The Civil Rights Movement And The Power of the Pen
Politics and Activism

The Civil Rights Movement And The Power of the Pen

Civil Rights Movement leaders nurtured revolutionary change through writing.

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The Power of the Pen by Anna Daly

Stokley Carmichael, a Trinidadian-American civil rights activist originated the black nationalism slogan "black power." His famous essay, "Black Power," is a legacy that serves as a representation of the principles behind the Civil Rights Movement. Carmichael highlights the contradictions he believes are embedded in the American “democratic” system. He introduces the institutions in America as ones built on racism.

“The white supremacist attitude,” he says, “is running rampant through society today.” His argument rests on the notion that “a man is born free” and moves on to describe the American democratic system as one that infringes on the rights of its own people. Carmichael’s unapologetic attitude also highlights his stances. “I am black. I know that. I also know that while I am black I am a human being… white people don’t know that.” In the end, Carmichael introduces an action plan: “In order to escape that oppression we must wield the group power we have, not the individual power that this country sets as the criterion under which a man may come into it.”

Martin Luther King Jr.’s "Letter From Birmingham Jail" has a much more formal tone. He uses sound evidence and logical appeal to build his argument as though he is debating with the American “democracy” itself - his “fellow clergymen”. Similar to Carmichael, he has strong statements to make: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

MLK Jr. dedicates a considerable part of his letter to interpreting the idea of moral law and societal law. Thus, while making strong statements in his writing, MLK focuses on rational argumentation while Carmichael is very blunt in attacking the ideas of white supremacy and its foundation in the American system.

MLK Jr. and Carmichael’s writing are exemplifications of the Civil Rights Movement. There were many “styles” of tackling the issue at the time. Some leaders denounced breaking the law and encouraged nonviolent protest while others demanded direct action. Both Carmichael and MLK Jr. use strong arguments in expressing the fundamental problem with the idea of democracy that the United States represents.

In the words of Carmichael, ‘I look at Dr. King on television every single day, and I say to myself: "Now there is a man who’s desperately needed in this country. There is a man full of love. There is a man full of mercy. There is a man full of compassion." But every time I see Lyndon on television, I say, "Martin, baby, you got a long way to go.”'

With the Civil Rights Movement, we all have a long way to go. The principles behind the movement are ones that apply today more than any other time -- and the responsibility we have to spread these values is a heavy one. The Civil Rights Movement is about rising up against falsehood to stand for the truth. The least -- and most -- you can do to take that stance, is write. Don't underestimate the power of the pen.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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