January 21, 2013
Lincoln never doubted the universal appeal of the nation's experiment in self-government, a "promise to all people of the world" that would endure across the centuries. Unlike modern liberals, Lincoln was no cultural relativist: He believed firmly in natural and inalienable rights that belonged to all people, from every corner of the globe, by virtue of their common humanity. Despite the cancer of slavery and racism that had infected the body politic, no nation was more devoted to securing those rights than the United States. Indeed, Lincoln insisted that America had a God-given role in advancing this cause in the world:"I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be perpetuated in accordance with the original idea for which that struggle was made, and I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle."Lincoln's description of America as an "almost chosen people" captured brilliantly the qualified and uncertain character of the nation's democracy: deeply and grievously flawed, but nonetheless caught up in the righteous purposes of God. Unlike many of his religious contemporaries, Lincoln stopped short of identifying America as the new Israel; no spiritual covenant between God and the United States could be presumed. Lincoln well knew the capacity of religious zeal to poison our politics. Nevertheless, he insisted that America's commitment to liberty and equality was consistent with the character and intentions of the Almighty.Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister, shared Lincoln's political theology. In a way that many liberal and secular-minded Americans would now find offensive, King wielded passages and principles from the Bible like an ax to assault the racist assumptions that degraded the lives of millions of African-Americans. Like Lincoln, he appealed to America's spiritual legacy in order to renew its democratic mission.In "Letter from the Birmingham Jail," King complained that African-Americans had been denied "our constitutional and God-given rights." He declared that "the goal of America is freedom," a mandate from heaven itself. Indeed, King saw the hand of God in the political fight to call America back to its founding ideals: "If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail," he wrote. "We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands."
ALSO KNOWN AS, THE NORV TURNER EFFECT:Xolos' winning ways attract soccer fans north and south (Kevin Baxter, January 20, 2013, LA Times)
When Bob Filner was sworn in as mayor of San Diego last month, he delivered part of his inauguration speech in Spanish.Apparently you don't become a 10-term congressman or mayor of the country's eighth-largest city without knowing your audience. And while some parts of the U.S.-Mexico border have more cultural tension--such as Arizona--residents living on both sides of the San Diego-Tijuana boundary tend to see the area as one region rather than two countries.It's a region that now has a championship soccer team in the Xoloitzcuintles of Tijuana, which won the Mexican first division title the day before Filner took office."The virtue of having una region y dos ciudades is when our guys are not doing well -- like the Chargers -- we have champions," Filner, switching from English to Spanish and back again, told the soccer team during its visit to San Diego three weeks later. "So you're our champions also.... Everyone in San Diego is following you."Don't believe him? Just check the dirt parking lot surrounding the Xoloitzcuintles' new 23,000-seat stadium. Many of those who came to last weekend's 2013 home opener arrived in cars with California plates, supporting team estimates that one-third of its fan base lives in the U.S. and as many as 5,000 people regularly cross the border for games."It's the nature of both cities," says assistant general manager Roberto Cornejo, who, like many fans, lives in San Diego. "They're sister cities crossed by the border. And something like sports especially -- and soccer even more -- transcends that border."You get fans from both countries, from both cultures, uniting and celebrating."
In the Great Synagogue in central Jerusalem a young, articulate politician is making the case for an Israeli peace deal with the Palestinians. Hisses and boos erupt from the floor. The young woman carries on regardless.But it is all too clear that Laura Wharton, a Harvard graduate and mother of two who represents Meretz (one of Israel's smaller political parties) does not reflect the mood of the audience of more than 500 Israeli voters.An hour earlier, the same audience had clapped encouragingly as a rival politician made a speech in which he called for the Palestinians to be thrown out of the West Bank in what he called a "religious war".Arieh Eldad, a plastic surgeon and retired Israeli army brigadier who specialises in treating burns, declared that "the land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel and nobody else", adding that "this is a religious war. We are here because God promised the land of Israel to the Jewish people."Caustically attacking Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for once speaking in favour of a two-state solution, Eldad insisted: "We must end the occupation. Of course I'm referring to the Muslim occupation of the land of Israel, starting in the seventh century." The crowd clapped as he added: "The Palestinians already have a state - in Jordan."It is shocking to hear talk of this kind, with its ugly endorsement of ethnic cleansing, in any country. And it is especially shocking to hear it in Israel's Great Synagogue, and from a respected member of the national assembly, the Knesset.
