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Black Lives Matter and the Civil Rights Movement: A Comparative Analysis of Two Social Movements in the United States

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Abstract

Black Lives Matter (BLM) has arisen as a social movement in response to the numerous killings of unarmed African Americans. It has been criticized by some as too confrontational and divisive. The purpose of this study is to undertake a comparative analysis of the BLM Movement and the civil rights movement (1954-1965). As social movements, both have evolved out of the need to continue the Black liberation struggle for freedom. I have conducted a content analysis of the New York Times newspaper during a 2-year period for both social movements to examine the issue framing of each. I argue that the civil rights movement framed its issues in a more inclusive manner than BLM. BLM should take a lesson from the civil rights movement by boldly taking on an issue like police brutality of African Americans and expanding the boundaries of something that is politically unacceptable to being acceptable.
https://doi.org/10.1177/0021934718764099
Journal of Black Studies
2018, Vol. 49(5) 448 –480
© The Author(s) 2018
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DOI: 10.1177/0021934718764099
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Article
Black Lives Matter
and the Civil Rights
Movement: A
Comparative Analysis of
Two Social Movements
in the United States
Dewey M. Clayton1
Abstract
Black Lives Matter (BLM) has arisen as a social movement in response to
the numerous killings of unarmed African Americans. It has been criticized
by some as too confrontational and divisive. The purpose of this study is to
undertake a comparative analysis of the BLM Movement and the civil rights
movement (1954-1965). As social movements, both have evolved out of the
need to continue the Black liberation struggle for freedom. I have conducted
a content analysis of the New York Times newspaper during a 2-year period
for both social movements to examine the issue framing of each. I argue
that the civil rights movement framed its issues in a more inclusive manner
than BLM. BLM should take a lesson from the civil rights movement by
boldly taking on an issue like police brutality of African Americans and
expanding the boundaries of something that is politically unacceptable to
being acceptable.
Keywords
Black Lives Matter, civil rights movement, social movement, police brutality,
Black liberation, race
1University of Louisville, Louisville, KY, USA
Corresponding Author:
Dewey M. Clayton, Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Louisville, Ford
Hall, Room 205, Louisville, KY 40292, USA.
Email: d.clayton@louisville.edu
764099JBSXXX10.1177/0021934718764099Journal of Black StudiesClayton
research-article2018
Clayton 449
The legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws has left a residue of systemic rac-
ism in the United States that has devalued the lives of African Americans.
Black Lives Matter, a social movement rooted in the collective and individual
experience of Black people in this country, encourages active resistance to
the continuing dehumanization and devaluation of their lives. Like other
movements which preceded it, such as the Tea Party Movement and Occupy
Wall Street, “Black Lives Matter is anchored in the physical occupation of
public space and amplified by social media” (Altman, 2015, para. 9). As a
grassroots organization, Black Lives Matter has grown from a hashtag to a
network that now encompasses over 30 chapters in the United States and
other countries. Building on strategies used by the civil rights movement in
the 1960s, Black Lives Matter engages in nonviolent direct action to bring
attention to police killings and abuse of African Americans.
There is a continuous struggle for human equality among African
Americans in the United States. The Black Lives Matter Movement addresses
some of the same issues that previous Black liberation movements addressed:
Black people are seen as criminal, and Black bodies are seen as expendable.
Both movements have been opposed to racism and systemic oppression.
Many see Black Lives Matter as the new civil rights movement. That move-
ment, from 1954 to 1965, demanded basic equality for African Americans in
the 20th century. Black Lives Matter has focused on police abuse of African
Americans. To that end, it is instructive to examine the similarities and dif-
ferences between the civil rights movement and the Black Lives Matter
Movement.
The stimuli for the creation of Black Lives Matter did not happen over-
night but rather evolved over time: The organization of the social movement
was a response to deeply entrenched problems in this country. Black Lives
Matter is loosely structured, and “as a confederation of local groups, empow-
ers each one to set its own agenda” (Altman, 2015, para. 12). As an organiza-
tion, its goal is to eliminate the racial injustice which permeates and surrounds
a wide variety of places in society. Black Lives Matter has brought out into
the open not just the racial inequalities of the criminal justice system but, as
Darsheel Kaur, a community organizer with the Ohio Student Association,
stated, “It’s about systems in place that continue to devalue the lives of black
and brown people in different aspects, including the prison industrial com-
plex, economic and food systems, the housing market, and voting rights”
(Shor, 2015, para. 2). Black Lives Matter has had an impact on America, and
has helped mold the current discussions concerning race and the criminal
justice system in this country. From protests in every major city to being
mentioned in television series such as Law and Order, Black Lives Matter
has “pierced a big hole in the ideology of a post-racial America and exposed
450 Journal of Black Studies 49(5)
the deep and persistent patterns of racism in the United States” (Petersen-
Smith, 2015, para. 43).
The civil rights movement of the 1960s and the Black Lives Matter
Movement today gained the full attention of the mainstream media. However,
what do we really know about the Black Lives Matter Movement’s message,
and what it is trying to accomplish? As social movements intent on rectifying
social injustice and grave social inequality, but separated by more than 50
years, what comparisons can be drawn between the two: How do they differ,
and how are they similar? Does Black Lives Matter have an overarching
strategy and, if so, what are the tactics it is employing to accomplish its
goals? These are some of the questions that led to this research investigation.
Specifically, by examining the following topics: (a) inclusive and exclusive
messaging, (b) leadership style, (c) issue framing, and (d) media coverage, I
draw out the similarities and differences between the two movements.
Admittedly, extrapolating meaning from such an inquiry is limited by the
infancy of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Still, I argue that to date, Black
Lives Matter has received less favorable media coverage than the early days
of the civil rights movement. To test this hypothesis, I conducted a content
analysis of the New York Times coverage of the Black Lives Matter Movement
and the civil rights movement for two, 2-year periods (2014-2016 and 1960-
1962, respectively).
First, I review the literature on social movement theory and examine the
significance of the civil rights movement to the Black liberation struggle in
the United States. Black Lives Matter, as a social movement, is still in the
early days of its formation. It began with the shooting in 2012 of Trayvon
Martin, a 17-year-old African American in Sanford, Florida. There are strik-
ing similarities between the shooting of Martin and the lynching of Emmett
Till, a 14-year-old African American boy from Chicago, who was visiting
relatives in Money, Mississippi, in 1955. Most media have focused on who
those two individuals are; however, what is more important is not who they
are but what they represent to each respective movement as a whole. Their
slayings are the flashpoints of pivotal protests and boycotts that took shape
due to the subsequent perceived injustices of the trials (by the state) of their
assailants. Both movements encountered staunch resistance by the status quo,
and both faced structural and ideological impediments.
I conducted a content analysis of articles about Black Lives Matter and the
civil rights movement in the New York Times using a 2-year time frame for
each. I selected the New York Times for my content analysis for several rea-
sons: First, it is a national newspaper and considered the newspaper of record
for the United States. As such, academic researchers have utilized the news-
paper as a reliable archival record of major public events. Moreover, it
Clayton 451
covered events of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s as well
as events of the Black Lives Matters Movement and the murders of Black
people in this country since 2014. Also, I chose to examine the same newspa-
per during the two time periods to ensure accuracy and consistency for the
comparative analysis.
I searched for key terms used in coverage of both movements, seeking, for
comparative purposes, to explore media coverage of the formative years of
each movement. This was done to assess if one of these social movements
received more favorable coverage overall, and if so, why? How the media
frames issues to the public can largely influence the level of public support
for any given social movement. After discussing the methods and results, I
conclude with an examination of what this tells us about the success of Black
Lives Matter and the civil rights movement as social movements, and move-
ments in general.
After reading this article, the reader will learn that much of the criticism
Black Lives Matter has received for being too militant in its tactics to bring
about change is no different from the criticism that was leveled at the civil
rights movement during its early days a half century ago. Also, the reader
should learn that mostly youth and student activists provided the real impetus
for changing the segregated conditions in the Jim Crow South in the 1950s
and 1960s, and young activists are driving the new movement to end police
brutality against Black people in this country today. “#BlackLivesMatter”
has become a rallying cry throughout America and by utilizing social media,
young activists have been able to organize and mobilize a cadre of protesters
on a moment’s notice. Finally, the reader should learn that the two Black
liberation movements are very similar in many ways; however, they are also
vastly different in many other ways.
