This broad generalising statement requires refining and limitation in order to write an affective piece as it includes many issues, all of which could not possibly be addressed. As a result, this essay will focus primarily on the music of Elvis Presley and the governmental polices under President Kennedy. Moreover, these focal points will be made in relation to the civil rights movement in America during the 1950's and 1960's.
Through examination of these two distinct periods in American history it will enable one to draw conclusions as to which, if any, was a better indicator of social change in America.Furthermore, the extent of the influence and impact that these two factors had is pivotal in determining which occurrence could be classed as better displaying or representing the emerging civil rights movement. Elvis Presley Elvis Presley's influence on the civil rights movement can not be easily described due to its indirect nature. I use the word indirect as it was an influence which was not a deliberate move on Elvis's part.He did not intend to be political or to have any such influence on the civil rights movement as he rarely spoke out against the situation which African-American's were in and preferred to remain as a figure who's presence was for purely entertainment purposes.
However, even though he may not have intended to have an influence it appears that he did, through his music, by combining black and white elements of sound into a revolutionary form of music known as 'rock an roll'. Without stating the obvious, Elvis was a white man whose music possessed distinct elements of rhythm and blues which is a traditionally black form or style of music.Elvis, who quickly became hugely successful and popular, was performing his music to white audiences who were being exposed to a form of music which they had never heard before. Therefore this had the indirect effect of breaking down some of the barriers, which existed at the time, between black and white cultures. As now you had a situation where both blacks and whites could embrace, share and relate to a style and sound of music that expressed elements from both cultures and race.
As a result Elvis was able to step over the racial divide by incorporating the sounds and styles of African American music into his act1.William McKeen, a historian and journalism professor at the University of Florida, commented on the how Elvis was influential and also why the timing of Elvis's arrival was significant. McKeen stated that 'Elvis arrived on the scene during a key moment in popular culture, when Martin Luther King was beginning to be a player and when the Supreme Court outlawed classroom segregation. By following this pattern of combining black music with white, Elvis helped to open people's minds to other cultures'2.It seems quite clear that Elvis at least played a key role in fusing black and white music and that this may have had some influence in breaking down social barriers between black's and whites.
Elvis's style of music and his rise to fame were as much representative of social views held at the time than it was as a illustration of emerging civil rights. Elvis made an interesting observation when he stated that coloured folks had been playing his style of music years before him and that 'nobody paid it no mind till I goosed it up3'.This illustrates the cultural divides at the time as it took a white man to come along and perform black music for it to gain recognition. Also there was much outrage, mainly from white communities in the south, toward Elvis's music. At one of his shows it was witnessed that a country performer confronted Elvis and demanded to know why he acted like a 'white nigger4'.
This is also a good example of the social divides that existed within America but it can also be used to indicate the influence which Elvis had on the civil rights movement.Elvis was immensely popular and he was creating mass tension across America with his style of music and although it may not have necessarily changed anything or made life better for African Americans, it at the least got people thinking about the black people and black music which may have quickened the process of bringing the civil rights movement to the forefront of American social issues. It appears that Elvis clearly had an impact on breaking down cultural barriers between black and white Americans through his music which combined elements from both races.It is difficult to measure the extent to which this influenced the civil rights movement, however by simply playing music which reflected black styles meant that this was being put into peoples minds and to simply get white people thinking about black people's music and culture meant that they were being viewed with some humanity. This could arguably be said to have brought the civil rights movement to the forefront of social agendas within America.
President Kennedy President Kennedy's policies toward the civil rights movement involved mixed responses.Kennedy has received criticism from historians for not responding directly enough to the civil rights movement. However it is clear that he attempted to respond effectively to the movement as he was aware of the international criticism that was being directed toward America due to the poor state of civil rights for African Americans. `He was restricted by opposition from the general public in America toward advancement in black civil rights and by a fear of loosing southern voters. Irrespective of this, Kennedy still made inroads in the civil rights movement which was significant in its advancement.
