Based on your reading in the webtext, respond to the following prompt in one to two paragraphs:
Describe the impact of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on the effort to expand African-American civil rights. How might the struggle for civil rights have evolved differently if Dr. King had not been killed?
Be sure to answer the following question in your post: What were one or two specific consequences of Dr. King’s assassination? Do you think these events would have taken place even if Dr. King had not been assassinated? Why or why not?
Exercise: Thinking About Contingency
The following passage is from a chapter in the book Political Contingency: Studying the Unexpected, the Accidental, and the Unforeseen. This chapter, by the political scientist David R. Mayhew, looks at the impact of unforeseen events (such as, in the excerpt below, political assassinations) on the course of American political history.
The passage below is excerpted from “Events as Causes: The Case of American Politics,” pages 99 to 140. Click on the title of the article to access a PDF of the entire book; scroll down to page 99 and read the entirety of Chapter 4. These readings are provided by the Shapiro Library. This reading is required. You will have to log into Shapiro Library with your SNHU credentials to access this article.
A Word on Assassinations
I have skimped on brief or short-term events, although there is no shortage of supremely important instances. In 1865, for example, crucial to the Republicans’ emergence as the country’s main opposition party were the so-called “Sack of Lawrence [Kansas]” by a pro-slavery mob and the caning of Senator Charles Sumner on the Senate floor. “These two acts, one on top of the other, traumatized the nation.” In the 1960s, key to the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were the Birmingham and Selma confrontations—the police dogs and the rest—that riveted national attention on deep-southern practices courtesy of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., as impresario.
But assassination may deserve a special word. Not easily subjected to systematic treatment—they are nearly in a category with the Nicaragua and Mexico earthquakes—they have been neglected as causal factors….I do not want to take up familiar speculations here on the order of: what if Lincoln had served out his full second term? I will stop at addressing two particularly energetic bouts of national policymaking—in fact, possibly the two most consequential exercises of American lawmaking since World War II.
One was the “Reagan Revolution” of 1981—that is, the Republicans’ program of unprecedented tax and spending cuts enacted that year…[A]s of March 1981 the plan seemed to be headed for the rocks on Capitol Hill. Then John W. Hinckley, Jr. shot and nearly killed President Reagan. That brought on a “display of jaunty courage” by the president (as in his “Honey, I forgot to duck!”), which “turned Reagan into a national hero and immeasurably helped the passage of his fiscal program.” His survey ratings soared. “The legislative payoff was dramatic”: Moderate and conservative Democrats, hearing messages from home, signed on. The cuts were approved in a series of showdown votes that spring and summer. All this is entirely believable. Without the assassination episode: no Reagan Revolution.
The other was the Great Society—or, more broadly, the extraordinary harvest of legislation enacted by a left-centered coalition on Capitol Hill during calendar 1964 and in the wake of the 1964 election during 1965. President Kennedy’s legislative record had been so-so, but then he was assassinated in November 1963. The impact was enormous, “All that Kennedy had tried to do, all that he stood for, became in some sense sanctified.” Lyndon Johnson took over the presidency with a “Let us continue” appeal: “We would be untrue to the trust he reposed in us, if we did not remain true to the tasks he relinquished when God summoned him.” As the new president, Johnson “possessed an enormous advantage that liberal predecessors had been denied since the late 1930s: a national mood so eager for strong presidential leadership that even Congress and interest groups had to take heed.” That advantage owed chiefly to “the impact of Kennedy’s assassination.” It helped make 1964 possibly the most productive legislative year since the 1930s….It is certainly plausible that, given the strong impulse toward state expansion in the 1960s and 1970s in this country and elsewhere, much of the content of the Great Society would have found its way into American policy sooner or later anyway. But we cannot know how much or when, and quite possibly a good deal of it would not have.