Literature Review
According to scholars Walton, Smith, and Wallace (2017), “A social move-
ment may be understood as a group of persons organized in a sustained, self-
conscious challenge to an existing system and its values or power
relationships” (p. 110). The contemporary body of literature on theories of
social organization and collective action is grounded in an empirical under-
standing of the African American civil rights movement (1954-1965).
Resource mobilization strategy emerged as the dominant theoretical frame-
work from this body of literature, asserting that social movements, a form of
collective action, involved rational actors engaging in action through formal
organization to both secure resources and foster mobilization (Oberschall,
1973; Tilly, 1978; Zald & McCarthy, 1987). This was a dramatic departure
452 Journal of Black Studies 49(5)
from the traditional view of social movements that considered them sponta-
neous, disorganized, and unstructured phenomena (Morris & Herring, 1987).
It was commonly held that during the civil rights movement, protesters were
“‘reacting blindly to uncontrollable forces’ and that lunch counter sit-ins
were a spontaneous collegiate phenomenon” (Engler & Engler, 2016, p. xii).
In essence, prior to the civil rights movement, participants in social move-
ments in the United States were seen as irrational actors charged with emotion.
This was the traditional view. The civil rights movement, however, demon-
strated exceptional leadership, coordinated protests, and structured organiza-
tion; as a result, scholars had to reconceptualize the traditional understanding
of collective action that was now proven obsolete. When Dr. Martin Luther
King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) announced a
civil rights initiative in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, they were prepared.
The demonstrations in Birmingham came on the heels of a stinging defeat for
King and the SCLC in Albany, Georgia, the year before (Branch, 1988).
Determined not to repeat that failure, they studied the laws of Birmingham
and knew what actions were grounds for an arrest. They planned a direct
action campaign, named Project C (for “confrontation”), that was to challenge
the existing police brutality and put the horrors of racism on full display for
the national media (J. Williams, 2013). Scenes of police attack dogs biting
student marchers and firefighters turning high-pressure water hoses on chil-
dren galvanized much of White Americans to support the cause of African
American freedom (Engler & Engler, 2016). Today’s scholarship acknowl-
edges that repressing “nonviolent campaigns may backfire if the campaigns
have widespread sympathy among the civilian population by turning erstwhile
passive supports into active participants in the resistance” (Chenoweth &
Stephan, 2011, p. 50). Such was the case in Birmingham in 1963.
In addition to challenging the existing literature on social movements, the
civil rights movement, as Morris (1999, p. 528) notably stated, “fertilized the
ground in which numerous American social movements took root and flow-
ered into widespread collective action.” These movements include the femi-
nist, environmentalist, disability, antiwar, and gay rights movements that
exploded in the 1960s and 1970s, and more recently, the Occupy Wall Street
and Black Lives Matter demonstrations. The largely successful strategies and
tactics employed during the civil rights movement have become a model of
inspiration for social movements throughout the world. These strategies pri-
marily consist (then and often now) of nonviolent protest in the form of boy-
cotts, lunch counter sit-ins, Freedom Rides, and mass demonstrations (Sitkoff,
2008). Social scientists Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward argued that
in creating social change, what is important is the willingness to disrupt busi-
ness as usual. They asserted, “Protest movements . . . gain real leverage only
Clayton 453
by causing ‘commotion among bureaucrats, excitement in the media, dismay
among influential segments of the community, and strain for political lead-
ers’” (Engler & Engler, 2016, p. 43). President John F. Kennedy acknowl-
edged privately to civil rights leaders in 1963 that the demonstrations in the
streets had caused the executive branch to act faster and “were forcing
Congress to entertain legislation which a few weeks before would have had
no chance” (Schlesinger, 1965, p. 970).
Black Lives Matter
How did Black Lives Matter begin? On February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin
was walking back to his father’s home in a middle-class-gated community in
Sanford, Florida. He was wearing a dark hoodie, and had in his possession a
bag of Skittles and an iced tea. He was pursued by a White, volunteer neigh-
borhood watchman, George Zimmerman, who apparently felt Martin was a
threat and in the wrong neighborhood. Zimmerman, after being told by a
police dispatcher not to pursue Martin, confronted him anyway, and when
Martin, unarmed, defended himself Zimmerman shot and killed him (Griffin,
2015). Zimmerman was subsequently arrested and charged, but at trial a year
later his defense argued “that Zimmerman had felt threatened” (Griffin, 2015,
p. 44). In July 2013, Alicia Garza was at a bar in Oakland, California, when
the verdict in the trial was delivered; Zimmerman was found not guilty of
second-degree murder and acquitted of manslaughter charges. Garza said that
she took the verdict particularly hard because she had a younger brother
whose height and build were close to those of Martin. The next day, she
logged into Facebook and “. . . wrote an impassioned online message, ‘essen-
tially a love note to black people’, and posted it on her page. It ended with
‘Black people, I love you. I love us. Our lives matter’” (Day, 2015, para. 5).
A close friend of Garza, Patrisse Cullors, 300 miles away read the post that
night and shared it with her friends online. She used a hashtag each time she
reposted it: #blacklivesmatter and “in those four syllables she recognized a
distillation not only of the anger that attended Zimmerman’s acquittal but
also of the animating principle at the core of black social movements dating
back more than a century” (Cobb, 2016, para. 8). Cullors, a community orga-
nizer, spoke to Garza about “how they could organize a campaign around
these sentiments” (Day, 2015, para. 6). Garza and Cullors began touting the
hashtag and Opal Tometi, an immigration-rights activist Garza knew, agreed
to build a social media platform using Facebook and Twitter. However, Black
Lives Matter did not really gain momentum until a White police officer
named Darren Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old, African American Michael
Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014. With the aid of social media,
454 Journal of Black Studies 49(5)
Black Lives Matter organized Freedom Rides (reminiscent of the 1961
Freedom Rides during the civil rights movement) for more than 500 people
to Ferguson, from over 18 cities all across the United States, including New
York, Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Miami, Detroit, Houston, San
Francisco, and Portland (Cobb, 2016).
Within a few weeks of Brown’s death, hundreds of people who had never
participated in organized protests took to the streets, and that campaign
eventually exposed Ferguson as a case study of structural racism in America
and a metaphor for all that had gone wrong since the end of the civil-rights
movement. (para. 14)
As the protesters began peaceful protests in Ferguson in the form of march-
ing, carrying signs and banners, and chanting “black lives matter,” they were
met by armed resistance from local and state police departments. Some of the
protests turned violent when police and protesters clashed, and the governor
called in the National Guard and declared a state of emergency.
In 2015, in Baltimore, similar protests erupted after the arrest and death
of Freddie Gray from injuries sustained while in police custody. Again,
police and protesters clashed, a state of emergency was declared, and the
National Guard was called in to help restore order. As more unarmed Black
men and women continued to be killed by police officers in cities around the
country, Black Lives Matter began using social media, primarily Twitter and
Facebook, to organize protests in response to police violence against African
Americans. Black Lives Matter has grown from a moment into a social
movement and has over 30 chapters around the country. The phrase
#BlackLivesMatter has appeared on t-shirts, coffee mugs, and badges; it is
being used by candidates seeking public office, and has been featured in
television series such as Law and Order and Empire. In July 2016, four
National Basketball Association (NBA) basketball players, each dressed in
a black suit, opened the Espy Awards with a Black Lives Matter speech in
which they called for an end to police violence against Black people in
America (Dessem, 2016). Since 2014, student demonstrations, marches, and
die-ins have sprung up on college campuses around the country with the
refrain “Black Lives Matter.”
