Malcolm and Mockingbird: Steps Away From Segregation toward Integration
Segregation between blacks and whites probably started about 100 to 150 years ago. However, it seems that the major uproar against segregation until the 1950s and the 1960s. Martin Luther King Jr. dealt with segregation calmly and peacefully. King dealt with segregation by helping to organize the Montgomery bus boycott. In addition, to King’s method of dealing with the problem of race relations peacefully, To Kill a Mockingbird also attempted to illustrate that perhaps the best way to deal with segregation and race relations was peacefully and with understanding. I will begin with the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott
The Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 was led by Martin Luther King Jr. In 1954, Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama. When he began his work as a pastor, he noticed that the black citizens of Montgomery were indifferent to segregation. According to King, there were three main reasons for the black’s community’s indifference to segregation. First, there was no strong leadership to help fight segregation. Second, some educated black citizens had jobs in vulnerable positions and they feared that they would lose their jobs if they spoke out against segregation. Third, because some uneducated black citizens depended on the white community for jobs, they also feared speaking out against segregation. In addition to the fear of losing their jobs if they protested segregation, some uneducated blacks believed that they were inferior. In fact, many uneducated black citizens wondered if they deserved better for themselves (King Stride 35-37). However, the black community’s lack of concern about segregation was about to change.
One day while riding the bus, a teenager named Collette Colvin was pulled off the bus and arrested because she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. The incident seemed to upset the black community. As a result, a citizens’ committee, headed up by Martin Luther King Jr. was formed. The purpose of this committee was to ask for a clearer policy on seating and to ask the drivers to be more courteous to black passengers. However, there was no great response from the bus company or the City Commission (King Stride 41-42). This was the spark that awoke the black community and they were ready to strongly fight segregation.
The fight against segregation started in December, 1955. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was coming home from work and she was taken off the bus and arrested because she wouldn’t give up her seat to a white male. When news of the arrest spread, the black community became very angry. As a result, many members of the black community, including Martin Luther King Jr, decided that a boycott of the city busses were a good idea (King Stride 43-45). King thought of the bus boycott as the black community withdrawing its support from an evil system, rather than only taking money away from the bus company. The bus company, being an external expression of the system, would definitely suffer, but the black community’s goal was to refuse to cooperate with evil (King Stride 51). By organizing the Montgomery bus boycott, King believed that the black community was saying to the black community,” we can no longer cooperate with an evil system” (King Stride 51). King also thought strongly that people who didn’t fight against evil were agreeing with it (King Stride 51).
It was decided that the first day of the bus boycott would be December 5, 1955. The group organizing the bus boycott named themselves the Montgomery Improvement Association. The MIA decided to draw up a resolution to outline what was needed to be accomplished before the bus boycott would end. The three conditions outlined in the resolution were as follows: 1. courteous treatment by the bus drivers was guaranteed; 2. seating was to be on a first-come first-served basis; 3. Black bus drivers were employed on predominately black routes (King Stride 63).
Even though the protest got bigger and bigger, King wished to point out that what kept the protest going wasn’t just the desire to keep it going. According to King, the bus boycott was successful due to keeping all the people who stated it together. King also claimed that this required more than a common goal. It also requires a philosophy that wins and holds the people’s allegiance and depends on open communication between the people and their leaders. According to King, all those elements were present in Alabama (King Stride 84).
The philosophy of the movement was called nonviolent resistance. However, it the beginning of the movement it was called “Christian love.” The movement centered on the black community protesting segregation using the weapon of love. The goal of this philosophy was to win the understanding and friendship of the white man, rather than to defeat and humiliate him (King Stride 84, 87).
