MLK Was A Radical
- By Sam Elliott
MLK was truly a radical of his time for the civil rights movement, which he catapulted to a truly national scale. MLK fought for things that seemed out-of-touch for the reality at that time, which makes him such a notable character. Just about a decade before MLK’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. was just starting to tour the South giving sermons at black churches talking about the radical change he was hoping to bring to the community. These rumors of the social upheaval of the day were quiet but radical, and that is what he was looking to do; make a radical movement that would change the structure of Black America forever. In 1954, King was elected to the Montgomery Improvement Association as the president and became the leader of the movement against the city that put Rosa Parks in jail for refusing to give her seat to a white man. It focused on ending the segregated buses that forced black people to stand up and leave for the white man, which has never happened before. His continuous stride for the equality of all people in America was seen as radical on its own too. This type of revolution, lasting from the mid-fifties to the sixties, had not happened to this scale in all of America’s history.
The NAACP held a successful anti-lynching campaign in the ’30s that fought to advertise the costs of lynching along with kicking out senators that supported the nomination of pro-lynching John J. Parker for the Supreme Court. This added to the measures they passed that brought lynching to a historic low. There was the case of Brown vs The Board of Education, which was a case sent to the Supreme Court arguing that schools should be desegregated. However, what is less known is that the battle for desegregating schools was a thirty-year fight fought by the NAACP that then culminated in the Supreme Court case. These battles usually take decades-long, which makes what MLK did so extraordinary. He may have been at the tail-end of a battle for the Civil Rights Movement, but the speed and publicity he gained for the movement was what made him so important for the cause. He made this movement successful, a battle that had ideas that were unimaginable for the time, making this fight a radical protest ending in black people gaining the right to equality.
Besides the fact that MLK completely changed the whole movement from a thirty-year fight by the NAACP to a national movement that included a massive march in Washington and small protests around the country. Of course, there were efforts for civil rights before MLK came along, but there is a huge difference between him and the other ideas the NAACP took on. The NAACP took the method of challenging things through the government process and taking cases up to the Supreme Court, which usually took much longer and cost much more time making sure that everything was set for them to be successful. They were precise in their workings, contrasting to MLK. MLK focused instead on public sentiment and taking less consideration of the legality of the protests he was inciting. He chose to work on rallying a large group of Americans to support the movement before bringing it to the federal level, which he believed would make it easier for it to pass. He took inspiration from Gandhi’s massive protests in India, which won the territory the right to become a country instead of staying under the oppressive power of Britain. He staged protests in a movement that seemed like a long shot before he organized the system that would combat Great Britain and win independence with peace. Both of these men had come into movements that were slow and non-efficient before coming along and brought these ideas to the forefront of the public. They created successful movements fighting for radical change, a method that was rarely tried before.
However, MLK was radical for other reasons that did not regard his movement. In 1983, legislation came on the floor of the Senate to make a holiday commemorating MLK. This act got twenty-two votes against the measure along with Reagan being hesitant to sign it into law. They saw his fight as an “Action-Oriented Marxism” that resulted in race riots across many cities in the nation. This was in part true, as he saw that capitalism greatly disadvantaged black people for the white people’s gain. He truly believed that the system in place for America made black people the losers for the American economy, and he wanted to change. It is argued by many that if MLK was not shot, then he would have fought for even more of his radical ideas, possibly even involving some aspects of Marxism. Other than Marxism, MLK still had many unconventional ideas of those days that made him so radical. He was fighting for the equality of a group of people that had been at the bottom of every social and economic pyramid in the United States, something unimaginable to both blacks and whites in those days. He staged mass protests around the country that would bring with it huge police activity, along with smaller protests that would shake up “white-only” communities in small towns. This brought havoc to those communities, bringing the Civil Rights Movement to the forefront of almost every American’s mind. MLK knew what he was doing by inciting all these events, bringing his movement that would destroy the American tradition of exploiting black people forever. This was radical back in the day and think of how radical it would be now; it’s like completely changing the structure of a social and economic class in the country. There was still a significant amount of anger over the Civil Rights Act among white people, as there is anger over Black Lives Matter and other hot-topic issues of this era that involve race. America is a racist country, making the Civil Rights era and MLK some of the most radical American objects of our history.
There is also significant whitewashing of his words that hide how he was much more of a radical than believed by the public. People in the 21st century know MLK for him most well for his “I Have A Dream” speech, but some of his most notable speeches are known to very few. He was a passionate man who had views on issues that were truly prevalent for him. His speech at the South Christian Leadership Conference criticized capitalism and spoke about the evils that it brought upon African Americans, and his speech in New York over the Vietnam War criticized how America was enforcing war at a time he was fighting for peace while being called a communist. He was a very controversial figure at the time, with about 2/3s of Americans having a negative opinion of him.
Overall, MLK was one of the most influential people in American history and will stay forever in the history books. However, there is a lot that has not been observed by the American curriculum on King; the fact that his approach to the Civil Rights Movement was so radical and different that it actually worked. He incited protests across the country and criticized America and capitalism. He was truly radical, and that should never be forgotten.