The movement has faced opposition since its inception, however. In 2014,
two police officers were killed in New York City, and the social movement
faced its strongest backlash from police in that city. The police officers were
killed in late December 2014 by Ismaaiyl Brinsley. On the day of the shoot-
ing, Brinsley (who committed suicide later that day) purportedly wrote on his
Instagram account of his intentions to kill police as retribution for the recent
Clayton 455
deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. The shootings occurred only
weeks after grand juries refused to indict Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric
Garner in July 2014 and Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael
Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014. The two grand jury decisions
resulted in widespread protests against police brutality in New York City,
Ferguson, Missouri, and across the nation (Petersen-Smith, 2015). After the
police shootings, the mayor of New York called for a moratorium on protests,
and the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association (PBA) and right-wing media
argued that Black Lives Matter was responsible for the killings. Black Lives
Matters officially condemned the shooting deaths of the two police officers
(Hanson, 2014). PBA President Patrick Lynch noted, “There’s blood on many
hands tonight—those that incited violence on the street under the guise of
protests, that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did every
day” (Petersen-Smith, 2015, para. 9). Moreover, the PBA has appropriated
the language from Black Lives Matter to confront injustice and created “Blue
Lives Matter.” As Ebony magazine senior editor noted,
There will be no end to the cry of Black Lives Matter and this movement will
not take on the responsibility for crimes it did not commit. Period. I don’t have
to say that “Blue lives matter,” because neither society nor “the system” has
ever suggested otherwise—quite the opposite, in fact. (Petersen-Smith, 2015,
para. 11)
As a social movement, Black Lives Matter has been criticized for not
having a coherent set of goals. In a meeting between some of its activists
and then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, a leaked
video showed several activists unprepared to outline a straightforward
agenda. Clinton gave them some sound advice: “Marches and pressure
tactics are good first steps, but real change comes from goals and a politi-
cal endgame” (J. P. Williams, 2015, para. 5). As a result, Black Lives
Matter created a new website called “Campaign Zero” and came up with 10
policy solutions for ending police violence (http://www.joincampaignzero.
org/#campaign).
Civil Rights Movement
Although Black Lives Matter has relied on social media, the civil rights
movement relied on the energy and enthusiasm of young people. During the
infancy of the civil rights movement, four African American male college
students sat in at a Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, on February
1, 1960. They were there to protest Jim Crow laws in the South that
456 Journal of Black Studies 49(5)
segregated lunch counters, and were criticized by some Black people and
White liberals as being too radical (Dreier, 2015). Within weeks, the sit-in
movement began spreading throughout cities in the South, and the nation
with Black and White students engaged in nonviolent passive resistance.
Frank Porter Graham, former United States Senator and president of the
University of North Carolina, added that the “black protestors are ‘in their
day and generation renewing springs of American democracy, . . . sitting
down they are standing up for the American dream’” (Sitkoff, 2008, p. 80).
In 2 months, over 300 Black and White college students from across the
nation would meet at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, and form
the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Ella Baker, a
SCLC advisor to the students, openly told them to be independent of older
groups and to set their own goals. Diane Nash, a student at Fisk University
who led the Nashville Student Movement, would later remark that “the
media and history refer to it as Martin Luther King’s movement, but young
people should realize that it was people just like them, their age, that formu-
lated goals and strategies, and actually developed the movement” (J.
Williams, 2013, p. 184).
These young students would go on to play a major role in the Freedom
Rides in 1961, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, the
Mississippi Freedom Summer Project in 1964, and major voting registration
efforts throughout the South in 1965. These events would eventually lead to
the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and (Dreier, 2015; the Voting
Rights Act of 1965). Young people transformed the civil rights movement
and gave it energy, enthusiasm, dedication, and idealism: Segregation was
wrong, and they were determined to end it. President John F. Kennedy (1961)
remarked in his inaugural address in 1961 that
the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this
century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our
ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those
human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which I
am committed today . . . (para. 3)
Many young Black and White Americans took those words to heart. In
addition, they were determined to change this country for the better. Ironically,
the death of a 14-year-old African American boy in Money, Mississippi, in
1955 helped spark that change. All the young members of SNCC would later
have a story to tell about where they were when they heard about the death of
Emmett Till. John Lewis, a former chairman of SNCC, stated in his memoir,
Walking with the Wind,
Clayton 457
As for me, I was shaken to the core by the killing of Emmett Till, I was fifteen,
black, at the edge of my own manhood, just like him. He could have been me.
That could have been me, beaten, tortured, dead at the bottom of a river. (Lewis
& D’Orso, 1998, p. 47)
Lewis would go on to write, “But as I began to come of age in the mid-1950s,
the landscape had begun to shift. The time had come. I could feel it. I could
see it” (p. 48). Martin Luther King would refer to this feeling as well, calling
it the zeitgeist, or spirit of the times. Moreover, members of Black Lives
Matter identify with the death of Emmett Till. In fact, they see similarities
between the death of Emmett Till and the death of Michael Brown, so much
so that at some of their rallies they can be heard chanting, “How many black
kids will you kill? Michael Brown, Emmett Till!” (Tyson, 2017, p. 213).
Movement Similarities and Differences
Inclusive and Exclusive Messaging
Not unlike the college students of the 1960s, the young activists of the Black
Lives Matter Movement are being criticized by African Americans and White
people alike as also being too militant. Author and activist in the civil rights
movement Barbara Reynolds wrote that she finds it hard to get behind Black
Lives Matter. She drew a contrast between the civil rights protesters in the
1960s and the Black Lives Matter protesters of today:
. . . at protests today, it is difficult to distinguish legitimate activists from the
mob actors who burn and loot. The demonstrations are peppered with hate
speech, profanity, and guys with sagging pants that show their underwear. Even
if the Black Lives Matter activists are not the ones participating in the boorish
language and dress, neither are they condemning it. (Reynolds, 2015, para. 4)
Oprah Winfrey, television talk show host and philanthropist, has criticized
Black Lives Matter for lacking clearly defined leadership at the top that lays
out a plan of action (Reynolds, 2015). After a series of confrontations between
Black Lives Matter members and Democratic candidates for President in
2015, the lone African American Republican presidential candidate Ben
Carson declared, “‘The BlackLivesMatter’ movement is focused on the
wrong targets, to the detriment of blacks who would like to see real change .
. .” (Stableford, 2015). Appearing on cable news network CNN, conservative
African American law professor, Carol Swain, proclaimed she would like to
see an end to Black Lives Matter because it is a very destructive force in
America (Diaz, 2016). Other Black scholars, such as economist Glen Loury,
want the movement to succeed, but feel it is going about it in the wrong way.
458 Journal of Black Studies 49(5)
Loury wrote in an op-ed piece that the movement was off on the wrong foot
“with tactics that alienate needed allies” (Loury, 2015, para. 1). According to
Loury, simply shouting down White politicians who state All Lives Matter
rather than Black Lives Matter hardly constitutes racial justice (Loury, 2015).
But Reynolds and other Black critics who were activists 50 years ago dur-
ing the civil rights movement may not remember how they, too, were criti-
cized by their elders as being too militant and lashed out at them as well. In
addition, Black Lives Matter has been criticized for some of its extreme
forms of civil disobedience, from “disrupting the St. Louis Symphony, to
interrupting presidential campaigns . . .” (Chancellor, 2016, para. 9).
Ironically, during a “Justice for All” march against police violence held in
Washington, D.C., Black Lives Matter activists took over the stage and
appropriated the microphone from Al Sharpton, organizer of the march and a
longtime civil rights activist. Furthermore, Black Lives Matter interrupted a
town hall meeting held by a progressive organization that had invited presi-
dential candidates Senator Bernie Sanders and Governor Martin O’Malley,
“demanding they present concrete actions for addressing racial injustice”
(Dreier, 2015, para. 13). At a subsequent rally in Seattle on Social Security,
when Bernie Sanders began speaking, a Black Lives Matter activist took the
microphone away from him and began a rant about racism in Seattle. She
would not give the microphone back to Sanders, so organizers ended the rally
without Sanders getting to speak.
