Visual History of the World

(CONTENTS)
 

 


HISTORY OF CIVILIZATION & CULTURE

From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Photography
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
Prehistory
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists

 




The Contemporary World

1945 to the present



After World War II, a new world order came into being in which two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, played the leading roles. Their ideological differences led to the arms race of the Cold War and fears of a global nuclear conflict. The rest of the world was also drawn into the bipolar bloc system, and very few nations were able to remain truly non-aligned. The East-West conflict came to an end in 1990 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent downfall of the Eastern Bloc. Since that time, the world has been driven by the globalization of worldwide economic and political systems. The world has, however, remained divided: The rich nations of Europe, North America, and East Asia stand in contrast to the developing nations of the Third World.



The first moon landing made science-fiction dreams reality in the year 1969.
Space technology has made considerable progress as the search for new
possibilities of using space continues.

 

 


The United States: Global Power
 


SINCE 1945
 

 



see also: United Nations member states -
United States of America

 

The United States emerged economically strengthened from World War II and, in the postwar years, became the political and cultural leader of the Wrest as the two-state bloc system began to take shape. It stood in opposition to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, which lasted until 1991. Internally, the civil rights movement and protests against the Vietnam War ushered in a liberalization of society in the 1960s. As a global superpower, the United States has since 1991 seesawed between global cooperation and efforts toward hegemony. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States and the Western world are confronting the challenge of international terrorism.

 


The United States under Truman
 

After 1945 and at the beginning of the Cold War, the United States became the leading economic and political power in the Western -world.

 

World War II demonstrated the enormous economic and military might of the 1 United States.

The war economy created full employment and a self-sustaining economic boom that seamlessly transitioned after 1945 to a prospering peacetime economy.

The development of a consumer society, which had been interrupted by the Great Depression that followed the Wall Street Crash of 1929, gained pace again in the 1950s and 2 healthy economic growth continued into the 1960s.

Domestically, Democratic 3 President Harry S. Truman (1945-1953) attempted to build on the social welfare policies of the "New Deal," which had been initiated by his predecessor Franklin D. Roosevelt.


1 Flags in the streets of Manhattan, New York, 2001


2 The car, symbol of prosperity: poster advertising a Cadillac limousine, 1953


3 US Democratic President
Harry S. Truman gives a speech

One of the most significant developments in US foreign policy after 1945 was that the "unnatural" war alliance with the Soviet Union broke apart in the face of the expansion of Communist power in Eastern Europe. The new postwar order in Europe and Asia was characterized by the onset of the Cold War between East and West. The United States definitively abandoned its isolationist stance and took over political and ideological leadership of the countries within its sphere of influence. After 1947, the "containment" of Soviet expansion became the central tenet of US policy. President Truman promised all free countries military and economic aid in order to preserve their independence. The reconstruction of Western Europe was generously supported and led to an economic boom there, most notably in West Germany.

The United States had a monopoly on 5 nuclear weapons until the Soviets tested their atomic bomb in 1949.

That same year, the states of Western Europe concluded a military alliance under the leadership of the United States, the 6 North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO), which commited its signatories to a joint military defense strategy in the event of an attack on one of the member countries.

During the Korean War of 1950-1953, American 4 troops fought alongside the forces of South Korea in conflict with North Korean and Chinese forces, directly engaging communist armies for the first time.


5 United States nuclear weapons test, April 22, 1952


6 US Secretary of State Dean Acheson signs the NATO pact; Truman (center) and Vice President Barkley


4 American soldiers in Korea, wearing
protective clothing against the rain during a cease-fire

 

 

Harry S. Truman


Harry S. Truman

Main
president of United States

born May 8, 1884, Lamar, Missouri, U.S.
died December 26, 1972, Kansas City, Missouri

33rd president of the United States (1945–53), who led his nation through the final stages of World War II and through the early years of the Cold War, vigorously opposing Soviet expansionism in Europe and sending U.S. forces to turn back a communist invasion of South Korea. (For a discussion of the history and nature of the presidency, see presidency of the United States of America.)

Early life and career
Truman was the eldest of three children of John A. and Martha E. Truman; his father was a mule trader and farmer. After graduating from high school in 1901 in Independence, Missouri, he went to work as a bank clerk in Kansas City. In 1906 he moved to the family farm near Grandview, and he took over the farm management after his father’s death in 1914. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Truman—nearly 33 years old and with two tours in the National Guard (1905–11) behind him—immediately volunteered. He was sent overseas a year later and served in France as the captain of Battery D, a field artillery unit that saw action at St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne. The men under his command came to be devoted to him, admiring him for his bravery and evenhanded leadership.

Returning to the United States in 1919, Truman married Elizabeth Wallace (Bess Truman), whom he had known since childhood. With army friend Edward Jacobson he opened a haberdashery, but the business failed in the severe recession of the early 1920s. Another army friend introduced him to Thomas Pendergast, Democratic boss of Kansas City. With the backing of the Pendergast machine, Truman launched his political career in 1922, running successfully for county judge. He lost his bid for reelection in 1924, but he was elected presiding judge of the county court in 1926, again with Pendergast’s support. He served two four-year terms, during which he acquired a reputation for honesty (unusual among Pendergast politicians) and for skillful management.

In 1934 Truman’s political career seemed at an end because of the two-term tradition attached to his job and the reluctance of the Pendergast machine to advance him to higher office. When several people rejected the machine’s offer to run in the Democratic primary for a seat in the U.S. Senate, however, Pendergast extended the offer to Truman, who quickly accepted. He won the primary with a 40,000-vote plurality, assuring his election in solidly Democratic Missouri. In January 1935 Truman was sworn in as Missouri’s junior senator by Vice President John Nance Garner.

He began his Senate career under the cloud of being a puppet of the corrupt Pendergast, but Truman’s friendliness, personal integrity, and attention to the duties of his office soon won over his colleagues. He was responsible for two major pieces of legislation: the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938, establishing government regulation of the aviation industry, and the Wheeler-Truman Transportation Act of 1940, providing government oversight of railroad reorganization. Following a tough Democratic primary victory in 1940, he won a second term in the Senate, and it was during this term that he gained national recognition for leading an investigation into fraud and waste in the U.S. military. While taking care not to jeopardize the massive effort being launched to prepare the nation for war, the Truman Committee (officially the Special Committee Investigating National Defense) exposed graft and deficiencies in production. The committee made it a practice to issue draft reports of its findings to corporations, unions, and government agencies under investigation, allowing for the correction of abuses before formal action was initiated.

