On November 30, Melissa Harris-Perry honored my biography of Rosa Parks, The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, by including it amongst a group of ground-breaking Black feminist texts and histories on her “Black Feminism Syllabus.” This recognition came on the 58th anniversary of Rosa Parks' bus arrest and the public marking of the day, including the RNC's unfortunate tweet celebrating “Rosa Parks’ bold stand and her role in ending racism.” The RNC’s tweet spoke to what has been a theme at the heart of much Parks memorialization across the political spectrum—the honoring of her is regularly accompanied by a element of national self congratulation. Her stand is often now commemorated as a way to mark how far we’ve come in the successful movement to end Jim Crow segregation and racism.
What my book sought to do was rescue Rosa Parks from the narrow pedestal she exists upon. This national sainthood has paradoxically diminished the scope and importance of her political work and functions, across the political spectrum, to make us feel good about ourselves as a nation. It misses the lifelong activist who worked against injustice in both the North and South and paid a heavy price for her political work but kept struggling to address contemporary racial and social inequalities until her death in 2005. It misses her global vision and how she was treated as un-American for great stretches of her life by many Americans for these political activities. And finally, it misses that a real honoring of her legacy requires us to do the same hard, tedious, scary work of pressing against the injustices of our time, both nationally and internationally, because she firmly believed the movement was not over.
Rosa Parks greets Nelson and Winnie Mandela after his release from prison in 1990
Exactly fifty-eight years ago today, just days after Rosa Park's historic arrest, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta watched tensely from their living room window as the first moments of the Montomery Bus Boycott unfolded. Dr. King recounts those anxious early minutes in his book Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, part of our King Legacy Series:
There is perhaps no modern President whose legacy resonates in the public consciousness as much as John F. Kennedy's. It was, in a sense, the first modern presidency: The first to be televised—from its historic inauguration to those shocking final moments in Dallas fifty years ago today—and the first to truly grapple with the maelstrom of social unrest that would lead eventually to the posthumous passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, just months after his death. In this first of two posts on JFK's legacy, we reach into some of our recent books for look at the Kennedy administration's complex and evolving relationship with race and the Civil Rights Movement, starting with the struggle between the Kennedy's Secretary of the Interior Stewart Lee Udall and Washington Redskins owner George Marshall over the integration of his team, and ending with an on-the-ground accounting of the 1963 March on Washington for Civil Rights, and JFK's meeting with the major civil rights leaders of the time.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, best known for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s iconic "I Have a Dream Speech." On that day, over a quarter-million people rallied in the first-ever nationally televised demonstration. The March brought together
all factions of the civil rights movement at a time of growing tension. In the weeks after
the pivotal Birmingham
campaign, some 2,000 demonstrations took place across the country. Not only did
the movement attack the southern bastions of segregation, it also moved north to New York, Philadelphia, Chicago,
and other cities. Coming just two months after President John F. Kennedy’s
landmark address and legislation on civil rights, the March gave America its
first comprehensive view of the movement.
In honor of the Great Day, we're sharing some intimate glimpses of the March—from civil rights activists and leaders to ordinary citizens who helped shape the greatest civil rights demonstration ever.
“They came every way—flatbed trucks with the wood floor that
they used to carry tobacco, pickup trucks that were all dinged up, charter
buses, school buses, station wagons, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, tricycles,
and I could see people still coming in groups… Children of every size, pregnant
women, elderly people who seemed tired but happy to be there, clothing that
made me know that they struggled to make it day to day, made me know they
worked on farms or offices or even nearby for the government.” —Erica Jenkins,
a fifteen-year-old who attended the March on Washington.
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom happened fifty years ago this week. Most people don't know much about the day beyond a few snippets of one historic speech. But the full story is dramatic, compelling, and central to our understanding of how the civil rights movement shaped our history.
On August 28, 1963, over a quarter-million people—two-thirds black and one-third white—held the greatest civil rights demonstration ever. In this major reinterpretation of the Great Day—the peak of the movement—Charles Euchner brings back the tension and promise of the march. Building on countless interviews, archives, FBI files, and private recordings, this hour-by-hour account offers intimate glimpses into the lives of those key players and ordinary people who converged on the National Mall to fight for civil rights in the March on Washington.
With a new school year just around the corner, students are stocking up on supplies and teachers are polishing their curriculum plans. To help the latter, Beacon offers guides to help in teaching many of our most popular titles. Find these and other teachers guides at our Scribd page and at Beacon.org.
Psst: if you're not a teacher, these guides can still be great tools for reading and comprehending some great books!
Teacher Patricia Rigley shares ideas for lesson plans, discussion questions, and sample assignments.
Long before the avalanche of praise for his work—from Oprah Winfrey, from President Bill Clinton, from President Barack Obama—long before he became known for his talk show appearances, Members Project spots, and documentaries like Waiting for "Superman", Geoffrey Canada was a small boy growing up scared on the mean streets of the South Bronx. His childhood world was one where "sidewalk boys" learned the codes of the block and were ranked through the rituals of fist, stick, and knife. Then the streets changed, and the stakes got even higher. In his candid and riveting memoir, Canada relives a childhood in which violence stalked every street corner.
On August 28, 1963, over 200,000
demonstrators gathered at the National Mall for the March on Washington for
Jobs and Freedom seeking to advocate for social and economic justice. Before
the march, the leaders of the civil rights movement known as the Big Six, alerted
President John F. Kennedy of their intentions, including the advancement of
voter rights, school desegregation, and passage of a comprehensive civil rights
bill. The speakers included such notables as Bayard Rustin, Roy Wilkins, John
Lewis, and finally Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Toward the end of the event, Dr.
King moved the audience with his now iconic
“I Have a Dream” speech.
Russia's new anti-gay law has a loophole: The law, which has led to numerous arrests, beatings, and bans against LGBT people, specifically prohibits the "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations," but homosexuality is as traditionally Russian as vodka and caviar.
Where does one begin the list of prominent LGBT Russians? Peter Tchaikovsky, one of Russia's foremost composers; Nikolai Gogol, one of its leading writers; from the world of dance, Diaghilev, Nijinsky, Nureyev; not to mention members of Russia's ruling classes, including Grand Duke Sergei Romanov, brother to the czar and mayor of Moscow from 1891 to 1905.
What could be more "traditional" than this list? Indeed, so "traditional" was Russian homosexuality that it was even seen as a distinctive symptom of Russian decadence by some revolutionaries. Indeed, none other than Ivan the Terrible (1538-1584) and Dmitry 'the Pretender (unk.-1606) were known to be homosexual, or at least to have had male lovers.