Despite their reputation as two of Netanyahu's favorites in the Likud party, Yuli Edelstein, a Cabinet minister, and Ze'ev Elkin, chairman of the Likud's Knesset coalition, have called for gradually annexing the West Bank. And while they have left the details vague, they apparently foresee some Palestinians who live there becoming Israeli citizens.Though Netanyahu has supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 2009, the ideas of his two close associates have significant, if still minority, support within the Likud's Knesset ranks. The annexation move also has the full and vigorous support of the Jewish Home party, the Orthodox Zionist party that is expected to emerge from the January 22 elections as the second-largest party on the right and at least the third largest in the Knesset.When the right-wing activist group Women in Green organized a special pre-election "sovereignty" conference, Edelstein, who is minister of Information and Diaspora, and Elkin addressed the 800-strong audience from the podium. The Jerusalem event was Women in Green's third "sovereignty" conference -- but the first that has attracted ruling Likud party members of this stature.Polling commissioned by the group and conducted ahead of the conference by The New Wave Research, one of Israel's largest polling companies, concluded that 73% of Israelis who consider themselves right-wing support annexation. Only 9% opposed the idea.
OUR REPUBLICAN PRESIDENT:
Bitter experience -- from getting the most modest arms control agreement through the Senate his first year, trying and failing to engage leaders in Iran and North Korea, discovering his lack of leverage over Egypt, Pakistan and Israel, and finding Afghanistan to be a costly waste of American lives and resources -- is driving him to a strategy reminiscent of one of his Republican predecessors, President Dwight D. Eisenhower.It is a strategy in which Mr. Obama will try to redirect world events subtly, rather than turning to big treaties, big military interventions and big aid packages."The appeal of the Eisenhower approach is that it had a big element of turning inward, of looking to rebuilding strength at home, of conserving American power," said one of Mr. Obama's senior national security advisers, who would not agree to be quoted by name.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: A MORE PERFECT UNION:Letter from a Birmingham Jail (The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., April 16, 1963)
MY DEAR FELLOW CLERGYMEN:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.
I think I should indicate why I am here In Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against "outsiders coming in." I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here I am here because I have organizational ties here.
But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I. compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.
Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
You deplore the demonstrations taking place In Brimingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.
In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self- purification; and direct action. We have gone through an these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro .leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation.
Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants --- for example, to remove the stores humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttles worth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained.
As in so many past experiences, our hopes bad been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self-purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves : "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?" We decided to schedule our direct-action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic with with-drawl program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.
Then it occurred to us that Birmingham's mayoralty election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene "Bull" Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run-oat we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run-off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct-action program could be delayed no longer.
You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling, for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.
The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved South land been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue. [...]
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fan in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with an its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured. [...]
Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or. unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides-and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. [...]
There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators"' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide. and gladiatorial contests.
Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Par from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust. [...]
It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handing the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather "nonviolently" in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: "The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason."
I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face Jeering, and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: "My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest." They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience' sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he k alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?
If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.
I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us. all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.
Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,
Martin Luther King, Jr.
As both Gandhi and Dr. King demonstrated, non-violence is an effective weapon of social change. But it is the sad irony of non-violence, lost on most, that it is only effective in societies that are already essentially decent and is effective only when it is consistent with that decency. As Dr. King said in that bolded paragraph, what the Civil Rights movement was about was not radical change and new ideas but merely making those who held power live up to their own ideals. To repress the movement to end Jim Crow and to gain full political rights for blacks would have required whites to renounce the very foundations of the American Republic. This, at the end of the day, we could not do.
It was the genius and the greatness of Dr. King then to recognize that disobedience would confront America with the flaws in its own system--that eventually people would see that it was immoral, within the context of our own belief system, to punish people for seeking the rights that they'd already been promised and, indeed, granted in the Constitution. It just was not possible to treat blacks as indecently as we did and maintain the pretext that we had a decent society. What was required, and what the Civil Rights movement achieved, was to drive that truth home to all of us in the most public and persistent way, until it could no longer be ignored. In a very real sense, he sought not to fracture society but to make it whole and healthy.
