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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Reflections on Past Influences: Martin Luther King ... Part I

The final lecture in the recent series I attended  was an informative and fascinating study of the American Civil Rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King. The lecture was given by Professor Hilary  Russell from John Moores University, Liverpool.

The Vicar began the evening by playing a clip from the movie ‘In the Heat of the Night”. The clip was very effective in explaining and depicting the relationship between the black man and his white counter-part in the American south in the early 60’s and possibly up to the present time in some places.

The Martin Luther King who arrived in Montgomery, Alabama in 1954 did not have civil rights activism on his agenda. Brought up in Atlanta, the son of the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, he had been educated at Boston University and was still working on his doctoral thesis in philosophical theology. The church he went to in Montgomery was proud of its access to the white establishment and, therefore, access to political power. The congregation may have hoped for an end to discrimination, but offered no challenge to the status quo.

Professor Russell picked three events to illustrate King’s spiritual journey and his evolving thinking.
Martin Luther King’s journey toward non-violent activism began with the arrest of Rosa Parks in December 1955 for refusing to sit in the back of the bus and give up her seat to a white man. The result of this refusal was a bus boycott by blacks. King became the President of the boycott group, the Montgomery Improvement Association. It was the first step toward becoming the leader of the Civil Rights Movement. The boycott continued for 382 days when King himself was arrested, abused and had his home bombed.

When King arrived in Montgomery he was not a pacifist; he believed the only solution would be armed revolt. However, during the bus boycott he had an intense spiritual experience in the midst of a period of great harassment and personal fear. While praying at his kitchen table, in the depths of despair, he experienced the presence of God as he never had before. His fears left him and he had new strength and resolve and he was now clearer about the real goal. Three days later he authorized his lawyer to challenge the segregation laws. “Segregation is evil and I cannot, as a minister, condone evil.” He was also determined to meet violence with non-violence and to resist pressure from others in the black community who were impatient for change.

The second experience came in 1963 from jail when King responded to a letter from white clergy in Birmingham, Alabama who took issue with King for being an ‘outsider’ causing trouble in the streets of Birmingham. In response, King wrote famously, “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... Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider...” When the clergy accused the civil rights movement of being extreme, King argued that Jesus and other heroes were extremists, “So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or love?”

In Part 2 I will discuss the “I have a dream” speech and my own personal reflections of that event.


22 comments:

  1. Beautifully written. I am glad you were able to attend this lecture and then write about it here to share with me. I look forward to Part 2. :-)

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    1. Thank you DJan. I feel privileged to have such lectures to attend.

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  2. Wonderful post! It has been such a long time, I think people forget just how great a man MLK was. He was indeed very Christ like. Many think he was killed in a conspiracy because he would not capitulate into a violent dissenter as many wanted him too.

    He could turn the other cheek, and make the slapper feel the pain!

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    1. We are fortunate to have been able to witness his work and his words. Thanks, Joeh.

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  3. MLK was so much a part of our formative years. He focused our thinking.

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    1. He really did focus mine. He always made so much sense.

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  4. Thank you for that inspiring post. I read the story of Rosa Parks not long ago. What a brave, shining light of a woman. That one simple act changed history for the better.

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    1. Rosa Parks was indeed a brave shining light.

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  5. Thanks for refreshing my memories about this great man. Looking forward to part II.

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    1. Listening to his speech brought back so many memories of that time. There is a curse about 'living in interesting times' -- the 60's were certainly that!

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  6. Thanks for this post about Dr. King. It was an incredible experience to be from Sweden and live here in the U. S. during the 1960s civil rights struggles. Things that were so self-evident to me, were not to so many white people in this country. It is sad that even though great strides have been made through great sacrifices, racism still exists in the 21st century.

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    1. It is tragic how much racism still exists. It breaks my heart.

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  7. I'm looking forward to the next installment.

    We forget these struggles at our peril.

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    1. Thank you Gaynor. I absolutely agree that it is important to remember the stuggles of the past. It's the only way to protect the future...

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  8. I do feel that sometimes people forget what it means to be a pioneer and have that kind of fight. We just take it for granted, in the end, but all progress is made on the shoulders of such people.

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    1. And how much changes from the work of ordinary people who do extraordinary things...

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  9. A super, thought-provoking post, Broad. Martin Luther King has always been a hero of mine and I still remember where I was when I heard of his assassination. I await part 2 with anticipation, but in the meantime will hold on to a quote I hadn't heard before: "Will we be extremists for hate or love?" Marvellous!

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    1. Thank you, Perpetua! The day of his assassination was a terrible day, indeed.

      Are you still in the UK?

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    2. Yes, we're in Scotland for a short visit, then back to Wales for my pre-op assessment on the 19th. Then we're off to France until late August. Yippee!

      All the very best for your surgery.

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  10. Excellent post, m'lady. I have a copy of King's "I Have a Dream" speech in the back of a short and simple biography of the gentle giant. I take it out and read it from time to time, re-marvelling at the thoughts and worlds. I eagerly await your second post.

    Blessings and Bear hugs!
    Bears Noting, Life in the Urban Forest (poetry).

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    1. Blessings and Bear hugs to you, too! What a brilliant thing to have handy -- and how inspiring it must be for you.

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  11. Dear Broad, thanks for this insightful history lesson about Reverend Martin Luther King, Junior and how he began his journey into being a passive resister to racism. Peace.

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Receiving comments is a joy and I thank you all for taking the trouble and showing your interest. Makes me feel all gooey and stuff!