In fact, what is nontraditional is the suppression of sexual diversity, not its expression. Following the Russian Revolution, the regime under Lenin formally legalized homosexual acts (along with divorce and abortion), but Stalin criminalized them in 1933. So they would remain until 1993: officially illegal, yet tolerated on and off, depending on those in power. Which of these legal regimes is "traditional" and which is "nontraditional"? Is Stalin more traditional than Lenin?
The reality is that, as everywhere, sexual diversity in Russia is entirely traditional and entirely natural. Of course, contemporary labels -- "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual," "transgender" -- are culturally specific and of relatively late vintage. But the existence of same-sex relationships goes back as far as Russian history itself. Indeed, a few years ago, a 600-page volume containing 69 biographies of famous Russian lesbians and gays was compiled by Vladimir Kirsanov, editor of the gay magazine Kvir.
Now we all know that Vitaly Milonov, the most vocal of the anti-gay bill's sponsors, had homosexuality in mind when he introduced the bill. But a literal reading of the bill's actual language, coupled with even a passing glance at Russian history, does not agree.
Of course, it's unlikely that a Russian jurist will really read the law so cleverly -- although doing so would provide an "out" for moderates seeking to control the damage it has caused, which now extends to calls to boycott the 2012 Winter Olympics, Russian vodka, and Russian performance venues.
Yet even if such a literal reading never finds its way into a judicial decision, it serves as an important reminder that although homosexuality goes by different names in different places and at different times, it is a traditional part of every culture that the human race has ever created. Sexual diversity is, like other forms of diversity, an intrinsic, natural part of the human experience. Alas, so are efforts, like Russia's, to deny it.
Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.
“He spoke quietly, he didn't give big sermons like Martin Luther King. He didn't seek out dramatic confrontations like the Freedom Riders and the sit-ins, but he did inspire a broad range of grass-roots leadership... To this day he is a startling paradox. I think his influence is almost on par with Martin Luther King, and yet he's almost totally unknown.” Civil rights historian Taylor Branch on Robert Moses.
NPR's excellent profile of Robert Moses provides a much-deserved spotlight on the work of a man who has devoted his life to civil rights and universal access to quality education. As a young adult, Moses was an organizer for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and was director of SNCC’s Mississippi Project. A MacArthur Foundation Fellow from 1982-87, Dr. Moses used his fellowship to develop the concept for the Algebra Project, an organization whose work is dedicated to transforming math education in disadvantaged schools.
“Education is still basically Jim Crow as far as the kids who are in the bottom economic strata of the country,” Moses says. “No one knows about them, no one cares about them.”
It's exactly this inequality in the education system — based more on class than race — that makes thiswork as important as the work he did 50 years ago, he says. [Listen to the story here.]
The concept of “one person one vote” provided Mississippi
sharecroppers and their allies with a minimum
of common conceptual cohesion. That is, “one person one vote” was a shared
goal. It was an organizing slogan; but more than that, it reflected an ideal that
tapped deep traditions in American democracy and that allowed at the time a
consensus to develop around it. The daily grind of living in Mississippi in
1961 (“if they don’t get you in the wash, they get you in the rinse”) gave rise
to grassroots demands for political access that in turn gave rise to demands
for unity that could use “one person one vote” as an organizing tool.
Organizing, in turn, required space to develop. The “crawl
space,” as I call it, in which we actually carried out such organizing was the
1957 civil rights bill creating the Civil Rights Division of the Department of
Justice. The existence of that new department meant, among other things, that John
Doar and his federal lawyers could investigate beatings of potential voters
walking up to the courthouse in vicious towns like Liberty, Mississippi, and return
an opinion at odds with that of the FBI and local police authorities: that is,
that people other than the “usual suspects” anxious to protect local custom
were watching; Mississippi could not simply lock up voter registration workers
and throw away the keys. This federal involvement—tiny though it was—was
important because it was what provided the little crawl space that enabled us
to begin working.
Both things were important: the consensus around a minimum
of common conceptual cohesion and the crawl space that allowed it to become
The concept that provides minimum common conceptual cohesion
for the work of the Algebra Project takes the form of an “if, then” sentence:
If we can do it, then we should.
The “we refers to a complex configuration of individuals;
educational institutions of various kinds; local, regional, and national
associations and organizations (both governmental and nongovernmental); actual
state governments as well as the
national political parties; and the executive, legislative, and judicial
branches of the national government. The “it”—the goal of educating all our
children well—rests on a complex conceptual consensus that is woven into the
cultural fabric of this country: the idea that young people who grow up in the
United States are entitled to free public education, from kindergarten through
twelfth grade. But there is emerging in U.S. culture something more specific
and powerful than that. In recent years a real national consensus, on the
political left and on the political right, has begun emerging that all children
can learn, and that all children deserve the best education they can get. And
that such an education is absolutely necessary. This is actually a new
consensus; it did not exist fifty years ago, when, schools were segregated
North and South and not finishing high school was much more widely accepted
because lacking a high school diploma was not the handicap to putting food on
the table that it is today. Of course, this expressed belief in the capacity of
all children to learn, and commitment to making the effort to provide them the
opportunity, is an ideal that’s often given lip service more than real action.
And it drives wrongheaded as well as constructive “school reform” efforts. But
it is a widespread public viewpoint. Compare the national consensus in favor of
educating all children well with the absence of such a consensus on health
care. It is clearly not true that Americans as a whole believe (yet) that
"if we can provide universal access to quality health care, we should.”
They do believe it about education.
Obviously, the work of the Algebra Project has to do with
math in particular. The consensus on education—like the “one person one vote”
consensus forty years ago—provides the necessary foundation for a more specific
agenda, in this case the concept that every student will complete a college
preparatory mathematics curriculum in high school. (It is clearly not
sufficient since only 11 percent of students in the United States do so now.)
The work of the Algebra Project is to help close the gap between universal free
public education and universal completion of a college preparatory math
sequence in high school. Specifically, our work is to build a consensus—and organize
a movement—around another hypothetical that gives the required minimum
If we can teach students algebra in the
middle school years, then we should
Like the effort to bridge the gap between the ideal of “one
person, one vote” and the reality of registering every Black voter in
Mississippi, this work of the Algebra Project is ambitious and can be realized.
Like our work in the 1960s, it requires organizing, and organizing requires
some crawl space.
