Civil rights movement depended on strong leader

Greg Burleson and Greg Burleson

Previously, we have seen the limitations oratory has in leadership. While a charismatic figure can sway popular opinion, when push comes to shove this type of leader lacks fortitude.

In comparison, a person who leads through passion will always capture the minds and hearts of the average person. There is a certain undeniable attraction to passion which is hardwired in our heads.

When these leaders speak, it is not their words which sway us but instead their genuine nature. Leading through example, these leaders often find themselves in harm’s way. In moments of tragedy, these leaders can be stricken down as any mortal can; however, their passion will always remain.

In the middle of the 19th century, the United States fought a war of brothers for many reasons, significantly among them being slavery and civil rights. One hundred years later, the bloodshed had failed to cease.

Inequality and oppression were dominant features of the social climate; we were in need of a leader. Answering the call was an African-American, Baptist minister named Martin Luther King Jr.

King first rose to public attention through organizing the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott which began around the events surrounding Rosa Park’s arrest. However, the success of the boycott was not typical in relation to other similar boycotts which had been established around the nation.

Much of the success for the boycott can be accredited to the location. This was the site of Park’s arrest, however, seeing what King would later accomplish makes it adamantly clear his involvement was essential.

In similar fashion, King would later organize several non-violent protests, including the famous non-violent protest in Birmingham, Alabama, which was seen on television screens around the country. But King is best known for his role in the 1963 March on Washington.

At this rally, symbolically held in front of the Lincoln Memorial, King delivered his “I have a dream” speech in front of between 200,000 and 300,000 activists. This march and speech reign as two of the most influential events in the African-American Civil Rights Movement and require a closer inspection.

We have all heard the words of King’s speech. These words flowed from his mouth as if they were lyrics in King’s poetic ballad of equality. The pure and overwhelming passion he exhibits is unrivaled in any other source I can recall. Hearing those words, whether it be for the first time or the twentieth, we are moved to facilitate equality in our brotherhood of man.

Also, unlike many rhetoricians, King is successful because we can grasp his passion through an assault on the senses. We not only hear the words he speaks, but we also see his passion in his facial expressions and feel it through his movements. With this tremendous example, there is little question as to how King was able to inspire so many in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the following non-violent protests.

King’s story also has a tragic twist. Several years after his “I have a dream” speech, King was shot and killed by an assassin. As tragic as this event was, King’s passion lived on in his memory, quickly making him a martyr for his movement.

In comparing King with other political figures who have met similar ends, he favors well. While President John F. Kennedy was a charismatic leader of civil rights, he is rarely considered a martyr.

It was King’s close association with his cause which led the assassin and was ultimately King’s passion which remained immortal. In becoming maybe the greatest martyr for civil rights since Jesus Christ, King shaped the American social climate as much in death as he did in life.

Martin Luther King Jr’s pure and unrelenting passion made him an impossible person to ignore. When he spoke, others listened and followed making him a true leader of men.

King’s example of unrestrained passion, however, is not the only attribute he had, also leading by unquestioned selflessness.

More information on this and related topics can be found at TheCaveJournal.wordpress.com.

Respond to Greg at

[email protected]