Professor Michael Neumann of Trent University in Ontario, Canada observes, "It would be difficult and ungenerous to argue that it was unsuccessful, outrageous to claim that it was anything but a long and dangerous struggle. But when that is conceded, the fact remains that the Martin Luther King's civil rights movement was practically a federal government project. Its roots may have run deep, but its impetus came from the Supreme Court decision of 1954 and from the subsequent attempts to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The students who braved a hell to accomplish this goal are well remembered.
Sometimes forgotten is US government's almost spectacular determination to see that federal law was respected. Eisenhower sent, not the FBI, not a bunch of lawyers, but one of the best and proudest units of the United States Army, the 101st Airborne, to keep order in Little Rock and to see that the 'federalized' Arkansas national guard stayed on the right side of the dispute. Though there was never any hint of an impending battle between federal and state military forces, the message couldn't have been clearer: we, the federal government, are prepared to do whatever it takes to enforce our will.
This message is an undercurrent throughout the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. Though Martin Luther King still had to overcome vicious, sometimes deadly resistance, he himself remarked that surprisingly few people were killed or seriously injured in the struggle. The surprise diminishes with the recollection that there was real federal muscle behind the nonviolent campaign.
For a variety of motives, both virtuous and cynical, the US government wanted the South to be integrated and to recognize black civil rights. Nonviolence achieved its ends largely because the violence of its opponents was severely constrained."
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