Segregation and the Civil Rights Movement

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What were the short and long-term effects of Martin Luther King Jr.'s actions?

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The short-term results and effects of Martin Luther King Jr.'s actions included a heightened awareness of the civil rights struggle among the American people. Many of those who'd never previously paid attention to the struggle now sat up and noticed what was happening in the Deep South. The long-term results and effects of King's actions were the achievement of civil rights legislation.

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Prior to Martin Luther King Jr.'s arrival on the scene, the civil rights movement was largely ignored by most American people. But once this charismatic preacher with the powerful voice and an undoubted gift for oratory became more prominent, more Americans began to sit up and take notice of the civil rights movement, its struggles, and its goals.

King's message of peace was also influential as it made the civil rights movement much more palatable to those white people who would've been turned off by a more militant, confrontational approach. Thanks largely to King's leadership, the civil rights movement was able to put the issue of racial equality right at the top of the domestic political agenda.

In the long-term, King's actions helped to deliver the historical raft of civil rights legislation signed into law by President Johnson in the mid-1960s, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The passing of this legislation was a vindication of the tireless campaigning for change from King and of all those civil rights workers who'd engaged in the long, hard struggle for racial equality. It could also be seen as a vindication of King's steadfast commitment to the principles of non-violence and civil disobedience.

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The actions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had short-term and long-term effects. In the short term, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and African Americans gained some rights as a result of the actions that were taken. For example, the Montgomery Bus Boycott led to an end of segregation on buses. African Americans had been forced to sit in the section of the buses that was reserved for them. After a boycott that lasted over a year, the buses were desegregated when the Supreme Court ruled it was illegal to have separate seating sections on buses.

In 1965, Dr. King highlighted the issues that African Americans faced when marchers were brutally attacked in Selma, Alabama. They were protesting the lack of voting rights for African Americans. This eventually led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, which made poll taxes and literacy tests illegal.

In the long run, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was able to bring attention to the inequalities that African Americans faced. This led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. His actions also helped gain the sympathy and support of many white Americans, who believed that changes were needed to bring more equality to African Americans.

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By studying and implementing Gandhi's techniques of nonviolent resistance, Martin Luther King was able, in the short term, to make the plight of blacks in the United States sympathetic to large swathes of the white population. His carefully planned protests led to the desegregation of buses, lunch counters, bathrooms and other facilities. His speeches and marches, putting the emphasis on the need for immediate (not future) legislative change, led to the Civil Rights, Fair Housing and Voting acts. Near the end of his life, he protested the Vietnam war and tried to bring working class whites and blacks together in economic solidarity.

While backlash has been one of the long-term responses to King's work, he did succeed in opening up opportunity and dramatically increasing white acceptance of the concept of racial equality. His work also demonstrated that nonviolent protest and action can lead to effective social change. It is arguable that without King's work, we would not have been able to elect a black president.

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s work with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and his work using non-violence to advance civil rights had several short- and long-term effects. In his first major protest, the Bus Boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955-1956, the buses in that city were eventually desegregated. This was a direct consequence of his efforts, as well as a Supreme Court case that upheld a lower court ruling to desegregate the buses. In other major southern cities, transportation was desegregated. Over time, his protests led to the desegregation of public places in cities such as Birmingham, Alabama, and elsewhere. Over time, his work also led to pressure applied to the federal government to support voting and other civil rights for African-Americans, and, in 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed, and the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. When he was assassinated in 1968, King was working to promote the economic equality of African-Americans. He inspired the movement to promote African-American economic equality--a movement that continues today. 

The long-term effects of his action were that they put into motion a series of protests against the inequality of African-Americans and others. For example, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was a student group that formed to protest segregation. Their group was an outgrowth of the SCLC. Other groups, including the women's rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s, were inspired by Martin Luther King's tactics and commitment to advocating his cause through non-violent protests and speeches. Martin Luther King's brilliance and peaceful strategies inspired others to attempt to gain equality. 

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