He was no saint and by the end of his life he was talking a great deal of nonsense about the war in Vietnam and about socializing the economy. However, he left America a better place than it was. By any measure, that makes him a great man and a Founder of America, no less than the original Founders.[originally posted: 1/20/03]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: TO SOUNDS LIKE HIS I WOULD ASPIRE:
Letter from Selma: MARCH 27 (RENATA ADLER, April 10, 1965, The New Yorker)
The thirty thousand people who at one point or another took part in this week's march from the Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Selma, Alabama, to the statehouse in Montgomery were giving highly dramatic expression to a principle that could be articulated only in the vaguest terms. They were a varied lot: local Negroes, Northern clergymen, members of labor unions, delegates from state and city governments, entertainers, mothers pushing baby carriages, members of civil-rights groups more or less at odds with one another, isolated, shaggy marchers with an air of simple vagrancy, doctors, lawyers, teachers, children, college students, and a preponderance of what one marcher described as "ordinary, garden- variety civilians from just about everywhere." They were insulated in front by soldiers and television camera crews, overhead and underfoot by helicopters and Army demolition teams, at the sides and rear by more members of the press and military, and over all by agents of the F.B.I. Most of them were aware that protection along a route of more than fifty miles of hostile country could not be absolute (on the night before the march, a student who had come here from Boston University was slashed across the cheek with a razor blade), yet few of the thirty-two hundred marchers who set out on Sunday morning seemed to have a strong consciousness of risk. They did not have a sharply defined sense of purpose, either. President Johnson's speech about voting rights and Judge Johnson's granting of permission for the march to take place had made the march itself ceremonial--almost redundant. The immediate aims of the abortive earlier marches had been realized: the national conscience had been aroused and federal intervention had been secured. In a sense, the government of Alabama was now in rebellion, and the marchers, with the sanction and protection of the federal government, were demonstrating against a rebellious state. It was unclear what such a demonstration could hope to achieve. Few segregationists could be converted by it, the national commitment to civil rights would hardly be increased by it, there was certainly an element of danger in it, and for the local citizenry it might have a long and ugly aftermath. The marchers, who had five days and four nights in which to talk, tended for the most part to avoid discussions of principle, apparently in the hope that their good will, their sense of solidarity, and the sheer pageantry of the occasion would resolve matters at some symbolic level and yield a clear statement of practical purpose before the march came to an end.
From this point of view, the first few hours of Sunday morning in Selma were far from satisfying. Broad Street, the town's main thoroughfare, was deserted and indifferent. At the Negro First Baptist Church, on the corner of Sylvan Street and Jefferson Davis Avenue, denim-clad veterans of earlier marches stood wearily aloof from recruits, who ate watery scrambled eggs, drank watery coffee, and simply milled about. On Sylvan Street itself, an unpaved red sand road dividing identical rows of brick houses known as the George Washington Carver Development, crowds were gathering, some facing the entrance to the Brown Chapel Church, others on the steps of the church facing out. Inside the church, more people were milling, while a few tried to sleep on benches or on the floor. For several hours, nothing happened. The church service that was to begin the march was scheduled to take place at ten o'clock, but veterans advised newcomers--in the first of several bitter, self-mocking jokes that became current on the Selma-Montgomery road--that this was C.P.T., Colored People Time, and the service actually began more than an hour behind schedule. In a field behind the housing development, the Reverend Andrew Young, executive director of Dr. Martin Luther King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (S.C.L.C., referred to by some of the marchers as Slick), which sponsored the march, was giving marshals and night security guards last-minute instructions in the tactics of non-violence. "Keep women and children in the middle," he said. "If there's a shot, stand up and make the others kneel down. Don't be lagging around, or you're going to get hurt. Don't rely on the troopers, either. If you're beaten on, crouch and put your hands over the back of your head. Don't put up your arm to ward off a blow. If you fall, fall right down and look dead. Get to know the people in your unit, so you can tell if somebody's missing or if there's somebody there who shouldn't be there. And listen! If you can't be non-violent, let me know now." A young man in the standard denim overalls of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (S.N.C.C., otherwise known as Snick) murmured, "Man, you've got it all so structured. There seems to be a certain anxiety here about structure." Everyone laughed, a bit nervously, and the marshals went to the front of the church.