After a march in New York City in response to the death of Eric Garner
and others, the crowd shouted that they wanted to see “dead cops.” The event
was organized as the Millions March, which included a coalition of different
organizations, but a conservative television commentator attributed the chant
to Black Lives Matter, and for a month stoked controversy by showing video
footage of the march to his audience and calling the movement a hate group
(Cobb, 2016). However, at a Net Roots Nation Presidential Town Hall meet-
ing in Phoenix, Arizona, not long after the protests in Ferguson and Baltimore,
Patrisee Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, can be seen on
videotape shouting, “Burn everything down” and “Shut this crap down,” and
exhorting her fellow Black Lives Matter members to join in (Chumley, 2015,
para. 2). The expression “Shut it down” has become a popular theme in Black
Lives Matter street protests and on social media, and is more than just a
refrain:
Beyond a rhetorical slogan, this has found expression in the real world as
activists in dozens of cities have marched onto highways to disrupt traffic;
linked arms across railroad tracks to stop trains; sat down in urban intersections;
delayed sporting events; and temporarily occupied shopping malls, major retail
stores, police departments, and city halls. (Petersen-Smith, 2015, para. 4)
Clayton 459
Although some of these tactics by Black Lives Matter are considered
extreme (and more militant than the civil rights movement from its begin-
ning), social movements have always engaged in confrontation in order to
place their issues at the top of the public agenda. When the SCLC began its
campaign in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, Martin Luther King was admon-
ished by a local group of White clergy who published a diatribe against him
in the local newspaper “calling him a troublemaker and a communist, and
saying he was there stirring up trouble to get publicity” (Hampton & Fayer,
1990, p. 130). King was in jail in Birmingham in 1963 on Good Friday
because of violating a court injunction not to hold a march, and while in soli-
tary confinement he wrote a response to his White brethren, which was later
published as the essay “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” In it, King provided
the justification as to why nonviolent direct action is more appropriate than
negotiation. King (1963) wrote, “The purpose of our direct-action program is
to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to
negotiation” (para. 9). According to King, nonviolent direct action meant
confrontation. Simone Sebastian wrote, “Whether in the 1960s or the 2010s,
the aggressive disruption of American race relations has caused the same
anger and fear—from Northerners and Southerners, from blacks and whites,
from liberal ‘allies’ and racist adversaries” (Sebastian, 2015, para. 4).
Leadership Styles
Black Lives Matter, though considered as continuing the struggle for Black
liberation where the civil rights movement left off, is indeed similar in many
ways but vastly different in others. Because of the infancy of Black Lives
Matter, it is difficult to make a complete comparison with the civil rights
movement. One major difference, however, is the leadership structure of the
two organizations. Black Lives Matter has rejected the civil rights move-
ment’s “hierarchical style of leadership, with the straight black male at the
top giving orders” (Reynolds, 2015, para. 16). As a movement, it is highly
decentralized and unstructured. Political scientist Fredrick Harris has noted,
In some ways, the new tools of technology—particularly social media and
especially Twitter—have facilitated the emergence of just such a bottom-up
insurgency led by ordinary people, and have displaced the top-down approach
of old guard civil rights organizations. (Harris, 2015, para. 11)
Moreover, Black Lives Matter “gives special attention to the needs of
black queers, the black transgendered, the black undocumented, black incar-
cerated, and others . . .” (Reynolds, 2015, para. 16). In fact, three women
460 Journal of Black Studies 49(5)
founded the movement. Conversely, the civil rights movement of the 1950s
and 1960s was male dominated. There were heroines of the civil rights move-
ment, women such as Ella Baker, who was the adviser to SNCC and a lieuten-
ant in the SCLC, SNCC activist Fannie Lou Hamer, and Rosa Parks, who
helped spark the Montgomery bus boycott by refusing to give up her seat to
a White man. However, they were relegated to secondary roles at the March
on Washington in 1963, and were not allowed to speak or march with the
male leaders (Reynolds, 2015). In addition, although much of the police vio-
lence in this country is directed at African American males, the Black Lives
Matter Movement does not allow the abuse of Black women to go unnoticed.
When Sandra Bland, an African American woman, died in a jail cell after she
was arrested for a minor traffic violation, Black Lives Matter made sure the
media gave her case full coverage. Unlike the civil rights movement, Black
Lives Matter is decentralized, and does not want one leader but rather encour-
ages leaders from communities all across this country. Because of social
media, individuals in Black Lives Matter can engage in grassroots organizing
in their local communities. Furthermore, the civil rights movement grew out
of the African American church and engaged in respectability politics. Martin
Luther King, Jr. and southern Black ministers founded the SCLC as an orga-
nization committed to breaking down “Jim Crow” laws in a nonconfronta-
tional manner. The Black church played a pivotal role for African Americans
in cities and towns throughout the South in the Black struggle for freedom. In
a system of legal apartheid, the Black church was one of the few public places
that African Americans could meet and speak openly and freely. Many of
these Black churches held mass meetings, rallies, and planned strategies for
protests and marches. In addition, the Black church was one of the few places
that African Americans could exercise positions of leadership in a segregated
society—many of the Black leaders of the movement came out of the Black
church and the structure it provided (J. Williams, 2013).
For example, when college students sat at lunch counters throughout the
South during the sit-ins, they were dressed in their Sunday best. They sat
quietly with their school textbooks and did their homework. They were cour-
teous at all times, they sat up straight, always facing the counter, and they did
not strike back or curse when abused. Furthermore, they were respectful of
authority figures and the police. When the integrated group of students trav-
eled on the Freedom Rides from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans in 1961,
they, too, were handsomely attired, mild mannered, and well behaved. They,
too, sat quietly, and read their textbooks and newspapers as they waited
patiently for transportation at the bus terminals throughout the South. In
Nashville, and across the South, students had prepared for the sit-ins and
Freedom Rides by engaging in nonviolent workshops conducted by Jim
Clayton 461
Lawson. Lawson had been a missionary in India, and studied the teachings of
Mahatma Gandhi and brought Gandhi’s philosophy and tactics of nonvio-
lence to this country. Training is a common occurrence among successful
movements. Lewis would note in his memoir that protests are extremely
stressful and often met with fierce opposition. Training allowed the young
activists to maintain discipline and to have a shared sense of purpose (Satell,
2016). In addition, the students believed in Martin Luther King Jr.’s philoso-
phy of nonviolence based on the teachings of Jesus and Christianity. The
students were showing the country and the world that their social values were
the mainstream values of America. That strategy, known as “respectability
politics,” refers to attempts by marginalized groups (in this case, African
Americans) to show their social values as being continuous and compatible
with mainstream values rather than challenging the mainstream for its failure
to accept difference (Harris, 2014). Conversely, Black Lives Matter wants to
move beyond respectability politics. During the civil rights movement,
respectability politics was the
concept of the “Talented Tenth”: it commanded black elites to “lift as I climb,”
or to prove to white America that blacks were worthy of full citizenship rights
by getting the untalented nine-tenths to rid themselves of bad customs and
habits. (para. 4)
As a social movement, Black Lives Matter would just as soon challenge the
mainstream values as they are doing with the multiple identities that coexist
within the movement: class, race, gender, and sexuality. Noted Alicia Garza,
one of the founders, “People think we’re engaged in identity politics. The
truth is that we’re doing what the labor movement has always done—orga-
nizing people who are at the bottom” (Cobb, 2016, para. 26).
Historian Peniel Joseph has remarked that “today’s #BlackLivesMatter is
being waged in the ‘long shadow’ of the Civil Rights Movement in the quest
to do nothing less than to redefine American democracy” (Chancellor, 2016,
para. 18). Both social movements have had to face the ideological and struc-
tural impediments of racism that still exist in the United States. In fact, the
systemic racism that exists in America today has brought about the need for
Black Lives Matter in the continuing struggle for Black liberation in America.
In response to the slogan “Black Lives Matter,” some White people have
countered with the slogan “All Lives Matter.” Judith Butler has stated that
“those who assert All Lives Matter misunderstand the problem, not because
the message is untrue. It is true that all lives matter, but it is equally true that
not all lives are understood to matter . . .” (Shor, 2015, para. 17). Shor argued
that the major impediments are “not just ideological but structural, that these
462 Journal of Black Studies 49(5)
young activists confront the role of neoliberalism in the economic and politi-
cal policies of the state.” In addition, he argued that during the 1960s, the
civil rights movement won its political victories in a climate of the expanding
welfare state and democratic rights. Conversely, the neoliberal state has
reduced those rights and looks to privatization (corporate sources) rather than
government solutions (Shor, 2015). It is that resistance that both social move-
ments have in common.
During the civil rights movement, resistance came in the form of cries of
“We Shall Overcome” by the young students of SNCC and Congress of Racial
Equality (CORE). Today, the young activists’ refrain is “Black Lives Matter.”