What, then, is our
crawl space? Like the crawl space created by the 1957 Civil Rights Act, it is a
space created in the larger political and social world that we can use to our
advantage. The space for algebra as a civil rights issue is created by nations
and institutions now making a global transition from reliance upon technology
that primarily organizes physical labor to technologies that directly organize
mental labor. I see history’s broom sweeping us all along a common corridor as
a crawl space toward liberation.
It is an historic day for marriage equality in the United States. The Supreme Court decision in US v. Windsor struck down the Defense of Marriage Act; and the more limited ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry effectively moots Prop. 8 in California. Beacon has been publishing books that promote valuing all families, including but not only through marriage equality, for a long time. Take, for instance, What is Marriage For? by E. J. Graff, which we first published in 1999, and is considered by many "the bible of the same-sex marriage movement."
This excerpt from What is Marriage For? explores that public/private intersection of our definition of marriage. We hope that this book continues to inspire people to fight for LGBT equality across the country and around the world.
Inside Out or Outside In: Who Says You’re Married?
One of the most basic tensions in the history of marriage is between those two interlocking sides of marriage: marriage as a publicly policed institution and marriage as an inner experience.
Which one turns your bond into a marriage: a public authority or
your heart? Are you married when the two of you decide to care for
each other for life, a decision you live out day to day, a decision only
afterwards recognized by your community? Or is it the other way
around: does the family, or church, or state pronounce some words
over your head, write your names side by side in a registry, and bestow upon you a marriage, a license and legal obligation to carry
out the responsibilities of a¤ection and care? This may sound like
one of those faces/vases illusions, and for good reason: marriage
doesn’t exist unless both parts happen—two human beings behave as married, and everyone else treats them as such. But it does
matter which side you think counts more: the decisions made
about individual marriages will be quite different if you think marriage is a publicly conferred status or an immanent state. And each position’s internal contradictions can—and have—caused social
havoc when unchecked.
In history, this debate is almost inextricable from the debate
over which authority rules marriage. Who decides where the enforceable marriage is made—in your heart, or in a registry—and
why? That decision might be less complex if the only people who
have to recognize your marriage live within twenty-five miles,
when the people who see you two behaving as married are also the
ones who oversee the granting of the widow’s dower. And it might
be more complex in our world, in which each of our daily lives goes
beyond our circle of acquaintances to touch dozens of strangers
and anonymous entities, from the motor vehicles registry to our
children’s schools. The story of the public/private marriage line is
therefore also a story of how marriage has shifted, in comparative
legal scholar Mary Ann Glendon’s words, from custom to law.
Roman marriage was the immanent kind: when challenged in
court (over, say, whether a widow inherits or whether a child is legitimate), a marriage could not be proved by anything so simple as
a public registry. A judge had to investigate whether the two lived
together with affectio maritalis, ‘‘the intention of being married.’’
To be married, all a couple had to do was ‘‘regard each other as man
and wife and behave accordingly.’’ What does that mean, ‘‘behave
accordingly’’? The Romans may never have defined it, but (like
Americans and pornography) they knew it when they saw it. A
judge sized up the couple’s ‘‘marital intentions’’ by such signals
as whether she’d brought a dowry, or whether he openly called her
his wife. Augustine and his concubine, for instance, were living
together without affectio maritalis, since he was intending a later
power-marriage. But had the same pair intended to be married—with no change in their behavior—they would have been. Marriage
was a private affair: the state could police only the consequences,
not the act.
While the Jewish configuration changed over the millennia,
what remained central is marriage as a private act: only bride and
groom could say the magic words that turned them into husband
and wife. After many centuries the rabbis inserted themselves and their seven blessings into the ceremony, before the big feast, but
even they knew they were not essential: the pair made the marriage
within themselves. Which is why, in Jewish law, a court could neither ‘‘grant’’ nor refuse a divorce. If a husband’s inner willingness
to be married evaporated (sometimes hers counted but often it did
not), then the marriage itself had evaporated: the rabbinical court
or bet din could merely decide questions of fault and finances.
Christianity, as we know, wanted nothing to do with marriage
for centuries. When asked, some priests might come by and say a
blessing as a favor, just as they’d say a blessing over a child’s first
haircut. No one considered marriage sacred, as celibacy was: marriage was one of those secular and earthbound forms rendered
unto Caesar. But as centuries rolled by, an increasingly powerful
Church saw that marriage was central to ordering Europe’s civil
and political life—not so much those few called to sainthood, sacrifice, and martyrdom, but the many ordinary folk who needed to be
told how to behave.
And so the Church launched a battle for power over marriage’s
rules, a battle that lasted roughly a thousand years. Today we have
the peculiar impression that Catholicism has always had one vision of marriage, but for every marriage rule eventually imposed
on Europe, the Church’s own debates were abundant. It first formally ruled on marriage in 774, when one pope handed Charlemagne a set of writings that defined legitimate marriage and
condemned all deviations. After another five hundred years of
struggle, the Church came up with a marriage liturgy and imposed
its new and radical rules—the ballooning incest rules, the one-man-one-marriage rule, and most controversial, the girl-must-consent rule—on the powerful clans. ‘‘It is clear,’’ writes one historian, ‘‘that this attempt to impose order on matrimonial practice
was part of a more ambitious plan to reform the entire social order. . . . regulating the framework of lay society, from baptisms
to funerals,’’ the most intimate acts of most people’s lives. The
Church’s push to rule marriage was slow and uneven but very determined. Here and there it would issue a decree and struggle with
local nobles over whether it would be observed; now it would retract a bit to permit a lord to marry his dead wife’s sister or annul
his existing marriage; then it would push forward again.
It was not until 1215 that the Church finally decreed marriage a
sacrament—the least important one, but a sacrament nonetheless—and set up a systematic canon law of marriage, with a system
of ecclesiastical courts to enforce it—and had a fair amount
of people willing to observe those rules. By 1215, the year that
the Fourth Lateran Council issued its matrimonial decrees, the
Church had ‘‘broke[n] the back of aristocratic resistance . . . after
lengthy individual battles with the nobility, kings included.’’
And according to the Church, what turned two individuals into
a married couple? It was—drumroll, please—the couple’s private
Why a drumroll? Because the Church insisted that a private
promise was an unbreakable sacrament—that marriage was an immanent experience, a spiritual reality created by the pair’s free and
equal consent. That was practically a declaration of war against the
upper classes, a radical and subversive idea emphasizing the sacredness of the individual spirit. Marriage, the Church insisted,
was not just about land and power and wombs, but about human
There are many striking aspects to the Supreme Court's DOMA ruling, but perhaps the most compelling is the role that children and their well-being played in the court's reasoning. For the last twenty years, same-sex marriage opponents have claimed that marriage must remain an exclusively heterosexual institution in part because doing so purportedly promotes the welfare of children. Opponents have contended that children do best when raised by their biological mothers and fathers and that society has an interest in promoting heterosexual marriages because they are the "optimal" way of raising children.