The crowd there was growing, still arrayed in two lines, one facing in, the other facing out. There were National Guardsmen and local policemen, on foot and in jeeps and cars, along the sides of Sylvan Street and around its corners, at Jefferson Davis and Alabama Avenues. The marchers themselves appeared to have dressed for all kinds of weather and occasions--in denims, cassocks, tweed coats, ponchos, boots, sneakers, Shetland sweaters, silk dresses, college sweatshirts, sports shirts, khaki slacks, fur-collared coats, pea jackets, and trenchcoats. As they waited, they sang innumerable, increasingly dispirited choruses of "We Shall Overcome," "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round," and other songs of the movement. There was a moment of excitement when Dr. King and other speakers assembled on the steps, but a succession of long, rhetorical, and, to a certain extent (when press helicopters buzzed too low or when the microphone went dead), inaudible speeches put a damper on that. An enthusiastic lady, of a sort that often afflicts banquets and church suppers, sang several hymns of many stanzas, with little melody and much vibrato. Exhaust fumes from a television truck parked to the right of the steps began to choke some of the marchers, and they walked away, coughing. Speakers praised one another extravagantly in monotonous political-convention cadences ("the man who . . ."). An irreverent, irritated voice with a Bronx accent shouted, "Would you mind please talking a little louder!" Several members of the crowd sat down in the street, and the march assumed the first of its many moods--that of tedium.
Then Dr. King began to speak, and suddenly, for no apparent reason, several Army jeeps drove straight through the center of the crowd. ("Didn't realize we were interrupting," said one of the drivers, smiling. He had a D.D., for Dixie Division, emblem on his uniform.) The startled crowd, divided in half for a moment, became aware of its size. Dr. King's speech came to an end, and there was last, unified, and loud rendition of "We Shall Overcome." Then the marshals quickly arranged the crowd in columns, six abreast--women and children in the middle--and the procession set out down Sylvan Street. It was about one o'clock. On Alabama Avenue, the marchers turned right, passing lines of silent white citizens on the sidewalks. On Broad Street, which is also U.S. Route 80 to Montgomery, they turned left, and as segregationist loudspeakers along the way blared "Bye, Bye, Blackbird" and the white onlookers began to jeer, the marchers approached and crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And the march entered another mood--jubilation.
[originally posted: 1/20/06]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: WHICH IS WHY WE IGNORE IMMIGRATION LIMITS:
Natural Law from a Birmingham Jail: Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," was one of the finest modern appeals to natural law. (RONALD J. RYCHLAK, 1/17/11, Inside Catholic)
King's response to the clergymen, his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," was one of the finest modern appeals to natural law. In it, he wrote: "I would agree with St. Augustine that, an unjust law is no law at all." Moreover, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."As such, "One has . . . a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."
King's analysis, of course, raises the question of how to determine whether a law is just. Here, King turned to natural law. He explained: "A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law." He then looked to St. Thomas Aquinas: "An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law." Applying that to the case at hand, King explained: "All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority."
Directly responding to the clergymen, King wrote: "In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion?" After providing some examples, he explained his problem with the suggestion that they should wait for the courts to act: "It is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber."
King explained that "oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained."
King said that a change had come in his way of thinking: "I have tried [in the past] to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends." Thus, the legal system, while "moral" in and of itself, was at that time in history protecting the immoral system of segregation.
[originally posted: 1/18/11
FROM THE ARCHIVES: ILL-SERVED:
Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. (Richard John Neuhaus, October 2002, First Things)
I am in the minority with my admiration for Ralph Abernathy's 1989 autobiographical account of the movement, And the Walls Came Tumbling Down. Abernathy was beyond doubt closer to King than anyone else. After the assassination, he took King's place as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), although he knew as well as anyone that he was no Martin Luther King. His book was harshly criticized for its candor about King's sexual vagaries, but other published accounts had been more explicit on that score. What I think got to many reviewers is that Abernathy refused to toe the line on the leftist ideology of the movement and even, in the early eighties, took a conservative turn, offering some favorable words on, of all people, Ronald Reagan.
His gravest violation of conventional tellings is that he declined to see black Americans as a victim class oppressed by white racism, or to depict the movement as a response of revolutionary rage. As he told the story, King was a privileged son of the black bourgeoisie of Atlanta and he, Abernathy, was the heir of a tradition of black dignity in a rural Alabama he describes in almost idyllic terms. Abernathy was daringly "incorrect," and he paid a steep price for it. "Though slavery as an institution was wicked and foreign to the will of our Lord," he wrote, "it was not uniformly cruel and abusive. Some slaves, in the midst of their degradation, were treated with a measure of Christian charity, just as some prisoners of war have always been treated better than others. In the worst of circumstances, the human heart is still a mysterious variable."