Just as the civil rights protesters faced resistance and were referred to as out-
side agitators and Communists, the Black Lives Matter members face resis-
tance from law enforcement entities around the country as well as others who
believe the movement has declared war on police departments. Some go so far
as to argue that police officers have been killed “because political rhetoric has
turned against them” (Weigel & Zezima, 2015, para. 11).
Issue Framing
Nonviolent strategies alone do not account for the success of the civil rights
movement. Historian Adam Faircloth asserted that King “maintained to the
end of his life that it was far more important to dramatize the broader issues
and generate the pressure for change than to draft precise or specific legisla-
tion” (Engler & Engler, 2016, p. 141). The legal achievements and articulation
of Black grievances in terms of “equal rights” paved the constitutional ground
on which African Americans could begin to demand change (Hamilton, 1986;
Tarrow, 1998). This articulation of the Black struggle as a matter of equal
rights was a strategic tactic: It provided a context to frame the myriad issues
faced by Black people. Moreover, the civil rights movement framed the con-
frontation between nonviolent peaceful protesters and volatile southern police
chiefs with dogs and fire hoses as a fight between good and evil.
According to social movement scholars Snow and Benford (1992), the
process of framing an issue constitutes a major avenue through which collec-
tive action is possible. The respective social movements that followed the
civil rights movement adopted the movement’s issue framing of equal rights
and opportunities to express their own grievances (Hamilton, 1986; Norman,
2009; Tarrow, 1998). This reflects what Snow and Benford (1992) referred to
as the “master frame.” To “master frame” is to provide a broad, generic col-
lective action framework for an issue that allows numerous groups to articu-
late their own cause within its borders. It is wider in scope and influence than
run-of-the-mill social movement frames (Snow & Benford, 1992). In scholar
Clayton 463
Doug McAdam’s (1996) analysis of the civil rights movement, he stated that
Martin Luther King, Jr. used both conventional and novel themes to construct
a coherent and resonant master frame: “In his unique blending of familiar
Christian themes and conventional democratic theory, King succeeded in
grounding the movement in two of the ideational bedrocks of American cul-
ture” (p. 347). Moreover, asserted McAdam, the theme of Christian forgive-
ness was reassuring to a White America burdened by guilt and fear of Black
anger and violence (McAdam, 1996).
Social movement scholar Greg Satell argued that this emphasis on Christian
values and nonviolence promised a redemptive and peaceful healing to
America’s racial divide (Satell, 2015). This was demonstrated tactically in the
early years of the movement by sit-ins, Freedom Rides, and other nonviolent
and dramatic events. Despite media coverage of Blacks being brutally beaten
and verbally abused, the movement did not gain much traction (Doctson,
2016). Satell argued that before the March on Washington in 1963, many
Americans saw civil rights as a Black problem or a southern problem (Satell,
2015). However, the March on Washington was designed not to preach to the
choir but to appeal to mainstream America. King accomplished this by har-
kening back to democratic theory. In his “I Have a Dream” speech, he invoked
the ideals embedded in the Declaration of Independence. The speech “spoke
not just to the problems of African Americans, but to the founding principles
of the nation” (para. 5). This example of framing draws on connections that
people are familiar with: Very few people have experienced real oppression;
however, the principles codified in the Declaration of Independence are inte-
gral to our beliefs (Satell, 2015). The issue of civil rights now came to be seen
as a problem of national identity (Satell, 2015). Ordinary people and politi-
cians outside the movement were now inspired to support it. Thus, the civil
rights movement contained an ideology of many frames (Doctson, 2016).
The literature on social movement theory teaches that the expansiveness
or constraint of the organizing principle on which the movement is grounded—
the choice of master frame—is crucial to its power and longevity (FrameWorks
Institute, 2005). Benford asserted that once a social movement fashions and
espouses a highly resonant frame that is broad and interpretive in scope, other
social movements within a cycle of protest will modify that frame and apply
it to their own cause. Benford (2013) noted that
once the Civil Rights Movement in the United States experienced a series of
successes in the 1950s and 1960s based on the equal rights and opportunities
frame, several other movements, including the American Indian, women’s,
LGBTQ, Chicano/a, and Grey Panthers,1 adopted and proffered a similar frame
to their specific movement campaigns.
464 Journal of Black Studies 49(5)
In retrospect, the wealth of literature that emerged from collective action,
because of the groundbreaking victories of the civil rights movement, reveals
a crucial point of reference, which any scholarship on social movements must
consider.
Media Coverage: Newspaper Content Analysis
To further the comparative analysis between the civil rights movement and
the Black Lives Matter Movement, I conducted a content analysis of the New
York Times newspaper to determine whether its coverage was more favorable
to one group as opposed to the other. Upon completion of the analysis, the
reader should better understand the similarities and differences between the
two movements.
Data and method. Political protest and the participation of people in social
movements are both forms of collective action. These collective actions pro-
vide important insight for predicting and defining occurrences of change within
society. The recent development of collectivity under the banner “Black Lives
Matter” serves as the focal interest of this article. Black Lives Matter gained
widespread publicity in numerous demonstrations and protests, demanding
reform in social justice and the police excessive use of force. In light of this, I
wanted to learn more about Black Lives Matter, how the media has come to
frame it, and the prospect of meeting the demands of the movement. I began
with a search of the New York Times for a 2-year period: January 1, 2014, to
January 1, 2016. Although the Black Lives Matter Movement officially began
when George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin, the
movement did not reach national awareness until the deaths of Eric Garner in
New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, at the hands of
police officers (Cobb, 2016). For my search, I selected the database ProQuest
New York Times (Comprehensive full-text coverage of the New York Times,
1980-present). I began by searching for articles containing the following terms:
“Black Lives Matter” or “#BlackLivesMatter.” Next, I selected articles con-
taining statements made by participants based on whether they were framed as
Human Rights statements or as Institutional Criticism statements. To accom-
plish this, I used key terms to identify articles that showed Black Lives Matter
in one of those two categories. The keywords I selected to identify Human
Rights statements were as follows: human rights, civil rights, values, liberty,
freedom, equal protection under the law, dignity, free speech, respect, and dem-
ocratic principles, The keywords selected to identify Institutional Criticism
statements were police, government, institutions, criminal justice system, law,
discrimination, prejudice, Jim Crow segregation, inequality, and racism.
Clayton 465
I decided to search coverage of the civil rights movement in its formative
years with the purpose to draw out similarities and possible comparison with
the new Black Lives Matter Movement. Repeating the format used for Black
Lives Matter, I selected the database ProQuest Search Historical Newspapers:
New York Times.2 The articles were chosen based on whether they were
framed as Human Rights statements or as Institutional Criticism statements.
I selected the same keywords to identify the different statements as I did for
Black Lives Matter. I limited my content analysis of the civil rights move-
ment to articles published between the dates January 1, 1960, and January 1,
1962—a 2-year time frame during the early days of the movement. This
choice corresponded to my selection of a 2-year period of publications during
the initial stages of the Black Lives Matter Movement. In addition, I selected
the years 1960 and 1961 because those were the years in which two major
Civil Rights events, largely conducted by young student members of the
SNCC and the CORE, occurred. SNCC students held the sit-ins throughout
the South in 1960, and CORE and SNCC combined, engaged in the Freedom
Rides by traveling throughout the South in 1961. Although the sit-ins at lunch
counters in the South and the death of Michael Brown are certainly incompa-
rable, both events spurred protests and boycotts, and both relied on the enthu-
siasm and energy of young people for their activism.
Hypotheses
Hypothesis 1 (H1): Media framing of the civil rights movement is more
likely to have a Human Rights focus than an Institutional Criticism focus.
Hypothesis 2 (H2): Media framing of the Black Lives Matter Movement
is more likely to have a Human Rights focus than an Institutional Criticism
focus.
Article Reviews: Black Lives Matter
Institutional Criticism Statements.3
Title of article
“Ferguson Protesters Reach the Missouri Capital with Their
Message”
Date December 6, 2014
Subject Marches of African American community in sign of protest against
police killings of Black men
Statement At its roots, the march was against racial disparities in the
application of the law, Mr. Pruitt and other leaders said.