Respected by his Senate colleagues and admired by the public at large, Truman was selected to run as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vice president on the 1944 Democratic ticket, replacing Henry A. Wallace. The Roosevelt-Truman ticket garnered 53 percent of the vote to 46 percent for their Republican rivals, and Truman took the oath of office as vice president on January 20, 1945. His term lasted just 82 days, however, during which time he met with the president only twice. Roosevelt, who apparently did not realize how ill he was, made little effort to inform Truman about the administration’s programs and plans, nor did he prepare Truman for dealing with the heavy responsibilities that were about to devolve upon him.


Succession to the presidency
Roosevelt died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945, leaving Truman and the public in shock. He told reporters the day after taking the oath of office that he felt as if “the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen” on him and asked them to pray for him. He was hardly, however, as scholars have noted, a political naif. Although he had no foreign policy experience, he was a capable administrator of large bureaucracies and a skilled politician who knew how to use the press to his purposes.

Truman was sworn in as president on the same day as Roosevelt’s death, which was just weeks away from Truman’s 61st birthday. He began his presidency with great energy, making final arrangements for the San Francisco meeting to draft a charter for the United Nations, helping to arrange Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 8, and traveling to Potsdam in July for a meeting with Allied leaders to discuss the fate of postwar Germany. While in Potsdam Truman received word of the successful test of an atomic bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico, and it was from Potsdam that Truman sent an ultimatum to Japan to surrender or face “utter devastation.” When Japan did not surrender and his advisers estimated that up to 500,000 Americans might be killed in an invasion of Japan, Truman authorized the dropping of atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima (August 6) and Nagasaki (August 9), killing more than 100,000 men, women, and children. This remains perhaps the most controversial decision ever taken by a U.S. president, one which scholars continue to debate today. (See Sidebar: The decision to use the atomic bomb. See also primary source document: Announcement of the Dropping of an Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima.) Japan surrendered August 14, the Pacific war ending officially on September 2, 1945.

Scarcely had the guns of World War II been silenced than Truman faced the threat of Soviet expansionism in eastern Europe. Early in 1946, Truman brought Winston Churchill to Missouri to sound the alarm with his “iron curtain” address. The following year, Truman put the world on notice through his Truman Doctrine (see original text) that the United States would oppose communist aggression everywhere; specifically, he called for economic aid to Greece and Turkey to help those countries resist communist takeover. Later in 1947, the president backed Secretary of State George Marshall’s strategy for undercutting communism’s appeal in western Europe by sending enormous amounts of financial aid (ultimately about $13 billion) to rebuild devastated European economies. Both the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery Program) achieved their objectives, but they also contributed to the global polarization that characterized five decades of Cold War hostility between East and West.


Winning a second term
As the presidential election of 1948 approached, the odds against Truman’s winning the presidency seemed enormous. The Republicans had triumphed in the congressional elections of 1946, running against Truman as the symbol of the New Deal. That electoral triumph seemed to indicate that the American people were weary of reform and of the Democratic Party. Worsening Truman’s chances for reelection was the defection of liberal Democrats, breaking with the president over his hard-line opposition to the Soviet Union; many of these liberals supported the candidacy of Henry A. Wallace, who was running as the Progressive Party candidate for president. At the Democratic National Convention, Southern delegates bolted as well, angry at the president for his strong civil rights initiatives; these Southern Democrats supported Strom Thurmond, the States’ Rights (“Dixiecrat”) presidential candidate. But Truman surprised everyone. He launched a cross-country whistle-stop campaign, blasting the “do-nothing, good-for-nothing Republican Congress.” As he hammered away at Republican support for the antilabour Taft-Hartley Act (passed over Truman’s veto) and other conservative policies, crowds responded with “Give ’em hell, Harry!” The excitement generated by Truman’s vigorous campaigning contrasted sharply with the lacklustre speeches of Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey, and Truman won by a comfortable margin, 49 percent to 45 percent; Wallace and Thurmond had little impact on the outcome. (See primary source document: Inaugural Address.)

Energized by his surprising victory, Truman presented his program for domestic reform in 1949. The Fair Deal included proposals for expanded public housing, increased aid to education, a higher minimum wage, federal protection for civil rights, and national health insurance. Despite Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, most Fair Deal proposals either failed to gain legislative majorities or passed in much weakened form. Truman succeeded, however, in laying the groundwork for the domestic agenda for decades to come.

In part, the Fair Deal fell victim to rising Cold War tensions that absorbed attention and resources. In 1949 Chinese Communists finally won their long civil war, seizing control of the mainland. Almost simultaneously, the Soviet Union successfully tested a nuclear bomb, ending the nuclear monopoly enjoyed by the United States since 1945. Truman, who had faced down the Soviet threat to Berlin in 1948 with a massive airlift of food and supplies to sustain the noncommunist sectors of the city, led the United States into a collective security agreement with noncommunist European nations—the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)—to resist Soviet expansionism. In 1950 he authorized development of the hydrogen bomb in order to maintain an arms lead over the Soviets. By the end of the decade, the wartime alliance linking the United States and Soviet Union had been completely severed and the two nations had embarked on an arms race of potentially world-destroying dimensions.


Outbreak of the Korean War
In June 1950 military forces of communist North Korea suddenly plunged southward across the 38th parallel boundary in an attempt to seize noncommunist South Korea. Outraged, Truman reportedly responded, “By God, I’m going to let them [North Korea] have it!” Truman did not ask Congress for a declaration of war, and he was later criticized for this decision. Instead, he sent to South Korea, with UN sanction, U.S. forces under General Douglas MacArthur to repel the invasion. Ill-prepared for combat, the Americans were pushed back to the southern tip of the Korean peninsula before MacArthur’s brilliant Inchon offensive drove the communists north of the 38th parallel. South Korea was liberated, but MacArthur wanted a victory over the communists, not merely restoration of the status quo. U.S. forces drove northward, nearly to the Yalu River boundary with Manchuria. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops then poured into North Korea, pushing the fighting once again down to the 38th parallel. When MacArthur insisted on extending the war to China and using nuclear weapons to defeat the communists, Truman removed him from command—a courageous assertion of civilian control over the military. The administration was devoted to its policy of containment. The war, however, dragged on inconclusively past the end of Truman’s presidency, eventually claiming the lives of more than 33,000 Americans and leaving a residual bitterness at home.