His grandparents were slaves, but did not understand themselves to be victims. "In Marengo County during the first half of the twentieth century, the name 'Abernathy' meant integrity, responsibility, generosity, and religious commitment--and it came to mean that largely through the life and testimony of the black Abernathys. . . . So I feel no shame in going by a last name to which my father and mother brought such character and dignity. It was their name. They didn't just borrow it from a long-dead white man. They paid for it with their exemplary lives and therefore owned it outright when they passed it along to me."
Abernathy says that as a boy he was aware of racial segregation, but to him and other blacks in Alabama it was no big deal if the white folks wanted to have their own drinking fountains and a separate entrance at the post office. What did rankle is that white folk wouldn't call his father "Mister." The demand for white courtesy, and respect for the dignity that black folk knew they possessed--that was the issue in what came to be called the civil rights movement. That was the issue when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, a refusal that sparked the Montgomery bus boycott to which Abernathy recruited Martin Luther King, Jr., thus launching them both on a tumultuous course that they could neither anticipate nor control.
A Legacy Not Well Served
That is in largest part the story of And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: how a modest campaign for basic human decency somehow exploded into an out-of-control movement that, picking up a curious mix of causes and characters along the way, was perceived as a revolutionary challenge to the fundamental institutions and beliefs of the country and the world. Oddly enough, Marshall Frady's Martin Luther King, Jr. tells much of the story in the same way, although Frady tends to be condescending, at best, toward Ralph David Abernathy. Abernathy is described as "a stocky, slow badger of a man with a drowsy-eyed, drooping face but a droll and rollicking earthiness, who in their special comradeship over the years was to serve as something like King's Falstaff." At another point: "There was already, of course, the dutiful Abernathy, [King's] baggy, dolorous-faced, waggish Sancho Panza [who was] totally steadfast." It was easy to underestimate Abernathy, as I too learned. He did play the clown at times, but at times of crisis there was no one whose intuitive judgment King trusted more.
On the other hand, Frady has a high estimate of Jesse Jackson. In 1996 he published Jesse: The Life and Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson, and in the present book he writes: "Jesse Jackson, after founding his own movement organization in Chicago, would eventually convert what was perhaps the largest victory of King's apostleship--the claiming of the vote for all blacks--into two surprisingly impressive guerrilla presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988: As it turned out, this aide who came latest to King, and was perhaps most mistrusted by him, would come closest to developing into his heir as the single most eloquent symbol of pride and hope for masses of black Americans." All the worse for masses of black Americans, in the judgment of many. Frady attempts to excuse even Jackson's smearing of his shirt with King's blood on April 4, 1968 and then going on television to present himself as the anointed heir.
King mistrusted Jackson with good reason, and the following decades have vindicated that mistrust as Jackson has time and again acted as an opportunist, an ambulance chaser, and a publicity hound, who has skillfully exploited the memory of the movement by turning it into a lucrative extortion racket for shaking down corporate America. With a few honorable exceptions, such as Andrew Young, King's legacy has not been well served by those closest to him.
[originally posted: 1/19/09]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: A CREED, NOT A BREED:
Why We Keep This Creed (Michael Gerson, July 4, 2007, Washington Post)
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized that America has a "schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against herself." But we are redeemed, he argued, by our creed, expressed in the Declaration of Independence, which manages "to forever challenge us; to forever give us a sense of urgency; to forever stand in the midst of the 'isness' of our terrible injustices; to remind us of the 'oughtness' of our noble capacity for justice and love and brotherhood." Americans, he said, believe in "certain basic rights that are neither derived from nor conferred by the state. . . . They are God-given, gifts from his hands."
"You may take my life," King said, "but you can't take my right to life. You may take liberty from me, but you can't take my right to liberty." And this creed of "amazing universalism" calls "America to do a special job for mankind and the world . . . because America is the world in miniature and the world is America writ large."
The privileged and powerful can love America for many reasons. The oppressed and powerless, stripped of selfish motives for their love, have found America lovely because of its ideals.
It is typical of America that our great national day is not the celebration of a battle -- or, as in the case of France, the celebration of a riot. It is the celebration of a political act, embedded in a philosophic argument: that the rights of man are universal because they are rooted in the image of God.
