The second reading for Wednesday’s class gave me an interesting, new perspective that I had not really thought about before. It discusses the way that throughout history we tend to naturally adopt the “Great Man” theory. It refers to Martin Luther King Jr. in talking about how the black rights movement most likely would have followed a fairly similar course (big picture) whether he was involved in it or not. Hearing this left me somewhat confused. I know that I have always been told that Dr. King spearheaded the civil rights movement in the mid 1900s, which is still true. However, this reading showed the importance of the surrounding context of the United States at the time, rather that pinpointing the effect of the civil rights movement directly to the cause that was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
This reading wanted the reader to realize that Dr. King was far more than a charismatic leader who was able to evoke the emotions of the black community to mobilize them in their pursuit for equality and opportunity. While Dr. King was, without a doubt, a model charismatic leader, he also had doubts and fears below the surface that displayed a different side of him. King pushed confidently against unjust government regulations and social inequality with pride and passion, but internally he may have masked some of the doubt he was feeling. He was very aware of his own limits and his own weaknesses, and often feared his own life and those around him. Why is it though that in a revolution such as the civil rights movement, we want to pinpoint the cause to a singular person? Furthermore, why do we automatically see this leader as something far more than human, expecting them to not have their own doubts or struggles? We see this often in Great Man theory, especially with charismatic leaders, but does our inclination to want a perfect, powerful leader come from our own doubts and fears about ourselves, hoping that a “Great Man” or woman could save us?
I think that it is very important to discuss the social trends around the civil rights movement in the mid 1900’s and not give all credit or blame to one or a few powerful individuals. Yes, they had significant influence in various ways. However, as this reading describes, the people, social forces, social inequality, hunger for change, and internal mobilization of communities are the catalysts for the revolution. In my mind, leaders such as Dr. King instill confidence in these followers to act on their own feelings and emotions.