The inability of the United States to achieve a clear-cut victory in Korea following Soviet conquests in eastern Europe and the triumph of communism in China led many Americans to conclude that the United States was losing the Cold War. Accusations began to fly that the president and some of his top advisers were “soft on communism,” thereby explaining why the United States—without question the world’s greatest power in 1945—had been unable to halt the communist advance. As the nation’s second “Red Scare” (the fear that communists had infiltrated key positions in government and society) took hold in the late 1940s and early ’50s, Truman’s popularity began to plummet. In March 1952 he announced he was not going to run for reelection. By the time he left the White House in January 1953, his approval rating was just 31 percent; it had peaked at 87 percent in July 1945.

Over the next two decades, however, Truman’s standing among American presidents rose. He began to be appreciated as a president who had, in Truman’s own words, “done his damnedest.” The ultimate common man thrust into leadership at a critical time in the nation’s history, Truman had risen to the challenge and acquitted himself far better than nearly everyone had expected. Later presidents, regardless of political party, looked back on him fondly, admiring his willingness to take responsibility for the country (as a sign on his desk read, “The Buck Stops Here!”) and trying to emulate his appeal to the average voter. His Fair Deal social programs, such as those delineating civil rights for African Americans, had been defeated during his presidency but were enacted in the 1960s and retained by Democratic and Republican administrations alike. Truman did, however, issue an executive order (9981) that desegregated the military, and he was noted for appointing African Americans to high-level positions. His reputation suffered slightly in the 1980s, when scholars highlighted the fact that in private conversation and personal correspondence, Truman told off-colour jokes and referred to minorities and ethnic groups in terms considered highly offensive today.

His life in retirement was modest but active, perhaps epitomized by his habit of taking a brisk morning walk, or “constitutional,” along the sidewalks of Independence, Missouri. He enjoyed joking with reporters, and he seems to have initiated a controversy over the period after his middle initial. (See Researcher’s Note.) He remained in good health, spending his days reading voraciously, until the mid-1960s, when he declined rapidly. On Christmas Day 1972, Truman lapsed into unconsciousness and died the next morning.

Alfred Steinberg

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 


The United States in the 1950s
 

Both internally and externally, the United States of the 1950s -was absorbed by the conflict with the Soviet Union. At the same time, the civil rights movement registered its first successes in the quest for equal rights for African-Americans.

 

Between 1953 and 1961, Republican 8 Dwight D. Eisenhower, a popular war hero, held the US presidency.


8 Dwight David Eisenhower,
painting by Thomas E. Stephens


During this period, the Cold War intensified until it dominated the foreign policy agenda. With the first atomic test by the Soviets in 1949 and the circumnavigation of the Earth by the Soviet satellite Sputnik I in 1957, the military and technological supremacy of the United States was brought into question; the response was a large-scale rearmament program.

The US government began developing space and weapons programs and increased its atomic clout.

Secretary of State 7 John Foster Dulles followed a policy of undermining Soviet influence in the Eastern bloc, known as the "rollback" strategy.

In 1954, the United States intervened in Guatemala. The Suez Crisis of 1956 and the Hungarian uprising of the same year increased tensions between East and West without bringing about a direct conflict. In 1959, the US admitted Alaska and Hawaii as the 49th and 50th states of the union. In the same year a crisis developed in "America's backyard" in the form of the communist revolution in Cuba.

The Cold War was also pursued domestically during the 1950s.

Senator 9, 11 Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities were the driving forces behind an anti-communist wave of persecution in United States administration and public life.


7 John Foster Dulles addresses the press, ca. 1953


9 Senator Joseph Raymond McCarthy, 1950


11 McCarthy explains the spread of Communist
sympathizers in the United States,
ca. 1950

Unprecedented in American history, a climate of mass hysteria developed as liberals, artists, and intellectuals were defamed and fear of "treason" spread in government circles. In 1954, McCarthy was censured by his fellow senators for "bringing the Senate into dishonor and disrepute" during this period.

The continuing boom ushered in an era of affluence. A "baby boom" occurred.

Cars, washing machines, and consumer goods became 10 normal household possessions for the average family.
 

10 Living area with terraced houses in a
suburb of Los Anqeles, ca. 1958


Together with a new youth culture in 13 music and 12 film, the model of the "American way of life" spread throughout the Western world.

In the 1950s the struggle for African-American civil rights against continuing racial discrimination and segregation advanced under leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1954, racial segregation was abolished in public schools, and in 1956 so, too, were separate seating arrangements on public transport.


13 The musical idol of the 1950s:
Elvis Presley


12 The face of the 1950s:
Marilyn Monroe




see also:

Idols
(Elvisiana. Elvis Presley-Pop Idol.
Marilyn Monroe "American symbol")

 

 

Dwight D. Eisenhower


Dwight D. Eisenhower

Main
president of United States
in full Dwight David Eisenhower

born October 14, 1890, Denison, Texas, U.S.
died March 28, 1969, Washington, D.C.

34th president of the United States (1953–61), who had been supreme commander of the Allied forces in western Europe during World War II. (For a discussion of the history and nature of the presidency, see presidency of the United States of America.)

Early career
Eisenhower was the third of seven sons of David Jacob and Ida Elizabeth (Stover) Eisenhower. In the spring of 1891 the Eisenhowers left Denison, Texas, and returned to Abilene, Kansas, where their forebears had settled as part of a Mennonite colony. David worked in a creamery; the family was poor; and Dwight and his brothers were introduced to hard work and a strong religious tradition at an early age.

“Ike,” as Dwight was called, was a fun-loving youth who enjoyed sports but took only a moderate interest in his studies. The latter was perhaps a sign of one of his later characteristics: a dislike for the company of scholars. Dwight graduated from Abilene High School in 1909, worked for more than a year to support a brother’s college education, and then entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, a decision that left his mother, a pacifist, in tears. He excelled in gridiron football but injured a knee in his second year at the academy and was forced to stop playing. In the remarkable class of 1915—which was to produce 59 generals—he ranked 61st academically and 125th in discipline out of the total of 164 graduates.

Commissioned a second lieutenant, he was sent to San Antonio, Texas, where he met Mamie Geneva Doud (Mamie Eisenhower), daughter of a successful Denver, Colorado, meat packer. They were married in 1916 and had two sons: Doud Dwight, born in 1917, who died of scarlet fever in 1921, and John Sheldon Doud, born in 1922.

