Sample History Paper on The Concept of “Framing”

The Concept of “Framing”

On the eve of Civil Rights Movement that catapulted the Americans, especially African Americans, into a new era of political, social, and economic dispensation, Doug McAdam argues that Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) used a strategic approach of framing to achieve their objectives. In this context, framing was a catalyst used strategically by the movement to shape public opinions and draw the support of sympathizers and the media towards the various causes they were championing for.

Within Martin Luther King and SCLC’s framing arsenal was a strategic targeting of the media. The media was critical if SCLC was to succeed in pushing for the social, political, and economical changes it was pushing for at the height of the movement. This is because the media has the power to influence public awareness and opinion on social issues. Therefore, King and SCLC actively and strategically courted the media with significant success. King, in particular, was adept at ensuring that his messages and actions attracted the media. In particular, he framed the movement’s actions in a manner that was newsworthy. The disruptive actions were highly publicized and ensured that the challenge they mounted against the public order remained in the consciousness of the public (McAdam, 1996).

The response of the authorities through violence, which was covered with a sympathetic tone by the media, garnered public support. However, SCLC’s framing to attract the media’s sympathetic attention and coverage was not confined to actions. King’s strategically courting of the media also manifested in ideation framing. His message of forgiveness and call for granting of democratic rights resonated with many Whites. The media played a critical role in ensuring that this message reached the masses. By garnering the sympathy of the media through ideation framing of their movement as a force challenging an evil system, the SCLC sought to change its fate by forcing the federal government to be subservient to their causes. The media made their fight irresistible even to the general public (McAdam, 1996).

Essentially, the media played three fundamental roles in shaping the fate of SCLC. The media was critical in mobilizing public support to the cause of the movement. This was critical determining the fate of SCLC. The odds were stark against the movement as the momentum and great support was with the white supremacists who were pushing for the oppressive status quo. The success of the movement and its viability as a force to reckon with rested with its ability to win the support of the general public. With the public on their side, the SCLC calculated that their perceived fight against evil would eventually garner the support of the government (McAdam, 1996).

Secondly, the media was critical in ensuring that the segregationists’ actions in the South were curtailed. The SCLC ensured that the media covered the brutality of the response of the segregationists towards their nonviolent disruptive actions. The sympathetic media coverage of the violent response ensured that the segregationists lost the backing of the public while rendering relevance and importance to the causes championed for by the SCLC. This translated into the third role the media played in shaping the fate of SCLC. The media was critical in changing the policies that favored the causes the movement had long fought for (McAdam, 1996).

Despite the change in public policy, some leaders in the South objected the new social order. One such leader was George C. Wallace, who was the then governor of Alabama. Like the SCLC and Martin Luther King, Wallace’s objections were founded on framing. He framed the civil rights movement as a left-wing liberal force out to challenge the present form of the U.S. government. His framing was strategic and aimed at depicting the movement as a force seeking to overthrow the current system of governance. According to Wallace, the movement challenged the very democratic foundations and intuitions of the country. He framed it as an evil that was out to curtail fundamental American conservatism ideologies and the social, economic, and religious foundation of the nation. He held that the civil rights movements had become the supreme authority in the country that superseded individual rights such as the right to private property ownership. Critically, he painted the movement as Communist, a word that many Americans abhorred (Wallace, 1964).

In his speech on the Fourth of July 1964, George C. Wallace framed the government’s role in the progression of the civil rights movement as a usurpation of individual rights including the freedom of worship and a mark of tyranny. He framed the role of the federal government as despotic. He termed their actions as stemming out of cowardice and fraud. Such framing resonated with the Southern segregationists and ensured that his followers were motivated to reject the civil rights movement and the government actions. It was a strategic effort aimed at ensuring that he changed the perception of the public towards the movement and the federal government. His framing primarily aimed at discrediting the presidency and the Supreme Court (Wallace, 1964).


McAdam, D. (1996). The framing function of movement tactics: Strategic dramaturgy in the American Civil Rights Movement. In: McAdam, D., McCarthy, J. D., Zald, M. N. (eds) Comparative perspectives on social movements: Political opportunities, mobilizing structures, and cultural framings. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Wallace, G. C. (1964). “The Civil Rights Movement: Fraud, Sham, and Hoax. Retrieved from: