Segregation and the Civil Rights Movement

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What role did religion play in the civil rights struggle?

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Religion was crucially important to the civil rights movement. The movement was led by Christian pastor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a religious organization to which King belonged, helped to spearhead the protests.

King himself was strongly influenced by the success of Hindu Mahatma Gandhi's nonviolent movement for Indian independence. King called Gandhi's message "profound and electrifying." Central to Gandhi's message of nonviolence was the religious belief that all life was sacred.

The civil rights protesters studied and practiced Gandhi's methods of nonviolent protest. For example, rather than just seat themselves at the segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, volunteers role-played not reacting to violent provocations, such as being struck or having drinks or food poured or thrown on them. They did not take action until they felt assured they would remain peaceful.

Gandhi was such an influence on King that the Indian...

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