By Joseph Rosenbloom: As a graduate student at Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, Pennsylvania, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote about the social ill of poverty and vowed to do something about it. He put the resolve on hold. For his first decade as a civil rights leader, he dedicated himself to ending racial segregation and discrimination against African Americans, not poverty. By the mid-1960s, however, the idea to grapple with the issue of poverty had seized him with a fierce urgency. “What does it profit a man,” he often quipped, “to be able to sit at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?”
He sounds like a fascinating nonfiction character—too quirky to be true—but radical Quaker dwarf Benjamin Lay truly lived, and historian Marcus Rediker has brought his virtually unknown story to life in The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist. Mocked as “the little hunchback” and written off by his contemporaries as “cracked in the head,” Benjamin Lay was uncompromising in his stance against slavery, and wholly committed himself to convince his fellow Quakers to denounce and abolish it. In many ways, he was prescient and ultra-modern for his time, the eighteenth century. Lay’s worldview was an astonishing combination of Quakerism, vegetarianism, animal rights, opposition to the death penalty, and abolitionism. Until his death in 1759, he lived a life of resistance.
Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the passing of neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. He left us an incredible gift, his book Man’s Search for Meaning, whose message of finding hope and greater meaning in the midst of suffering has touched the lives of many. Such celebrities as Jimmy Fallon, Michael Phelps, Chris Martin, Emma Watson, Jenny Slate, and Dan Rather have paid homage to the power the book has had on their lives. With the original version and a young readers’ edition available to the public, his influence will continue to live on across the generational divide. In honor of the twentieth anniversary of his passing, we’d like to make the occasion to commemorate his life and legacy.
The events in Charlottesville, Virginia are a frightening and disheartening reminder of how hate and intolerance in the US resurface when bigots feel empowered to act on their prejudice. Cornel West described the rally that took place on August 12 as “the biggest gathering of a hate-driven right wing in the history of this country in the last thirty to thirty-five years.” Watching the violence unfold left us feeling sorrowful and horrified.
By Martin Luther King, Jr. This is no time for romantic illusions and empty philosophical debates about freedom. This is a time for action. What is needed is a strategy for change, a tactical program that will bring the Negro into the mainstream of American life as quickly as possible. So far, this has only been offered by the nonviolent movement. Without recognizing this we will end up with solutions that don’t solve, answers that don’t answer, and explanations that don’t explain.
A Q&A with Christopher M. Finan. For centuries, alcoholics were blamed for their inability to control their drinking, and it was widely assumed that alcoholism was incurable. This began to change after the founding of the Washington Temperance Society in 1840. The Washingtonians were the first national group to help alcoholics get sober, and they inspired the creation of the first institutions to provide treatment for addiction.
By Mary Frances BerryOur electoral process is broken. Polls, interviews with voters or prospective voters all confirm discontent with our system and a sense of unfairness, corruption or unresponsiveness. At the state and local levels, such issues as expanding Medicaid, insuring clean drinking water, addressing homelessness, figuring out how to “fix” education, repairing streets and other infrastructure, police community relations, all depend on an effectively functioning political system. The public routinely expresses a sense of uncertainty about when and how to vote, who can vote, and whose votes count, whether in state and local or national primaries or general elections. The uncertainty is exacerbated by increased population mobility. Some jurisdictions make changes in the law and are then challenged and endure expensive litigation costs because of provisions attacked as voter suppression.
By Lennard Davis
Twenty-seven years ago, disability activists threw away their canes, crutches, and wheelchairs. They proceeded to slowly and painfully crawl up the steps to the Capitol to protest those who would block the Americans with Disabilities Act. The “Capitol Crawl,” as the event was called, has become in retrospect a powerful visual symbol the difficulties faced by people with disabilities when confronted with barriers and obstacles created by politicians and others. Now, faced with massive cuts in disability medical care and services under the proposed Republican dismantling of Obamacare and Medicaid, disability activists are staging protests around the country.
This month, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? turns fifty. King’s acute analysis of American race relations couldn’t be more prophetic. Written in 1967, in isolation in a rented house in Jamaica, King’s final book lays out his plans and dreams for America’s future: the need for better jobs; higher wages; decent housing; quality education; and above all, the end to global suffering. King’s dreams are very much our own today.
By Adam EichenFor the last nine months, we have assessed the state of our democracy. In our search, we confirmed the now seemingly intuitive notion that Americans across the country are upset, for they feel increasingly powerless, that their voice does not matter, and that the political system does not represent them. But we also found something underreported—that people are eagerly yearning and demonstrating for solutions to make our democracy better represent all voices and work more efficiently. In fact, there is nothing less than a Democracy Movement emerging in our country.
