ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Arnold Toynbee says in A Study of History that it may be the Negro who
will give the new spiritual dynamic to Western civilization that it so desperately
need to survive. I hope this is possible. The spiritual power that the Negro
can radiate to the world comes from love, understanding, good will, and nonviolence.
Books by and about Martin Luther King, Jr.
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The Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
An Inspiration for Reaching BackThe Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
All through the month of January, and particularly on the 15th, we proudly and humbly celebrate the birthday and life of one of our own whose influence on both Blacks and Whites has been, and continues to be, of immeasurable significance. The impact of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.s leadership, personality and philosophy is of a degree that warrants special consideration and attention to this the 55th anniversary of his birth.
In a very real sense, Dr. King was to the fulfillment of the American Revolution, what George Washington was to the founding of this nation and what Abraham Lincoln was to its salvation. King had a singular talent for moving people and directing events. He possessed the unusual capacity of being able to disturb men and upset their consciences.
In 1958, ten years before his tragic death, King placed the Black Revolution in its larger historical context:
This a great hour for the Negro. The challenge is here. To become the instrument of great idea is a privilege that history gives only occasionally. Arnold Toynbee says in A Study of History that it may be the Negro who will give the new spiritual dynamic to Western civilization that it so desperately need to survive. I hope this is possible. The spiritual power that the Negro can radiate to the world comes from love, understanding, good will, and nonviolence. It may even be possible for the Negro, through adherence to nonviolence, so to challenge the nations of the world that they will seriously seek an alternative to war and destruction. In a day when Sputniks and Explorers dash through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, nobody can win a war. Today the choice is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. The Negro may be Gods appeal to this agean age drifting rapidly to its doom. The eternal appeal takes the form of a warning: All who take the sword will perish by the sword. [Stride Toward Freedom, p. 224.]
The Kingian Philosophy of Nonviolence
While others viewed nonviolence as only one of the alternatives, for Martin Luther King, Jr., it was only road to freedom. In September 1948 while a student at Crozer Theological: Seminary, he heard Dr. A.J. Muste and Dr. Mordecai W. Johnson preach of the life and teaching of Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of Indian independence. Since his entrance at Crozer, Martin had begun a serious quest for a way to eliminate economic and social evil.
He began a prolonged study of the writings of Gandhi and became a convert to the Gandhian concept of satyagraha (truth-force or love-force) and atmbal (soul-force). King described his conversion thusly:
As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi, my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time that the Christian doctrine of love, operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence, is one of the most potent weapons available to an oppressed people in their struggle for freedom. At that time, however, I acquired only an intellectual understanding and appreciation of the position, and I had no firm determination to organize it in a socially effective situation. [Strength To Love, p. 151]
On October 31, 1954, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was installed as the 20th pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. One year later, Dr. King became involved in a crisis in which the philosophy of nonviolent resistance could be applied. On December 1, 1955, Mrs. Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old seamstress was arrested because she refused to give her bus seat to a white man.
When the Black people of Montgomery decided that it was more honorable to walk the streets in dignity than to ride the buses in humiliation, they called on Dr. King to be their spokesman and leader of the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). The association began a nonviolent boycott of Montgomerys transit system.
From the beginning a basic philosophy guided the movement. This guiding principle has since been referred to variously as nonviolent resistance, noncooperation, and passive resistance. But in the first days of the protest none of these expressions was mentioned; the phrase most often heard was Christian love. It was the Sermon on the Mount, rather than a doctrine of passive resistance, that initially inspired the Negroes of Montgomery to dignified social action. It was Jesus of Nazareth that stirred the Negroes to protest with the creative weapon of love.
Nonviolent resistance emerged as the technique of the movement, while love stood as the regulating ideal. In other words, Christ furnished the spirit and motivation, while Gandhi furnished the method. [Stride Toward Freedom, pp. 8485]
At first regular biweekly mass meetings were held in the local Black churches. At these meetings the philosophy and principles of nonviolence were taught. These meetings also served as invaluable communication vehicles as Montgomery had no Black-owned radio station nor widely circulated Black newspaper.
By 1963 the following pledge was being signed by volunteers for sit-in demonstrations in the restaurants of Birmingham:
I hereby pledge myselfmy person and bodyto nonviolent movement. Therefore I will keep the following ten commandments:
1. MEDITATE daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
2. REMEMBER always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliationnot victory.
3. WALK AND TALK in the manner of love, for God is love.
4. PRAY daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.
5. SACRIFICE personal wishes in order that all men might be free.
6. OBSERVE with both friend and for the ordinary rules of courtesy.
7. SEEK to perform regular service for others and for the world.
8. REFRAIN from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
9. STRIVE to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
10. FOLLOW the directions of the movement and of the captain on a demonstration.
I sign this pledge, having seriously considered what I do and with the determination and will to persevere.
Besides demonstrations, I could also help the movement by:
(Circle the proper items)
Run errands, Drive my car, Fix food for volunteers, Clerical work, Make phone calls, Answer phones, Mimeograph, Type, Print signs, Distribute leaflets.
Alabama Christian Movement For Human Rights
Birmingham Affiliate of S.C.L.C.
505½ North 17th Street
F.L. Shuttesworth, President
A Suffering Servant
Through his personal trials, Martin Luther King, Jr., learned the value of unmerited suffering. Although he was loath to speak of his sufferings lest he develop a martyr complex, the positive influence they exerted on his ideas overcame his reluctance.
Due to my involvement in the struggle for the freedom of my people, I have known very few quiet days in the last few years. I have been imprisoned in Alabama and Georgia jails twelve times. My home has been bombed twice. A day seldom passes that my family and I are not the recipients of-threats of death. I have been battered by the storms of persecution. I must admit that at times I have felt that I could no longer bear such a heavy burden, and have been tempted to retreat to a more quiet and serene life. But every time such a temptation appeared, something came to strengthen and sustain my determination. I have learned now that the Masters burden is light precisely when we take his yoke upon us.
