Martin Luther King is probably the most famous person associated with the civil rights movement. King was active from the start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 to 1956 until his murder in April 1968. To many Martin Luther King epitomised what the civil rights campaign was all about and he brought massive international cover to the movement.
The significance of Martin Luther King to the Civil Rights Movement
To many people, both within and outside the United States, Martin Luther King personified the civil rights movement. Today, his memory and influence is celebrated in the USA by a national holiday on the day of his birth.
King was fortunate in facing opponents who, themselves, reflected the intolerance of which he spoke. For example, Eugene 'Bull' Connor, the police chief of Birmingham, Alabama, offered the most striking example of white intolerance, in the full glare of national publicity at the civil rights demonstrations of 1963. When he used dogs and water cannons to stop peaceful protesters who he then arrested, including children and pregnant women.
His political influence can be shown in how his funeral in Atlanta, on 9 April 1968, was attended by political leaders from all around the world and across America. Nevertheless, it was US election year and so some of it may have been for political support and publicity.
Ella Baker, a former staff member of the SCLC and a founder of SNCC claimed that 'the movement made Martin rather than Martin making the movement'. It is clear that the civil rights movement, in its broadest sense, was already in existence by the time King became actively involved.
In 1977, he received the posthumous award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The citation stated: 'Martin Luther King Jr was the conscience of his generation. A Southern, a black man, he gazed upon the great wall of segregation and saw that the power of love could bring it down.'
There are also many key events which King was not involved with. Example are the Brown case, the Little Rock incident and James Meredith's application to university. In fact, on the whole issue of desegregation in education, Martin Luther King had played a marginal role.
King had a large impact on how the civil rights movement was perceived by other Americans and by people around the world. His ability to speak eloquently and thoughtfully gave him a high profile in the age of television. His 'I have a Dream' speech in August 1963 is widely regarded as one of the finest speeches in US history.
There is also the argument…