Violence and/or nonviolence in the success of the civil rights movement: The malcolm X–Martin Luther King, Jr. Nexus

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Abstract

Nonviolent mass protests are often considered as having been mainly responsible for the two major legislative gains of the Civil Rights Movement half a century ago—the 1964 Civil Rights Act (CRA) and the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). In this article, I argue that it was the combination of that course and the threat of violence on the part of African Americans that fully explain those two victories. A close reading of the texts and actions of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X is indispensable for my claim. The archival evidence, as well, makes a convincing case for the CRA, its proposal by the John F. Kennedy (JFK) administration and enactment by Congress. For the VRA, its proposal by the Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) administration and enactment by Congress, the evidence is more circumstantial but still compelling. The evidence reveals that for the threat of violence to have been credible, actual violence was required, as events in Birmingham, Alabama, demonstrate. Such violence, the “long hot summers” of the 1960s that began with Birmingham, probably aided and abetted subsequent civil rights gains—a story that has potential lessons for today’s struggles for social equality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalNew Political Science
Volume38
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2 2016

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