Matt Hartzler 11/10/09

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Matt Hartzler


From MLK, to Barack Obama

Eggs Don’t Break, When the Right Pressure Is Applied

“The triumph of civil rights was an omelette that broke miraculously few eggs” (153). This phrase of David L. Chappell’s could be construed through various different avenues. The first interpretation being that the leaders of the movement did not create much clout or really do much of anything with force behind it. Society’s natural progress dealt with the issue of segregation on its own. Blacks in the south just out of time stopped being disenfranchised by their white neighbors. Thus, not too many feathers were ruffled and not too many eggs were broken. Another option is that the movement was progressive and assertive, but the strength used did not account for much physical damage. The blacks and black supporters in the south put up a true battle against segregation, a battle without weapons such as guns or knifes though. These eggs were manhandled a bit, but few cracked. The latter proposal is obviously true for those who have even a broad based knowledge of the civil rights movement. Chapelle thinking in A Stone of Hope would have been that the first egg possibility is just not plausible or effective in any way. If the movement failed to generate any true motion, no pressure would have been put on the egg, but no omelette would have been made as well. Chapelle’s argument here is against the views of liberalism, which in his mind would have been actually been a low cost, low gain option. However, as stated, this didn’t happen in the movement. Chappell argues that the methods used by Martin Luther King, Jr., other leaders, and his supporters were ones of realism and coercion, like the second egg. He supports the more aggressive Niebuhrian view, which becomes the idea that desegregation won’t happen naturally, but must be pressed forward through action. Chapelle explains in his piece how the abandonment of liberalism was key to the success of the civil rights movement.

He feels that the reason for the success of the movement was first and foremost, not using liberal ideals. “The movement’s hope was something very different from the liberals’ optimism” (86). Chapelle proposes that the “optimism” of liberalism is not the realism that

It does truly seem “miraculous” that the civil rights movement put forth so much struggle without a large casualty mark. Chapelle goes on to say that, “the costs of victory seem, in historical perspective, out of proportion to the evil remedied, and seem to require explanation” (153). The civil rights movement very well could have been done through high casualty means, but King’s background of studying nonviolent Gandhi to some degree outmatched his reliance on Niebuhr. Plus, so much of the movement is rooted in religion, as Chapelle spends a high volume of his book on. With so many participants feeling an “inner strength” from God to protest and boycott, violence could have turned many of the supporters away. The use of non-violent coercion still directly matches Niebuhr’s ideals, and Niebuhr’s ideals are the crux of Chapelle’s argument.

Chapelle also cites an old adage about running away from a bear as a reason for the success and possible rational for the low cost of civil rights. Two guys are going into the woods, and one explains his fancy running shoes by saying “I don’t have to outrun a bear. I just have to out run you” (182). Chapelle proposes that the movement did not need to be massive and have total black solidarity, but just be a bit more expansive and have a little more solidarity than the anti-segregationists. “The civil rights movement did not overcome resistance by overwhelming force of numbers

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