During World War I, Eisenhower commanded a tank training centre, was promoted to captain, and received the Distinguished Service Medal. The war ended just before he was to be sent overseas. From 1922 to 1924 he was assigned to the Panama Canal Zone, and there he came under the inspiring influence of his commander, Brigadier General Fox Conner. With Conner’s assistance, Eisenhower was selected to attend the army’s Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Then a major, he graduated first in a class of 275 in 1926 and two years later graduated from the Army War College. He then served in France (where he wrote a guidebook of World War I battlefields) and in Washington, D.C., before becoming an aide to Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur in 1933. Two years later he accompanied MacArthur to the Philippines to assist in the reorganization of the commonwealth’s army, and while there he was awarded the Distinguished Service Star of the Philippines and promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He returned to the United States shortly after Germany’s invasion of Poland initiated the European phase of World War II, and in March 1941 he became a full colonel. Three months later he was made chief of staff of the Third Army, and he soon won the attention of Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall for his role in planning war games involving almost 500,000 troops.


Supreme commander
When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, Marshall appointed Eisenhower to the army’s war plans division in Washington, D.C., where he prepared strategy for an Allied invasion of Europe. Eisenhower had been made a brigadier general in September 1941 and was promoted to major general in March 1942; he was also named head of the operations division of the War Department. In June Marshall selected him over 366 senior officers to be commander of U.S. troops in Europe. Eisenhower’s rapid advancement, after a long army career spent in relative obscurity, was due not only to his knowledge of military strategy and talent for organization but also to his ability to persuade, mediate, and get along with others. Men from a wide variety of backgrounds, impressed by his friendliness, humility, and persistent optimism, liked and trusted him. A phrase that later became one of the most famous campaign slogans in American history seemed to reflect the impression of everyone who met him: “I like Ike!”

Eisenhower was promoted to lieutenant general in July 1942 and named to head Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of French North Africa. This first major Allied offensive of the war was launched on November 8, 1942, and successfully completed in May 1943. Eisenhower’s decision to work during the campaign with the French admiral François Darlan, who had collaborated with the Germans, aroused a storm of protest from the Allies, but his action was defended by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. A full general since that February, Eisenhower then directed the amphibious assault of Sicily and the Italian mainland, which resulted in the fall of Rome on June 4, 1944.

During the fighting in Italy, Eisenhower participated in plans to cross the English Channel for an invasion of France. On December 24, 1943, he was appointed supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, and the next month he was in London making preparations for the massive thrust into Europe. On June 6, 1944, he gambled on a break in bad weather and gave the order to launch the Normandy Invasion, the largest amphibious attack in history. On D-Day more than 156,000 troops landed in Normandy. Invading Allied forces eventually numbered 1,000,000 and began to fight their way into the heart of France. On August 25 Paris was liberated. After winning the Battle of the Bulge—a fierce German counterattack in the Ardennes in December—the Allies crossed the Rhine on March 7, 1945. Germany surrendered on May 7, ending the war in Europe. Although Eisenhower was criticized, then and later, for allowing the Russians to capture the enemy capital of Berlin, he and others defended his actions on several grounds (the Russians were closer, had more troops, and had been promised Berlin at the Yalta Conference of February 1945). In the meantime, in December 1944, Eisenhower had been made a five-star general.

Eisenhower was given a hero’s welcome upon returning to the United States for a visit in June 1945, but in November his intended retirement was delayed when President Harry S. Truman named him to replace Marshall as chief of staff. For more than two years Eisenhower directed demobilization of the wartime army and worked to unify the armed services under a centralized command. In May 1948 he left active duty the most popular and respected soldier in the United States and became president of Columbia University in New York City. His book Crusade in Europe, published that fall, made him a wealthy man.

Eisenhower’s brief career as an academic administrator was not especially successful. His technical education and military experience prepared him poorly for the post. In the fall of 1950 President Truman asked him to become supreme commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and in early 1951 he flew to Paris to assume his new position. For the next 15 months he devoted himself to the task of creating a united military organization in western Europe to be a defense against the possibility of communist aggression.


Dwight D. Eisenhower


First term as president
As early as 1943 Eisenhower was mentioned as a possible presidential candidate. His personal qualities and military reputation prompted both parties to woo him. As the campaign of 1952 neared, Eisenhower let it be known that he was a Republican, and the eastern wing of the party, headed by Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York, made an intensive effort to persuade him to seek the Republican presidential nomination. His name was entered in several state primaries against the more conservative Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio. Although the results were mixed, Eisenhower decided to run. In June 1952 he retired from the army after 37 years of service, returned to the United States, and began to campaign actively. At the party convention in July, after a bitter fight with Taft supporters, Eisenhower won the nomination on the first ballot. His running mate was Senator Richard M. Nixon of California. The Democrats nominated Governor Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois for president and Senator John Sparkman of Alabama for vice president.

Despite his age (61), Eisenhower campaigned tirelessly, impressing millions with his warmth and sincerity. His wide, friendly grin, wartime heroics, and middle-class pastimes—he was an avid golfer and bridge player and a fan not of highbrow literature but of the American western—endeared him to the public and garnered him vast support. Like her husband, Mamie Eisenhower projected a down-to-earth image. She remained an ardent supporter of him, though their marriage had been strained by rumours of an affair during World War II between Eisenhower and his driver-secretary Kay Summersby.

Eisenhower urged economy and honesty in government and promised to visit Korea to explore the possibilities for ending the Korean War, which had broken out in 1950 between communist North Korea and pro-Western South Korea and soon involved United Nations (mainly U.S.) troops and communist Chinese forces. Many Republicans, including Nixon, spoke of pro-communist disloyalty within the Truman administration and called for stringent antisubversive measures. The Eisenhower-Nixon ticket won handily, carrying 39 states, winning the electoral vote 442 to 89, and collecting more than 33 million popular votes. (See primary source document: First Inaugural Address.) The Republican Party won control of Congress by a slim margin but lost both houses two years later.