Using love as a weapon to fight segregation would probably make no sense without a main thesis and some main points to this philosophy concerning love. According to King, the main thesis concerning this philosophy states that nonviolent resistance is one of the most powerful devices available to oppressed people in their quest for social justice. Some of the main points of the philosophy of nonviolent resistance are as follows: 1. Nonviolent resistance does resist. While the nonviolent resister isn’t physically aggressive towards his opponent, his mind and emotions do always working, constantly want to show his opponent that he is wrong. 2. It doesn’t seek to humiliate the opponent, but to gain his friendship and understanding. 3. This method attacks the system of evil rather than the people who are performing the evil. 4. It not only seeks to avoid physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. At the center of nonviolent resistance is the concept of love (King Stride 101-104).
When King talked about love he didn’t mean romantic love. According to King, in this context, love means understanding and redeeming good will for all for all men. Love, is this context is a strong and active love. It hopes to preserve and create community. Moreover, love is a realization that all life is interrelated, all humanity is striving towards a single process, and that all men are brothers. In other words, if you injure another person, you injure yourself. In this case of love, people are supposed to love the person who is performing the evil deed while hating the action that the person does (King Stride 104-106).
Not everyone was feeling the “love” in regards to the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The proof that King’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance was working was that the white community of Montgomery was very angry with the success of the boycott. As a result, they attempted to scare the black community into stopping the boycott. The white community’s scare tactics included writing threatening letters, name calling, and bombing Martin Luther King Jr.’s home (King Stride 132-135).
Despite the fact that his house was bombed King still urged blacks to practice nonviolent resistance. King explained that the white community probably believed that how it treated blacks was correct. Moreover, most white people were conditioned to believe that black people were inferior to them. Most of the white community was just simply attempting to preserve their culture of segregation (King Stride 139).
The black leaders of the bus boycott believed that a settlement would be reached because they thought that their conditions were not harsh. However, there was no settlement in sight. Therefore a suit was filed in the United States Federal Court, asking for the end of bus segregation on the grounds that it was contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment, which gave blacks citizenship. The court was also asked to stop the city commissioners from violating the civil rights of black motorists and pedestrians (King Stride 151).
The suit that was filed worked because on November 13, 1956, the United States Supreme Court affirmed a decision by a U.S. District Court stating that integration of Alabama’s buses must begin. It took until December 20, 1956 for the mandate to reach Montgomery (King Stride 160, 170). At last desegregation came to Alabama.
While Martin Luther King Jr. was happy that the desegregation of Alabama’s buses had finally become a reality, he believed that it was just the first step in achieving integration. King claimed that desegregation only eliminates because it simply erases the legal and social taboos that blacks had to endure for many years. Integration is creative and therefore reaches further than desegregation. King defined integration as accepting desegregation positively and allowing blacks to enjoy all human activities. Therefore, according to King, integration was the ultimate goal for both blacks and whites (King Testament 118).
King wanted people to understand that desegregation was enforceable and integration wasn’t enforceable. King claimed that integration was an unenforceable obligation that went above the laws of society. According to King, in order for integration to truly work, people must comply with “the letter of the law” by following all desegregation laws and they must comply with “the spirit of law” by changing their feelings about blacks and showing compassion toward them. No law book could ever regulate the latter (King Testament 118, 123).
Even though law books couldn’t regulate “the spirit of the law”, the law never played a small part in the problem of race relations. King claimed that “morality can’t be legislated, but behavior can be regulated.” In other words, the law can change habits towards others but not feelings about them (King Testament 124).
King’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance helped blacks strive for integration. Nonviolent resistance seemed to give blacks a new level of self-respect and a sense of belonging. According to King, it gave blacks power to fight against segregation and discrimination in there many forms. It also gave them the power to fight for acceptance and integration (King Testament 124-125). By using nonviolent resistance, it seemed that blacks learned to believe that they were not inferior to whites. They believed that they were human and as important as whites. It seemed that by using nonviolent resistance, blacks made some whites rethink their views concerning desegregation and integration.
To Kill A Mockingbird
This fictional story deals with how the people in a small Alabama town feel about the relationship between black and white people. In addition, it examines what happens to a town when a white lawyer is asked to defend a black man. Finally, it examines the innocence and strength of children.
