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26 September 2014
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Martin Luther King's Style of Leadership

By Dr Peter J Ling
Campaigning for peace and justice

President Lyndon Johnson discussing the Voting Rights Act with Martin Luther King
President Lyndon Johnson discussing the Voting Rights Act with Martin Luther King ©
While it is customary to judge leaders by their successes, it may be argued that King showed his most heroic leadership after 1965, when he championed a US withdrawal from Vietnam, and the tackling of poverty and deprivation in black ghettos, with little success. It had taken bravery to confront segregation in the South, but it took equal courage to challenge the President on foreign policy and to demand a massive redistribution of wealth and power to the underprivileged.

Even in the days after the disturbances in Watts, Los Angeles, in August 1965, President Johnson spent part of a meeting with King demanding his support on Vietnam. Having developed a strategy that ultimately cast the White House in the role of ally, King increasingly accepted that the federal government was his adversary.

'... they despised King as a hypocrite who spoke about peace and non-violence but created strife and disorder.'

His attempts to dramatise the evils of poverty and demand change in Chicago's ghettos provoked an angry reaction from whites, who saw him as threatening the value of their homes, the security of their jobs, and the secure parochialism of their children's schools. Beneficiaries of institutional racism, they despised King as a hypocrite who spoke about peace and non-violence but created strife and disorder.

Published: 2003-04-01



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