The New York Times v. Sullivan case occurred during a troubling time in our country’s history. Our country was going through the African-American Civil Rights Movement, which lasted from 1954-1968 with goals to end racial segregation and discrimination. Some produced riots and violent protests, while others simply wanted change.
Martin Luther King Jr., was a shining light in the Civil Rights Movement. He was a voice that spoke loud and with dignity for all colored people feeling oppressed to hear and follow. He worked hard to speak with political officials in order to enact change. When the NYT v Sullivan case began in January of 1964, it was in Alabama that the case was taken up and in Alabama that King lived and preached. Police and other authority officials were mentioned in the “Heed Their Raising Voices” piece within the New York Times and multiple African-American ministers were named as agreeing with the article. Sullivan wanted to sue for libel, but was first forced to ask for a retraction in the newspaper.
A large issue within this case was the suing of these black ministers during this highly segregated and racially discriminated time in our history. People began to wonder if the case was not being brought to court for simple libel, but if Sullivan was being racist toward the fact that they were being called out.