Social Justice and Civil Equality In the pursuit of social justice and civil rights, Martin Luther King Jr. , Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael, sought to amend a flawed system. To accomplish this task, these men entered the armory and chose to wield nonviolence as their weapon. Their goal: to combat violence with nonviolence, to fight hate with love, and to spread equality through peace. In the end they succeeded. Violence breeds violence, hate breeds hate, it is an ineffective approach and an archaic mean to resolving societies issues. Malcolm X and Carmichael were both extreme individuals but that does not make them violent.
They attacked social justice and civil rights passionately and assertively, not violently. The methods used and arguments made by Martin Luther King Jr. in Letter from Birmingham Jail, Malcolm X in The Ballot or the Bullet, and Stokely Carmichael in Black Power, demonstrate the potency of nonviolence. These men address three separate issues in each of their works. King discusses social issues in regards to the nation as a whole in his letter. Malcolm X speaks to the political equality of black individuals in African American communities.
Carmichael discusses white supremacy and its oppression of African American citizens in their own community. Fighting with peace, protesting with nonviolence, is the most effective measure when pursuing social justice and civil rights. I will show how Martin Luther King Jr. , Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael used passive methods and nonviolent means in conquering the issues they had at hand. Martin Luther King Jr. was an advocate of nonviolence, a proponent of peace, and pursued social justices in the civil rights era directly and nonviolently.
In his Letter from Birmingham Jail and through his countless marches and speeches, he was able to show how nonviolence can be used to combat the social injustices taking place throughout the nation. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote the Letter from Birmingham Jail on April 16th, 1963. This correspondence demonstrates Kings adherence to nonviolence and his belief in its ability to overcome segregation. King argues that passively “waiting” and obedient “patience” can no longer be accepted in the headlong pursuit of social justice and civil rights. King calls for direct nonviolent action by the African American community.
He utilizes his whereabouts, his writing style, and his reason for writing the letter to provide his followers with examples of nonviolence. King was a brilliant individual and I believe the title of this letter was chosen for a reason. Titling this Letter from Birmingham Jail, King takes away any proactive connotations or aggressive messages that could be derived from a title. Nonviolent direct action is Kings aim. There is no call for harsh action after being arrested, no call for violent protests in his name. He is now just another man sitting in jail writing a letter to the masses.
King titles his letter from a place, not to a person or to community of people. His audience is undoubtedly the African American community and by informing them he is writing “from jail” he affirms his need and want for nonviolent direct action by demonstrating he will not “stand idly by” and “wait patiently” for things to change. He is in jail for his direct nonviolent action and he is trying to engrain this philosophy into the minds of the black community with this title. The setting of an act or event can be almost as important as the incident itself.
King understood this concept and used it to his advantage. Letter from Birmingham Jail aided King and his nonviolent approach to social injustices and civil rights. King utilizes his style of writing as an effective method of advocating nonviolence. He writes and speaks in a powerfully passive voice that is useful in attacking segregation directly and nonviolently. King states, “I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. ” The phrase “our legitimate and unavoidable impatience” can be construed to show King’s passive-aggressive, yet direct manner when dealing with nonviolence.
By stating the African American communities “impatience” as legitimate and unavoidable King pressures those reading to become immediately and directly concerned with issues of social justice and civil rights. King then states, “My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. ” Again there is a forcefulness with which the words are read. The phrase “determined legal and nonviolent pressure,” stands out. Grammatically, “determined,” “legal,” and “nonviolent” are adjectives that apply to “pressure”. All three of those words are synonymous with nonviolence.
I believe King wanted “determined” to give hope to his followers. He wants them to be “determined” in their nonviolent push for equality. “Legal” and “nonviolent” go hand in hand here. Any violent action is most assuredly illegal. By coupling violence with illegality, King is able to press upon his followers that, to remain within the laws of the United States, their quest for civil equality must be a nonviolent one. King uses these words to show how nonviolence is the “legal” or correct method, not violence, to use when approaching civil rights. “Pressure” isn’t force, pressuring someone does not ensure the deed will be done.
Pressure allows for other options but pushes the one being “pressured” into a corner. That is King wants. He wants to corner white America, smother them with nonviolent direct action so the African American communities may overcome the social injustices of the time. King uses his style of writing in a manner that conveys a calm, nonviolent attitude while remaining forceful and direct with social issues at hand. Every letter has its point, its main idea, its chief reason for taking the time to put down thoughts into sentences, and then taking more time to mail those thoughts somewhere.