466 Journal of Black Studies 49(5)
Title of article “In Unpredictable Protests, Organized Criticism of Police”
Date December 6, 2014
Subject Peaceful demonstrations across the country
Statement In what happened to Eric Garner, a Black man who died after a
confrontation with the police, they see all that is wrong with
a justice system they and many others consider deeply unfair.
Unlike other mass protests in recent years that were aimed at
targets such as Wall Street and the World Bank, the focus this
time is on the people standing on the other side of the barricades.
Title of
article
“Protesters Out to Reclaim King’s Legacy, but in Era that Defies
Comparison”
Date January 18, 2015
Subject Protests strategy comparisons
Statement David Garrow, a historian and author of a book on Martin
Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference, stated, “The impromptu protests that had erupted
in recent months were not comparable to the strategies
used by the civil rights groups of the 1960s, which had clear
goals such as winning the right to vote or the right to eat at a
segregated lunch counter.” Jewels Smith, a comic book writer
in Brooklyn, said the implication that social changes can come
only through legislation is “inherently problematic” for many
Black Americans: “We were considered property, then we
were considered partially human beings, then we had Jim Crow
and now we are in the prison industrial complex,” Ms. Smith
said, “The law for black people is really contentious. For the
most part it really hasn’t worked for us.”
Title of article “Another City, Another Death in Public Eye”
Date April 22, 2015
Subject Police brutality
Statement In death, Mr. Gray, 25, has become the latest symbol in the
running national debate over police treatment of Black men—all
the more searing, people here say, in a city where the mayor and
police commissioner are Black. “I have a very challenging history
in Baltimore,” Mayor Stephanie. Rawlings-Blake said, adding that
she had worked hard “to repair a broken relationship” between
Black residents and police.
Clayton 467
Title of article
“Racial Discrimination Demonstrations Spread at Universities
across the U.S.”
Date November 12, 2015
Subject Protests on colleges and universities
Statement “In interviews, students say they have been inspired by the Black
Lives Matter Movement that grew out of the fatal shooting of
Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Mo. They say the victory of
protesting students and football players at the University of Missouri
have spurred them to demand that their universities provide a safe
space for students of color.” A Yale student added, “It really is
hard to believe because we want to believe that we’re a post-racial
society, but it’s just not true.” Systemic oppression affects us all.
But the students who gathered on Wednesday spoke of “micro-
aggressions”—Tone-deaf slights directed toward minority students.
Human Rights Statements.4
Title of article “At Demonstrations, a Change in Tone”
Date December 22, 2014
Subject Violence, activism
Statement Governor Andrew Cuomo, who in the midst of protests in New
York over a grand jury refusal to indict a White police officer
over the death of African American Eric Garner from a police
chokehold, has to deal with the killing of two White police
officers: “I’ve said there are reforms that we should make to the
system to make the system better. I’m open to them, and I will
discuss them. If people want to protest, fine, they have a right to
protest. They don’t have a right to break the law. They don’t have
a right to abuse police officers. That’s how we govern this city.”
Title of article “Racial Terror, Fast and Slow”
Date April 17, 2015
Subject Civil disobedience, civil rights
Statement Slow terror is masked yet malignant; it stalks African Americans in
denied opportunities that others take for granted. Slow terror
seeps into every nook and cranny of Black existence; Black boys
and girls being expelled from school at higher rates than their
White peers; being harassed by unjust fines by local municipalities;
having billions of dollars of Black wealth drained off because of
shady financial instruments sold to African Americans during the
mortgage crisis; and being imprisoned out of proportion to our
percentage in the population.
468 Journal of Black Studies 49(5)
Title of article “Why I Can’t Forgive Dylann Roof”
Date June 24, 2015
Subject Racism, mass murders, forgiveness
Statement “Mr. Roof’s racism was blunt and raggedly formed. It was bred
by a culture in which I constantly have to shout ‘Black Lives
Matter!’ because there is so much evidence to the contrary.
This terrorist was raised in this culture. He made racist jokes
with his friends. He shared his plans with his roommate.”
What White people really want when they demand forgiveness
is absolution from their silence in the face of all manner of
racism.
Title of article “The Truth of Black Lives Matter”
Date September 4, 2015
Subject Civil rights, human rights
Statement Demonstrators who chant the phrase [Black Lives Matter] are
making the same declaration that voting rights and civil rights
activists made a half-century ago. They are not asserting that
black lives are more precious than white lives . . . but that
the lives of black citizens in this country historically have not
mattered, and have been discounted and devalued.
Title of article “Activists Feel the Bern?”
Date August 17, 2015
Subject Racism, presidential elections
Statement The movement, to my mind, isn’t a plea for pity, or appeal to
comity, but an exercise in personal and collective advocacy by
an oppressed people. It says to America, You will not dictate
the parameters of my expression; you will not assign the
grammar of my pain. You will not tell me how I should feel.
For these young activists, it’s not ideological but existential;
it’s not about a political field but a battlefield, one from
which they cannot escape, one on which their very bodies
are marked and threatened with destruction. This is not an
esoteric, intellectual debate about best practices, but quite
literally a flesh and blood struggle for equal access to liberty
and longevity.
Clayton 469
Article Reviews: The Civil Rights Movement
Institutional Criticism Statements.
Title of article “Negroes Press for Faster Desegregation”
Date February 21, 1960
Subject The struggle against segregation has taken on sit-ins
Statement The focal point of the Southern Negro’s struggle against segregation
has shifted from the narrow confines of the legal arena to the
marketplace. Many Southerners have watched apprehensively as
student demonstrations against segregated eating facilities spread
into five states.
Institutional Criticism Statements.
Title of article “Campuses in North Back Southern Negro Students”
Date March 20, 1960
Subject Sit-ins spread to White colleges in the North
Statement But money is being raised, meetings are being held, and picket
lines are forming in sympathy with Negroes who have protested
segregation at chain-store lunch counters in the South.
Title of article “The Young Negro is a New Negro: He is Proud of Every Advance”
Date May 1, 1960
Subject Young Blacks no longer accommodate segregation
Statement They acutely resent all outward symbols of second-class citizenship.
Whatever satisfaction they get out of the continuing, generally
quiet and orderly desegregation of transportation facilities—and it
is going at an astonishing rapid rate—they are more aware of the
persistence of Jim Crow’s shadow in most of the South.
Title of article Dr. King, Symbol of the Segregation Struggle,”
Date January 22, 1961
Subject Martin Luther King becomes face of the resistance movement against
segregation
Statement He is a zealot whose goal is the destruction of the system that “gives
the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a
false sense of inferiority.” “There is no arrogance about him, no
intellectual posturing. He voices no bitterness against the whites
who have handled him roughly.”
470 Journal of Black Studies 49(5)
Title of article “Negro Group Issues Freedom Ride Call”
Date May 27, 1961
Subject Segregation in interstate facilities
Statement Volunteer for the Freedom Rides, go to jail without bail, picket bus
terminals in protest against segregated facilities and alleged racial
discrimination in hiring, and demand protection for interstate
passengers from arrest by local law enforcement officers on
segregation charges. Protest to local officials about the jailing of
Freedom Riders.
Human Rights Statements.
Title of article “Youths’ Petition Backs Sitdowns”
Date March 31, 1960
Subject Sit-in demonstrations
Statement A young delegation to a White House Conference on Children and
Youth wanted to make sure that their voices of support for the
sit-in demonstrators would be heard. They were making plans
for demonstrations, picket lines, similar to those being held in
sympathy throughout the country, and a possible delegation to
Capitol Hill, where civil rights debate is raging.
Human Rights Statements.
Title of article “Sit-ins Expanded”
Date April 14, 1960
Subject Sit-ins
Statement The Urban League of Greater New York put out a statement in
support of the student protesters which read, “This is a struggle
of Negro young people for the recognition of their basic human
dignity. I believe that the chain stores, as well as all businesses,
have an obligation to practice the democratic principles, which
America proclaims and which are affirmed in the United Nations’
Declaration of Human Rights.”
Title of article “G.O.P. View Urged on Soviet Threat”
Date July 21, 1960
Subject Republican national platform hearings
Statement Negro leader said the Republicans would have to match the strong
Democratic civil rights plank if they expected to capture many
Negro votes in the presidential election.