Eisenhower’s basically conservative views on domestic affairs were shared by his secretary of the treasury, George M. Humphrey. The administration’s domestic program, which came to be labeled “modern Republicanism,” called for reduced taxes, balanced budgets, a decrease in government control over the economy, and the return of certain federal responsibilities to the states. Controls over rents, wages, and prices were allowed to expire, and in 1954 there was a slight tax revision. At Eisenhower’s insistence Congress transferred the title to valuable tideland oil reserves to the states. But there was no sharp break with policies inherited from previous Democratic administrations. The needs of an expanding population (which grew from 155 million to 179 million during the Eisenhower era) and the country’s overseas commitments caused budget deficits during five out of eight years. The minimum wage was increased to $1 per hour; the Social Security System was broadened; and in the spring of 1953 the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare was created.

The right wing of the Republican Party clashed with the president more often than the Democrats did during his first term. For example, Eisenhower expended a great deal of time and energy defeating the Bricker Amendment of 1954, the bill sponsored by Republican Senator John Bricker of Ohio that would have limited the president’s liberty to negotiate international treaties that violated the rights of U.S. states. The bill fell only one vote short; it was a victory for the president’s extensive lobbying campaign. But by far the largest challenge came from Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin. In part to preserve party unity, Eisenhower had refused to publicly condemn Senator McCarthy’s charges of communist influence within the government. Although privately Eisenhower expressed his distaste for the senator, at times he seemed to encourage the attacks of McCarthyites. Hundreds of federal employees were fired under his expanded loyalty-security program. With his approval Congress passed a law designed to outlaw the American Communist Party. Following the sensational hearings on McCarthy’s charges against army and civilian officials, televised nationally for five weeks in the spring of 1954, McCarthy’s popularity waned, as did the anticommunist hysteria.

Foreign affairs drew much of Eisenhower’s attention. He and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, worked hard at achieving peace by constructing collective defense agreements and by threatening the Soviet Union with “massive retaliatory power”; both strategies were designed to check the spread of communism. Another strategy was unknown to the public at the time but was heavily criticized in later years: the use of the Central Intelligence Agency in covert operations to overthrow governments in Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954).

Eisenhower kept his campaign promise and visited Korea shortly after his inauguration. Partly, perhaps, because of Joseph Stalin’s death in March 1953 and partly because Eisenhower hinted at his willingness to use nuclear weapons, the president was able to negotiate a truce for the Korean War in July 1953. In December of that year he proposed to the United Nations that the countries of the world pool atomic information and materials under the auspices of an international agency. This Atoms for Peace speech (see original text) bore fruit in 1957, when 62 countries formed the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In July 1955 the president met with leaders of Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union at a summit conference in Geneva. His “open skies” proposal, by which the United States and the Soviet Union would permit continuous air inspection of each other’s military installations, was welcomed by world opinion but was rejected by the U.S.S.R. In September 1954 Eisenhower and Dulles succeeded in creating the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) to prevent further communist expansion. It was composed of the United States, France, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, and Pakistan. NATO was strengthened in 1955 by the inclusion of West Germany.

Critics contended that there were frequent disparities between the administration’s words and its deeds in the field of foreign relations. While threatening to “unleash” Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek, the United States signed a defense treaty with Nationalist China in December 1954 that inhibited Chiang’s ability to attack the communist Chinese. Moreover, Dulles spoke of “liberating” captive peoples in communist countries, but the administration stopped short of this and limited itself to protests when uprisings occurred in East Germany (1953) and Hungary (1956). While the secretary of state promised “massive retaliation” against communist aggression, the president made the decision to limit the American role in the Indochina crisis between France and the guerrillas led by Ho Chi Minh to pushing for a partition of Vietnam into a communist North and a noncommunist South and to providing financial and military aid to the latter.


Second term
A heart attack in September 1955 and an operation for ileitis in June 1956 raised considerable doubt about Eisenhower’s ability to serve a second term. But he recovered quickly, and the Republican convention unanimously endorsed the Eisenhower-Nixon ticket on the first ballot. The Democrats again selected Adlai E. Stevenson and named Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee as his running mate, but Eisenhower’s great personal popularity turned the election into a landslide victory, the most one-sided race since 1936, as the Republican ticket garnered more than 57 percent of the popular vote and won the electoral vote 457 to 73. (See primary source document: Second Inaugural Address.) Nevertheless, the Democrats once more captured both houses of Congress, a feat they were to duplicate in 1958. Eisenhower was the first president to serve with three Congresses controlled by the opposition party.

The election campaign of 1956, however, had been complicated by a crisis in the Middle East over Egypt’s seizure of the Suez Canal. The subsequent attack on Egypt by Great Britain, France, and Israel and the Soviet Union’s support of Egypt prompted the president to go before Congress in January 1957 to urge adoption of what came to be called the Eisenhower Doctrine, a pledge to send U.S. armed forces to any Middle Eastern country requesting assistance against communist aggression.

When the U.S. Supreme Court, on May 17, 1954, declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional (Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka), controversy and violence broke out, especially in the South. In September 1957 Eisenhower dispatched 1,000 federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to halt an attempt by Governor Orval E. Faubus to obstruct a federal court order integrating a high school. This action was the most serious challenge of his presidency. On several occasions Eisenhower had expressed distaste for racial segregation, though he doubtless believed that the process of integration would take time. Significantly, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 was the first such law passed since 1875.

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the first man-made satellite to orbit the Earth. Americans were stunned by the achievement, and many blamed Eisenhower for the administration’s insistence on low military budgets and its failure to develop a space program. Steps were taken to boost space research and to provide funds to increase the study of science, and these culminated in the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in July 1958. The administration again came under fire in the fall of 1957 for an economic recession that lasted through the following summer. For fear of fueling inflation, Eisenhower refused to lower taxes or increase federal spending to ease the slump.

Following the death of Dulles in the spring of 1959, Eisenhower assumed a more vigorous and personal role in the direction of American foreign policy. He traveled over 300,000 miles (480,000 km) to some 27 countries in his last two years of office, a period historians have termed the era of “the new Eisenhower.” His masterly use of the new medium of television—holding regularly televised news conferences and participating in high-profile motorcades in foreign capitals around the world—and his exploitation of the advent of jet travel captivated the public and led some scholars to term Eisenhower the first of the imperial presidents. To improve relations with the Soviet Union, he invited Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev to visit the United States. Khrushchev toured parts of the country in September 1959 and held private talks with Eisenhower. Another summit meeting was planned, and a new era of personal diplomacy seemed at hand. But when a U-2 reconnaissance plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers of the United States was shot down over the U.S.S.R. in May 1960, Khrushchev scuttled the talks and angrily withdrew his invitation to Eisenhower to visit the Soviet Union. Eisenhower admitted that the flights had gone on for four years and shouldered much of the blame for the ill-timed affair. In January 1961, during the last weeks of the Eisenhower administration, the United States broke diplomatic relations with Cuba, which for two years had been under the control of Fidel Castro.

