From 1961 until 1966, King published in The Nation an annual report on the progress of the civil-rights movement during the previous year. In this installment, “Hammer of Civil Rights,” from the March 9, 1964, issue, King reflected on the year that had seen violent suppression of protests in Birmingham, the March on Washington, the deaths of four schoolchildren in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Despite the tragedies, King hoped that the new president, Lyndon Johnson, would use the powers of the presidency more assertively to protect and advance the cause of civil rights, as in fact he soon did.
Exactly one hundred years after Abraham Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation for them, Negroes wrote their own document of freedom in their own way. In 1963, the civil rights movement coalesced around a technique for social change, nonviolent direct action. It elevated jobs and other economic issues to the summit, where earlier it had placed discrimination and suffrage. It thereby forged episodic social protest into the hammer of social revolution.…
The necessity for a new approach to the Executive power is not a matter of choice. The new-found strength of the civil rights movement will not vanish or wither. Negroes have learned the strength of their own power and will unleash it again and again. The surge of their revolution must inevitably engulf the nation once more, and if effective methods have not been devised, chaos can result from future confrontations dealt with indecisively. Now is the time to anticipate needs, not when the flames of conflict are raging. This is the lesson the past teaches us. This is the test to which concerned national leaders are put—not by civil rights leaders as such, but by conditions too brutal to be endured, and by justice too long delayed to be justified.
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