Violent vs. Nonviolent Protests in America

May 5th 2011 Violent vs. Non-Violent Protests in America African-Americans have been oppressed since their arrival in America in 1619. Due to their differences in physical characteristics, Whites considered them an inferior race and therefore treated them as property, disregarding their human rights. After many years of exploitation and abuse, in 1791, slaves on the small island of Hispaniola revolted against French rule and successfully gained their freedom in 1804. It gave hope to African American slaves who, in turn, decided to stand against their masters and gain their freedom.

Every one of those rebellions was extremely violent. They were so passionate about the cause and have been oppressed for so long that they targeted anyone that was white: men, women and children. In Donn C. Worgs ““Beware of the Frustrated”: The Fantasy and Reality of African American Revolt”, the author examines African Americans’ need to use violence when it comes to revolting against their oppressors. On an opposite note, in “Civil Rights Success and the Politics of Racial Violence”, Joseph E. Luders emphasizes on the positive effects on nonviolent protests.

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Both authors justify these opposing strategies while making some valid points. This research paper will examine the strong arguments of both Worgs and Luders while attempting to understand how each strategy has individually shaped the mind of African Americans in today’s America. Worgs argues that violence is a part of American history: they’ve been using that method of protesting since the beginning of the history of the United States of America. Since they’ve brought Africans to America from Africa, African Americans have become a part of American history so it’s only right for them to follow suit.

After long years of enduring violent oppression and constant physical and mental abuse, as human beings, it’s only natural for slaves to release the animosity and anger that they had built-up inside against their white masters. They couldn’t have organized a strike because they knew that they would’ve been beaten or severely punished which wouldn’t have solved anything. Every slave rebellion that was held was gruesomely violent: it was as if they were trying to live up to their discriminating title of savages. These rebellions were led by passionate and mostly self-educated slaves who ad one mission in mind: to gain their human rights. There are about 250 documented uprisings which included three most important and memorable rebellions in the history of the United States: Gabriel Prosser’s in 1800, Virginia, Denmark Vesey’s in 1822 Charleston, South Carolina and the largest revolt of them all involving 75 slaves was led by Nat Turner in 1831 Southampton County, Virginia. They weren’t successful at gaining their freedom however they did instill fear in white slaveholders as they started losing control of African Americans.

Fast forward to 1870 when slavery was abolished and African Americans were granted full U. S. citizenship and the right to vote through the 13th, 14th and 15th amendment in that order, they were still facing discrimination and racism was still at its peak. They were “allowed” to build a life and identity of their own but were still challenged through Jim Crow Laws and vigilante organizations like the KKK. The lynching of African Americans reached its peak in 1892 as KKK members took it upon themselves to purify the nation and protect their women and children.

African Americans were attacked and terrorized: they were mutilated, burned, tortured, and hanged. At most times, their dead bodies would be displayed for passersby: Whites would feel a sense of pride and protection while Blacks would fear for their lives, knowing that those responsible would never be prosecuted. Between 1882 and 1968, about 4700 reported lynchings included 3500 black men and 50 black women. Outraged, African Americans once again fought fire with fire. Even advocates of peaceful revolutions were tempted to switch strategies.

In 1906, during a riot in Atlanta, W. E. B. Du Bois, who was on the faculty of Atlanta University, felt threatened and purchased a shotgun. He was quoted saying that “had a white mob stepped on the campus where I lived, I would have without hesitation sprayed their guts over the grass” (Cain, 1990, p. 332). Blacks formed their own organizations aiming at retaliating against white violence. Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, using “the discipline, pride, and calm self-assurance preached by Malcolm X” (Lazerow, Jama; Williams, Yohuru R. (2006).

In Search of the Black Panther Party: New Perspectives on a Revolutionary Movement. Duke University: Duke University Press. ), founded the Black Panther Party: a formal armed organization which claimed to have used violence only in self-defense. Worgs argues that violence became a part of the African American man as he constantly justifies his use of violence for self-defense. He refers to David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World where the author makes it clear that the use of violence “was justified by the reality of the oppressor and the oppressive conditions of enslavement.

Slaveholders were…willing to murder Blacks in order to maintain slavery. Thus, Blacks had to be willing to “kill or be killed” in their quest for freedom”. The realistic views of Robert F. Williams led him to argue that “Nonviolence is a very potent weapon when the opponent is civilized…But nonviolence is no repellent for a sadist” (Tyson, T. ). In turn, African Americans were strongly associated with violence in both fictitious works and real life. It was as if violence became a part of African American culture, describing their violent intentions in poetry, music and movies.

Worgs then concludes with his theory on why African American still believe that violent strategies are most effective even in today’s America. In all of American history, African Americans have used violent methods in order to fight against their oppressors. Although it’s proven to be effective, so have peaceful protest and civil rights movement. In Joseph E. Luders’ article, he strictly focuses on civil rights movements as effective methods that demonstrate nonviolence.

Luders’ explains that no matter how much white Southerners abused of their power and mistreated Blacks, they would turn the other cheek while keeping their eyes on the prize and opting for a different method to retaliate. In 1941, discrimination in the defense industry led A. Philip Randolph, a black labor leader, to organize a march on Washington movement which eventually resulted in the end of legal discrimination in federal defense jobs. Nonviolent civil disobedience was big in the southern states in the 1950’s.

Though they were unsuccessful, infamous cases and events included Brown v. the Board of Education in 1954 and Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the most prominent leaders of the civil rights movement for applying the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi in the advancement of the civil rights. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed due to nonviolent civil rights demonstration. Violence against the demonstrators did not cease nor did the African Americans back down from their “mission”.

People around the world started to see the white authorities’ unfair use of violent force against African Americans. This prompted the “federal government to take decisive action on behalf of African American civil rights” (p. 109 of article). But in the South, even politicians were corrupted. White segregationists were very persistent on trying to keep African Americans down and preventing them from acquiring their rightful status in society. They would organize sit-ins demanding integration in public facilities and schools but those opposing the movement would have them beat and attacked with dogs.

The people, however, maintained their nonviolent method of protest no matter how much they were threatened: it was as if they were willing to sacrifice the few in order to save the many. It seems safe to assume that Whites have a longer history of using violence in order to get what they want. You abuse a group of people for so long, someone is bound to retaliate using the same methods that one have used on them. It is not justifying the act like Worgs claims but more choosing the most realistic method of revolt in order to get justice.

It may be true that during the 17th, 18th and 19th century, African Americans did use violence for the sole purpose of self-defense but it’s not 100% right that from the 20th century and on that they’ve been taking advantage of the justification just to intimidate their adversaries. Obviously they have not abused of that method either since nonviolent civil rights movements were as successful as violent protests. The ongoing animosity that’s being passed down from generation to generation is the cause of the violent fantasy in the new generation’s mind. We live in a country where racism is very much alive.

Not that African Americans have to still fight to share the same facilities as Whites: those days are over. However, racism has become a more individual belief than before and those individuals put it in practice. Not to justify it but how are those who are victim of racism supposed to react? How much longer are they going to turn the other cheek? Both the perpetrator and the perpetrated are to blame. It is time we act as civilized human beings: we should stop looking at other races as “the enemy”, stop thinking violence is the answer to all of our problems and treat each other as equal human beings, as brothers and sisters, as Americans.

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