Public Relations and Civil Rights
During the 1960’s, the United States experienced the initial stages of a new social order that would come to fruition during the 1970’s. Since its foundation, the United States of America was a country that practiced racial segregation towards African-Americans. Blacks were treated differently; they were discriminated against, simply because of the color of their skin. Following the end of the American Civil War, slavery came to an end and all black Americans were recognized as free individuals with the same rights and liberties as white Americans (Sonoma State University, n.d., p. 2). This recognition, however, did not fully materialize during the nineteenth century or during the first half of the twentieth century. Segregation still existed even though black Americans were now free individuals because of the “separate but equal” doctrine that persisted, especially in the South. During this period African-Americans were forced to study at separate schools, play at different parks, eat at different restaurants, and even use alternate means of public transportation.
During the 1960’s, however, everything started to change due to the appearance of African-American leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks. These leaders believed that God had created all men equal, and because of this, African-Americans needed to stand up for their rights and persuade the rest of the American society to recognize African-Americans as equals. Thus, the Civil Rights Movement came into being, and it was precisely this movement that finally integrated African-Americans into society in conditions of equality with white Americans. Looking back on the Civil Rights Movement, it becomes clear that it was successful because each of the aforementioned leaders were successful in developing a public relations campaign that appealed to the masses (Murphree, 2009, p. 24). These people knew that hostile confrontation would lead to nothing, but they also knew that African-Americans needed to be firm in their demands. The way to equality needed to be pursued through peace, but it was important that white Americans knew that they would not falter and that they were willing to take their cause to the last consequence.
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The United States was founded on principles of justice, liberty, and equality. Civil rights leaders knew that such principles were not being honored, and so they came to the realization that they needed to go back to the American people’s core beliefs. White Americans needed to be reminded what their forefathers had fought for, they needed to be reminded what the principles that drove the colonists to stand up against the British Empire and demand their freedom were. This is exactly what civil rights leaders did, and no one did it more effectively than Martin Luther King Jr. He succeeded in getting the civil rights message across to society in its entirety without pointing the finger at any one sector of society. Surely it was white America’s fault, but he knew that by attacking white Americans they would not be willing to acquiesce to the demands that African-Americans had. He therefore spoke of his vision of America. He spoke of a country where blacks and whites interacted without there being any hatred, without any contempt, without any form of discrimination (Martin Luther King Jr., Civil Rights & Public Relations, 2012, January 16). He shared his vision of a strong, united, and harmonious society where everyone thrived. He repeated his message time and time again (most notably by the words “I have a dream”), and even though he did not live to see the end of racial segregation, he succeeded in getting his message across through a proficient usage of public relations.
Today the United States thrives as a fully integrated society where black and white Americans interact seamlessly, each exercising their rights and obligations with respect and solidarity. This was possible to the civil rights movement and its leaders, but it becomes clear that none of it would have been accomplished without the masterful usage of public relations of visionary, charismatic, and determined leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr.
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