Civil Disobedience Case study: Dr. Martin Luther King

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The term ‘Civil disobedience can also be known as resistance to the civil government. In the respective case, the actions followed by the one who is taking part in civil disobedience are basically refusing the laws and demands of the governing authority. The action of refusal to the demands and laws of the authority might sound weird for some people as for us; the governing authority is the one which has to be listened to. The orders from the government must not be ignored; keeping in mind this, the action of disobeying the rules of government might not sound good for most people, but the basis of this disobedience has to be understood for judging the phenomenon of civil disobedience. The reason behind disobeying the civil rules and regulations imposed by the government is that these rules are not acceptable for civil society as a whole (Thoreau and Union). Full or a large population of the society resists the laws imposed by the authority on them because the respective rules imposed in their eyes are not inhuman or just or are having any other issue in them that are hindering the large population of the society from disobeying them. In my own words, the word ‘civil disobedience can be regarded as a tactic used by the people of the society against the authorities, by refusing to comply with their imposed rules and regulations, to convey their political message up to the higher authorities. For defining in a more reliable and good manner, the definition of civil disobedience started by Henry David Thoreau is given below, justifying the action taken by Dr. Martin Luther King,

“If the machine of government is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law.”

(King III).

Civil disobedience is like a resistance to the rules and regulations of the governing authority but in a non-violent way. Usually, when people are against the government’s actions or the rules and regulations of the governing authorities, the negligence or resistance is showed in the form of protests and irregular activities in society. But in civil disobedience, the resistance showed is peaceful without showing any violent or passionate behavior. Civil disobedience is as old as the start of the 20th century. In Egypt against British colonialism, during the 1919 Revolution, civil disobedience was observed in the region. Then nonviolent resistive moments were also shown in India, initiated by Gandhi in the mid-20th century. Resistance to the governing authorities clearly was although observed at the start of the 20th century. The idea of peaceful political resistance without violence was observed back in the 17th and 18th century too. Hence the phenomenon of civil disobedience is not new and has been practiced for centuries, reflecting the political vigilance in the normal civil society (Thoreau).

In civil disobedience, the chances of getting arrested and charged with certain crimes by the judicial or police authority are very high. But the people taking part in the respective nonviolent act have an idea of the consequences they might have to face. The only aim of the people disobeying the authority is to express a political message. The agent that is used as a source of conveying the message is the media, who, through its coverage, makes the normal people know that what message does the society wants to transmit to the authorities. The respective research paper analyzes the case study of the past. The great Dr. Martin Luther King led a non-violent civil disobedience movement to support Black Americans in society.

Dr. Martin Luther King’s views about the resistance of laws of the authority can be reflected from the following statement, quoted by him,

“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

(Sturm “Crisis in the American Republic: The Legal and Political Significance of Martin Luther King’s” Letter from a Birmingham Jail”)

The phenomenon of respect in the eyes of Dr. Martin Luther King can be reflected easily through the above statement, written by Dr. Marin Luther King himself. Another quotation stated by him clearly shows what he really wanted before initiating the respective movement for the rights of Black Americans. As it has been stated by him,

“An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is, in reality, expressing the highest respect for the law.”

(Sturm “Crisis in the American Republic: The Legal and Political Significance of Martin Luther King’s” Letter from a Birmingham Jail”)

Dr. Martin Luther King belonged to the mid of the 20th century and was one of the great focal leaders of the movement of American civil rights. He was the one who first time in American history, started civil disobedience for the rights of black Americans. His name is among those people of history who, without practicing violence in society, made the inhuman act of racial discrimination reach to end in America at that moment. Using civil disobedience for this act opened up the doors of threat and imprisonment for him. However, even knowing the consequences of his action, he still did not give up and kept on resisting the unacceptable rules imposed by the authorities. It has been famed for Dr. Martin Luther King that he was among the influential people of the 20th century who use a great strategy to upheaval the rights of the Black Americans.

Black Americans had been facing injustice and inhuman acts in society for a long time. The concept of slavery and punishment has a strong relationship with the black Americans, as they were used to smuggle to other states through ships, to be traded to other people, for acting as a slave. The intensity of inhuman actions against Black Americans, although changed, but the elimination of this was not observed. Hence the great man of history, known as Dr. Martin Luther King, stood up against the inhuman actions of white Americans against Black Americans to eliminate racial discrimination from the society (Keeton).

