Abigail Philip - LaGuardia ePortfolio

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Abigail Philip
Dr. J. Elizabeth Clark & Dr. Lorraine Cohen
Research Paper
Revealing a moment in depth
The Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s Philosophy
(North Babylon public library)
The civil rights movement was a historical time in The United States history and
more importantly in the lives of African Americans. This was the fight and struggle for
equality for people of color. When one thinks of the civil rights movement and its
struggles, many names come to mind but one that has always stood out is Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr. This individual was one of the greatest leaders in the 1960’s and left a
lasting impact on society. His ideologies, practice of non violence, his life in the church
and the impact of Mahatma Gandhi has greatly affected his philosophy and made him the
great leader he was. Dr. King informed the movement by teaching them his nonviolent
policy and to love those who persecute them.
Dr. King was an African American who was born in Atlanta, Georgia. He was
very religious, in part, because his father, great grandfather, his brother and uncle were all
preachers. Mr. King states that he had no other choice but to be religious, (Carson 1). He
was brought up in a congenial household and this was one of the factors that determined
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his religious attitudes. Dr. King was very well educated and received his doctorate in
Systematic Theology from Boston University on the 5th of June 1955, (Carson 30). He
also received honorary degrees from universities such as Howard, Lincoln, Yale and
many others, (King center).
Dr. King, as great as he was, did not arrive at his non violence policy by himself;
he was influenced by a number of persons. The first persons who influenced him were his
parents and in particular his father. Dr. King was brought up in a home that was
congenial, (Carson 2). Dr. King says “these factors were highly significant in determining
my religious attitudes,” (Carson 2). From an early age he was made aware of segregation
and discrimination by his mother, she taught him and his siblings that “he should feel a
sense of “sombodiness” and that he would have to go out and face a system that would
stare him in the face everyday, (Carson 3). As we can see from history, that’s exactly
what Dr. King did, he faced the system and made a huge effort to change it and was
successful. By this, Dr. King influenced the movement with his policy of non violence.
He also taught them to rise above their persecutors and trust that god will deliver them.
He was a source of strength for the movement and a huge asset. (My knowledge)
His father shared his childhood experiences with him and was very interested in
civil rights. He was president of the NAACP in Atlanta and stood out in social reform,
(Carson 5). His father’s activities and beliefs also helped to mold Dr. King’s mentality. I
say this because it was in the church, that his father showed Dr. King that he could be a
great influence in the community. His father was a very spiritual person and had a
dynamic personality. His father taught Dr. King that he was deeply committed to moral
and ethical principles, (Carson 4-5). This I believe connected to non violence because of
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the way he was brought up and the example his father set for him to follow. Dr. King
used what he was taught and it was reflected in the way he lived his life.
The role of the church was also significant in Dr. King’s life; it influenced his life
with its teachings. The bible preaches love among brothers and sisters and for those who
may persecute you. Things such as these biblical teachings influenced his ideas. He
joined the church at the age of five years. This was a very important structure in his life
and was a stepping stone for him to build on his confidence and beliefs to become a part
of the movement. The church also influenced his actions, with its religious teachings and
became apart of his ideology. I say this because it was reflected in the way he carried
himself and his very peaceful nature. It was on the churches platform Dr. King gave some
of his most memorable speeches and testimonies. The church was a pillar that he also
used to reach and to motivate the black community. This was very important in the larger
movement because this was a way as I said to spread the word about the movement and
to get others involved. This also motivated others to become active and to heed his many
messages about non violence and everyone living together including blacks and whites
Dr. King has always said according to his autobiography (Carson 6). that the
church was always a second home for him and the lessons he learned were in the
fundamentalist line. Dr. King in his earlier years has had resentment towards the system
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of segregation and has always seen it as a grave injustice, (Carson 7). This was seen in
the book The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. as Carson quotes an experience
