Did Dr. King's nonviolent civil disobedience undermine the culture of "Jim Crow" and segregation? What outside elements contributed to the civil rights movement's success?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It was the moral appeal that Dr. King used to help broaden the struggle to end institutional discrimination in the South.  Dr. King understood that the battle between his forces and those in the position of power in the South could not be fought on the traditional battlefield.  Rather, Dr. King had to take a page out of Gandhi's playbook and Thoreau's thinking and make a political and social struggle a moral one.  In arguing that segregation is not merely illegal, but morally unacceptable, Dr. King was able to broaden the struggle and the fight to include Northerners and individuals who were White.  In embracing this moral stature, the non- violent and civil disobedient stand taken helped to enhance King's moral stature, making his battle more acceptable and more universal.  This created such a moral chasm between he and those who practiced segregation that the weight of the outside world ended up playing a vital role in stopping Southern institutional segregation.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Clearly, the civil rights movement won their battle to end segregation.  However, I would not say that the movement really undermined the culture of Jim Crow.

Instead, I would say that the movement got enough support outside the South to push through laws that ended segregation even though the South still wanted it.

There were lots of outside elements that contributed.  The two main ones I would mention are

  • Movement of blacks to the North in WWII.  There, they could vote and they became an important voting bloc in some parts of the North.
  • Cold War -- made the US want to look good in the eyes of the world and that meant that high government officials thought it was in our best interests to end segregation so that black and brown people around the world would like us.
Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Evaluate the effectiveness of Dr. Martin Luther King's philosophy of nonviolent civil disobedience in undermining the culture of "Jim Crow" and segregation in the South?

In short term, Dr. King’s strategy did very little to undermine the culture of Jim Crow and segregation in the South.  However, it did a great deal to undermine that culture in the long term.

In the short term, nonviolent civil disobedience did not change the minds of people in the South to any great degree.  That is why the nonviolent protests of King and his followers were met with such extreme violence in many places.  If King’s tactics had worked to change the culture of the South, segregationists such as George Wallace would not have been as successful as they were.  After all, Wallace was able to win five Southern states running on a third party ticket in the year that King was assassinated.

However, King’s strategy did change things in the long term, largely because the strategy worked in the short term on Northern whites.  Whites in the North supported King to a great enough extent that laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were able to pass.  With the passage of such laws, the country changed dramatically.  This led to the erosion of the Jim Crow culture in the South over the long term.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on