By now you must have heard about this story. Clinton and Obama have been trading barbs about who is responsible for civil rights advances in the United States. The only options in this debate seem to be Martin Luther King Jr. or Lyndon Johnson.
Hillary said something like: It took Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to realize King’s deam. We know, thanks to our discussion about Michael McCann and Gerald Rosenberg (and others) in Legal Studies 398, that social change is an interactive process in which authority from one social movement actor gives another, perhaps more constrained social actor, the ability to do something. So King’s social activism gave Johnson a reason to sign (to keep the peace), and the earlier supreme court opinions like Brown motivated the social movement actors who participated in the freedom rides, and the threat of more serious uprising (Black Panthers, Malcolm X) played a role as well. Other nominations for important actors?
Or, perhaps more interesting, why did this public debate come down to this ridiculous version of the question? It’s not possible for either of these two to say what surely they know: That this was a social movement in which different parties played different, synergistic roles. there is no one most important person or event.