To the Editor:
When you think of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, what images are evoked in your mind?
For many, it is that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., walking arm-in-arm with fellow freedom fighters, singing songs of hope and peace while the nation watched in awe as their nonviolent protests brought about some of the greatest reforms our country has ever seen.
These images of Dr. King’s nonviolent methods are what some people have cited in recent days to highlight how the wave of protests our country is seeing now is unworthy of his message.
However, that image of the Civil Rights movement may not be entirely accurate. Dr. King fought his entire life for civil rights reform. From 1955 onward, he wrote essays on civil disobedience, and organized sit-ins, marches, and speeches all centered around nonviolence.
Then Dr. King was shot dead on April 4, 1968. What happened in the following days changed the landscape of our country forever. Riots descended upon almost every major city across the US. Destructive riots, born of fire and rage.
This and more pressured President Lyndon B. Johnson and U.S. lawmakers to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1968 on April 11, a mere 7 days after Dr. King was killed in Memphis.
When you speak to the Civil Rights movement’s ability to bring forth change from peace, know that it was not just peace. It was riots. An oft-circulated quote in these trying times is that of Dr. King himself saying, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
Now, 52 years since his passing, it is clear people still do not feel heard. While violence should never be condoned, our attention should be devoted to understanding the rage. Instead of providing criticism, qualifications, and historically inaccurate reasons to cast doubt.
I think it is time we all listen.