Segregation and the Civil Rights Movement Questions and Answers

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What was Martin Luther King Jr.'s conflict or dilemma?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Martin Luther King didn't want blacks to wait anymore for what he called, in his "I Have a Dream" speech, payment on the promissory note whites had long ago given blacks that they would one day achieve equality. He wanted that equality to come now—but at the same time he knew it would be a disaster for the Civil Rights movement to embrace violence, often seen as the quickest way to frighten those in power and show serious intent.

King held true to the ideals of Gandhi and Christ that change must be nonviolent to be lasting and successful. Yet nonviolence was the slower way and King wanted action now. He was also accused, as he writes in his letter from Birmingham jail, of inciting others to violence for raising uncomfortable issues and speaking out. As he expresses in frustration in that letter, how could he be blamed for white violence just for bringing up these issues of racial injustice? How could anything change if he wasn't even allowed to speak truth to power?

King was caught between wanting change to come quickly and knowing his movement had to move carefully and non-violently.

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Michael Koren eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Martin Luther King Jr. has a serious conflict on his hands as the civil rights movement progressed. One of his dilemmas can be seen in the letter he wrote to his fellow ministers while he was in jail in Birmingham, Alabama.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was being criticized for exposing the racial tensions that existed in the South. There were people who felt he shouldn’t be doing all of these nonviolent protests to achieve equality in the area of civil rights. Martin Luther King, Jr. had to respond to that criticism.

There was a growing number of people who felt that King’s actions weren’t bringing about change fast enough. These people were advocating more aggressive actions to bring change to the movement. Malcolm X was initially calling for racial segregation and self-defense. Groups like the Black Panthers were calling for a race war. Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted to convey the message that his group, advocating nonviolent protest, was the best way to go based on the other alternatives. Martin Luther King, Jr. needed to convince his fellow ministers that what he and others associated with the nonviolent protest movement were trying to accomplish was the option to follow to try to bring about civil rights equality in our country.

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