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Cleveland Sellers on Nonviolent Civil Rights Activities Research Paper

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Updated: May 2nd, 2022


Nonviolence civil rights activities in the 1960s were one of the achievements of Cleveland Sellers. Also, he was a renowned member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The SNCC is credited for promoting peaceful protests against racial segregation. Members of the SNCC, including Sellers, embraced nonviolence as a strategy and personal philosophy.

In most cases, nonviolence was rendered ineffective due to hefty resistance from the white racists and the government. Therefore, this paper reviews how Sellers viewed the nonviolence as an effective strategy. The paper reviews Sellers’ attitude towards nonviolence as the efforts in civil rights progressed with time. Also, the difference between nonviolence as a strategy and personal philosophy will be discussed in this paper.

Nonviolence as a tactic

The tactical effectiveness of nonviolence is that it propagated non-retaliation from the racially segregated. In this regard, the tactic provided a moral basis for protesters to win sympathy from fellow African-American supporters, as well as the whites. In any case, nonviolence formed a basis for the understanding of the civil rights movement by the oppressors. Also, nonviolence was inclusive and allowed the average citizen to participate in the civil rights movement.

Nonviolence was effective in displacing fear and transforming hate to love (Sellers 39). The effectiveness of nonviolence as a tactic was evidenced when racists were bound to love their enemies. In this context, the racially segregated and the oppressed loved and forgave their oppressors. As a tactic, nonviolence was used in boycotting the workplaces and shops.

Civil rights activists and respective sympathizers used nonviolence to control their emotions and assumed a discipline that steered the movement for a long time. Importantly, nonviolence created an environment of dialogue that led to the achievement of equal rights in the United States.

The change of attitude among nonviolence activists, including Sellers, was inspired by previous experience, especially in Mississippi. In this context, the nonviolence activists embraced armed self-defense mechanism due to the brutality used against them. The white racists brutally assaulted civil rights activists between 1964 and 1966. The attitude towards nonviolence changed since the federal government was an opponent of the civil rights movement and did not provide protection for the activists.

Moreover, civil rights activists were discriminated against by their people, especially by the poor and working class. However, the attitude towards embracing armed self-defense was influenced by Deacons for Defense Justice and rural blacks who felt that nonviolence was not effective. It is important to note that the shift from nonviolence to armed self-defense became effective when the struggle turned to violence. However, the radicalization of nonviolence and inclusion of politics became a key element in the civil rights movement.

The initiative of community protection involved the use of armed self-defense that supported the civil rights movement. In this context, civil right activists sought refuge in such places, and thus, it became difficult to denounce armed self-defense. However, it became critical to apply nonviolence both as a tactic and personal philosophy. In this context, restraint in situations that did not provoke violence was necessary.

Nonviolence and passive resistance

Civil rights movements advocated for nonviolence in activities such as boycotting goods and services from white racists. In this regard, black people did not buy goods from shops owned by whites. Therefore, the white was forced to support the civil rights movement since their economic activities were affected by the plight of the African-Americans.

Also, the nonviolence activities included strikes against institutions that promoted racial discrimination. Moreover, the civil rights movement advocated for non-payment of taxes and licenses to the federal government. In any case, civil disobedience featured prominently in the civil rights movement.

Passive resistance was critical to America civil rights movement (Sellers 68). Examples of such resistance include the infamous Rosa Park’s sit-in in a segregated public space. Civil rights activists would stage sit-ins along roads and block access to government and public institutions (Sellers 19). In other instances, employees would refuse to leave their places of work.

Both nonviolence and passive resistance were limited by the lack of political goodwill to address issues of civil rights. The federal government became part of the oppressors by using police brutality as machinery of quelling civil rights movement. However, passive resistance, especially the sit-ins, were marred with acts of brutality, especially when the white racist had an opportunity to torture the activists (Sellers 40).

Tactical and philosophical nonviolence

Tactical nonviolence involved using politics as a strategy to organize demonstrations against the racists and the government. In this respect, nonviolence was an organizing technique to derive predetermined goals. Therefore, achieving equal rights and liberties as the majority of the white population was considered the common goal. Refraining from acts of violence was considered strategic and effective in preventing future violence. Racial violence from the whites included arsons, verbal insults, murder, and torture.

Nonviolence, as a personal philosophy was based on moral values and religious beliefs of the pacifists (Sellers 39). Loving the enemy and refraining from harm was based on Gandhi’s moral principles. In this regard, suffering for the common good was a just course to achieving justice. Moreover, an activist who used nonviolence as a personal philosophy viewed acts of violence by the white as a mere lack of good morals and pure hatred.

Works Cited

Sellers, Cleveland. The river of no return: the autobiography of a black militant and the life and death of SNCC. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 1973. Print.

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