Clayton 471
Title of article
“Kennedy Aided Truce in Atlanta Freeing Twenty-two Sit-in
Demonstrators”
Date October 24, 1960
Subject Presidential candidate involved with sit-in
Statement Senator John F. Kennedy interjected himself in negotiations that
brought a truce in Atlanta in Negro demonstrations against
segregated eating facilities, according to a source privy to
negotiations between Mayor Hartsfield and the Negro leaders.
Previously, Senator Kennedy had sent a telegram to a southern
conference of Negro students in which he stated, “The human
rights for which you strive are the definite goal of all of America.”
Title of article “Group Maps Plans on Freedom Rides”
Date June 1, 1961
Subject Freedom Rides
Statement Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) member
Edward King, recruiting chief for the Freedom Rides, stated, “I
believe in human dignity.” “Even at the risk of losing public favor,
we are willing to go on. I hope the public will keep in mind that
this is a moral issue. The enthusiasm has been tremendous.”
Findings
As previously stated, I examined the New York Times for articles about the
civil rights movement from January 1, 1960, to January 1, 1962, and about
the Black Lives Matter Movement from January 1, 2014, to January 1,
2016. The search of the New York Times for articles about the Black Lives
Matter Movement yielded 209 articles. Of the 209 articles reviewed, only
42 articles contained keywords that identified them as Human Rights
statements or Institutional Criticism statements. Of the 42 articles identi-
fied, 39 (92.8%) contained Institutional Criticism statements, six (14.2%)
contained Human Rights statements, and three (7.1%) contained both
statements. The search of the New York Times for articles about the civil
rights movement during these years identified 39 articles. However, of
these 39 articles, 36 (92.3%) contained keywords that identified them as
Human Rights statements or Institutional Criticism statements or both. Of
the 36 articles reviewed, 35 (97.2%) contained an Institutional Criticism
statement, 10 (27.7%) referenced a Human Rights statement, and nine
(25%) contained both a Human Rights statement and an Institutional
Criticism statement.
472 Journal of Black Studies 49(5)
Both an overwhelming majority of civil rights movement statements and
Black Lives Matter Movement statements contained Institutional Criticism
statements. I would expect to find this, given the analysis was conducted on
two Black resistance social movements. However, based on my original
hypothesis (H1—Media framing of the civil rights movement is more likely to
have a Human Rights focus than an Institutional Criticism focus), I did not
expect to find the civil rights movement articles to have a larger percentage of
Institutional Criticism statements than the Black Lives Matter Movement. So,
my content analysis proved my alternative hypothesis (H2—Media framing of
the Black Lives Matter Movement is more likely to have a Human Rights focus
than an Institutional Criticism focus) rather than the original hypothesis.
I expected to find more civil rights movement articles containing Human
Rights statements, because of how Dr. Martin Luther King, who became the
symbol of the movement, spoke with a new voice. His message of nonviolent,
passive resistance was inclusive, and appealed to America’s ideals that “all men
are created equal” and to the democratic principles of equality, human rights,
and freedom for all. Conversely, the Black Lives Matter Movement, though
nonviolent, espouses a message of human rights and Black dignity, and has been
portrayed by the media and academics as concerned primarily with aggressive
policing and police brutality and on occasion, promoting violence (see above).
When analyzing the Human Rights statements and Institutional Criticism
statements for both movements, 74 of the 78 articles (94.8%) contained
Institutional Criticism statements. In addition, only 16 of the 78 articles
(20%) contained Human Rights statements. Of the 78 articles reviewed, only
12 articles (15.3%), from both the Black Lives Matter Movement and the
civil rights movement, contained both a Human Rights statement and an
Institutional Criticism statement (see Table 1).
Discussion
I hypothesized that the Black Lives Matter Movement received less favorable
media coverage from the New York Times than the civil rights movement. To
Table 1. Cross-Tabulation: Human Rights Statements and Institutional Criticism
Statements.
Movement
Only Human
Rights statement
Only Institutional
Criticism statement Both statements n
Civil rights movement 10 (27.7%) 35 (97.2%) 9 (25%) 36
Black Lives Matter 8 (19%) 39 (92.8%) 2 (7.1%) 42
n18 (23%) 74 (94.8%) 11 (14.1%) 78
Clayton 473
test this, my research method was to conduct a content analysis of the New
York Times coverage of the two groups for a 2-year period. Next, I identified
newspaper articles from the civil rights movement and the Black Lives Matter
Movement based on whether they contained Institutional Criticism state-
ments or Human Rights statements. I selected several illuminating examples
from each and flagged those I felt were most representative of the statements
based on the keyword search (see Article Reviews). What I found was the
New York Times coverage of both social movements did not portray the civil
rights movement more favorably than the Black Lives Matter Movement. In
other words, the New York Times framed the issues as the events unfolded,
and from the perspective of the participants and observers involved. So, both
the civil rights movement and the Black Lives Matter Movement each framed
its own issues and not the New York Times.
Overall, in this study, the majority of Black Lives Matter articles pub-
lished by the New York Times were institutional criticisms. This was to be
expected because, as a social movement, Black Lives Matter has been pri-
marily concerned with excessive policing, police brutality, and criminal jus-
tice reform. Their members see these as the civil rights issues of today.
Moreover, the majority of civil rights movement articles by the New York
Times also contained Institutional Criticism statements. This was not
expected. Given that the civil rights movement of the 1960s was 50 years
ago, I think that many today view that movement through rose-colored
glasses. Contemporary textbooks portray King as “turning the other cheek
and loving thy enemy.” In other words, many, but not all scholars and jour-
nalists, view the language coming out of the civil rights movement as appeal-
ing to the universal rights of man, the democratic principles this nation was
founded on, and the U.S. Constitution. In reality, at that time, the southern
region of this nation had a state-sanctioned system of racial apartheid. And
White police departments and the power structures throughout southern cities
and states were determined to maintain segregation down in Dixie.
Based on the keywords used to identify whether the articles contained
Human Rights statements or Institutional Criticism statements, there were
roughly 5 times fewer articles written on the civil rights movement (39) by
the New York Times during the 1960-1961 period than on the Black Lives
Matter Movement during the 2014-2015 period (209). One possible explana-
tion for this is that in the early 1960s, the New York Times may not have given
the civil rights movement (as a social movement) as much coverage as it
would give a social movement today. Furthermore, news concerning African
Americans was not covered extensively by the mainstream media in the
1960s. Another possible explanation is that the media today, with its 24/7
news coverage, is more expansive, given that there is much more competition
474 Journal of Black Studies 49(5)
with so many other newspapers and news outlets, including print and broad-
cast media, the Internet, and other forms of social media.
Conclusion
At the beginning of this article, I examined some major topics related to both
social movements, and I hoped to tease out the similarities and differences of
these two. For messaging, the messaging of the civil rights movement was
one of inclusion. They defied authority, but they sought to attract converts
from outside the movement. According to Satell (2015), “It’s easy to cater to
passionate enthusiasts, but unless you can appeal to everyone else, you won’t
get very far” (para. 11). Conversely, Black Lives Matter has struggled with a
message of inclusion—many see their message as exclusive, specifically as
anti-police. For leadership styles, the two organizations are vastly different.
Black Lives Matter has rejected the traditional model of leadership: male-
centered, top-down hierarchical style of the civil rights movement. The Black
Lives Matter Movement prefers a more grassroots style of organizing and
decentralized leadership that includes women, and those who identify as
queer and transgender. For issue framing, both movements have taken a dif-
ferent approach to issue framing. The civil rights movement focused on core
democratic values of equality, freedom and justice for all, and the rights of
man. Furthermore, the genius of the civil rights movement is that they were
able to elaborate these values into a master frame that made the civil rights
problem an American problem. Today, Black Lives Matter does not utilize
the same framing—it has yet to appeal to mainstream America and convince
them that its concerns are part of the national identity. One key difference in
the framing of Black Lives Matter is for the broader goal of “black humanity”
(Harris, 2015). For media coverage, the media (New York Times) did not
attempt to frame the issues of either movement (see the content analysis
above).
People engage in activism because of some perceived societal problem. In
the case of the civil rights movement, it was de jure segregation. In the case
of the Black Lives Matter Movement, it is police brutality. Simply by saying
“Black Lives Matter” does not mean that all lives do not matter. Black Lives
Matter activists will tell anyone they are not against the police. They realize
the difficult role the police have in maintaining order in their society.