The inspirational body for Dr. Martin Luther King behind initiating civil disobedience in Southern America was Henry David Thoreau, whose theory of civil disobedience was stated in his essay titled, ‘Resistance to Civil Government’ (“Civil Disobedience”). Martin Luther King, in his autobiography, stated that he read the essay many times because of the idea presented by Henry David Thoreau about “refusing to pay the taxes” and going to “jail,” instead of standing in the war dispersing “slavery territory” in the region of Mexico. Dr. Martin Luther King also liked the idea of showing non-violent resistance against the political authorities by not paying the taxes and refusing to abide by the rules so that the change demanded by the majority of people is conveyed to the higher authorities (Thoreau and Union).

Dr. Martin Luther King is also known as one of the catalysts of the 20th century, another famous being Gandhi, who followed civil disobedience to convey their political demands and thoughts to the governing authorities. Catalysts are basically the people who stood up for some revolutionary change in their lives or the lives of society. Considering the step taken by Dr. Martin Luther King, the revolution in a peaceful manner is easily reflected from it. His part in the Black American civil rights movement makes him the man of peaceful revolutions of history.

The method he actually adopted was that he pointed out and highlighted the anarchical trigger by the white segregationists acting as the group of the society that disobeyed unification laws in the society under the shield of anarchy. Racial discrimination was not acceptable according to the rule. Still, under the anarchical power, Black Americans were exploited by the white group of the United States of America, forcing Dr. Martin Luther King to go against laws, leaving tax and molding public (specifically people supporting unified society in America giving black Americans equal rights) to not follow the unjust and human rules imposed by the authorities. The resistance to the white segment of the society was initiated under civil disobedience were, black Americans and their supporters refused to pay the taxes and work for the betterment of the American society until unless the governing authorities do not listen to the demand of the kings and the black segment of the society.

Going against the segregated division of society into blacks and white people of society basically offended the authority against Dr. Martin Luther King. But he stood on his action and justified his action, considering segregation or racial discrimination as the tool of destruction in the society. It was said that segregating the society in the classes and races based on color is purely an act of injustice and goes against the rules of humanity. Following the method, the great ‘African-American Civil Rights Movement was witnessed between 1954 and 1968. The method used in this movement was civil obedience under the leadership of Dr. Martin King Luther to eradicate the racial segregation and racial discrimination in America, keeping the status of the Black Americans lowered continuously. The movement was on a huge scale, touching the federal, state, and local governments of the region as the black people in southern America were not allowed to vote and take part in the democratic practices of the region for 60 years, leaving them quite frustrated and deprived. But it was because of Dr. Martin Luther King that the frustration did not end up in some destructive or violent civil war but took the form of civil disobedience for getting the civil rights of the Black American society (Bois, Parks and King Jr).

Dr. Martin Luther King was sent to a jail cell for his actions, where he wrote about his idea of civil disobedience. The writing was titled “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” written in the Birmingham jail situated in Alabama. His letter is still known by the people and read for its inspirational power. He was granted the Nobel Peace prize in 1964 for his peaceful and non-violent resistance. By getting honored with the title of ‘man of the year 1964” by Time magazine, he also made his way to the list of the amazing people of history. His works were very much appreciated by all people, and his lifelong speech, “I Have a Dream,” is still regarded as the most inspirational speech of American history (Covert).

Because of his immense belief in the unification of the segments of America, he faced many challenges throughout his life. He was imprisoned more than twenty times. His family also suffered as his home was bombed too. He was accused of doing wrong and unconstitutional by the conservative white people of southern America, who were never in favor of making the blacks and whites united. Whites were considered as superior people by most of the white group of people, making a large population of the region goes against Dr. Martin Luther King. Facing all the hatred throughout his life, his death finally also came as a result of this hatred because he was assassinated in 1968. However, even after facing all such situations, his movements and actions are written in the peaceful revolutions of history.

His civil disobedience did what other violent wars could ever do in Southern America. He finally succeeded in giving Black Americans equal rights in society after his long struggle of 13 years. Even a few humble white men also showed respect to his actions (of course, other than the conservative white people), stating that his peaceful strategy of following civil disobedience for giving forward his political message was worth applauding. As even such intense emotions were deeply rooted in the Black Americans, they did not burst out with violence and aggression like happened in history. Still, the matter was resolved to a great extent in a peaceful and non-violent manner, just because of the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King.

