Martin Luther King
It wasn't just that Martin Luther King became the leader of the civil rights movement that made him so extraordinary—it was the way in which he led the movement. King advocated civil disobedience, the non-violent resistance against unjust laws: "Non-violence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it." Civil rights activists organized demonstrations, marches, boycotts, strikes, and voter-registration drives, and refused to obey laws that they knew were wrong and unjust.
These peaceful forms of protest were often met with vicious threats, arrests, beatings, and worse. King emphasized how important it was that the civil rights movement did not sink to the level of the racists and hate mongers they fought against: "Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred," he urged. "We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline." King's philosophy of "tough-mindedness and tenderheartedness" was not only highly effective, but it gave the civil rights movement an inspiring moral authority and grace.