Although his administrations had a great many critics, Eisenhower remained extraordinarily popular. In his Farewell Address (see original text) he warned against the rise and power of “the military-industrial complex,” but his successors ignored him amid the perceived demands of the Cold War. When he left office, Congress restored his rank as general of the army. He retired to his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and devoted much of his time to his memoirs. In 1963 he published Mandate for Change, which was followed in 1965 by Waging Peace. A lighter work, At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends, appeared in 1967.

Thomas C. Reeves

Encyclopaedia Britannica
 

 

 

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist preacher from Atlanta who was a charismatic leader and advocate of nonviolent resistance against racial discrimination.

Actions, such as the "March on Washington," made him a symbol of the protest movement at the beginning of the 1960s.

As an advocate for peaceful integration, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. On April 4, 1968, he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, as he prepared to lead a march.


Martin Luther King during a speech
at a rally against discrimination,
ca. 1966

 

 

 

Martin Luther King, Jr.



Martin Luther King, Jr.

Overview
American religious leader and civil-rights activist
original name Michael Luther King, Jr.

born January 15, 1929, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
died April 4, 1968, Memphis, Tennessee

U.S. civil-rights leader.

The son and grandson of Baptist preachers, King became an adherent of nonviolence while in college. Ordained a Baptist minister himself in 1954, he became pastor of a church in Montgomery, Ala.; the following year he received a doctorate from Boston University. He was selected to head the Montgomery Improvement Association, whose boycott efforts eventually ended the city’s policies of racial segregation on public transportation. In 1957 he formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and began lecturing nationwide, urging active nonviolence to achieve civil rights for African Americans. In 1960 he returned to Atlanta to become copastor with his father of Ebenezer Baptist Church. He was arrested and jailed for protesting segregation at a lunch counter; the case drew national attention, and presidential candidate John F. Kennedy interceded to obtain his release. In 1963 King helped organize the March on Washington, an assembly of more than 200,000 protestors at which he made his famous “I have a dream” speech. The march influenced the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and King was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize for Peace. In 1965 he was criticized from within the civil-rights movement for yielding to state troopers at a march in Selma, Ala., and for failing in the effort to change Chicago’s housing segregation policies. Thereafter he broadened his advocacy, addressing the plight of the poor of all races and opposing the Vietnam War. In 1968 he went to Memphis, Tenn., to support a strike by sanitation workers; there on April 4, he was assassinated by James Earl Ray. A U.S. national holiday is celebrated in King’s honour on the third Monday in January.

Main
American religious leader and civil-rights activist
original name Michael Luther King, Jr.

born January 15, 1929, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
died April 4, 1968, Memphis, Tennessee

Baptist minister and social activist who led the civil rights movement in the United States from the mid-1950s until his death by assassination in 1968. His leadership was fundamental to that movement’s success in ending the legal segregation of African Americans in the South and other parts of the United States. King rose to national prominence through the organization of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, promoting nonviolent tactics such as the massive March on Washington (1963) to achieve civil rights. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1964.

Early years
King came from a comfortable middle-class family steeped in the tradition of the Southern black ministry: both his father and maternal grandfather were Baptist preachers. His parents were college-educated, and King’s father had succeeded his father-in-law as pastor of the prestigious Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The family lived on Auburn Avenue, otherwise known as “Sweet Auburn,” the bustling “black Wall Street,” home to some of the country’s largest and most prosperous black businesses and black churches in the years before the civil rights movement. Young Martin received a solid education and grew up in a loving extended family.

This secure upbringing, however, did not prevent King from experiencing the prejudices then common in the South. He never forgot the time, at about age six, when one of his white playmates announced that his parents would no longer allow him to play with King, because the children were now attending segregated schools. Dearest to King in these early years was his maternal grandmother, whose death in 1941 left him shaken and unstable. Upset because he had learned of her fatal heart attack while attending a parade without his parents’ permission, the 12-year-old Martin attempted suicide by jumping from a second-story window.

In 1944, at age 15, King entered Morehouse College in Atlanta under a special wartime program intended to boost enrollment by admitting promising high-school students like King. Before beginning college, however, King spent the summer on a tobacco farm in Connecticut; it was his first extended stay away from home and his first substantial experience of race relations outside the segregated South. He was shocked by how peacefully the races mixed in the North. “Negroes and whites go [to] the same church,” he noted in a letter to his parents. “I never [thought] that a person of my race could eat anywhere.” This summer experience in the North only deepened young Martin’s growing hatred of racial segregation.

At Morehouse, King favoured studies in medicine and law, but these were eclipsed in his senior year by a decision to enter the ministry, as his father had urged. King’s mentor at Morehouse was the college president, Benjamin Mays, a social gospel activist whose rich oratory and progressive ideas had left an indelible imprint on King, Sr. Committed to fighting racial inequality, Mays accused the black community of complacency in the face of oppression, and he prodded the black church into social action by criticizing its emphasis on the hereafter instead of the here and now; it was a call to service that was not lost on the teenage Martin. King graduated from Morehouse in 1948.

King spent the next three years at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, where he became acquainted with Mohandas Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence as well as with the thought of contemporary Protestant theologians and earned a bachelor of divinity degree in 1951. Renowned for his oratorical skills, King was elected president of Crozer’s student body, which was composed almost exclusively of white students. As a professor at Crozer wrote in a letter of recommendation for King, “The fact that with our student body largely Southern in constitution a colored man should be elected to and be popular [in] such a position is in itself no mean recommendation.” From Crozer, King went to Boston University, where, in seeking a firm foundation for his own theological and ethical inclinations, he studied man’s relationship to God and received a doctorate (1955) for a dissertation titled “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.”

The Montgomery bus boycott
While in Boston, King met Coretta Scott, a native Alabamian who was studying at the New England Conservatory of Music. They were married in 1953 and had four children. King had been pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, slightly more than a year when the city’s small group of civil rights advocates decided to contest racial segregation on that city’s public bus system. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, an African American woman, refused to surrender her bus seat to a white passenger, and as a consequence was arrested for violating the city’s segregation law. Activists formed the Montgomery Improvement Association to boycott the transit system and chose King as their leader. He had the advantage of being a young, well-trained man who was too new in town to have made enemies; he was generally respected, and his family connections and professional standing would enable him to find another pastorate should the boycott fail.

