How MLK Impacted Women’s Rights

Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma where the march from Selma to Montgomery took place.

“For every name we know, there are scores of names we don’t know because of sexism.” Marcia Chatelain, associate professor of history and African American studies at Georgetown University said this as she emphasized the importance of Martin Luther King, Jr. and how he influenced leading women to take the reins of their rights as a whole.

For starters, no, I am not of African American decent but yes, I feel just as strongly about the civil rights movement as it not only influenced integration but also influenced the rights of women nationwide. Growing up the little Brown Muslim Girl with black hair and big black eyes, I faced discrimination regularly. I was often told to go back to where I came from, called a terrorist, or just not so favored. I have heard things like “I don’t like your people” or “you’re a towel head”… some of it made no sense! But ignorance is bliss right?
While this is NO comparison to what African Americans faced before, during and even after the civil rights movement, I can say that I TRULY understand the desire for equality. I was honored to travel to the many monumental locations commemorating MLK including Memphis, Atlanta, Selma, and more! Of all moments memorable, the most memorable was the march from Selma to Montgomery. I was able to partake in a simulation of the march crossing over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. We recreated this march by standing and walking in silence across that bridge, no distractions, no stops, no talking, just truly embracing what it felt like to walk with power and silence in memory of MLK and those who supported him in the race for equality.

I was fortunate to have met so many of those people still alive today, who marched with MLK and who lived through the Civil Rights movement. I learned about the struggles, the helplessness, the sadness, the pain. But I also learned, after meeting SO many incredible survivors of the movement, not one person reserved a hateful or resentful bone in their bodies. They took this opportunity to educate and encourage. To show that anything is possible. To show that they are survivors and they are proud. But not once did I feel or experience any hatred toward those who caused this suffering years ago and who still cause suffering today.

As mentioned, MLK was supported by so many in the fight for equality. Marcia Chatelain, associate professor at Georgetown University also said “ there would be no King holiday, no civil rights movement, no opportunity to be reflective of how far we’ve come if it wasn’t for scores of women.” And she is onto something! MLK is the face of the movement, but no person is capable of doing this on his own. MLK was triggered and supported by so many strong and faithful individuals, and many of those individuals included powerful women. 

In the early 50’s, King partook in the controversies Planned Parenthood faced. He was in favor of contraception and supported the work of Planned Parenthood and agreed to serve on the committee. MLK marched with women who were underpaid and spoke for women who were denied equality; he also organized for women who were victims of oppression and abuse. He supported the Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor which was a black woman’s organization formed to stop white men from raping black women. PAUSE, think, WHY WAS THIS HAPPENING!? Change was needed, for women especially.

Speaking of women, you know who triggered the Montgomery Bus Boycott and used her strength to fight back? We all know the name! Ms. Rosa Parks. In 1955 Ms. Parks refused to give her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery bus and was taken to jail for this refusal because of the local laws dictating that African Americans must give up their seats and move to the back if/when the white section became full. As a result of Ms. Parks’ strength and courage, this boycott garnered a great deal of publicity nationwide and inspired other African American groups in the south to protest segregation which ultimately led to the spread of the nonviolent resistance phase of the civil rights movement.

Additionally, Corretta Scott King was the backbone of this movement. She had full faith and trust in her husband during these difficult times and believed that he was “chosen” for this leadership role. She remained by his side through it all! In 1956 Ms. King’s home was bombed while she was home alone with their daughter. Fortunately, both survived, and still Ms. King never gave up. She was urged to leave for the safety of her family, but she advised “she was not married to Martin but she was also married to the movement.” If Ms. King decided to leave, understandably, after such a traumatic experience for her and their daughter, Mr. King may have followed her and there may have never been the Montgomery bus boycott. If these aren’t relationship goals, I don’t know what is!

For those who are not familiar, this boycott lasted 381 days and brought Mr. King into the spotlight of the Civil Rights Movement. This was a mass protest against the bus system in Alabama which lead to the 1956 supreme court decision declaring the segregation laws on buses as “unconstitutional”. This was a victory! And more victories followed! But today, we continue to see racial and gender inequality in all spaces including the workforce.

Modern Day Women aims to truly continue the legacy that MLK has left. He made his mark and is remembered today and every other day by many for his influence on both race and gender equality. He paved the way for human rights and should continue to be honored and celebrated. But as I mentioned earlier, no person can do this on his own, and Modern Day Woman is taking its turn to advocate and move forward with bigger and better changes to come for women nationwide seeking equality in the workforce. While Mr. King and his body of support successfully changed the laws of equality, the ways of practice remain unfair yet discrete. Modern Day Woman will continue his purpose by creating more opportunities for women, therefore enhancing justness one “step” at a time as we continue to march with Mr. King in the race for equality!

Yasmin Bakhtyari, Director of Strategic Partnerships

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