Psychology Paper on Repackaging Martin Luther King’s Disruptive Actions

Martin Luther King’s name is synonymous with the Civil Rights Movement that reached fever pitch in the United States in 20th century. He was the symbol of the movement which brought the struggle for abolition of segregation in the country to the imagination and the door steps of the international community. For decades, he has been revered as one of the leaders of movement for which he died as a martyr. In his arsenal for the struggle, the fiery and passionate firebrand preacher possessed a potent mix of actions and ideologies that whipped up the emotions and support of the masses. His disruptive nonviolent actions aimed at disrupting public order became symbols of freedom struggles across the globe. On the surface the disruptive actions were aimed at challenging the oppressive segregation laws of the time. However, a closer examination of the actions points to a strategic attempt to win the support of sympathetic media.

From the onset, the odds were stark against King and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and their cause. They had the insurmountable task of winning the public to their cause. They not only had to win the support of whites; some African Americans who preferred a more combative and violent protests were skeptical of the effectiveness of their nonviolent approach. Additionally, their cause challenged ideologies that had been entrenched in the American society for over a century through a variety of ways including legislations such as the Jim Crow Act and longstanding traditions. It was a cause seeking to overturn decades of practices that had been overseen by successive local, state and federal governments and political leaders. This was compounded by the violent response by the law enforcement officers especially in Southern states such as Alabama. Martin Luther King and the SCLC who nonviolently protested against the segregation laws were brutalized by the law enforcement officers and other rudimentary segregation groups.

Therefore, as Doug McAdam termed it, Martin Luther King and SCLC’s disruptive actions were strategically framed with the view of ensuring that they grabbed news headlines in both domestic and international media (McAdam 339 – 340). King strategically settled on nonviolent disruptive actions to starkly contrast with the violent response by the oppressors. And the media was critical in his efforts to paint the response as evil and oppressive. As predicted, the violence meted against various matches organized by King made news headlines including the violence at Selma. With the sympathetic media on their side, King ensured that his message had a greater impact on both domestic and global stages. His decision was informed by the fact the media was critical in shaping public opinion on a large scale compared to any other platforms they had used. The sensational coverage of the violent responses to their nonviolent disruptive actions achieved the desired goal. The growing public opinion against segregation turned the political tide against the segregationists including politicians while also influenced the president, lawmakers and the Supreme Court justices.

In conclusion, the media played a critical role in catapulting the Civil Rights Movement to the historical heights of success it achieved. This is why Martin Luther King and the leadership of SCLC strategically framed their nonviolent disruption of public order to get the attention of the media in addition to defying the segregation laws. King deliberately ensured that they won the sympathy of the media knowing too well the influence it wielded in the country.


Work Cited

McAdam, Doug. The framing function of movement tactics: Strategic dramaturgy in the American Civil Rights Movement. In: McAdam, D., McCarthy, J. D., Zald, M. N. (eds) Comparative perspectives on social movements: Political opportunities, mobilizing structures, and cultural framings. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1996.