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The first thing to remember about Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders during that time, was that they were Christian ministers and leaders. I think that, above all other reasons, was why those leaders chose the path of non violent resistance. Martin Luther King, Jr., was an educated man and was able to see how successfully peaceful, non violent protest worked with Gandhi in India in their struggle for independence. He knew that in order to succeed in gaining Civil Rights for African Americans he would need the support of the general public within the United States. He knew that if he used violence, the general public would condemn his movement. Martin Luther King’s struggle for Civil Rights gained sympathy and support when the public saw the violent reaction to his non violent protests.
Also, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s own personal beliefs played an important role in his use of non-violence. First he believed that the use of non violence was a courageous act, not a cowardly act. He believed that non violence promoted understanding of one’s opponent, and was not meant to disgrace him. And, most importantly, he believed that non violence was so powerful that it could replace love where before there was hatred and bitterness. I think the success of his movement proved him to be correct in all of these ideas.
There were, in my opinion, two main reasons for this:
- I believe that Dr. King believed that nonviolence was a more moral strategy than one that included violence. Nonviolence is certainly (you can argue) more in keeping with the ethics of Christianity and King was, of course, a Christian minister.
- King also believed that nonviolence was a more effective way to get people on the side of the protestors. If whites in the North saw pictures and films of blacks getting abused by the police while protesting peacefully, they would be more inclined to support the blacks' goals. If they saw films of black protestors fighting with the police, they would be more likely to think that the protestors were bad people who should not be supported.
In the political and social environment of a segregated and racist South, he realized it was the only way to achieve civil rights equality for black Americans, and that it was actually a foolproof strategy when all was said and done.
As a minister, Dr. King presented a clear alternative to calls for violence and even secession among black nationalists like Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammed, but more than that, he knew the election of John F. Kennedy and the advent of television news would make the difference in their struggle. Well dressed, well-mannered black citizens, peacefully marching and boycotting for their rights being met with firehoses and police brutality, being attacked by white supremacists and police dogs would turn the rest of the white population in favor of civil rights, which is essentially what happened. He had taken a lesson from Gandhi, who had to some degree brought down the British Empire in India in a similar fashion.
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