In my opinion, the example of Dr. Martin Luther King was the best to explain the rightfulness of civil disobedience. As the phenomenon of civil disobedience is said to be unethical and unconstitutional because we are told since childhood to follow the rules and what the authority states, but with the peaceful implementation of Dr. King Martin Luther, the detailed explanation of the true meaning and the true theme of the civil disobedience is very clear to the majority of people. The great man of history or the man of the year 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, changed the whole perception of revolution by using the best strategy of civil disobedience. Revolution is often associated with bloodshed, wars, battles, and irregular activities in society. Still, if we consider the example of Dr. Martin Luther King, it can be clearly seen that to convey the general public political message, violence is not necessary.

As Dr. Martin Luther King practiced, the phenomenon can be achieved using peaceful manners. The action is not unconstitutional as Howard Zinn also justifies the righteousness of Civil disobedience in the following quotation;

“If patriotism were defined, not as blind obedience to government, nor as submissive worship to flags and anthems, but rather as the love of one’s country, one’s fellow citizens (all over the world), as loyalty to the principles of justice and democracy, then patriotism would require us to disobey our government when it violated those principles.”


Looking upon the fact above, stated by Howard Zinn, not obeying the governing authorities in some particular situations is allowed. Still, it can be said that not obeying laws in such situations will be much better than following unjust, inhuman, and merciless laws. Patriotism is not following the rules stated in the constitution blindly. Still, it is related to the efforts done for the people of the society you live in. it is for the betterment of the whole country, not just for the betterment of a particular segment of the society. The dividing society into two different segments, based on the natural traits of color, which is not even in their hands, is not acceptable for me at all. To eliminate such practices from society, it is sometimes important to show resistance. This resistance is often shown with aggression and violence, but the good change in this trend was observed mainly in the 20th century.

Abiding by the rules of the governing authority is so strongly rooted in our society that saying no to the wrong thing has vanished. Being part of the wrong is itself wrong. Disobedience is not the problem in my eyes as it must be practiced peacefully at some points of life where there is no other option. Still, the real root of society’s problems is basic obedience. Abiding by whatsoever the governing bodies or dictators used to say is the thing that fostered the situation to this extent. If this had happened centuries ago, the issues of racial discrimination, slavery, and other related things would have been banished from society up till now. The same thought is also reflected from the great man ‘Howard Zinn’, who stated,

“Historically, the most terrible things – war, genocide, and slavery – have resulted not from disobedience, but obedience.”


Hence the idea of civil disobedience is not at all bad, and for me taking Dr. Martin Luther King for explaining this phenomenon was a good choice as his determination for standing with the right aspects of life rather standing with constitutional aspects of life, made him provide civil equal rights to Black Americans in Southern America. Few words stated by him can reflect his thoughts and determination.

“I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.”

(Sturm “Martin Luther King, Jr., as Democratic Socialist”)


Bois, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King Jr. “African-American Civil Rights Movement.” Print.

Covert, Brenda B. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Print.

Keeton, Morris. “Morality of Civil Disobedience.” Tex. L. Rev. 43 (1964): 507. Print.

King III, Martin Luther. The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr. Newmarket Press, 2008. Print.

Sonu, Debbie. “Disobedience and the Commonsense Revolution.” International Journal of Social Education 24.1 (2009): 39-44. Print.

Sturm, Douglas. “Crisis in the American Republic: The Legal and Political Significance of Martin Luther King’s” Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Journal of Law and Religion 2.2 (1984): 309-24. Print.

—. “Martin Luther King, Jr., as Democratic Socialist.” The Journal of Religious Ethics  (1990): 79-105. Print.

Thoreau, Henry David. Civil Disobedience, and Other Essays. Courier Dover Publications, 1993. Print.

Thoreau, Henry David, and Peace Pledge Union. Civil Disobedience. Chadwyck-Healey Incorporated, 1987. Print.

Zinn, Howard. Disobedience and Democracy: Nine Fallacies on Law and Order. Ebook. Com, 2012. Print.

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