My personal trials have also taught me the value of unmerited suffering. As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situationeither to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course. Recognizing the necessity for suffering, I have tried to make of it a virtue. If only to save myself from bitterness, I have attempted to see my personal ordeals as an opportunity to transfigure myself and heal the people involved in the tragic situation which now obtains. I have lived these last few years with the conviction that unearned suffering is redemptive. There are some who still find the cross a stumbling block, others consider it foolishness, but I am more convinced than ever before that it is the power of God unto social and individual salvation. So like the Apostle Paul I can now humbly, yet proudly, say, I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. [Strength To Love, pp. 153154.]
The Basic Aspects of Nonviolence
Some of the basic aspects of this philosophy are:
1. Nonviolent resistance is not a method for cowards; it does resist. If one uses this method because he is afraid or merely because he lacks the instruments of violence, he is not truly nonviolent. The method is passive physically, but strongly active spiritually. It is not passive nonresistance to evil, it is active nonviolent resistant to evil.
2. It does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding.
3. The attack is directed against forces of evi1 rather than against persons who happen to be doing the evil. It is evil that the nonviolent resister seeks to defeat, not the persons victimized by evil.
4. [There] is willingness to accept suffering without retaliation, to accept blows from the opponent without striking back.
5. It avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love.
6. It is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice. The believer in nonviolence has deep faith in the future.
[Excerpted from Stride Toward Freedom, pp. 101106.]
What Did Nonviolence Accomplish?
Among the accomplishments of the nonviolent civil disobedience movement are the following:
1. It provided motive and justification for the Black liberation movement.
2. It helped the Black movement in its struggle for greater economic and social justice and equality.
3. It helped to inspire southern Blacks with a new sense of dignity and self worth.
4. It gave the Black masses a tool for dislodging the burden of segregation.
5. It gave every person, regardless of his or her economic or social status in life, a chance to participate as partners and equals in the common struggle toward self liberation.
Martin Luther King, Jr.s political philosophy has been criticized for having philosophical shortcomings, logical inconsistencies, moral idealism and inherent biases. But even his critics concede that the dismantling of entrenched southern segregation laws and practices did not begin until the leadership passes to Dr. King. With his arrival the old order began to pass awaynot suddenly but surely.
A Prince of Peace
On December 10, 1964, Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. These five prestigious prizes, amounting to almost $40,000 each, are awarded each year by the Noble Foundation from the bequest of Alfred Bernhard Noble for outstanding achievement in physics, chemistry, medicine and literature, and for the promotion of peace.
The following excerpts from Dr. Kings Acceptance Speech express, in a way no otherwise possible, the greatness of the man and the dept of his commitment to freedom and justice:
Your Majesty, your Royal Highness, Mr. President, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen:
I accept the Nobel prize for peace at a moment when 22 million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice. I accept this award in behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice.
I am mindful that only yesterday in Birmingham, Ala., our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs and even death. I am mindful that only yesterday in Philadelphia, Miss., young people seeking to secure the right to vote were brutalized and murdered.
I am mindful that debilitating and grinding poverty afflicts my people and chains them to the lowest rung of the economic ladder.
Therefore, I must ask why this prize is awarded to a movement which is beleagured and committed to unrelenting struggle; to a movement which has not won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel prize.
After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our timethe need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.
Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later, all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood.
I accept this award today, with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept the idea that the isness of mans present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal oughtness that forever confronts him.
I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life which surrounds him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.
This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.
Today I come to Oslo as a trustee, inspired and with renewed dedication to humanity. I accept this prize on behalf of all men who love peace and brotherhood.
Source: National BLACK MONITOR January, 1984
posted 3 April 2006
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By Clarence B. Jones and Stuart Connelly
I Have a Dream. When those words were spoken on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, the crowd stood, electrified, as Martin Luther King, Jr. brought the plight of African Americans to the public consciousness and firmly established himself as one of the greatest orators of all time. Behind the Dream is a thrilling, behind-the-scenes account of the weeks leading up to the great event, as told by Clarence Jones, co-writer of the speech and close confidant to King. Jones was there, on the road, collaborating with the great minds of the time, and hammering out the ideas and the speech that would shape the civil rights movement and inspire Americans for years to come. Palgrave Macmillan
Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation is a smart, insightful, enjoyable read about a momentous event in history. It is the “story behind the story” straight from Clarence Jones, the attorney, speechwriter, and close friend of Martin Luther King, Jr. As I read the words on the page, I felt as if I were having an intimate conversation with the author. The book helped me to understand the humanity of Dr. King and the other organizers of the March on Washington. They were people who saw injustice and called for change. Despite FBI wiretaps and other adversity, together they undertook an enormous logistical effort in hopes that the March would be a success. Jones himself handwrote the first draft of the renowned I Have a Dream speech on a yellow legal pad, but it wasn’t until King was inspired to veer from the text that he struck a chord with the audience, delivering the right words at the right time. The I Have a Dream speech helped to elevate King from a man to a hero; this book is a reminder to all to make sure that his Dream lives on.amazon customer
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By Charles C. Mann
Im a big fan of Charles Manns previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Its exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that its anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, Im proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, globalized entity.
Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.
We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.
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By Tracy K. Smith
Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection’s “lyric brilliance” and “political impulses [that] never falter.” A New York Times review stated, “Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we’re alone in the universe; it’s to acceptor at least endurethe universe’s mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith’s pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the books first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant.” Life on Mars follows Smith’s 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet’s second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans. The Bodys Question (2003) was her first published collection.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 10 May 2012