The narrator of the story is Scout Finch. She is an eight year old tomboy, who likes to get into fights, spit, and hates school. She hates school so much that she tells her father, Atticus, if he doesn’t want her to say “nigger” then he shouldn’t make her go to school because she learned that word at school (Lee 75). At the beginning of the story, she is an innocent girl who enjoys playing with her brother Jem, her friend Dill, and trying to get Boo Radley out of his house. They wish to get Boo out of his house because they think that he is strange and wish to see him. Even though he is white, the townspeople are afraid of him because they think that he is strange and violent. He hides because he doesn’t want to deal with the townspeople. At the end of the story, she will grow up by losing a bit of her innocence in regards to her feelings about people.
Scout’s father, Atticus Finch is a lawyer who has to defend Tom Robinson, a black man, against charges that he raped a white woman (Lee 124). The white townspeople are very mad that Atticus has agreed to defend Tom Robinson. Some children tell Scout that her father is a “nigger lover (Lee 83).
When Scout gets upset about her father being called names, Atticus explains to her that he must take the case because, if he doesn’t take the case, he couldn’t hold his head up high or ask Jem or her to mind him. He explains to her that every lawyer in his lifetime that affects him personally. Defending Tom Robinson is his (Lee 75-76). By defending Tom Robinson, Atticus’ view of blacks seems to be that they aren’t inferior to whites. He also appears to believe that all men deserve a fair trial. Atticus seems ‘ahead of his time’ by believing those things.
Eve though Atticus wants to defend Tom Robinson against rape charges, the white people n town really doesn’t want him to. Therefore, some of them go to the jail to kill Tom. Atticus goes down to the jail to stop them. Scout and Jem follow Atticus to the jail because they are worried about him. At the jail, it is Scout who stops the townspeople from hurting Tom by asking Mr. Cunningham to say hi to his son Walter for her (Lee 154). This incident seems to illustrate that children can make a difference in the world. This is due to the fact that Scout, a child influenced Mr. Cunningham, an adult to change his intentions of helping to kill Tom.
That summer that trial of the state of Alabama versus Tom Robinson got underway. One of the first witnesses was Bob Ewell, Mayella Ewell’s father. He testified that he was coming from the woods and he got to his fence when he heard Mayella scream. He further testified that when he got to the window, he saw Tom Robinson on Mayella. As a result of seeing this, he claimed that he chased Tom out of the house and went to get the police (Lee 172-173).
Then Mayella took the stand and said that she had asked Tom Robinson to chop wood for her. She said that he had jumped on her, grabbed her neck, and was cussing at her. She screamed loudly and passed out. The next thing she knew, her father asked her who did this and chased Tom out of the house (Lee 180-181). However, on cross examination, Atticus got her to admit that her father gets mean when he drinks. When he asks if her father hits her after he drinks, she takes a long pause and denies it (Lee 183-184). Although it isn’t said, the reader is left to question whether Mayella’s father, rather than Tom Robinson, hit and raped her.
The final witness is Tom Robinson. He denies raping Mayella. In fact, he testified that Mayella kissed and touched him. He also said that he offered to chop wood for her because he wanted to help her and he felt sorry for her (Lee 195-196). Despite Atticus’ best efforts, Tom Robinson is found guilty of raping Mayella Ewell (Lee 211).
Atticus tells Tom Robinson that an appeal will be filed and that there is a good chance that Tom could be freed. However, before an appeal can be filed, Tom Robinson panics and attempts to escape from prison by climbing over the fence. Tom never makes it because the prison guard shoots and kills him (Lee 235).
Life went on as normal until Boo Radley helped Jem and Scout get away from Bob Ewell who was trying to kill them. As a result of this, Scout rethinks how she feels about Boo Radley. At the end of the novel, she thinks that he is a good person (Lee 281). The moral of this of the book seems to be never judge a book by its cover.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott started because Martin Luther King Jr. wised to fight against the system of segregation and fight for the integration of blacks and whites. However, he never wished to physically fight the white people who believed in segregation. He only wished to show whites that their view of segregation was wrong and needed to be changed for integration to work. Atticus also tries to fight against the system of segregation and for integration by defending Tom Robinson. Atticus never physically fights the white people who believe in segregation. He seems to wish to show them that their view of segregation is wrong and integration will only work with a change of attitude.