In his first speech to the group as its president, King declared:

We have no alternative but to protest. For many years we have shown an amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we liked the way we were being treated. But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice.

These words introduced to the nation a fresh voice, a skillful rhetoric, an inspiring personality, and in time a dynamic new doctrine of civil struggle. Although King’s home was dynamited and his family’s safety threatened, he continued to lead the boycott until, one year and a few weeks later, the city’s buses were desegregated.


The Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Recognizing the need for a mass movement to capitalize on the successful Montgomery action, King set about organizing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which gave him a base of operation throughout the South, as well as a national platform from which to speak. King lectured in all parts of the country and discussed race-related issues with civil-rights and religious leaders at home and abroad. In February 1959 he and his party were warmly received by India’s prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru; as the result of a brief discussion with followers of Gandhi about the Gandhian concepts of peaceful noncompliance (satyagraha), King became increasingly convinced that nonviolent resistance was the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom. King also looked to Africa for inspiration. “The liberation struggle in Africa has been the greatest single international influence on American Negro students,” he wrote. “Frequently I hear them say that if their African brothers can break the bonds of colonialism, surely the American Negro can break Jim Crow.”

In 1960 King moved to his native city of Atlanta, where he became co-pastor with his father of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. At this post he devoted most of his time to the SCLC and the civil rights movement, declaring that the “psychological moment has come when a concentrated drive against injustice can bring great, tangible gains.” His thesis was soon tested as he agreed to support the sit-in demonstrations undertaken by local black college students. In late October he was arrested with 33 young people protesting segregation at the lunch counter in an Atlanta department store. Charges were dropped, but King was sentenced to Reidsville State Prison Farm on the pretext that he had violated his probation on a minor traffic offense committed several months earlier. The case assumed national proportions, with widespread concern over his safety, outrage at Georgia’s flouting of legal forms, and the failure of President Dwight Eisenhower to intervene. King was released only upon the intercession of Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy—an action so widely publicized that it was felt to have contributed substantially to Kennedy’s slender election victory eight days later.

In the years from 1960 to 1965 King’s influence reached its zenith. Handsome, eloquent, and doggedly determined, King quickly caught the attention of the news media, particularly of the producers of that budding medium of social change—television. He understood the power of television to nationalize and internationalize the struggle for civil rights, and his well-publicized tactics of active nonviolence (sit-ins, protest marches) aroused the devoted allegiance of many blacks and liberal whites in all parts of the country, as well as support from the administrations of Presidents Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. But there were also notable failures, as at Albany, Georgia (1961–62), when King and his colleagues failed to achieve their desegregation goals for public parks and other facilities.


Martin Luther King, Jr.


The letter from the Birmingham jail
In Birmingham, Alabama, in the spring of 1963, King’s campaign to end segregation at lunch counters and in hiring practices drew nationwide attention when police turned dogs and fire hoses on the demonstrators. King was jailed along with large numbers of his supporters, including hundreds of schoolchildren. His supporters did not, however, include all the black clergy of Birmingham, and he was strongly opposed by some of the white clergy who had issued a statement urging African Americans not to support the demonstrations. From the Birmingham jail King wrote a letter of great eloquence in which he spelled out his philosophy of nonviolence:

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.

Near the end of the Birmingham campaign, in an effort to draw together the multiple forces for peaceful change and to dramatize to the nation and to the world the importance of solving the U.S. racial problem, King joined other civil rights leaders in organizing the historic March on Washington. On August 28, 1963, an interracial assembly of more than 200,000 gathered peaceably in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial to demand equal justice for all citizens under the law. Here the crowds were uplifted by the emotional strength and prophetic quality of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he emphasized his faith that all men, someday, would be brothers.

The rising tide of civil rights agitation produced, as King had hoped, a strong effect on national opinion and resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, authorizing the federal government to enforce desegregation of public accommodations and outlawing discrimination in publicly owned facilities, as well as in employment. That eventful year was climaxed by the award to King of the Nobel Prize for Peace in Oslo, Norway, in December. “I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind,” said King in his acceptance speech. “I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him.”


Challenges of the final years
The first signs of opposition to King’s tactics from within the civil rights movement surfaced during the March 1965 demonstrations at Selma, Alabama, which were aimed at dramatizing the need for a federal voting-rights law that would provide legal support for the enfranchisement of African Americans in the South. King organized an initial march from Selma to the state capitol building in Montgomery but did not lead it himself; the marchers were turned back by state troopers with nightsticks and tear gas. He was determined to lead a second march, despite an injunction by a federal court and efforts from Washington to persuade him to cancel it. Heading a procession of 1,500 marchers, black and white, he set out across Pettus Bridge outside Selma until the group came to a barricade of state troopers. But, instead of going on and forcing a confrontation, he led his followers in kneeling in prayer and then unexpectedly turned back. This decision cost King the support of many young radicals who were already faulting him for being too cautious. The suspicion of an “arrangement” with federal and local authorities—vigorously but not entirely convincingly denied—clung to the Selma affair. The country was nevertheless aroused, resulting in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Throughout the nation, impatience with the lack of greater substantive progress encouraged the growth of black militancy. Especially in the slums of the large Northern cities, King’s religious philosophy of nonviolence was increasingly questioned. The rioting in the Watts district of Los Angeles (August 1965) demonstrated the depth of unrest among urban African Americans. In an effort to meet the challenge of the ghetto, King and his forces initiated a drive against racial discrimination in Chicago at the beginning of the following year. The chief target was to be segregation in housing. After a spring and summer of rallies, marches, and demonstrations, an agreement was signed between the city and a coalition of African Americans, liberals, and labour organizations, calling for various measures to enforce the existing laws and regulations with respect to housing. But this agreement was to have little effect; the impression remained that King’s Chicago campaign was nullified partly because of the opposition of that city’s powerful mayor, Richard J. Daley, and partly because of the unexpected complexities of Northern racism.

