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10-Aug-2022
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                                    AMERICA : Who will take up the mantle?

     Barack Obama, who will be completing his second term as President of United States of America soon, symbolizes many an achievement for African Americans in US history. White majority having attained the large-heartedness to elect an African American as their President signaled a marked deviation from the discriminative mindset that they held against colored people, which even caused a civil war. This war that severely damaged the country, ended up in abolishment of slavery by the “Emancipation Proclamation” issued by then President, Abraham Lincoln. Media persons asking Obama, why his wife, Michelle could not be a presidential candidate, as American people are now craving for a woman president, is a development that augurs well for American democracy. It is evidence for a gradual formation of a public clime with democratic moorings.

When one discusses about Obamas, another towering personality, who in history paved the path for them to be in limelight, through his gumption and determination, comes to light. The man in contention is Martin Luther King Junior, who led the civil rights movements from mid 1950s until 1968, when he was assassinated. He was a Baptist Minister and his struggles caused the dissolution of many discriminatory practices existed in US. At the time of Martin Luther King Junior’s entry into public life, many maladies like disenfranchisement, segregation and various forms of racial oppression like violence prompted by race marred the lives of African Americans of southern states, about 100 years post the Emancipation Proclamation. They were barred from class rooms, bathrooms, theatres, train cars, juries and legislatures by the now notorious “Jim Crow” laws, which were in vogue at regional and state levels. Dissatisfaction had started simmering for a long time and African American affliction caught national and international attention when, in 1954, the US Supreme Court annulled the “separate but equal” doctrine, which had formed the base of discriminations endorsed by the state.

The decade and a half that followed was turbulent with protest movements of non-violent nature, which brought in several changes. Martin Luther King Junior came to the fore as the   leader, during this time, markedly through civil disobedience movements, which were

designed on lines of the protest models and ideals practiced by Mahatma Gandhi, in Indian Independence struggle.

The first major protest occurring under the leadership of Martin Luther King Junior was the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted for 381 days in the period of 1955-’56. The cause was the conviction of Rosa Parks, a middle aged lady, who was arrested, on December 1st of 1955, for violating Montgomery city code, when she disobeyed the instruction of the driver to leave the seats of ‘colored’ section for white men, who were standing, in a bus. Martin Luther’s prowess at rhetoric injected new energy into the civil rights movement. After enduring hardships of harassment, violence and intimidation Montgomery’s African-American community was successful in making city authorities lift the law which accounted for segregated public transportation.

With this victory, African American civil rights leaders got the confidence to form a national organization, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which would aid in holding non-violent protests for the cause of civil rights reform.    

Another major event occurring after that was the protest began in Greensboro, North Carolina, in February 1960, by a group of African American students, which came to known as the “sit-in” movement. These protests, too, were successful in doing away with segregation at lunch counters of twenty seven southern cities. 

After organising a demonstration in Downtown Birmingham, Albama, in 1963 and getting jailed, Martin Luther held a historic march to Washington, on August 28th. He made his famous “I have a dream” speech, here. 

These protests were largely successful in making authorities bring in the enactments of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Civil Rights Act of 1968.  

Martin Luther King Junior received the Nobel Peace Prize for 1964.

Although America has become much more progressive from the situation of treating a section of its own people as slaves, still, many discriminatory practices of racial nature including hate crimes, racial stratification in employment and housing; and even police high handedness are reported to exist against ‘colored’ sections. Who will take charge of the march towards a nation that will not judge people by “color of their skin but content of their character?” 

Apart from all that, even though American society is pillared on democratic principles, its approach to life is basically violent. The ramifications of this attitude is found in the ongoing debate about the “right“ of US citizens to keep guns and also the way, in which they aggressively  intervenes in other countries, formally and informally, for establishing dominance. It sometimes becomes as explicit that some observers critically call them – “world police”. Only great personalities of the moral stature of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi would be able to impart the moral cleansing that American society badly needs.