I wonder if someone knows any example of a public figure who was (or is now) perceived as anti-civil rights movement in the values or decisions they stood for, but then switched their public agenda for political means?

Specifically, I wonder if someone rallied in the civil rights movement in the 60s, despite a record of not believing in the values of the movement, and instead using it to attack and criticize the established government for their own political interests, such as appearing "better" than the government in the eyes of the members of the movement and public in general.

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    – MCW
    Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 15:44
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    If you're asking about people taking positions on rights issues for cynical reasons, and then changing them later for similar cynical reasons, that tends to mostly go the other direction (eg: George Wallace). Why? Perhaps because the moral arc of the universe really does bend toward justice, so cynics have to follow it to keep up?
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 17:15

2 Answers 2


Senator, and later President Lyndon Baines Johnson was such a person, as described in "Means of Ascent."

A staunch segregationist when he was young, he became the Vice-President of John F. Kennedy, and President after Kennedy's death. In this role, he pushed through Kennedy's civil rights program against heavy Southern opposition. The reason appears to be that during the course of his career, he redefined his (Democratic) constituency from "poor whites" to "poor people generally" (including blacks).

His earlier pro segregation stands were meant to protect poor whites. His later War on Poverty benefited this group, but benefited poor blacks even more.


Is there an example of a civil rights movement supporter with a record of being against it?

Martin Luther King's Civil Rights movement which relied on non violence and civil disobedience with the goal of ending segregation had it's detractors among Black rights advocates both because of it's tactics and goals.

Three famous Civil Rights Leaders who differed with King on desegregation and or Civil Disobedience:

One someone who was against the Civil Rights Movement, while closely associated with African American rights, who then flipped to support Civil Rights Movements Goals would be Malcolm-X. For most of his public life he opposed both the tactics of the Civil Rights movement as well as it's goals of ending segregation. After breaking with the Nation of Islam he changed his mind and sought a more active role in the Civil rights movement in the last year of his life.

Alternatively Another Famous Civil rights leader W. E. B. Du Bois a Generation before Dr. King originally favored integration and the goals of the Civil rights movement, but changed his mind after setbacks during the depression, believing integration should not be the goal but much like Malcolm-X began to speak out on self reliance and African Americans paving their own path by strengthening their own institutions.

Lastly I would say Marcus Garvey as a black nationalist who while always associated with African American rights, consistently spoke out for self reliance or "separatism", rather than integration.


Malcolm-X probable one of the two most famous figures for African American rights of the 1960's, for much of his public life did not support the Civil Rights Movement. He did not believe that the civil rights movement's goal of racial integration through nonviolence was realistic. Nor did he believe the Civil Rights Movement goal of integration moved the country in the right direction for black Americans.

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King

While King advocated non-violent direct action and passive resistance to achieve equal civil rights, Malcolm X was the spokesman for the Nation of Islam (NOI), the black Muslim movement which violently rejected white America and its Christian values, and preached the supremacy of blacks over whites.

After Malcolm-X broke with the Nation of Islam in March of 1964, he was attending a Capital Hill Debate on what would become the 1968 Civil Rights Bill. Malcolm-X had a chance meeting with Dr. King where he spoke of the Civil Rights movement positively and expressed a desire to become more involved.

On March 8, 1964, disillusioned with Muhammad’s private life and angered over the group’s refusal to take a more active role in the fight for civil rights, Malcolm publicly broke up with the Nation of Islam.

On March 25, King and Malcolm were both on Capitol Hill watching a Senate hearing regarding legislation aimed at ending segregation in public places and racial discrimination in employment. The bill had been proposed by President John F. Kennedy following intense lobbying by King and others and was being shepherded through Congress by President Lyndon Johnson, despite harsh opposition by many southern elected officials.

As King was wrapping up a press conference, he was approached by Malcolm, and the two shook hands and exchanged greetings. As cameras clicked away, Malcolm expressed his desire to become more active, saying, “I’m throwing myself into the heart of the civil rights struggle.” Then, just as quickly as it began, the brief meeting between the two legends was over. Four days later, opponents launched one of the longest filibusters in U.S. history to defeat the legislation, but it eventually passed and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law on July 2.


Civil Rights Movement 1919-1960s
W. E. B. Du Bois believed in what is today called multiculturalism. But by the mid-1930s he concluded that the Great Depression, virulent racism, and the unreliability of white progressive reformers who had previously expressed sympathy for civil rights rendered an integrated America a distant dream. In an important article, “Does the Negro Need Separate Schools?” Du Bois argued for the strengthening of black pride and the fortification of separate black schools and other important institutions. Black communities across the country were in severe distress; it was counterproductive, he argued, to sacrifice black schoolchildren at the altar of integration and to get them into previously all-white schools, where they would be shunned and worse. It was far better to invest in strengthening black-controlled education to meet black communities’ needs. If, in the future, integration became a possibility, African Americans would be positioned to enter that new arrangement on equal terms. Du Bois’ argument found echoes in the 1960s writing of


  • Thanks! This is the kind of examples I was looking for but wasn't aware about until you mentioned them. I had heard of Malcolm X, but I didn't know he was originally opposing the movement in the aspects you mentioned. Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 20:01
  • Interesting that you use African American examples. Good job!
    – Tom Au
    Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 23:53

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