Which is why the nativist, with his particularist claim that America is for him and his, can not succeed in the long run.
[originally posted: 7/05/07]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: CONSERVATIVE ICON:
Celebrating Dr. King -- The Moral Authority of Law (Charles Colson, 1/17/11, Catholic Exchange)
"A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is out of harmony with the moral law."
It was with these very words, in his memorable Letter from a Birmingham Jail, that Martin Luther King, Jr., threw down the gauntlet in his great Civil Rights crusade. King refused to obey what he regarded as an immoral law that did not square with the law of God.
All across America today, millions of people are celebrating the birthday of this courageous man, and deservedly so. He was a fearless battler for truth, and all of us are in his debt because he remedied past wrongs and brought millions of Americans into the full riches of citizenship.
In schools and on courthouse steps, people will be quoting his "I Have a Dream" speech today. It is an elegant and powerful classic. But I would suggest that one of Dr. King's greatest accomplishments, one which will be little mentioned today because it has suddenly become "politically incorrect," is his advocacy of the true moral foundations of law.
King defended the transcendent source of the law's authority. In doing so he took a conservative Christian view of law.
[originally posted: 1/17/11]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: READ IT FOR THE INTERVIEWS:
Martin Luther King Jr.: Playboy Interview (Playboy, January 1965)
PLAYBOY: Wasn't it another such incident on a bus, years later, that thrust you into your present role as a civil rights leader?
MARTIN LUTHER KING: Yes, it was--in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. E.D. Nixon, a Pullman porter long identified with the NAACP, telephoned me late one night to tell me that Mrs. Rosa Parks had been arrested around seven-thirty that evening when a bus driver demanded that she give up her seat, and she refused--because her feet hurt. Nixon had already bonded Mrs. Parks out of prison. He said, "It's time this stops; we ought to boycott the buses." I agreed and said, "Now." The next night we called a meeting of Negro community leaders to discuss it, and on Saturday and Sunday we appealed to the Negro community, with leaflets and from the pulpits, to boycott the buses on Monday. We had in mind a one-day boycott, and we were banking on 60-percent success. But the boycott saw instantaneous 99-percent success. We were so pleasantly surprised and impressed that we continued, and for the next 381 days the boycott of Montgomery's buses by Negroes was 99 9/10 successful.
PLAYBOY: Were you sure you'd win?
MARTIN LUTHER KING: There was one dark moment when we doubted it. We had been struggling to make the boycott a success when the city of Montgomery successfully obtained an injunction from the court to stop our car pool. I didn't know what to say to our people. They had backed us up, and we had let them down. It was a desolate moment. I saw, all of us saw, that the court was leaning against us. I remember telling a group of those working closest with me to spread in the Negro community the message, "We must have the faith that things will work out somehow, that God will make a way for us when there seems no way." It was about noontime, I remember, when Rex Thomas of the Associated Press rushed over to where I was sitting and told me of the news flash that the U.S. Supreme Court had declared that bus segregation in Montgomery was unconstitutional. It had literally been the darkest hour before the dawn.
PLAYBOY: You and your followers were criticized, after your arrest for participating in the boycott, for accepting bail and leaving jail. Do you feel, in retrospect, that you did the right thing?
MARTIN LUTHER KING: No; I think it was a mistake, a tactical error for me to have left jail, by accepting bail, after being indicted along with 125 others, mainly drivers of our car pool, under an old law of doubtful constitutionality, an "antiboycott" ordinance. I should have stayed in prison. It would have nationally dramatized and deepened our movement even earlier, and it would have more quickly aroused and keened America's conscience.
PLAYBOY: Do you feel you've been guilty of any comparable errors in judgment since then?
MARTIN LUTHER KING: Yes, I do--in Albany, Georgia, in 1962. If I had that to do again, I would guide that community's Negro leadership differently than I did. The mistake I made there was to protest against segregation generally rather than against a single and distinct facet of it. Our protest was so vague that we got nothing, and the people were left very depressed and in despair. It would have been much better to have concentrated upon integrating the buses or the lunch counters. One victory of this kind would have been symbolic, would have galvanized support and boosted morale. But I don't mean that our work in Albany ended in failure. The Negro people there straightened up their bent backs: You can't ride a man's back unless it's bent. Also, thousands of Negroes registered to vote who never had voted before, and because of the expanded Negro vote in the next election for governor of Georgia--which pitted a moderate candidate against a rabid segregationist--Georgia elected its first governor who had pledged to respect and enforce the law impartially. And what we learned from our mistakes in Albany helped our later campaigns in other cities to be more effective. We have never since scattered our efforts in a general attack on segregation, but have focused upon specific, symbolic objectives.
