If you’re teaching an undergraduate class about the Civil Rights Movement and want to provide a bite-sized example of a movement leader choosing between “insider” and “outsider” tactics, here’s a nice one. NPR’s Karen Grigsby Bates interviews Simeon Booker, the first African-American reporter at The Washington Post and (multiple) award-winning writer for Jet and Ebony magazines, about his recently published memoir Shocking the Conscience. In particular, the NPR piece focuses on an event Booker describes in detail: a party, hosted by JFK at the White House in 1963, to which many of America’s black movers-and-shakers were invited. While the party was notable for the many black politicians, civil rights leaders, entertainers, journalists, and other figures who attended, it was also notable for who declined the invitation–the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. By that point, King had worked for years, unsuccessfully, to get Kennedy to send civil rights legislation to Congress. With the lunch counter sit-in tactic rapidly spreading, King made the choice to forgo another attempt at “insider” influence and instead focused his attentions on developing the next set of direct action tactics.
The real story, of course, is far more complicated than a 4 minute radio spot can cover (I suspect Booker’s telling of events in the book indicates as much). King, and the civil rights movement in general, had long been using both insider and outsider tactics to seek influence, and would continue to do so. But as a focused (and interesting) illustration of the concepts, and the choices that movement leaders may need to be make between them, the piece does an excellent job. It’s worth 4 minutes of your time (and that of your students).