from Dr. King’s childhood:
We sat down in the first empty seats at the front of the store. A young white clerk
came up and murmured politely: “I’ll be happy to wait on you if you’ll just move to
those seats in the rear.” Dad immediately retorted, “There’s nothing wrong with
these seats. We’re quite comfortable here.” “Sorry,” said the clerk, “but you’ll have
to move.” (8)
In this quote it demonstrates that in his life Dr. King knew from an early age what
it was like to be discriminated against. The example shows the issue of racism and
inequality in society. It was wrong for the clerk to ask them to move to seats in the back
because of the color of their skins. Didn’t black persons spend the same money that the
whites did? Dr. King in this experience saw that although his father was a well known
respectable parson, the color of his skin prevented him from being treated equally as
whites. The clerk was not responding to anything she just didn’t want two black persons
seated in the front seats in the store. This was how it was at the time. Dr. King at this time
was a young boy but was aware of how society worked because his mother had educated
him as to how things were. He knew that it was because he was black was the only reason
for them being asked to switch seats. He also heard his father say “I don’t care how long I
have to live with this system, I will never accept it,” (Carson 8). This may have also
inspired Dr. King to try and break the social barriers to fight for equality and rights of
African Americans. This experience and others including when a police officer once
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stopped his father when he accidentally drove past a stop sign and addressed him as
“boy”. This offended Dr. Kings father as it would have offended any grown man.
Although this was the norm many blacks saw this as being inferior to a white person. Can
you imagine being a grown man, and being spoken to as if you were a child, in the
presence of your own child? This I believe would have angered many people and cause
them to loose their temper but King Sr. handled the situation with calm and grace. Dr.
King seeing this must have been greatly impacted and affected by his father’s resolve to
the situation. Another way that Dr. King was influenced was by educating himself and
being educated by others. Schools played a huge part in his development.
An institution that influenced his philosophy was the Crozer Theological Seminary
in Chester, Pennsylvania. There, he went on a quest to for a method and means to
eliminate social evil. He studied extensively social and ethical theories of vast
philosophers such as Plato, Mill, Locke and many others. (King Center) He also studied
and tried to understand the theory of Karl Marx and the appeal of communism for many
people. There was also an interest in John Lennon and some of their theories remained
with him (Carson 20). There were some of their interpretations, which of course, Dr.
King did not agree with such as their materialistic interpretation of history; they had no
place for god and Dr. King rejected this theory. Dr. King states “my reading of Marx also
convinced me that truth is found neither in Marxism nor in Traditional capitalism. Each
represents a partial truth,” (Carson 22). The role they played in the larger movement was
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their teachings and philosophies were passed on by Dr. King in his many speeches. And
this also helped the movement and it’s foundation to be strong. Their philosophies lived
on through Dr. King.
One of the most influential persons in Dr. King’s life who deeply affected his
ideologies and beliefs was the legendary, Mahatma Gandhi. This man was an inspiration
to many and influenced many religious thinkers even before Dr. King, (Epic Journey).
Dr. King first heard of Gandhi when he traveled to Philadelphia to hear a sermon by Dr.
Mordecai Johnson, the President of Howard University. His lecture as King described it
“was so profound and electrifying that I left the meeting and bought half dozen books on
Gandhi’s life and works,” (Carson 23).
Dr. King was evidently moved by the lecture and the information and facts that
were given about Gandhi and his teachings. He especially wanted to learn about
Satyagraha or “soul force” and its application through direct nonviolent action, (Before
King). We see this later played in King’s leadership in the movement by no matter how
much he or his people were being persecuted, he would continue to preach and advocate
non violence. He had, through protests and other events showed his commitment to his
beliefs of non violence.
He learned that “nonviolence is not passive resistance but is rather an active
force” and that it must be practiced in absolute love and without hate,” (Before King).
This I believe was the most important key that appealed to Dr. King so much that he
adopted this ideology. When one listens to Dr. King they realize through his sermons and
teachings that they are based on the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi.