King writes this letter as a response to “several white clergy who had called King’s actions ‘untimely’. ” Kings form of “utimely” action lies in nonviolent protests. In this situation the clergymen implore that the African American community “wait” and be “patient. ” King can no longer accept this; he can no longer be sidelined by the court system that has grinded to halt concerning civil rights. He must take direct action. He asserts that the issue here should fall with the “horrific historical and contemporary context that engendered them” rather than the nonviolent demonstrations that took place.
I believe this method of thought displays his nonviolent mentality. He wants to reason with these clergymen, he wants to see eye to eye with them, shake hands and agree that this segregation must end. King states, “It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative. ” Two phrases stand out, “demonstrations” and “no alternative. ” King could have called his demonstration a protest, but to often is the term protest associated with violence.
King wanted his direct action to display a peaceful, nonviolent demeanor. He also states that the city of Birmingham left him “no alternative. ” I believe no alternative to show Kings frustration with the white system in place in Birmingham. It also allows him to advocate his “direct action” method of approaching nonviolence. By not having any other means of displaying their disdain for the social system, King was able to act directly and nonviolently in the form of this demonstration. It is this failing social power structure that King aims to fix and amend nonviolently.
Throughout the Letter from Birmingham Jail, King was able to develop his nonviolent message using his current location, his writing style, and the topic that he was writing about. King attacked segregation in this letter with powerfully passive tones and depictive wording which aloud him to effectively advocate nonviolence. His proactive, nonviolent take on segregation discarded the “wait patiently” notion that had been instilled in the African American community. King was able to use effective arguments and methods to address the social “injustices” taking place in the United States in nonviolent manner.
Malcolm X delivered his Ballot or the Bullet speech in 1964 at a Methodist Church in Cleveland, Ohio. Though there are violent connotations throughout this work, I believe there is a more fundamental nonviolent message that Malcolm X was trying to convey. He believes that the civil rights movement needs to be “common struggle” for every African American. Using his title, writing style and topic of discussion I will show how even Malcolm X, America’s villain during the Civil Rights era, was an advocate of nonviolence in the pursuit of social justice and civil rights.
The Ballot or the Bullet is a provocative; some may say violent title, that allows for no grey area. I, however, believe this to show Malcolm X’s sense of urgency toward the civil rights situation at hand. Countless times in this address he calls to his fellow African Americans to inform themselves to the “ballot” or political atmosphere of their community. In place of violence, Malcolm X believes “that the black man should control the politics and the politicians in his own community”. He wants his fellow black citizens to better themselves and improve their communities using political knowledge, not aggression.
This is the message he is trying to convey with his title. The Ballot or the Bullet can be understood to mean, if you do not take pride in your communities political life, you may as well destroy it. He fears political ignorance by black communities. He will not watch each community, whether it be in Alabama or Mississippi, Louisiana or Georgia, be continuously hoodwinked by the white Governors and Senators that fool and dupe his fellow African Americans at every turn. Malcolm X implores his followers to take part in groups and politics as an alternative to violence and aggression when striving for social justice and civil rights.
Malcolm X’s uses his politically oriented style of oration and inspiring words to convey his nonviolent motives. Where King wanted to reach social equality in the entire nation, Malcolm X believed informing each black individual and improving African American communities was the road to civil equality and respect. He states “until we become politically mature we will always be mislead, lead astray, or deceived or maneuvered into supporting someone politically who doesn’t have the good of our community at heart. The phrases “politically mature” and “the good of our community” stand out in the quote. “Political maturity” can be defined as a well-rounded knowledge concerning the workings of your community. Malcolm X believes if African Americans achieved this goal, there would be no need for violence. Black communities would begin to gain a foothold in the economy and black individuals would begin to rise out of these places as representatives for their people. When he states “the good of our community” he instills a sense of “us,” a sense of “our” into African Americans.
In his eyes they are no longer a subverted group of peoples relegated to the bowels of society but equal to white Americans. His political phrasing and word usage emboldens his followers, empowers his listeners to become informed and useful in their community whether it be socially or politically which will lead to a nonviolent resolution to social and civil injustices. Malcolm X, however did display violent tendencies at points during his Ballot or the Bullet speech. He alludes to the revolutionary war as a time when an oppressed people used violence to obtain their goals.
He states “liberty or death was what brought about the freedom of whites in this country from the English. They didn’t care about the odds. ” Malcolm X is inferring that at some points violence, at times, is a necessary evil. When he states “they didn’t care about the odds” I believe he is accepting death as an option in the fight for social justice and civil rights as the leaders of the American Revolution did. Though violence did win out in the case of the American Revolution, thousands upon thousands of lives were lost only to produce the system Malcolm X is fighting presently in this speech.