Unfortunately for opponents of gay marriage, there is a wide consensus among developmental psychologists and other experts that children are not harmed in any way by having lesbian or gay parents. But even putting that issue aside, it is deeply ironic that defenders of "traditional" marriage, in purporting to promote the best interests of children, have consistently ignored the needs of the tens of thousands of children who are being raised by lesbians and gay men.
This was an issue that Justice Anthony Kennedy raised during the oral argument in the Proposition 8 case last March. Kennedy asked the lawyer defending California's same-sex marriage ban whether it was not the case that the children of same-sex couples were harmed when the state prohibited their parents from marrying. The attorney responded by claiming essentially that whatever harm might exist was a constitutionally permissible price to pay for promoting "traditional marriage."
Justice Kennedy, in writing the majority opinion in the DOMA case, clearly disagreed. Kennedy emphasized that when the federal government treats state-sanctioned same-sex marriages as "second-tier marriages," it humiliates and stigmatizes the children of those marriages. DOMA, Kennedy explained, made it "difficult for children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and their daily lives."
Kennedy also emphasized the financial harm that DOMA caused the children of same-sex marriage. He noted, for example, that DOMA made paying for health care more expensive for families because it required the federal government to tax the health benefits provided by employers to their workers' same-sex spouses. DOMA also denied Social Security benefits to a surviving same-sex spouse to care for the couple's child.
The Supreme Court's opinion in the DOMA case illustrates how it is the marriage equality side that truly has had the best interests of children at heart all along. No child of a heterosexual couple is harmed in any way when the government recognizes same-sex marriages. In stark contrast, when the government refuses to recognize same-sex unions as marital, it harms the children of lesbians and gay men in tangible ways. The Supreme Court understood this, and that is one of the most compelling reasons why it struck down the federal government's unequal treatment of married same-sex couples.
Today is also the Interfaith Youth Core's Better Together day, a time to wear blue to raise awareness of interfaith cooperation. Read more about it here.
One hundred years ago, the great African-American scholar W.E.B. DuBois famously wrote, "The problem of the 20th century will be the problem of the color line."
History proved DuBois correct. His century saw the struggles against, and ultimately the victory over, systems that separated and subjugated people based on race—from colonialism in India to Jim Crow in the U.S. to apartheid in South Africa.
No American did more than Martin Luther King, Jr., to address the problem of the color line. He spearheaded the marches that revealed the brutality of segregation, made speeches that reminded Americans that the promise of their nation applied to all citizens and expertly pressured the nation's leaders in Washington to pass landmark civil rights legislation.
But to confine King's role in history only to the color line—as giant as that challenge is, and as dramatic as King's contribution was—is to reduce his greatness. In one of his final books, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, King showed that race was one part of his broader concern with human relations at large: "This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited ... a great 'world house' in which we have to live together—black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu ... Because we can never again live apart, we must learn somehow to live with each other in peace."
This ethos, as King's examples make clear, applies not only to the question of race, but to faith as well. In the same way as the headlines of the 20th century read of conflict between races, headlines in our times are full of violence between people of different religions. Indeed, what the color line was to the 20th century, the faith line might be to the 21st.
Faith as a bridge
King's life has as much to say to us on the question of interfaith cooperation as it did on the matter of interracial harmony. A prince of the black church, deeply rooted in his own Baptist tradition, King viewed his faith as a bridge of cooperation rather than a barrier of division.
When, as a seminary student, King was introduced to the satyagraha ("love-force") philosophy of the Indian Hindu leader Mahatma Gandhi, King did not reject it because it came from a different religion. Instead, he sought to find resonances between Gandhi's Hinduism and his own interpretation of Christianity. Indeed, it was Gandhi's movement in India that provided King with a 20th century version of what Jesus would do. King patterned nearly all the strategy and tactics of the civil rights movement—from boycotts to marches to readily accepting jail time—after Gandhi's leadership in India. King called Gandhi "the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force."
Following Gandhi was King's first step on a long journey of learning about the shared social justice values across the world's religions, and partnering with faith leaders of all backgrounds in the struggle for civil rights. In 1959, more than a decade after the Mahatma's death, King traveled to India to meet with people continuing the work Gandhi had started. He was surprised and inspired to meet Indians of all faith backgrounds working for equality and harmony, discovering in their own traditions the same inspiration for love and peace that King found in Christianity.
King's experience with religious diversity in India shaped the rest of his life. He readily formed a friendship with the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, finding a common bond in their love of the Hebrew prophets. The two walked arm-in-arm in the famous civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery.
Later, Heschel wrote, "Our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying."
King's friendship with the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh inspired one of his most controversial moves, the decision to publicly oppose the Vietnam War. In his letter nominating Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize, King wrote, "He is a holy man... His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to a world brotherhood, to humanity."
In his famous sermon "A Time to Break Silence," King was unequivocal about his Christian commitment and at the same time summarized his view of the powerful commonality across all faiths: "This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality" is that the force of love is "the supreme unifying principle of life."
We live at a time of religious conflict abroad and religious tension at home. This would no doubt have dismayed King, who viewed faith as an inspiration to serve and connect, not to destroy and divide. During King's time, groups ranging from white supremacists to black militants believed that the races were better apart. Today, the same is said of division along the lines of faith.
King insisted that we are always better together. Indeed, that pluralism is part of divine plan. To paraphrase one of his most enduring statements: The world is not divided between black and white or Christian and Muslim, but between those who would live together as brothers and those who would perish together as fools.
In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr., isolated himself from the demands of the civil rights movement, rented a
house in Jamaica with no telephone, and labored over his final manuscript. In
this prophetic work, which has been unavailable for more than ten years, he
lays out his thoughts, plans, and dreams for America's future, including the
need for better jobs, higher wages, decent housing, and quality education. With
a universal message of hope that continues to resonate, King demanded an end to
global suffering, asserting that humankind-for the first time-has the resources
and technology to eradicate poverty.
by Martin Luther King, Jr. Edited by Lewis V. Baldwin
An unprecedented and timely
collection that captures the global vision of Dr. King—in his own words
Too many people continue to think
of Dr. King only as "a southern civil rights leader" or "an
American Gandhi," thus ignoring his impact on poor and oppressed people
around the world. "In a Single Garment of Destiny"is the
first book to treat King's positions on global liberation struggles through the
prism of his own words and activities.
