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On Violence and Nonviolence: The Civil Rights Movement

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Violent methods of protest were increasingly embraced by African Americans in the Civil Rights movement during the 1950s to 1960s because of frustration caused by the time consuming and ineffectiveness of peaceful non-violence. After the initial hype of non-violence during the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycotts, non-violence eventually lost its influence as it was not yielding the results the African-Americans had hoped for. In addition to this, non-violence was met with police brutality and violence, making it dangerous to be involved in Civil Rights Movements and discouraging the participation in non-violence. Consequently, violent methods were seized by African Americans as they attracted widespread attention and were more effective in achieving short term goals, especially as violence was advocated strongly by figure heads such as Malcolm X and the Black Panthers.

Firstly, the methods of non-violence were time consuming and ineffective which frustrated the African American supporters of the CRM, causing them to resort to violence. It was a fault of Civil Disobedience that it required time, which meant that less patient and younger members of the movement were dissatisfied with its pace. The Brown Vs. Education case took 4 years, an example of a slow process that bred frustration. This was even truer in the Southern States, where non-violence was ignored until it became impossible, in which only small minor charges were passed. With the sluggish outcomes of non-violence, African Americans increasingly sought for answers elsewhere, in the form of violence.

Non violence caused increased frustration to African Americans which led them to adopt more violent methods. African Americans were terrorised by white rioters, especially the KKK, which made it dangerous for them and others to become involved in the Movement, This danger was exemplified in Mississippi in 1964 when two Civil Rights workers were murdered while investigating the burning of an African American Church. As a result of the killings, eighteen white men were accused of murder but only eleven were acquitted. Incidents such as this one reinforced the view that non-violence was ineffective and the law did not protect and uphold the rights of its citizens.

Furthermore, peaceful protests and resistance were met with police brutality, causing aggravation amongst the black community. Such police brutality was recorded on Bloody Sunday in 1965, where police were reported to attack a black crowd with clubs and tear gas. As a result of the brutality, African Americans were less willing to protest peacefully and more willing to take the law ‘into their own hands’. Hence African Americans became less inclined to support non-violent methods as they were met with unprovoked violence.

Non-violence had lost its sting by the 1960s as advocators of violence increasingly gained support because their methods attracted widespread attention and were more effective in the short term. In 1960’s, many activists denoted their energies to anti war protests against US involvement in Vietnam. This led to less numbers in the CRM which obviously slowed the process and King’s campaign for Civil Rights became less influential. With this slowing of the movement, many young and radical supporters began to question the effectiveness of King’s non-violence. As non-violence was becoming seemingly ineffective, African Americans looked elsewhere for Justice. And this movement to violence brought about results and attention in the short run. In 1964, a bill was signed outlawing racial discrimination in employment, public facilities, schools and government funding. By 1967 African Americans had voting and marriage rights too. These results can be attributed to the frustration of African Americans surfacing on a more visible and public level. Violence gained support as results came from rioting in the mid 1960’s.

The change from non-violence to violence from the 1950s to 1960s was largely due to African-Americans becoming increasingly frustrated with the time-consuming and ineffectiveness of non-violent protests. In addition, it became dangerous and risky as non-violence was met by police brutality and other forms of violence. Non-violence was not achieving the results which the African-Americans had sought after and with strong advocates of Civil Rights through violence such as Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, violent methods were subsequently adopted because they were more effective in the short term and attracted the attention of the world.

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