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Media And The Civil Rights Movement: The Vehicle For Social Change By: Arron Nadler

2760 words - 11 pages

The media is arguably the most influential tool for creating, influencing and reflecting public opinion and consciousness. It has the ability to shape societal views and norms. In fact, since the advent of the media's existence it has widely been used to accomplish this very task. That the media can serve this purpose is especially evident if we examine the way it was used during the American civil rights movement. This movement took place between 1954 and 1965. During this revolutionary period, African-Americans vehemently fought for their equality and freedom. This struggle for civil rights is especially distinct as it sought to integrate blacks and whites in a racially segregated United States. This challenge was taken on by both radical and more peaceful civil rights activists. These two groups, for the most part, shared similar intentions for black equality, yet communicated their message for racial acceptance and equality in very different ways. Their distinct forms of protest and combat had equally distinct implications. The non-violent civil rights movement fought for racial acceptance and equality using exclusively peaceful and non-violent methods. Their notion of non-violence was embraced in an attempt to invalidate the negative stereotypes and the barbaric image that the white American public held of African Americans. The methods used by this non-violent movement, led by Martin Luther King Jr., consisted of protests such as sit-ins, boycotts, freedom rides, political marches and other forms of non-violent protest. It was hoped that by adopting such a strategy, African Americans would come to be seen as the unprovoked victims of white brutality.On the other side of the spectrum was the radical movement which communicated their slightly different views about racial equality in an entirely different way. This movement endorsed a more radical form of resistance. It consisted of violent acts of defiance which resulted in many deaths and often had the unfortunate effect ofexacerbating racial tensions and affirming stereotypes.It is commonly held that the non-violent movement was responsible for bringing in reforms and social, political and cultural changes of equality. The radical movement, which occurred after the non-violent one, had less positive implications. Moreover, it obstructed much of the efforts and changes brought about by the non-violent one. Because it is assumed here that it was ultimately the non-violent civil rights movement that was more efficacious in its pursuit of equality, this paper will focus on the reasons for its success. The paper suggests that at least part of this success can be explained by focusing on the role that the media played in endorsing the peaceful movement. More strongly, it suggests that absent this media presence, the movement would likely have failed to realize its objectives. This paper proceeds to address this question by (1) looking at the historical portrayal of African-Americans in the media;...

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