Law in the Civil Rights Movement: Articles Review

The Role of Law in the Civil Rights Movement: The Montgomery Bus Boycott” by Robert Glennon

Since social justice is a prevalent subject in modern-day American politics, understanding the history and the underlying processes behind the success or failure of various political movements of the past decades is paramount to ensure efficient social protest activities. The examples of Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, and various other political leaders of the 20th century support the idea that a united and determined minority can fight an oppressive political regime through non-violent and dedicated protest. The article by Glennon seeks to prove that the mere act of prolonged protests during the Montgomery Bus Boycott on 1955-1957 did not prevail on its own volition but rather succeeded thanks to the decisions made by the Supreme Court, which were already set in motion by the case of Brown v. Board of Education of 1954.

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The evidence Glennon provides seems to indicate that although the boycott was dealing some economic damage to the transportation company, the organization and the Montgomery city authorities were in a position to withstand these motions and use the law as a tool to subjugate the NAACP to lift off the boycott. The article explores the role of the legislative system in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, highlighting the ways how laws were bent and twisted on a local and regional level to suppress the social justice movement, but also making a statement that ultimately, pursuing the matter through the official channels was what made the real difference in lifting off segregation in the bus system. Such a conclusion goes against the words of Martin Luther King Jr., who wrote from the Birmingham prison, stating that “the unjust treatment of Negroes in courts is a notorious reality.”

The way I see it, it was not the legal system of the US that enabled racial justice to prevail, contrary to what Glennon seems to imply. Instead, it was the decisions of the three judges in the Supreme Court, starting from the case of Brown v. Board of Education and continuing with the Flemming ruling, that enabled justice to prevail. As was amply demonstrated on the local justice level, had the Supreme Court been dominated by lesser people, another decision like Plessy would have been achieved in Browning and Montgomery cases both. Therefore, I disagree with the conclusion that the legal side of the matter was the prevailing factor in the historical subject discussed, as it gives credit to the system notorious for being used against African-Americans, rather than the people, who were influenced by the struggles and ideological confrontations as much as the letter of the law.

In Remembrance of Emmett Till” by Darryl Mace

In connection with the previous subject of relying on the legal system to push forward political agendas, the article dedicated to Emmett Till demonstrates how unreliable operating using the system of laws set up by the white majoritarian hierarchy can be in order to bring justice for transactions against minorities. The article describes the events following the boy’s death, the defamation campaign that was launched by pro-white media forces, and the decision made to pardon Milam and Bryant, which was never contested again. It demonstrates how the rule of law is effectively made inefficient when governed by unjust individuals and shows how political activism can serve as a substitute to institutional, legal justice.

Death of Emmett Till was a prolific case of lynching of a young, 14-year-old negro boy, who was mutilated and shot to death without any meaningful provocation by a white citizen. Milam’s later abdication by the jury, who was made up of exclusively white males, shows that trying to obtain justice through law-abiding and traditional means failed. Instead, a nationwide information campaign and the subsequent wave of support for the cause ruined Milam and Bryant’s lives, causing them to lose business, money, and support even among the white communities in Mississippi. The media has the power to change peoples’ minds more so than court litigation does, as it made even the hardliners in the South admit that an atrocity was indeed committed and set forth a series of processes that helped outlaw lynching and bring changes to the mindset of the average white American in the south.

The two articles commented on in the scope of this paper demonstrate that contrary to many urges to try and work within the system, the most effective long-term approach is to oppose unjust actions and laws through affirmative action and protests, as they leave a lasting imprint in the peoples’ consciousness and increase the chances of good and just people rising to high positions inside of the system, and help change it from within. As demonstrated by the previous article, legislative change comes to place only once the hearts and minds have already been won, and not the other way around. The death of Emmett Till and the court injustices suffered by his family, on the other hand, shows that proper procedure is unreliable at best, echoing Martin Luther’s words that people are not obligated to trust the system that is unjust.

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