From the pages of this extraordinary collection, King emerges not only as an
advocate for global human rights but also as a towering figure who collaborated
with Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert J. Luthuli, Thich Nhat Hanh, and other national
and international figures in addressing a multitude of issues we still struggle
with today-from racism, poverty, and war to religious bigotry and intolerance.
Introduced and edited by distinguished King scholar Lewis Baldwin, this volume
breaks new ground in our understanding of King.
Featuring the essay: "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence."
An inspiring call for Americans to defend the values of
inclusiveness and pluralism by one of our best-known American Muslim leaders
There is no better time to stand up for your values than when they are under
In the decade following the attacks of 9/11, suspicion and animosity toward
American Muslims has increased rather than subsided. Alarmist, hateful rhetoric
once relegated to the fringes of political discourse has now become
frighteningly mainstream, with pundits and politicians routinely invoking the
specter of Islam as a menacing, deeply anti-American force.
In Sacred Ground, author and renowned interfaith leader Eboo
Patel says this prejudice is not just a problem for Muslims but a challenge to
the very idea of America. Patel shows us that Americans from George Washington
to Martin Luther King Jr. have been "interfaith leaders,"
illustrating how the forces of pluralism in America have time and again
defeated the forces of prejudice. And now a new generation needs to rise up and
confront the anti-Muslim prejudice of our era. To this end, Patel offers a
primer in the art and science of interfaith work, bringing to life the growing
body of research on how faith can be a bridge of cooperation rather than a barrier
of division and sharing stories from the frontlines of interfaith activism.
Patel asks us to share in his vision of a better America—a robustly pluralistic
country in which our commonalities are more important than our differences, and
in which difference enriches, rather than threatens, our religious traditions.
Pluralism, Patel boldly argues, is at the heart of the American project, and
this visionary book will inspire Americans of all faiths to make this country a
place where diverse traditions can thrive side by side.
A renowned Muslim activist's personal story of building a global interfaith youth movement that might just change the world. Includes a new afterword by the author.
Acts of Faith is a remarkable account of growing up Muslim in America and coming to believe in religious pluralism, from one of the most prominent faith leaders in the United States. Eboo Patel's story is a hopeful and moving testament to the power and passion of young people-and of the world-changing potential of an interfaith youth movement.
by Quinton Dixie and Peter Eisenstadt. Foreword by Walter Earl Fluker
The first biographical exploration of one of the most important African American religious thinkers of the twentieth century—Howard Thurman—and of the pivotal trip he took to India that ultimately shaped the course of the civil rights movement.
In 1935, at the height of his powers, Howard Thurman, one of the most influential African American religious thinkers of the twentieth century, took a pivotal trip to India that would forever change him-and that would ultimately shape the course of the civil rights movement in the United States.
After the journey to India, Thurman's distinctly American translation of satyagraha into a Black Christian context became one of the key inspirations for the civil rights movement, fulfilling Gandhi's prescient words that "it may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of nonviolence will be delivered to the world." Thurman went on to found one of the first explicitly interracial congregations in the United States and to deeply influence an entire generation of black ministers-among them Martin Luther King Jr.
On Wednesday, President Obama and a bipartisan collection of Congressional leaders paid tribute to the legacy of Rosa Parks by unveiling a statue of her at the Capitol. The 9-foot bronze figure of Parks desegregated Statuary Hall; hers is the first statue of a black woman to be installed at the Capitol and currently the only statue of a black person (a statue of Frederick Douglass is set to be moved there shortly).
Yet, the statue of Rosa Parks—seated and clutching her purse—turned her into a meek and redemptive figure. To the end of her life, Parks believed the United States had a long way to go in the struggle for social and racial justice. Yesterday’s ceremony, however, was largely an exercise in national self-congratulation and a demonstration of American pride and pageantry. It invoked the history of racial injustice to put that history in the past.
“The statue speaks for itself,” House Speaker John Boehner began, noting how its placement in the hall embodied “the vision of a more perfect union.” “What a story, what a legacy, what a country,” Senator Mitch McConnell extolled at the close of his remarks.
As these words were spoken, across the Washington Mall, the Supreme Court heard arguments challenging provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v Holder. Only one speaker at the dedication, Representative James Clyburn, made specific reference to the case, which threatens to undermine the gains that Parks helped bring about.
[Read the rest here]
Sarah Garland is a staff writer at the Hechinger Report. She has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, American Prospect, New York Sun, Newsweek, Washington Monthly, Newsday, New York, and Marie Claire, among other publications. She was a 2009 recipient of the Spencer Fellowship in Education Reporting at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Garland grew up in a middle-class suburb and was bused to an inner-city elementary school in Louisville, Kentucky. In 2007, a case brought by African American parents in Louisville brought to a close the era of school desegregation, and Garland examines the circumstances around this case in her new book, Divided We Fail. We asked her three questions about the book for our blog.
In honor of Black History Month, you can purchase Divided We Fail along with many other Black History titles for 20% off and free shipping at Beacon.org. Use Promo Code FEB2013 at checkout. Buy two or more titles and get a free King Legacy tote bag.
The traditional narrative of desegregation paints a picture of heroic children like Ruby Bridges marching past angry whites opposed to integrated schools. We don't hear much beyond those first, contentious post-Brown v. Board of Education days. How does this simplification gloss over the achievements and problems of desegregation?
Desegregation of the schools was a major achievement—and one that was long fought. But in celebrating that history, the story of black civil rights heroes and their white antagonists often obscures what some in the black community saw as very unfortunate side effects: the closure of traditionally black schools, the firing of black teachers, and a loss of power for black communities in overseeing their schools. No one wanted to go back to the era of Jim Crow, but people were frustrated that in the process of desegregating schools, whites maintained the upper hand and black students still faced many inequities. That’s not to undermine what was achieved with Brown v. Board of Education, but to suggest that desegregation didn’t live up to the hopes many people had for it.
Are contemporary school reform movements—charter schools, Race to the Top, focusing on "accountability"—achieving better results than desegregation in closing the racial gap in education?
In a word, no. There is still not a lot of research on how new reform ideas like Race to the Top are impacting schools, and what research there is on charter suggests that while some charters are succeeding in closing the achievement gap, most are not. Desegregation, by contrast, corresponded with the most rapid shrinking of the achievement gap for black children yet. It was not the only factor contributing to those gains, but research suggests it had a hand, and also that diverse environments can be very positive for minority student achievement. That said, the gap didn’t fully close during desegregation (possibly because of the continued inequities perpetuated in the new systems).