Many historians have argued that President Kennedy's approach to the civil rights movement was, as in the words of Nick Bryant, (author of The Bystander: John F. Kennedy and the Struggle for Black Equality) 'to cautious and timid5'. This opinion has been supported by many civil rights scholars, such as Martin Luther King, Jr, who told an aide in 1962 that the Kennedy administration had a 'schizophrenic tendency6' when the situation called for an aggressive direct approach for civil rights legislation.It appears that this response by Kennedy may have been out of fear of loosing support in the southern electorate.
He had stated that that these powerful southerners 'should be charmed and, on occasion, gently cajoled, but never confronted directly7'. It was not only a fear of loosing support which brought a cautious approach by Kennedy, as he also appeared to have a clear sense of the position that African-Americans were viewed upon within America which influenced his political decisions.For example, in his campaign for presidency, Kennedy recruited both black and white college women as volunteers. However it was only the white women who were invited to have lunch with the Kennedy sisters.
It was reported that Kennedy's black valet driver objected to this and Kennedy responded with, 'George, you're thin-skinned. That's one of the things of the time8'. Despite this however, Kennedy also realised that he had to be seen responding to the civil rights movement due to international condemnation which undermined any claims that America were morally superior to that of the Soviet Union9.Key Policies of the Kennedy Administration toward the civil rights movement There don't appear to be any key policies which President Kennedy had which aimed to advance the civil rights movement. However it is clear that through his actions, he did push for a change in civil rights for African Americans which obviously were influential in any advancement that the movement made and therefore it is irrelevant whether or not this abided or followed any set policies of his administration.
Kennedy needed to improve the status of African Americans in his own country otherwise it would be contradictory for him to preach to the world about democracy and liberty. He could not make statements like the following; Americans are unwilling to permit the undoing of 'human rights to which this nation has always been committed (to)10', without sounding hypocritical. As a result, in 1963, Kennedy made a plea for civil rights reform to a nationwide audience. He called for ground-breaking civil rights legislation and asked for people to treat their fellow Americans as they themselves would like to be treated11.The following week he appeared in front of congress and urged for their support, arguing that failure to do so would hand leadership to the 'purveyors of hate and violence12'. It is therefore quite clear that President Kennedy approached, although cautiously, the issue of civil rights with an intent of advancing its cause.
For all the good that Kennedy did in his presidency, any hesitancy by him to enhance the civil rights movement needs to be viewed in light of historical context. He was President during a time where there was deep seeded racism and where avoiding a nuclear war was of highest concern.This line of argument is supported by Sheldon Stern, a historian at the John F. Kennedy library and museum, who stated that from Kennedy's perspective the 'overriding challenge of his presidency was keeping the Cold War in check and averting a nucleor holocaust13'.
I agree with Stern's disapproval of historians who are quick to criticize and pass judgment from the vantage point of present time. It appears quite clear that President Kennedy's policies and action in response to the civil rights movement significantly helped its cause.President Kennedy was in a much more powerful position to Elvis to influence the civil rights movement however this does not mean that he did. As it was a movement which did not just require governmental policy, it also required the necessarily ingredient of a positive change in peoples opinions toward African-Americans.
To change such opinions requires barrier breakdowns which Elvis helped to achieve. Both forms worked together in leading to social change as you will not have legal change without a demand for it by the public.Elvis broke down some of the cultural barriers between the two races by using a mix of musical styles from both blacks and whites, while President Kennedy responded to the shift toward the civil rights movement following international pressure and protests at home, particularly the Freedom riders, the Mississippi Crisis and the Birmingham marches. His response involved a public plea for civil rights reform which he described as a moral issue and he also encouraged congress to respond to the movement through legislative reform.
Thus I would conclude that neither were better indicators or more influential on the emerging social change of the civil rights movement. Each played a part in helping to advance the movement and enable it to become a leading cause within America. Movements which involve a massive change in peoples opinions and views take time occur. The civil rights movement was a unavoidable force which inevitably would achieve its goals and Elvis and President Kennedy were both equally, in their own right, able to contribute to its gradual advancement.