In Illinois and Mississippi alike, King was now being challenged and even publicly derided by young black-power enthusiasts. Whereas King stood for patience, middle-class respectability, and a measured approach to social change, the sharp-tongued, blue jean–clad young urban radicals stood for confrontation and immediate change. In the latter’s eyes, the suit-wearing, calm-spoken civil rights leader was irresponsibly passive and old beyond his years (though King was only in his 30s): more a member of the other side of the generation gap than their revolutionary leader. Malcolm X went so far as to call King’s tactics “criminal”: “Concerning nonviolence, it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.”

In the face of mounting criticism, King broadened his approach to include concerns other than racism. On April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City and again on the 15th at a mammoth peace rally in that city, he committed himself irrevocably to opposing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Once before, in early January 1966, he had condemned the war, but official outrage from Washington and strenuous opposition within the black community itself had caused him to relent. He next sought to widen his base by forming a coalition of the poor of all races that would address itself to such economic problems as poverty and unemployment. It was a version of populism, seeking to enroll janitors, hospital workers, seasonal labourers, and the destitute of Appalachia, along with the student militants and pacifist intellectuals. His endeavours along these lines, however, did not engender much support in any segment of the population.

Meanwhile, the strain and changing dynamics of the civil rights movement had taken a toll on King, especially in the final months of his life. “I’m frankly tired of marching. I’m tired of going to jail,” he admitted in 1968. “Living every day under the threat of death, I feel discouraged every now and then and feel my work’s in vain, but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.”

King’s plans for a Poor People’s March to Washington were interrupted in the spring of 1968 by a trip to Memphis, Tennessee, in support of a strike by that city’s sanitation workers. In the opinion of many of his followers and biographers, King seemed to sense his end was near. As King prophetically told a crowd at the Mason Temple Church in Memphis on April 3, on the night before he died, “I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” The next day, while standing on the second-story balcony of the Lorraine Motel where he and his associates were staying, King was killed by a sniper’s bullet; the killing sparked riots and disturbances in over 100 cities across the country. On March 10, 1969, the accused white assassin, James Earl Ray, pleaded guilty to the murder and was sentenced to 99 years in prison.

Ray later recanted his confession, claiming lawyers had coerced him into confessing and that he was the victim of a conspiracy. In a surprising turn of events, members of the King family eventually came to Ray’s defense. King’s son Dexter met with the reputed assassin in March 1997 and then publicly joined Ray’s plea for a reopening of his case. When Ray died on April 23, 1998, Coretta King declared, “America will never have the benefit of Mr. Ray’s trial, which would have produced new revelations about the assassination…as well as establish the facts concerning Mr. Ray’s innocence.” Although the U.S. government conducted several investigations into the murder of King and each time concluded that Ray was the sole assassin, the killing remains a matter of controversy.

Posthumous reputation and legacy
King ranks among the most analyzed men in American history. As with the study of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln, there is an exhaustive range of perspectives on the man and his legacy, many of them still evolving as new information about his life becomes available. What is clear today, decades after his death, is that King’s extraordinary influence has hardly waned and that his life, thought, and character were more complex than biographers initially realized or portrayed. His chapter in history is further proof of the maxim that martyred heroes never really die—they live on in memories, collectively and individually, and their legacies take on a life of their own.

King became an object of international homage after his death. Schools, roads, and buildings throughout the United States were named after him in the 1970s and ’80s, and the U.S. Congress voted to observe a national holiday in his honour, beginning in 1986, on the third Monday of January. In 1991 the Lorraine Motel where King was shot became the National Civil Rights Museum. In July 1998 a sculpture of King was unveiled over the door to the west front of Westminster Abbey in London, an area of honour reserved for 20th-century “victims of the struggle for human rights.” And in December 1999 the U.S. National Capital Planning Commission approved a site in the Tidal Basin of Washington, D.C., for a Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial, the first time in American history that a private individual has been accorded such distinction.

With many of these tributes, however, came controversy and sometimes heated debate. Many critics, during King’s lifetime and after, accused him of harboring communist sympathies, associating with known communists, and undermining the American war effort in Vietnam. These charges, along with allegations of King’s marital infidelities, attracted the attention and surveillance of J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation during King’s lifetime, and they resurfaced in the 1970s and ’80s during debate in the U.S. Congress over the King holiday. King’s personal life and character were scrutinized further when the public learned in 1989–90 that King had plagiarized much of his academic work, including his doctoral dissertation.

The posthumous reverence of King, and whether it has helped or ironically harmed King’s reputation and the cause of civil rights, has been widely discussed. King’s longtime confidant Ralph Abernathy, for example, claimed in And the Walls Came Tumbling Down (1986) that his controversial discussion of King’s private life was necessary to stem the deification of his friend, “to let everyone know that …[King’s] humanity did not detract from the legend but only made it more believable for other human beings.” Similarly, scholars and social activists who contributed to We Shall Overcome: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Black Freedom Struggle (1993) argued that the lionization of King had actually caused the civil rights movement to lose sight of the grassroots efforts critical to social change; the perception of King as a superman, a saviour, a Christ-like Messiah, they argued, discouraged initiative and self-reliance and left African Americans dependent on the appearance of yet another Great Man to save them. According to religious studies professor Michael Eric Dyson, the canonization of King has also diluted King’s message, smoothed out its sharp edge, and transformed King into “a Safe Negro.” “Today right-wing conservatives can quote King’s speeches in order to criticize affirmative action,” he wrote in I May Not Get There with You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr. (2000), “while schoolchildren grow up learning only about the great pacifist, not the hard-nosed critic of economic injustice.” As these posthumous debates and tributes make plain, King’s legacy has not waned in social and political relevance.


Assessment
Martin Luther King, Jr., was the seminal voice during one of the most turbulent periods in American history. His contribution to the civil rights movement was that of a leader who was able to turn protests into a crusade and to translate local conflicts into moral issues of nationwide, ultimately worldwide, concern. By force of will and a charismatic personality, he successfully awakened African Americans and galvanized them into action. He won his greatest victories by appealing to the consciences of white Americans and thus bringing political leverage to bear on the federal government in Washington. The strategy that broke the segregation laws of the South, however, proved inadequate to solve more complex racial problems elsewhere.

King was only 39 at the time of his death—a leader in midpassage who never wavered in his insistence that nonviolence must remain the essential tactic of the movement nor in his faith that all Americans would some day attain racial and economic justice. Though he likely will remain a subject of controversy, his eloquence, self-sacrifice, and courageous role as a social leader have secured his ranking among the most influential men of recent history.

David L. Lewis
Ed.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 


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United States of America

 

 

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