History and Historiography

Hammer of Civil Rights

By Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Exactly one hundred years after Abraham Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation for them, Negroes wrote their own document of freedom in their own way.”

Exactly one hundred years after Abraham Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation for them, Negroes wrote their own document of freedom in their own way. In 1963, the civil rights movement coalesced around a technique for social change, nonviolent direct action. It elevated jobs and other economic issues to the summit, where earlier it had placed discrimination and suffrage. It thereby forged episodic social protest into the hammer of social revolution.

Within a few months, more than 1,000 American cities and towns were shaken by street demonstrations, and more than 20,000 nonviolent resistors went to jail. Nothing in the Negro’s history, save the era of Reconstruction, equals in intensity, breadth and power this matchless upheaval. For weeks it held spellbound, not only this country, but the entire world. What had moved the nation’s foundations was a genuinely new force in American life. Negro power had matured and was dynamically asserting itself.

The impact of this new strength, expressed on a new level, means among other thing that the civil rights issue can never again be thrust into the background. There will not be “One hundred years of litigation,” that cynical threat of the segregationists. Nor will there be easy compromises which divert and stagnate the movement. The problem will now be faced and solved or it will without pause torment and agonize the political and social life of the nation.

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