By Perpetua CharlesThis year marks the fortieth anniversary of the court decision in Loving v. Virginia that struck down anti-miscegenation laws across the United States. Thanks to this ruling, people across races could legally declare their love for each other through marriage. Sheryll Cashin’s new book, Loving: Interracial Relationships and the Threat to White Supremacy, offers a history of interracial relationships in the United States and looks at how present interracial relationships will shape the future of the country. As I read Loving, I was struck by a short section near the end of the book. Cashin writes that one doesn’t have to marry, date, or adopt a person of another race to experience transformational love or to acquire what she calls cultural dexterity—an enhanced capacity for intimate connections with people outside one’s own tribe. An intimate friendship works just as well. Cashin doesn’t use the word friend lightly, and neither do I.
By Nicholas DiSabatinoToday marks the hundredth anniversary of legendary literary icon Gwendolyn Brooks. I’m so proud to be working on the new biography of her from award-winning poet, playwright, and novelist, Angela Jackson, who intimately knew Brooks and her family and had unprecedented access to her papers. A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun: The Life & Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks is a welcome introduction to Brooks for both longtime fans and newbies like myself.
By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-WhitakerIndigenous nations have for many decades negotiated with and litigated against the United States for its unfair and many times illegal dealings with them, dealings that have resulted in the massive loss of land and resources. Beginning with the Indian Claims Commission in the 1940s, the United States has paid out billions of dollars in settlements in acknowledgment of its depredations, with Native nations sometimes extinguishing their right to aboriginal title or status as federally recognized tribes in exchange.
A Q&A with Will MyersI had read Elie Wiesel’s Night and The Diary of Anne Frank as a young reader, but unfortunately it wasn’t until I was an adult that I read Man’s Search for Meaning. So when I began thinking about a young readers edition of the book, I was really excited to think about what it would be like to encounter the book as a young reader. I was interested in the possibilities of approaching the book with a young reader’s eyes and seeing the book from a different perspective.
By Laura WinnickTeaching Octavia Butler’s Kindred is one of the most important projects I embark on with my students. I’ve taught it for the past two years, and have seen my students, previously bored by texts, evolve into voracious readers, horrified by the grim depictions of slavery and transfixed by the possibility of time travel. This year, we paired John Jennings and Damian Duffy’s newly published graphic novel with the dense fictional text, and students arrived every day begging to read the graphic novel, utterly obsessed with the artistic rendering. In this unit, our essential questions are extremely difficult. We examine: How do race and gender affect our identities? What are the lingering effects of slavery? How are people impacted by their ancestral histories?
By Allison TrzopOn August 17, 1971, Beacon publicly announced that it would publish The Pentagon Papers. Nobody on staff was naive about what such a commitment entailed: “A Beacon spokesman said yesterday the Gravel book is the biggest venture in the history of the small publishing firm.” The papers represented the “biggest venture” in Beacon’s long history on many levels. For starters, the papers in their submitted form—a “great container full of stuff”—presented an editorial nightmare. The manuscript that antiwar activist Leonard Rodberg brought in was composed of more than 7,000 pages of “original transcripts.”
By Carlos A. BallGrimm’s lawsuit, and other cases like it such as the challenge to North Carolina’s so-called transgender bathroom law (also known as House Bill 2), is of great importance, because it addresses the question of whether transgender individuals are legally entitled to do something that everyone else is permitted to do, namely to use bathrooms (and similar facilities such as changing rooms) that match their gender identity. But cases like Grimm’s raise an even more fundamental and important question: whether federal law protects sexual and gender-identity minorities from discrimination to begin with.
By Lori L. TharpsBlack history is American history. It’s not separate. It’s not different. We were there for all of the good, bad, and ugly that made this country what it is today. From the Revolutionary War, to the Civil War, to putting a man on the moon, we were always there, and often in the front row for all of the action. We physically built this country, but we were also actively engaged in the planning, implementing, and designing of the structures that created the foundations of our society. We made art and music, designed clothing and cars that today are considered 100 percent American. But still in 2017 we have to fight to prove to our fellow citizens that not only have we contributed greatly, but that we simply matter.
A Q&A with Caroline LightOrdinarily, the duty to retreat obligated you to first try to avoid a violent confrontation before meeting force with force, unless you were threatened in your home. Starting in Florida in 2005, Stand Your Ground laws have granted some people an exemption from criminal prosecution when they claim to have killed another person in self-defense, as long as their fear of the deceased can be seen as “reasonable” in court. In some jurisdictions, SYG laws make it very difficult for police to arrest someone in the wake of a deadly encounter, because they must first establish evidence that the killing was not in reasonable self-defense.
By Rashod OllisonIt was February 1988, and I was in the fourth grade, the new kid at Fair Park Elementary in central Little Rock. I was nervous, of course, because I was the new kid. And nobody wants to be the new kid. But unlike previous classroom situations, I wasn’t the only black face in the place. There, in Mrs. Charlotte James’ orderly room, I was surrounded by kids who looked as though they could have been my cousins—black and brown faces staring back at me sans the entitled icy glares I usually got from white kids in Hot Springs. Also, Mrs. James was black, as stately and no-nonsense with her pearls and round glasses as the Baptist church mothers who silenced me with a stern look whenever I was disruptive in the Lord’s house. She was my first black teacher, and I was “so excited” like the Pointer Sisters.