Over the period between 1865 to 1968 there were many people whom advanced African American civil rights including Martin Luther King. The civil rights movement between the 1950s to late 1960s, is considered the Second Reconstruction, referencing the Reconstruction which had been imposed on the South during the Civil War. By challenging the significance of Martin Luther King, one can be retroactive and gain deeper knowledge in the many African American activists prior to King and recognise their contribution in the fight for civil rights. A prime example of this is W.E.B DuBois, who organised a variety of movements including the Niagara Movement of 1905 to 1907, the National Association of the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) in 1909, and wrote a monthly publication called ‘The Horizon’. He is considered to many the ‘father of pan-africanism’. Looking even further back, one can gain a deeper understanding of the Civil Rights movement from an earlier period. Social reformer, abolitionist and orator, Frederick Douglass is to this day, considered ‘the most famous abolitionist to work for the emancipation’. On the other hand one has to understand the influence of others who were not activists. For example, Abraham Lincoln, whose influence lived on for the entire scope of this period. Overall, each played a part in advancing American Civil Rights, however, where Martin Luther King symbolised the end of the Civil Rights movement, W.E.B DuBois became the face of the people and Frederick Douglass represented the overcoming of their struggles through an even darker period of American history.
Through his non-violent ideology, King shaped the methods of protest from 1955 onwards. As president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, his first major success where non-violent protest proved beneficial was the Montgomery Bus Boycott from December 1955 to December 1956. Prior to the boycott, during 1955, 75% of revenue going to the bus companies in Montgomery Alabama came from African Americans, yet the seats were segregated with white people getting the best seats. In anger Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat causing the police to be called. This led to a full scale boycott as the local community worked together to gain justice for Parks, they were led by King. Finally the supreme court applied the 1954 Brown ruling to busses, meaning that they would be desegregated. Socially, this was a major victory for the local black community. This was also a major political success for King, who was developed a larger political standing. This was emphasised through the contrasting newspaper articles from that era. December 6th 1955, Montgomery Advertiser published an article, saying how the council would not compromise. Furthermore, the Attorney believed that it was ‘impossible to accept the proposed seating arrangement’. Just over a year later, an article from the New York Times stated that ‘the Negroes and the whites for the first time sat where they both chose to sit’. Both newspapers can be seen as reliable sources as they both give factual and gave balanced accounts even though they were both partially left wing. Partly owing to King’s brilliant oratory skills his message of peaceful integration was widely appealing to both his black and white supporters. While socially a large following was important to spread his message, King needed a larger political standing to pass the laws he wanted. Due to his peaceful manner, he gained indispensable support from politicians. This strengthened Martin Luther King’s position as most significant individual because he could go on to achieve many other legislations and continue an era of non-violent resistance. A prime example of this was the March on Washington, August 23rd 1963. An estimated 250000 people participated in the march, a third of whom were white. Here he delivered his ‘I have a dream’ speech, where he spoke for legal racial equality. This was another major achievement, as in 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed, which banned segregation in public areas. From a legal perspective, Martin Luther King was of vital importance, however, socially his reforms had little impact. In north America, African Americans did not associate with his Christian ethos, which had a major impact in the south. Furthermore, the laws he passed had little impact on the social climate. After the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many African Americans in the south were blackmailed and threatened into not voting and many schools remained all black and all white after they were desegregated. Therefore, while having a peaceful position would have had a major effect prior to Martin Luther King, by the 1950s, King’s aura was too amenable and unconvincing. This meant that people started to turn to more violent and extremist methods, such as Martin Luther King’s main opposition; Malcolm X.