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I have seen too much hatred to want hate myself, myself and I’ve seen hate on the
faces of too many sheriffs, too many white Citizens and Councilors, and too many
Klansmen of the south want to hate, myself and every time I see it, I say to myself,
hate is too great a burden to bear, (Wisdom, King 165).
His philosophy was strengthened with that of Gandhi’s. Dr. King says himself that it was
Gandhi who was the potent instrument for social change and collective transformation
and that Gandhi’s emphasis on love and nonviolence was the method of social reform he
was seeking,” (King Center). Dr. King chose nonviolence, following in the steps of
Christ and Gandhi before him. “Is that it seeks to break the chain reaction of violence,
(Wisdom 165). It was the satisfaction he had had failed to fully find and gain from other
philosophers he found in the great and humble Mahatma Gandhi.
I must warn you against the impression that mine is the final word on nonviolence.
All I claim is that every experiment of mine has deepened my faith in non violence
as the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. I can combine the greatest love
with the greatest opposition to wrong, (Gandhi Today).
It was the satisfaction he had failed to fully find and gain from other philosophers he
found in the great and humble Mahatma Gandhi. I say this because although he studied
other philosophers, he did not agree totally with what their ideologies were but there was
something about Gandhi’s ideology that Dr. King agreed with. And must have struck
home with him with the teachings of his father and what he learned in the church.
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Dr. King, as Carson quoted was “particularly move by Gandhi’s Salt March to the
Sea and his numerous fasts,” (Carson 23). This march was an epic journey that ended the
symbolic gesture which inspired a nation to stand up and defy Britain’s colonial ruler
ship of India. (Epic Journey) This journey as we see can be compared to the Montgomery
Bus Boycott and the method that was used to get attention, protest peacefully, and then
seek change from the oppressor. This was a plus for the movement because they were
“seen as the bigger person” I say this because Dr. King teaching and following Gandhi’s
teachings in turn taught the black community not to fight back physically, despite how
badly they were treated.
“Gandhi felt that peacefully breaking the laws on making salt would draw world
attention to social oppression and the “heartless exploitation of India by colonial rule.” If
one studies the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one would see that it compares and is similar
to the Salt March to the Sea. In the Bus Boycott, African Americans were trying to gain
equality and the right to sit anywhere on a bus that they pleased, while the Salt March
was about protesting British salt tax, (Epic Journey). These were both similar because
they were demonstrating peacefully against their oppressors. This strategy was effective,
useful and important because a with a large group of persons boycotting the bus and salt
the product or the company will suffer tremendously especially in the case of the
Montgomery Bus Boycott where a lot of the bus riders were black.
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When Rosa Parks refused to give her seat up on the bus after a long day at work and
was then arrested, we see this as the beginning of a huge movement, a significant act of
rebellion against racism and segregation. “Dr. King played a crucial role in the boycott
and transformed a local bus boycott into a social justice movement of international
significance.” (To Walk) Although he did not initiate the movement, he played a key role
with its success. Dr. King was inevitably asked Mrs. Parks to “participate in the local
branch of the NAACP” soon after he begun preaching at the Dexter Avenue Baptist
Dr. King was twenty- six years old when he was asked to help and he had already gained
a reputation as a speaker and civil rights activist, (To Walk).
Dr. King established a Social and Political Action Committee to keep
the congregation politically informed and involved. This in my opinion was an excellent
idea. He used his skills and philosophy to educate the black community. He got them
involved in taking a stance together to fight against the social inequalities and segregation
in the society. He once quoted “Any individual who submitted willingly to injustice did
not really deserve more justice,” (To Walk). This is saying that if a person is happy or has
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submitted himself to the injustice in society, which was segregation and discrimination
that they really had no right to complain if they weren’t willing to do something about it.