However, they are against bad policing practices—practices that shoot
African Americans first and ask questions later. Some White people, how-
ever, have countered with the phrase “All Lives Matter.” And while at first
glance this looks reasonable, author David Bedrick (2015) argues, “They are
taking race out of the conversation. While the statement masquerades as a
Clayton 475
bright and inclusive light, in the shadow of this statement hides a willful
ignorance of America’s racist past and present” (para. 4).
There are no laws in this country requiring police to treat Black people and
White people differently; however, there are numerous examples of disparate
treatment of African Americans by police such as racial profiling, broken
windows policing, and stop-and-frisk policies. This country has a history of
bias-based policing of African Americans that dates back to the days of slav-
ery and through the Jim Crow era to the present. Therefore, Black Lives
Matter activists have framed their issues in terms of racial bias in our criminal
justice system. Many White Americans see the police as public servants who
are there to protect them from harm. However, many in the Black community
have a different experience with police officers. The slogan “Black Lives
Matter” is offensive to some Americans—they would prefer the slogan “All
Lives Matter.” Black Lives Matter as a rallying cry stands in sharp contrast to
the rallying cry of the civil rights movement, “We Shall Overcome.”
But one could argue that Black Lives Matter is more inclusive than the
civil rights movement. Many of the Black Lives Matter activists are
women and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer
(LGBTQ) community. In addition, in spite of initial criticism and opposi-
tion, it has increasingly gained support from Black, White, and Hispanic
Americans. Furthermore, 43% of all Americans support the movement,
with a majority of African Americans, 65%, supporting it. Only 22% said
that they opposed the movement. Conversely, public opinion polling in
1961 shows less public support at that time for the civil rights movement
than current public opinion polling does for Black Lives Matter in 2016
(see Tables 2 and 3).
In retrospect, the civil rights movement is viewed as a positive element in
advancing equality for all Americans. By the time of the March on Washington
in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was seen as the leader of the movement.
However, no single person has surfaced from the Black Lives Matter
Movement to exercise this kind of moral leadership. To be able to sustain
itself, Black Lives Matter needs a dynamic, persuasive leader to emerge with
a clear strategy as to the steps the movement should take to achieve its goals.
It is the purpose of social movements to be disruptive, to use combative
tactics, and to interrupt business as usual. The civil rights movement led to
the passage of landmark civil rights legislation in the 1960s: the Civil Rights
Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Enough time has yet to pass
to be able to evaluate how effective Black Lives Matter will be in ending
police brutality against Black people in America. Nevertheless, it has already
had an impact: It has placed the topic of police brutality and criminal justice
reform at the top of the national agenda. Furthermore, scholars, civil rights
476 Journal of Black Studies 49(5)
Table 2. Support for the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Support % Oppose %
All adults 43 22
Whites 40 28
Blacks 65 12
Hispanics 33 11
Source. Pew Research Center—Survey of U.S. adults conducted February 29-May 8, 2016. All
adults include adults of all races.
Note. Voluntary responses of “Neither support nor oppose” or “Don’t know/Refused” not
shown. Whites and Blacks include only non-Hispanics. Hispanics may be of any race.
Table 3. Effectiveness of Sit-Ins and Freedom Rides.
“Do you think sit-ins at lunch counters, freedom buses, and other demonstrations
by Negroes will hurt or help the Negro’s chances of being integrated in the
South?”5
57% Hurt
28% Help
16% No opinion
Source. Conducted by the Gallup Organization May 28-June 2, 1961, and based on personal
interviews with a national adult sample of 1,502.
organizations, public policy think tanks, and government officials at the
national, state, and local levels are examining the issue of criminal justice
reform, including members of the U.S. Congress, due in part to the Black
Lives Matter Movement. The U.S. Department of Justice has entered into
consent decrees with police departments around the country to make them
accountable for use of excessive or deadly force.
Finally, future research needs to examine the role of social media in the
organization and mobilization of Black Lives Matter. In addition, future
research needs to examine the limitations of social media because the battle
for Black lives is in the streets and not in cyberspace. Although social media
has been an effective tool for Black Lives Matter, the civil rights movement
was able to frame and reframe issues to attract support from mainstream
America. Black Lives Matter is the newest iteration in the long struggle for
Black liberation in this country. The style and approach of this new genera-
tion of activists to the issue of racial inequality differ from the civil rights
movement, and that is refreshing. However, there are lessons to be learned
from the civil rights movement, and this young movement should incorporate
some of its more successful strategies.
Clayton 477
Acknowledgments
The author would like to thank Maria Delaine and Asset Abuov as research assistants
for their contributions, and for their comments and suggestions.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The author received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publica-
tion of this article.
Notes
1. The Gray Panthers were founded as an organization to address issues related to
retirement, ageism, and cuts to entitlement programs (Sanjek, 2012).
2. This study obviously has its limitations. Due to time and space constraints, I
searched for articles from only the New York Times. I chose that newspaper
because it is the newspaper of record for the country. However, I acknowledge
that there may have been other major newspapers that provided extensive cover-
age of the civil rights movement and the Black Lives Matter Movement.
3. Institutional criticism is an analysis in the social sciences which studies how
institutions—that is, structures and mechanisms of social order and cooperation—
govern the behavior of individuals in society (Scott, 2008).
4. Human rights are defined as the basic rights and freedom that belong to every
person in the world from birth until death. See http://equalityhumanrights.com/
en/human-rights/what-are-human-rights
5. Negro was the preferred term for African Americans at the time.
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Author Biography
Dewey M. Clayton, PhD, is professor of political science at the University of
Louisville. He is the author of two books: African Americans and the Politics of
Congressional Redistricting, and The Presidential Campaign of Barack Obama. His
research interests include African American politics and congressional redistricting.
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Teaching Award for 2016.
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... This calls to mind the effective use of Facebook in the Tunisian uprisings, the Egyptian and the Libyan protests (Chiluwa 2012). The Nigerian #EndSAR protests further established the character of hashtag activism where hashtags enabled groups and communities to form around a cause such as mobilising against police brutality and killings like the Nigerian experience (Bonilla and Rosa 2015;Hon 2015;Awopetu and Chiluwa in press); against racism (Clayton 2018) and against terrorist attacks (Johansson et al. 2018). ...
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Unlike political or economic institutions, social movements have an elusive power, but one that is no less real. From the French and American revolutions through the democratic and workers' movements of the nineteenth century to the totalitarian movements of today, movements exercise a fleeting but powerful influence on politics and society. This study surveys the history of the social movement, puts forward a theory of collective action to explain its surges and declines, and offers an interpretation of the power of movement that emphasises its effects on personal lives, policy reforms and political culture. While covering cultural, organisational and personal sources of movements' power, the book emphasises the rise and fall of social movements as part of political struggle and as the outcome of changes in political opportunity structure.
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The term “master frame” was originally conceptualized in order to account for the empirical observation that cycles of protest occasionally emerge in the absence of a favorable political opportunity structure (POS). Given that POS had been theorized as the engine driving cycles of protest, an alternative explanation was sought from the social movement framing perspective to account for those instances when a number of movements clustered together during a period even though the structural conditions did not appear conducive for widespread mobilization. Under such conditions a cycle of protest could be attributed in part to the development of a resonant master frame. A master frame refers to a generic type of collective action frame that is wider in scope and influence than run-of-the-mill social movement frames (Snow & Benford 1992). Whereas most collective action frames are context specific (e.g., drunk driver frame, cold war frame, exploited worker frame, environmental justice frame, etc.), a master frame's articulations and attributions are sufficiently elastic, flexible, and inclusive enough so that any number of other social movements can successfully adopt and deploy it in their campaigns. Typically, once a social movement fashions and espouses a highly resonant frame that is broad in interpretive scope, other social movements within a cycle of protest will modify that frame and apply it to their own cause. For example, once the US civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s experienced a number of successes based on an equal rights and opportunities frame, several other movements, including the American Indian, women's, gay and lesbian, Chicano/a, and Gray Panthers, adopted and proffered a similar frame to their specific movement campaigns.
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