I think reformers today can look back at what worked and what didn’t and learn something. Already some are. Recently, there’s been something of a resurgence of support for integration: Some charter operators are trying to create diverse student bodies and a handful of school superintendents are rethinking the role of racial and economic diversity in schools.
How did your experiences as a student bused to an integrated school inform your research and writing?
Busing was a formative experience for me. Probably for all of us who went through it. I loved my school, which was near downtown Louisville amid some of the poorest housing projects in the city. I had good teachers and great memories of frequent field trips—we would walk in a line through those inner city streets to get to the museums downtown. I think the experience made the persistence of poverty and inequality in our society vividly real to me. But even though my school was diverse and in this neighborhood very different from my own suburban enclave, my days were spent with classmates who looked just like me. We were divided inside the school into advanced, honors and regular classes, and all but a couple of students in the advanced classes were white and middle class. That disparity also stayed with me, and was one of the main reasons I decided to write the book.
The global Martin Luther King, Jr. has occupied my thinking for some two decades. I have often wondered how the man who, in his book The Trumpet of Conscience(1968), described himself as “a citizen of the world,” could be so ignored in terms of his international significance. Even King scholars have largely neglected King’s vision of what he variously termed “the world house,” “the new world order,” and “a new humanity.” Knowing that King’s birthday is recognized and/or celebrated in some one hundred countries, I set out to produce a volume of his writings and speeches on racism as a world problem, European colonialism, global poverty, war, the Middle East crisis, and religious bigotry and intolerance.
In a Single Garment of Destiny reclaims the global Martin Luther King, Jr. through the prism of his own words and activities on behalf of world peace and community. I have come to see that we cannot understand King if we limit him to a southern black preacher or an “American Gandhi.” We must view him as a leader who moved beyond the particularities of the African American and the American experiences to speak and act on behalf of a world fragmented by bigotry, injustice, intolerance, and war.
“The dreamer” is the title by which Martin Luther King, Jr. is known around the world. While he spoke optimistically of the coming realization of the “American dream,” we must never forget his larger vision of “a world made new.” This is why King, in his last two books, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?(1967) and The Trumpet of Conscience, focused so much on world problems, on racism, poverty, and war, and on the need for humans across the globe to move beyond a mere intellectual analysis of nonviolence to an experimentation with that method in every sphere of human conflict.
As a world figure, King transcends the past in terms of his meaning, authority, and inspiration. He still has meaning for the contemporary world, especially as we deal with environmental protection concerns, post-Cold War ethnic cleansings, global terrorism, genocide, religiously-based violence, political assassinations, and the mounting cycles of violence, repression, and reprisal in the Middle East. We need a new appreciation of King’s thought and legacy in the contemporary world.
Today would have been the 100th birthday of Rosa Parks. To honor the day, we share these Ten Things You Didn't Know About Rosa Parks, compiled by Jeanne Theoharis, author of The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.
1. Parks had been thrown off the bus a decade earlier by the same bus driver -- for refusing to pay in the front and go around to the back to board. She had avoided that driver's bus for twelve years because she knew well the risks of angering drivers, all of whom were white and carried guns. Her own mother had been threatened with physical violence by a bus driver, in front of Parks who was a child at the time. Parks' neighbor had been killed for his bus stand, and teenage protester Claudette Colvin, among others, had recently been badly manhandled by the police.
2. Parks was a lifelong believer in self-defense. Malcolm X was her personal hero. Her family kept a gun in the house, including during the boycott, because of the daily terror of white violence. As a child, when pushed by a white boy, she pushed back. His mother threatened to kill her, but Parks stood her ground. Another time, she held a brick up to a white bully, daring him to follow through on his threat to hit her. He went away. When the Klu Klux Klan went on rampages through her childhood town, Pine Level, Ala., her grandfather would sit on the porch all night with his rifle. Rosa stayed awake some nights, keeping vigil with him.
3. Her husband was her political partner. Parks said Raymond was "the first real activist I ever met." Initially she wasn't romantically interested because Raymond was more light-skinned than she preferred, but she became impressed with his boldness and "that he refused to be intimidated by white people." When they met he was working to free the nine Scottsboro boys and she joined these efforts after they were married. At Raymond's urging, Parks, who had to drop out in the eleventh grade to care for her sick grandmother, returned to high school and got her diploma. Raymond's input was crucial to Parks' political development and their partnership sustained her political work over many decades.
4. Many of Parks' ancestors were Indians. She noted this to a friend who was surprised when in private Parks removed her hairpins and revealed thick braids of wavy hair that fell below her waist. Her husband, she said, liked her hair long and she kept it that way for many years after his death, although she never wore it down in public. Aware of the racial politics of hair and appearance, she tucked it away in a series of braids and buns -- maintaining a clear division between her public presentation and private person.
5. Parks' arrest had grave consequences for her family's health and economic well-being.After her arrest, Parks was continually threatened, such that her mother talked for hours on the phone to keep the line busy from constant death threats. Parks and her husband lost their jobs after her stand and didn't find full employment for nearly ten years. Even as she made fundraising appearances across the country, Parks and her family were at times nearly destitute. She developed painful stomach ulcers and a heart condition, and suffered from chronic insomnia. Raymond, unnerved by the relentless harassment and death threats, began drinking heavily and suffered two nervous breakdowns. The black press, culminating in JET magazine's July 1960 story on "the bus boycott's forgotten woman," exposed the depth of Parks' financial need, leading civil rights groups to finally provide some assistance.
6. Parks spent more than half of her life in the North. The Parks family had to leave Montgomery eight months after the boycott ended. She lived for most of that time in Detroit in the heart of the ghetto, just a mile from the epicenter of the 1967 Detroit riot. There, she spent nearly five decades organizing and protesting racial inequality in "the promised land that wasn't."
7. In 1965 Parks got her first paid political position, after over two decades of political work. After volunteering for Congressman John Conyers's long shot political campaign,
Parks helped secure his primary victory by convincing Martin Luther King, Jr. to come to Detroit on Conyers's behalf. He later hired her to work with constituents as an administrative assistant in his Detroit office. For the first time since her bus stand, Parks finally had a salary, access to health insurance, and a pension -- and the restoration of dignity that a formal paid position allowed.
