How did Martin Luther King Jr. use compromise to affect change in the Civil Rights Movement?  Give examples.

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mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Martin Luther King, Jr. used compromise to bring about change in the civil rights movement. One example of this can be seen concerning the debate surrounding the Voting Rights Act. African Americans had been denied the right to vote for many years with the establishment of the poll tax and the literacy test. Martin Luther King, Jr. hoped that the Voting Rights Act would ban both the use of the literacy test and the poll tax. However, the final version of the bill didn’t contain a ban on the use of the poll tax. There were constitutional concerns about including the poll tax in the final version of the bill. President Johnson felt that if banning poll taxes were included in the bill, the Supreme Court might declare it unconstitutional.

However, there was a great deal of debate in Congress about including the ban of the poll tax in the bill. When the ban was included in the House version of the bill but not in the Senate version of the bill, a conference committee formed to work out the differences. However, this conference committee struggled to agree upon a version of the bill that both the Senate and the House of Representatives could support. Martin Luther King, Jr. was brought into the discussion. While King hated the poll tax, he didn’t want this bill to be defeated. Thus, he agreed that the final version of the bill wouldn’t ban the poll tax, but it would include language about how the poll tax harmed African Americans. King’s suggestions helped break the stalemate, and the Voting Rights Act was passed.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was willing to work within the established political system. He met with lawmakers and was willing to make some sacrifices in order to get things accomplished that would help African Americans. He didn’t take an inflexible position on issues, unlike some other civil rights leaders. For example, he never called for racial separation. He would work with elected officials, while using nonviolent protests, to bring about change.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is an interesting question.  Dr. King used compromise in a variety of ways in order to deliver real and meaningful change to people of color during the Civil Rights Movement.  I think that it's important to make the distinction that Dr. King did not see compromise as "selling out" or surrendering all aspects of one's commitment.  Yet, he understood that there was a need to work within the system in order to ensure that there would be lasting legislative and social change in American society for people of color.  King's position of non-violent, yet active resistance to injustice was a method of opening dialogue with opposing forces.  Dr. King was more amenable to facilitating dialogue with those in the position of power in a much more open way than other factions of the Civil Rights Movement which were more oppositional to those in the position of power.  When Dr. King sits down with President Johnson over Civil Rights Legislation in 1964, it is an example of how his position possessed a greater degree of dialogue and constructive opening of productivity between both sides than someone like Malcolm X or Stokely Carmichael.  King's entire premise was based on being able to compromise with those who refused to acknowledge the voices of people of color without compromising on the need for social and political change for people of color.