“Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. . . . So I will continue to condemn riots, and continue to say to my brothers and sisters that this is not the way. And continue to affirm that there is another way.”
A Speech at Stanford in 1967 he called, “The Other America“
said this in the very next line of the very same speech:
“But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”
Today when protests break out many who opposed them quote Rev. Dr. King, especially if protests turned riotous. Rev. Dr. King was often taken to task when riots happened. He speaks to them in several speeches. His theological commitment to non-violent resistance makes it easy for Rev. Dr. King to be taken out of context.
As Rev. Dr. King’s daughter Bernice King has said, “My father sought to understand the human condition, including the holistic consequences of racism & white supremacist ideology.”
We need to keep Rev. Dr. King in context.
For the transcript click here or watch the speech below.
The Rev. Dr. King that said this in 1963, “The ultimate measure of a person is not where one stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where one stands in times of challenge and controversy.”
wrote this in 1968:
“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn. The reality of substantial investment to assist Negroes into the twentieth century, adjusting to Negro neighbors and genuine school integration, is still a nightmare for all too many white Americans. . . .These are the deepest causes for contemporary abrasions between the races. Loose and easy language about equality, resonant resolutions about brotherhood fall pleasantly on the ear, but for the Negro there is a credibility gap he cannot overlook. He remembers that with each modest advance the white population promptly raises the argument that the Negro has come far enough. Each step forward accents an ever-present tendency to backlash.”
Where Do We Go From Here pp. 10, 11.
In a 1967 interview with NBC Rev. Dr. King said, “I must confess that that dream that I had that day has in many points turned into a nightmare. Now I’m not one to lose hope. I keep on hoping. I still have faith in the future. But I’ve had to analyze many things over the last few years and I would say over the last few months. I’ve gone through a lot of soul-searching and agonizing moments. And I’ve come to see that we have many more difficulties ahead and some of the old optimism was a little superficial and now it must be tempered with a solid realism.”
His 1968 book “Where Do We Go From Here” seems to unpack in great detail this nightmare. I think the quote I share above from the book hints at it.
We need to keep Rev. Dr. King in context.
The full 1967 interview with NBC can be found here:
“Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a moulder of consensus.” ~ Where Do We Go From Here? (1968)
also said this:
“Nowhere is the tragic tendency to conform more evident than in the church, an institution that has often served to crystallize, conserve, and even bless the patterns of majority opinion. The erstwhile sanction by the church of slavery, racial segregation, war, and economic exploitation is testimonial to the fact that the church has hearkened more to the authority of kthe world than to the authority of God. Called to be the moral guardian of the community, the church at times has preserved that which is immoral and unethical. Called to combat social evils, it has remained silent behind stained-glass windows. Called to lead men on the highway of brotherhood and to summon them to rise above the narrow confines of race and class, it has enunciated and practiced racial exclusiveness. We preachers have also been tempted by the enticing cult of conformity. Seduced by the success symbols of the world, we have measured our achievements by the size of our parsonage. We have become showmen to please the whims and caprices of the people. We preach comforting sermons and avoid saying anything from our pulpit that might disturb the respectable views of the comfortable members of our congregations. Have we ministers of Jesus Christ sacrificed truth on the altar of self-interest and, like Pilate, yielded our convictions to the demands of the crowd?” ~
“Transformed Nonconformist,” in Strength to Love (pp. 16-17)
Prophetic speech is political speech, just not in the way we think.
It has become important to me that I not allow myself to package Rev. Dr. King’s legacy in a handful of quotes. It’s too easy to make him palatable and dishonor the struggle.
The same Rev. Dr. King that said:
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” ~ In his 1957 sermon, “Loving Your Enemies”
also said this in 1964:
“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles of racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it. Our children are still taught to respect the violence….” ~ Why We Can’t Wait,” pp. 119-20
Rev. Dr. King was considered a threat to political power. A poll was conducted and he was marked as the most hated man in America. When read in context it isn’t hard to imagine why.
Rev. Dr. King’s Christian faith led to him to speak eloquently about the deepest truths of Jesus’ teaching, namely love of neighbor and enemy. But his commitment to the concrete expression of love is what often caused him trouble. He didn’t speak in abstraction or generalities, but in the particular, both past and present.
I remember that today is the birthday to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. He would be 94 years old today.
In honor of Martin Luther King Day on Monday I’ll share various excerpts and quotes from his speeches and books. I’m breaking my sabbatical rule to post once each day this week as I did last year. My hope is that all who read will see the Rev. Dr. King in context. Let’s begin with two of his more familiar excerpts.
The same Rev. Dr. King that said this in August of 1963,
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” ~ I Have a Dream Speech
first said this in April of 1963:
“First I must confess that over the last 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 the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er 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 can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”~ Letter from Birmingham Jail