This idea was inspired by Gandhi. They would then have deserved the treatment they
were receiving. I think this was an excellent statement and persons should live by it, if
there is something wrong then one should join an organization or seek to make their
voices be heard.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott did not involve any violence. Dr. King and others
used Gandhi’s philosophy and example with the Salt March to demonstrate and protest
against the unfair treatment blacks were receiving. In those times every thing was
separated. Because of the ideology and teachings of Gandhi, they African Americans
followed in the footsteps of Gandhi. As I said before one of these prime examples was
the Montgomery Bus Boycott. They all banded together to demonstrate peacefully and to
try and improve upon their lives and the way they were treated. This related to other
philosophers King studied, for example Marx. His interpretation was based mostly on
materialistic interpretations of history and had o place for God, (Carson 30). Dr. King did
not agree with this because he was very religious and believed in god. Along with other
philosophers such as Lenin, Dr. King strongly disagreed with communism’s ethical
relativism, (Carson 30).
Blacks had to use separate facilities that were not as nice as those the whites used.
There were separate bathrooms, stores, water fountains, blacks had to sit at the back of
the bus and when seats were few, they would have to give their seats up to white persons
or face arrest charges. This demonstration, with the help and motivation of King, was
successful and broke barriers. As this quote states “The ensuing struggle eventually led to
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the United States Supreme Court decision on November 13th 1956. It declared illegal the
Alabama and Montgomery laws that required segregated buses.” (Montgomery-busboycott) This boycott was successful because the African American community joined
together to help change their lives and gain equality rights. Instead of riding buses, they
organized systems of carpools. Dr. King was arrested and this move brought a huge wave
of protest. This was one of the civil rights movement’s first victories and gave African
Americans hope that things were changing slowly and they just had to be patient.
In conclusion, the civil rights movement will always be apart of African Americans
history and American history as well. It has changed the lives of many through dedication
and the bravery of our fore fathers and sisters. A person who will always be remembered
for his contribution is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was an inspiration to many, and his
ideologies, practice of non violence, his life in the church and the impact of Mahatma
Gandhi, greatly affected his philosophy that made him a great leader. Gandhi’s teachings
and ideologies of “absolute love without hate” stuck with him until sadly he was
assassinated. He was strength to the movement and is greatly missed. He proved that to
achieve success one does not have to use force or violence to gain success or positive
results. He lived his life according to the life and teaching of the church and was an
important asset to the civil rights movement.
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The significance of my topic to the understanding the role of social movements is
that no one person is a movement, without the help and support of others who are
affected by the same oppression, there will not be any change. Also that when groups and
individuals band together, their voices will be heard and change will come!
(Brittany, Google)
As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi, my skepticism concerning the
power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time that the
Christian doctrine of love, operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence, is
one of the most potent weapons available to an oppressed people in their struggle for
freedom, (Wisdom King)
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Ayres, Alex, ed. The Wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr. An A-to Z Guide to the Ideas
and Ideals of the Great Civil Leader. New York: Library of Congress, 1993.
“Before King” Winston Quarterly, Autumn2005, Vol.29 Issue 4, p 96-97, 2p, 1bw
Carson, Clayborne, ed.
Warner Books, 2002.
The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. New York:
“Gandhi’s epic journey shook foundations of an empire” Capital Press of Australia.
25/7/05 http://web.lexis-nexis.com
Levine, Michael L. Social Issues in American History Series, African Americans and
Civil Rights From 1619 to the Present. Arizona: Oryx Press, 1996.
“Montgomery Bus Boycott” http://montgomery-bus-boycott.foosquare.com
“The King Center” http://www.thekingcenter.org
“To walk in Dignity: The Montgomery Bus Boycott”
http://web14.epnet.com.rpa.laguardia.edu OAH Magazine of History. January 2005
Shepard, Mark. Gandhi Today The story of Mahatma Gandhi’s Successors. Maryland:
Seven Locks Press, 1987.
http://www.suffolk.lib.ny.us/libraries/nbab/m... North Babylon Public Library, Martin
Luther King Jr.
http://www.freeindia.org/freedomfighters/image Mahatma Gandhi
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Google, Brittany75446.tripod.com
www.exedusnews.com/photos/martinlutherkingjr.jpg Exodus News