Since we are celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a federal holiday in the United States, today would be an appropriate occasion to remind everyone here why the Civil Rights Movement emerged victorious in the 1960s.
The Civil Rights Movement triumphed over Southern segregationists like Bull Connor and Gov. George Wallace because they were able to make a successful moral appeal to the “American Creed” of equal rights. They successfully won over the hearts and minds of White Northerners watching the Civil Rights Movement unfold on network television by using direct action tactics in Birmingham and Selma that created sympathy for their crusade by framing it in terms of America’s republican values.
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. tugged at the liberal conscience and prodded our republican system to bend in the direction it was already predisposed to go … toward ever greater extremes of freedom and equality. In the 1970s, second-wave feminism and the homosexual liberation movement adopted the MLK strategy. Both of those leveling movements eventually triumphed in mainstream American culture because their opponents could be so easily portrayed as “un-American.”
It’s worth noting here that the vestigial remains of Southern culture has always had the effect of putting the brakes on these “trends toward inclusion.” The South resists this march toward republican extremes because it can still draw upon non-republican sources of strength, whether racial or religious, in its cultural DNA.