PLAYBOY: Can you recall any other mistakes you've made in leading the movement?
MARTIN LUTHER KING: Well, the most pervasive mistake I have made was in believing that because our cause was just, we could be sure that the white ministers of the South, once their Christian consciences were challenged, would rise to our aid. I felt that white ministers would take our cause to the white power structures. I ended up, of course, chastened and disillusioned. As our movement unfolded, and direct appeals were made to white ministers, most folded their hands--and some even took stands against us.
PLAYBOY: Their stated reason for refusing to help was that it was not the proper role of the church to "intervene in secular affairs." Do you disagree with this view?
MARTIN LUTHER KING: Most emphatically. The essence of the Epistles of Paul is that Christians should rejoice at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believe. The projection of a social gospel, in my opinion, is the true witness of a Christian life. This is the meaning of the true ekklesia--the inner, spiritual church. The church once changed society. It was then a thermostat of society. But today I feel that too much of the church is merely a thermometer, which measures rather than molds popular opinion.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: WE ASPIRE TO THE CITY OF GOD...:
The story of the civil rights era is usually told as a collision between heroes and villains: the marchers on one side and the K.K.K. on the other; the Martin Luther Kings and Lyndon Johnsons making the way straight for justice, and the George Wallaces and Bull Connors standing sneering in their way. But the movement's successes and failures were ultimately determined by the choices of more unheroic men -- men like Billy Graham.
These choices began with Graham's decision, in the early '50s, to shed the baggage of his segregationist upbringing and recast himself as a racial moderate -- a critic of Jim Crow, albeit a determined gradualist where its elimination was concerned. This was a moral and theological conversion. Miller, a historian, is very good at teasing out the connection between Graham's religious views and his evolving opinions on race, and the way that doctrinal controversies within evangelical Christianity (for instance, the argument between moderates and fundamentalists over whether God is a father to all mankind, or only to all believers) intersected with political debates about racial equality. Yet it was also a career-minded conversion. The young Graham had grand ambitions for his ministry, and to become an international spokesman for Christianity, in the age of the cold war and decolonization, required distancing himself from the South's controversial institutions.
But a similar combination of theological principle and careerist caution meant that Graham's critique of segregation never went nearly as far as civil rights activists wanted him to go. He stressed individual conversion over political change, supporting legal reform in lukewarm terms while insisting that only the Gospel could really improve race relations. He maintained strong friendships with segregationist clergymen and politicians, and his attacks on racism were always tempered by deliberate hedges and straddles -- denunciations of extremists on "both sides" of the debate, suggestions that race relations were worse in the North than in the South, and so forth. Where Martin Luther King used eschatological language as a spur to political change, Graham used eschatology to emphasize the limits of politics. "Only when Christ comes again," he reportedly said after King's speech at the March on Washington, "will the lion lie down with the lamb and the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with the little black children."
At the core of Graham's approach, Miller argues, was an evangelical view of political authority as essentially God-given and not to be lightly challenged. This made him a natural ally for presidents like Dwight Eisenhower and Johnson, who needed prominent white Southerners to serve as spokesmen for the acceptance of desegregation laws. And it enabled him, as Miller says, to "set the terms of the racial curve" that even as strident a segregationist as Wallace "would eventually round."
But it made him a fair-weather friend to the civil rights activists themselves. Graham supported the era's landmark legislation once it was passed into law, but he was a constant critic of the marches, demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience that helped make reform possible. His first commitment was always to law and order, and his first instinct was always to call for an end to further agitation.
...but live in the City of Man.
[originally posted: 4/18/09]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: BLACK MOSES:
The Reverend King had gone pretty far wrong by then, descending into stock Leftism -- welfare mau-mauing and appeasement of the Soviet Union -- but while he didn't get to the Promised Land with us he did get us there. When you listen to his speeches you realize how important it was to have the leader of the civil rights movement make moral claims rooted in Judeo-Christianity upon an American people informed by the faith. He succeeded because we could not be both segregationist and American.
[originally posted: 4/04/07]