8. Parks was far more radical than has been understood. She worked alongside the Black Power movement, particularly around issues such as reparations, black history, anti-police brutality, freedom for black political prisoners, independent black political power, and economic justice. She attended the Black Political Convention in Gary and the Black Power conference in Philadelphia. She journeyed to Lowndes County, Alabama to support the movement there, spoke at the Poor People's Campaign, helped organize support committees on behalf of black political prisoners such as the Wilmington 10 and Imari Obadele of the Republic of New Africa, and paid a visit of support to the Black Panther school in Oakland, CA.
9. Parks was an internationalist. She was an early opponent of the Vietnam War in the early 1960s, a member of The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and a supporter of the Winter Soldier hearings in Detroit and the Jeannette Rankin Brigade protest in D.C. In the 1980s, she protested apartheid and U.S. complicity, joining a picket outside the South African embassy and opposed U.S. policy in Central America. Eight days after 9/11, she joined other activists in a letter calling on the United States to work with the international community and no retaliation or war.
10. Parks was a lifelong activist and a hero to many, including Nelson Mandela. After his release from prison, he told her, "You sustained me while I was in prison all those years."
Examines why school desegregation, despite its success in closing the achievement gap, was never embraced wholeheartedly in the black community as a remedy for racial inequality
In 2007, a court case originally filed in Louisville, Kentucky, was argued before the Supreme Court and officially ended the era of school desegregation, changing how schools across America handle race and undermining the most important civil rights cases of the last century. This was not the first federal lawsuit that challenged school desegregation, but it was the first-and only-brought by African Americans.
In this unique in-depth examination of the Louisville case, journalist Sarah Garland returns to her hometown to understand why black families in the most racially integrated school system in America led the charge against desegregation. Weaving together the voices of parents, students, and teachers who fought for and against desegregation, Garland's eye-opening narrative upends assumptions about the history of busing and its aftermath.
Desegregation corresponded with unprecedented gains in black achievement and economic progress, but in Louisville, those gains often came at a cost: traditionally black schools that had been bastions of community identity and pride faced closure; hundreds of black teachers lost their jobs; parents were helpless as their children's futures were dictated by racial quotas. In illuminating the often overlooked human stories behind this fraught legal struggle, Garland reveals the difficult compromises forced on the black community in the wake of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.
Divided We Fail is a nuanced and gripping account of one community's struggle that has important lessons for the next generation of education reformers. By taking a close look at where desegregation went wrong, Garland uncovers problems with a new set of education ideas, including school choice, charter schools, and test-based accountability systems. But she also reminds us not to forget desegregation's many successes as we look for ways to close the achievement gap for minority students.
About the author
Sarah Garland is a staff writer at the Hechinger Report. She has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, American Prospect, New York Sun, Newsweek, Washington Monthly, Newsday, New York, and Marie Claire, among other publications. She was a 2009 recipient of the Spencer Fellowship in Education Reporting at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, Garland now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Follow her on Twitter at @s_garl.
Kirkus: “A useful journalistic examination of a troubling societal phenomenon.”
Publishers Weekly: “…a nuanced and thoroughly researched look at the complicated history of school desegregation in the United States…Garland is unafraid to grapple with hard truths and intimate portraits of the families behind the statistics.”
Booklist: “a compelling look at the complexities of race and class in the continued struggle for racial parity and high-quality education.”
Journalist Sarah Garland grew up in Louisville. Day after day, she left her mostly Caucasian suburban neighborhood on a school bus taking her to a mostly African-American neighborhood, where she became a student in a racial minority. Her experience long ago played a role in her decision to write “Divided We Fail,” which covers the case that found its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. So did the experience of Garland’s grandmother, an Oklahoma teacher who volunteered to join the initial group of Caucasian educators transferred to an all African-American school, where she remained until retirement. Garland relates how her own mother became a social worker splitting time between a mostly African-American school and a mostly Caucasian school in Louisville. Garland’s mother “witnessed firsthand the upheaval and violence that busing wrought in its early years.”
The definitive political biography of Rosa Parks examines her six decades of activism, challenging perceptions of her as an accidental actor in the civil rights movement.
"In the first sweeping history of Parks's life, Theoharis shows us . . . [that] Parks not only sat down on the bus; she stood on the right side of justice for her entire life." —Julian Bond, chairman emeritus, NAACP
"At last, Jeanne Theoharis answers the question, who was Rosa Parks? The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks will undoubtedly be hailed as one of the most important scholarly contributions to Civil Rights history ever written. Theoharis details Parks as a radical, independent, careful and lifelong activist who has been unfairly frozen in a single time and place: 1955 Montgomery. Theoharis liberates Parks from this singular moment and finally asks the questions that previous journalists and scholars seemed insufficiently curious to ask. And the answers will surprise readers. I can't wait to assign this book in every class I teach.” —Melissa Harris-Perry, Host, MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry Show
"Jeanne Theoharis brings all of her talents as a political scientist and historian of the Civil Rights Movement to bear on this illuminating biography of the great Rosa Parks, whose symbolic act in 1955 made her an icon of the movement and whose lifelong commitment to social justice made her something even more profound: a multidimensional political actor in the hard-fought (and ongoing) battle for equality and full citizenship." —Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
"Charisma is not a word often used to describe Rosa Parks yet we have to recognize her star. The Rosa Parks challenge to the political system was deep and lasting even while she never raised her voice. The first female Speaker of the House of Representatives once said, 'You can get a lot done if you don't need to take credit for it.' She took a page from the book of Parks. Theoharis' scholarship brings forth a woman whom many followed without ever realizing they were. She was courageous and strong. She also had a wonderful sense of humor. And an awesome sense of responsibility. This is a much needed book on the woman who is, arguably, the most important person in the last half of the twentieth century. Just as the Lincoln Memorial needs a statue of Frederick Douglass gently bending over with a pen in his hand for Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, the statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. needs a statue of Rosa Parks just one or two steps ahead mouthing the words: 'Come on, Dr. King. We've got work to do.'" —Nikki Giovanni, Poet
When Rosa Parks died in October 2005, she became the first woman and second African American to lie in honor at the nation's capital. Yet much of the memorialization reduced her historical contribution to a single act on a bus on a long-ago December evening. In this revealing and comprehensive biography-the first critical treatment of Parks's life-historian Jeanne Theoharis shows that the standard portrayal of Rosa Parks as a quiet and demure accidental actor is far from true.