Both the Montgomery Bus Boycott and To Kill a Mockingbird deal with a change of attitude. At first, the black community of Montgomery Alabama didn’t seem to care about segregation. But, after Claudette Colvin was arrested for not giving up her bus seat to a white passenger, the black community was ready to fight against segregation (King Stride 41).At first, the white townspeople of Maycomb didn’t like Atticus defending Tom Robinson, but then some of the white townspeople understood why Atticus defended him (Lee 276). Also, at first, Scout thinks that Boo Radley is strange however, after Boo Radley helps Jem and her, she thinks that he is a nice guy (Lee 281). By some people understanding why Atticus defended Tom Robinson and Scout seeing that Boo Radley is a nice guy, perhaps these two actions will make the townspeople see the humanity of all men and begin the steps to integration.
Atticus seems to follow Martin Luther King Jr’s philosophy of “Christian love” to fight segregation. Like King, Atticus seems to view love in a non-romantic way. While defending Tom Robinson, Atticus doesn’t hate the Ewells. However, he hates the rape charges brought against Tom because of them. This is because, like King, Atticus believes that there is good will in all men. It seems that both Atticus and King believed that “love” can be the spark to understanding the similarities and the differences between people. “Love can help integration begin.
Both Martin Luther King Jr. and To Kill A Mockingbird believed in respecting the dignity and humanity of all people. King seemed to believe that respecting the dignity of both blacks and whites, by love, is one of the best ways of achieving the goal of integration (King Testament 106). By defending Tom Robinson, Atticus is treating him as equal to whites and thereby respecting his dignity. By not calling Mayella and Bob Ewell liars on the stand, Atticus is respecting their dignity also. By doing this, Atticus seems to be teaching everyone about the dignity and humanity that is in all men.
To Kill A Mockingbird illustrates King’s view of not using violence to counter violence. All Atticus says when Bob Ewell spits in his face is,” I wish Bob Ewell wouldn’t chew tobacco” (Lee 217). Atticus explains to Scout and Jem that he understands why Bob Ewell spit in his face. It was because Bob was trying to maintain his credibility. This incident seems to mirror King’s attempt to explain to the black community that some whites bombed his home because they were trying to preserve their culture of segregation (King Stride 139).
I think that both Martin Luther King Jr. and To Kill A Mockingbird have universal ideas that could be used today to solve problems. Both Martin Luther King Jr. and To Kill A Mockingbird provide a great way to deal with your problems. You can attempt to solve your problems by talking to your opponent about where yours and his views differ. By doing this, you love your opponent, rather than hate him. To Kill A Mockingbird and King bring us the moral never judge a book by its cover. Everyone is human and there is good will in all men. Also, both teach us that to truly grow up, people must be willing to change their beliefs, instead of holding on to the old ones.
This paper discusses the crossing of the personal and the political. Martin Luther King Jr. wanted to get rid of segregation by attempting to change the law. Therefore, he helped to organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott. However, besides wanting to change the law, he also wanted blacks and whites to form a community of people who had compassion and understanding for all. He wished that his philosophy of nonviolent resistance would show others how to fight against laws peacefully and also how to assert one’s humanity without robbing others of theirs. By defending Tom Robinson, Atticus fought against the institution of segregation while respecting the humanity and dignity of all the townspeople. Fighting for what people believe in is fine as long as it is done peacefully and respectfully.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Bus Boycott Story San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1958
King, Martin Luther, Jr. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King Jr. Ed. James Melvin Washington San Francisco, Harpers San Francisco, 1991.
Lee, Harper. To Kill A Mockingbird New York: Warner Books,1960.