MLK…A Master Strategist and Tactician?

I was once asked who I admired the most in the world and Martin Luther King was my unhesitating answer.

I have always been impressed with Dr. King’s moral leadership under extremely adverse conditions.  But I only recently became aware of, and impressed by, his skills as a political organizer, strategist and tactician.

According to In Motion Magazine editor Paul Rockwell, “There is no greater strategist in American history, no teacher more relevant…than Dr. Martin Luther King.”

“In the late 1950s,” Rockwell writes, “a major change took place within the civil rights community, a shift from representative government to direct action democracy. When the young Black movement broke away from the confines of electoral politics, society began to change.”  Dr. King was at the forefront of this movement.

King’s direct action democracy led to boycotts, marches and rallies.  These tactics gave advocates opportunities to get involved in the Civil Rights Movement, something the NAACP legal strategy could not offer. As a result of this strategic shift, a massive grassroots movement developed and created the political pressure necessary to change our legal system and culture.

Just as important, King realized that “even the oppressed have power.”  Tactics like the Montgomery bus boycott of 1956 was the first of many effort that allowed African Americans to flex their economic muscle.  By withdrawing economic support for the “evil system,” King and others realized they could force businesses and others to stop their discriminatory policies, regardless of what the politicians thought.

“By 1967,” King wrote, “the results were remarkable.” A student activist captured the essence of this strategy when he said: “You got to find out what your opponent cares about. Then go after it. We ask ourselves – What do we possess that our enemy needs? Man, if you answer that question, you’d be surprised how quickly negotiations take place.”


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