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What did Martin Luther King, Jr. do for civil rights?

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Martin Luther King, Jr. served as the public face of the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  He is not personally responsible for everything that the movement accomplished during this time, but we typically credit him with those accomplishments as he was the main figure who could be identified as the leader of the movement. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. was not the only leader of the Civil Rights Movement.  Obviously, he was only one man and the movement certainly could not have survived without all the masses of people who engaged in the protests that made it effective.   However, King did provide important leadership for the movement.  He is credited with being the main leader who set the strategy for the movement.  It was he who pushed for the nonviolent civil disobedience that was the hallmark of that movement.  Importantly, he also served as the movement’s public face.  He was able to reach out to white Americans, getting many of them to support the Civil Rights Movement.

In part because of his leadership, the Civil Rights Movement was able to achieve two main accomplishments.  The first of these was the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  This law made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race in public accommodations such as restaurants and bus stations.  In one stroke, this law destroyed the system of segregation that had existed in the South for decades.  The second was the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  This law made sure that states could no longer create rules that were ostensibly not about race but which made it very difficult for black people to vote. 

In these ways, we can say that Martin Luther King, Jr. accomplished a great deal for civil rights.  He provided very important leadership that allowed the Civil Rights Movement to thrive.  In part because of his leadership, the movement was able to achieve legal equality between blacks and whites by the middle of the 1960s.

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