Presenting a powerful corrective to the popular iconography of Rosa Parks as the quiet seamstress who with a single act birthed the modern civil rights movement, Theoharis excavates Parks's political philosophy and six decades of political work to reveal a woman whose existence demonstrated-in her own words-a "life history of being rebellious." From her family's support of Marcus Garvey to her service with the NAACP in Alabama in the 1940s and 1950s, and from her courageous bus arrest and steadfast efforts on behalf of the Montgomery bus boycott to her work in Detroit challenging Northern racial inequality on behalf of a newly elected Congressman John Conyers and alongside Black Power advocates, Parks's contributions to the civil rights movement go far beyond a single day. Even as economic hardship and constant death threats exacted a steep toll on Rosa and her husband, Raymond, she remained committed to exposing and eradicating racial inequality in jobs, schools, public services, and the criminal justice system.
In The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, Theoharis masterfully details the political depth of a national heroine who dedicated her life to fighting American inequality and, in the process, resurrects an inspiring civil rights movement radical who has been hidden in plain sight far too long.
What Reviewers are saying about The Rebellious LIfe of Mrs. Rosa Parks:
Kirkus Reviews: “How Theoharis learned the true nature of this woman is a story in itself. Parks always stood in the background, never volunteered information about herself and eschewed fame. There were no letters to consult; even her autobiography exposed little of the woman’s personality. She hid her light under a bushel, and it has taken an astute author to find the real Parks. Even though her refusal to give up her bus seat sparked a revolution, Rosa Parks was no accidental heroine. She was born to it, and Theoharis ably shows us how and why.”
Booklist: “Historian Theoharis offers a complex portrait of a forceful, determined woman who had long been active before the boycott she inspired and who had an even longer career in civil rights afterward.”
Publishers Weekly: "Theoharis submits a lavishly well-documented study of Parks’s life and career as an activist.”
Library Journal: "Verdict: This meticulously researched book is for everyone; advanced middle school and beyond."
At today's Inauguration, President Obama will be using the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's bible. The symbolism of the president's choice is striking. King was of course profoundly religious, although this is sometimes lost in our thinking of him as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. In reality, however, these two aspects of King's character--the religious man and the secular leader--were intertwined, as is illustrated in the story behind the collection of his best-known homilies.
As Dr. King prepared for the Birmingham campaign in early 1963, he drafted the final sermons for Strength to Love. King had begun working on the sermons during a fortnight in jail in July 1962. Having been arrested for holding a prayer vigil outside Albany City Hall, King and Ralph Abernathy shared a jail cell for fifteen days that was, according to King, ‘‘dirty, filthy, and ill-equipped’’ and “the worse I have ever seen.” While behind bars, he spent uninterrupted time preparing the drafts for classic sermons such as “Loving Your Enemies,” “Love in Action,” and “Shattered Dreams,” and continued to work on the volume after his release.
Beacon Press recently brought out, as part of the King Legacy Series, a new version of this book. A Gift of Loveincludes these classic sermons, along with two new preachings. Collectively they present King’s fusion of Christian teachings and social consciousness, and promote his prescient vision of love as a social and political force for change.
The following passage, "Loving Your Enemies," is an apt meditation for today. The inauguration puts to rest a combative campaign season even as we watch our leaders, having narrowly avoided the fiscal cliff, square off for battles over the debt ceiling and gun control on Capitol Hill. Perhaps if they could take to heart King's exhortation to "discover the meaning of this command and seek passionately to live it out in our daily lives," we might enter an era of more civil, productive discourse in Washington.
From "Loving Your Enemies"
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be children of your Father which is in heaven. matthew 5:43–45
Probably no admonition of Jesus has been more difficult to follow than the command to “love your enemies.” Some men have sincerely felt that its actual practice is not possible. It is easy, they say, to love those who love you, but how can one love those who openly and insidiously seek to defeat you? Others, like the philosopher Nietzsche, contend that Jesus’ exhortation to love one’s enemies is testimony to the fact that the Christian ethic is designed for the weak and cowardly, and not for the strong and courageous. Jesus, they say, was an impractical idealist.
In spite of these insistent questions and persistent objections, this command of Jesus challenges us with new urgency.
Upheaval after upheaval has reminded us that modern man is traveling along a road called hate, in a journey that will bring us to destruction and damnation. Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, the command to love one’s enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival. Love even for enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of our world. Jesus is not an impractical idealist: he is the practical realist.
I am certain that Jesus understood the difficulty inherent in the act of loving one’s enemy. He never joined the ranks of those who talk glibly about the easiness of the moral life. He realized that every genuine expression of love grows out of a consistent and total surrender to God. So when Jesus said “Love your enemy,” he was not unmindful of its stringent qualities. Yet he meant every word of it. Our responsibility as Christians is to discover the meaning of this command and seek passionately to live it out in our daily lives.
Let us be practical and ask the question, How do we love our enemies?
First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one’s enemies without the prior acceptance of the necessity, over and over again, of forgiving those who inflict evil and injury upon us. It is also necessary to realize that the forgiving act must always be initiated by the person who has been wronged, the victim of some great hurt, the recipient of some tortuous injustice, the absorber of some terrible act of oppression. The wrongdoer may request forgiveness. He may come to himself, and, like the prodigal son, move up some dusty road, his heart palpitating with the desire for forgiveness. But only the injured neighbor, the loving father back home, can really pour out the warm waters of forgiveness.
Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning. It is the lifting of a burden or the cancelling of a debt. The words “I will forgive you, but I’ll never forget what you’ve done” never explain the real nature of forgiveness. Certainly one can never forget, if that means erasing it totally from his mind. But when we forgive, we forget in the sense that the evil deed is no longer a mental block impeding a new relationship. Likewise, we can never say, “I will forgive you, but I won’t have anything further to do with you.” Forgiveness means reconciliation, a coming together again. Without this, no man can love his enemies. The degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree to which we are able to love our enemies.
An unprecedented and timely collection that captures the global vision of Dr. King—in his own words
Too many people continue to think of Dr. King only as "a southern civil rights leader" or "an American Gandhi," thus ignoring his impact on poor and oppressed people around the world. "In a Single Garment of Destiny" is the first book to treat King's positions on global liberation struggles through the prism of his own words and activities.
From the pages of this extraordinary collection, King emerges not only as an advocate for global human rights but also as a towering figure who collaborated with Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert J. Luthuli, Thich Nhat Hanh, and other national and international figures in addressing a multitude of issues we still struggle with today-from racism, poverty, and war to religious bigotry and intolerance. Introduced and edited by distinguished King scholar Lewis Baldwin, this volume breaks new ground in our understanding of King.
"Baldwin's readable, thoughtful, and fresh compilation gives full voice to King's belief that "[a]ll inhabitants of the globe are now neighbors."—Publishers Weekly