power and violence were used.

II. Literature Review

History of the civil rights movement in the United States

The new social movement theory


Civil disobedience

Transitional Paragraph

III: Argument/Analysis

Research Design:

Both primary and secondary research tools will be applied in order to achieve the research goals and confirm the hypothesis stated in the beginning of the study. Having referred to the state’s online archive systems, I will be able to gather real evidence from the days when the movement happened and compare them to possible predicted outcomes if violent aggression was used as a means for achieving the law. The comparison to other Civil Rights movements will be provided to see the difference.


To measure the effectiveness of the strategy selected for the Civil Rights Movement, the statements will be developed with 5-points likert scale from totally disagree (1) to totally agree (5) range (1 – totally disagree, 2 – disagree, 3 – not sure, 4 – agree, 5- totally agree.

IV: Conclusion: Revision and restatement of the overall argument

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