According to Wikipedia, King responded with these words in response to an accusation that his activism was "disturbing the peace," as quoted in Let the Trumpet Sound: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Stephen B. Oates, 1982).
The second of twelve photos I took of panels containing memorable quotes from the writings and speeches of Martin Luther King, at the site of the King Memorial.
According to Wikipedia, King responded with these words in response to an accusation that his activism was "disturbing the peace," as quoted in Let the Trumpet Sound: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Stephen B. Oates, 1982).
Here is the first of 12 quotations from the writing of Martin Luther King, Jr, inscribed on granite panels forming a semi-circle behind the statue that will be unveiled this Sunday, as a memorial to the civil rights leader. This quote was taken from King's book Strength to Love, published in 1963.
Over the next few months, I will post a photo of each panel, grouping them together as Martin Luther King quotations, accessible from the index on the right.
During the weekend Hurricane Irene came for a visit, we walked among the stones that make up the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial along the Tidal Basin on the National Mall in Washington DC. Hoping to attend the dedication, we joined hundreds at the newly opened site one evening as the sun set and clouds thickened, then went back early the next morning, just as the storm moved in.
Wisely, the organizers postponed the dedication in advance of Irene, moving it to Sunday, October 16. The morning program will be free and open to the public. See http://bit.ly/nQ3JPm for information.
King’s fraternity brothers in Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African-Americans, initiated the concept of his memorial, then created the foundation that ultimately paid for and built the project 25 years later. The complex of three major stones anchored by a semi-circular wall of memorable quotations, sits along a northwest section of the water facing the Jefferson Memorial. The memorial towers over cherry trees that usually bloom in early April, which happens to be the time of King’s death in 1968. This location will put the memorial in the path of millions from around the globe who visit DC to celebrate spring’s beauty. What a fitting way to commemorate King’s contribution to this nation, with beauty and respect! The memorial team says it best:
His vision of America is captured in his message of hope and possibility for a future anchored in dignity, sensitivity, and mutual respect; a message that challenges each of us to recognize that America's true strength lies in its diversity of talents … The vision of a memorial in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. is one that captures the essence of his message … freedom, democracy and opportunity for all.
Personally, I was moved by the 12 quotations etched in granite along the walkway behind the statue. I plan to post photos of each quotation on this blog, one at a time, for your contemplation.
You can walk among the various pieces of sculpture freely. No tickets are involved, but parking and/or Metro stops are a hike away. Look at it this way: the fairly lengthy walk gives you time to think about what you’re doing and why you’re there.
When you visit, expect to see or even shed a few tears. Listen closely as grandparents explain to their young who and what this man was. Don’t be surprised if people whisper because the site’s tomb-quality tends to have that effect on visitors.
While we were there, people of all races talked to each other, sharing pride and gratitude for the legacy King left us. They volunteered to take photos of each other, commemorating the moment. That’s the way it should be.
My only hope is that young people find a way to get close to Dr. King, in their own way. Since they won’t have the benefit we had of learning about him first- or even second-hand, I hope they read Letters from a Birmingham Jail or transcripts of King’s most important speeches.
For those of us who shared some of the same time on earth with this man, he’s a giant, albeit a human one. There could not be a better time to find a hero to anchor one's life on, nor could there be a better anchor than Martin Luther King.
Don’t be too shocked when you see the enormity of his statue. Although imposing, someone who related as well to garbage collectors as he did to royalty may have preferred being portrayed on a more human scale, putting him closer to eye level. Nonetheless, the statue is quite imposing, almost majestic. I’m not sure I like the expression the artist chose for his face, but it’s one of strength and determination, and that’s not a bad way to be remembered.
Note: All photos are mine. Ask for permission to reprint.
Get on the bus with the Freedom Riders tonight, and be amazed.
Check your local television listings for American Experience on PBS tonight (Monday, May 16).
See what risks college kids (including this one) took, before drugs and binge drinking were cool. See what people were willing to lay down their lives for. See the consequences of hateful rhetoric in graphic (real) footage of almost unbelievable violence put upon young people committed to turning the other cheek.
Be angry. Be sad. Be amazed at how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. But, be there.
While war and rebellion have raged across the globe these last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr. That is, thinking not exactly what King would have done at a time like this, but why King’s message resonated when it did, and still does today.
A bright and focused student, King skipped two grades of high school and entered Morehouse College in Atlanta at age 15. That means he graduated at 19 or so, then entered seminary. No sooner had he taken his first church assignment (in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1954), than he began work on a doctorate in theology at Boston University.
The early Fifties were halcyon days for liberal Protestant religious thought. World War II was behind us, and man’s future looked bright. The only things eating us from the inside out – besides the bomb -- were poverty, segregation, and rampant inequities in an otherwise burgeoning country still basking in the glory of having ended the war.
Graduate work drew King to Boston in 1955, the year liberal Protestant theologian Paul Tillich -- one of his major influences-- joined the faculty of Harvard Divinity School. Another of King's heroes, liberal theologian Reinhold Niebuhr was also in the area. Niebuhr once blasted white Protestants for giving birth and sustenance to the Ku Klux Klan, saying "I hit Protestant bigotry the hardest at this time because it happens to be our sin and there is no use repenting for other people's sins. Let us repent of our own. .... We are admonished in Scripture to judge men by their fruits, not by their roots; and their fruits are their character, their deeds and accomplishments."
Black theologian Howard Thurman, a friend of King’s father who lived in Boston, was chaplain at BU and happy to take his friend’s son under his wing. Thurman told King about meeting Mahatma Gandhi a decade or so earlier in India, while he was a missionary. The older clergyman encouraged his protégée to study Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, so King went to India in 1959.
While there, King wrote: "Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity. In a real sense, Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation.”
That trip gave King energy to push a fledgling civil rights movement, forward. Between 1955 and 1965, King would apply Gandhi's principles, as well as Christian theology, as he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, tested Jim Crow laws up and down the South, led the March on Washington in 1963 and the March to Montgomery in 1965. Later, he expanded his support to the anti-war movement and economic justice before he was assassinated in 1968.
I never met the man or heard him speak, except on television and radio, and, although I admired his courage and commitment, I didn’t like everything he said or did. Martin Luther King was no saint. He had women in his life other than wife Coretta. Long after receiving his doctorate, he was accused of plagiarizing portions of his dissertation. Some close to him called him vain, competitive, stubborn and careless about his personal safety. (In other words, he was human!) Black Power advocates derided him, saying he was more interested in integration than in strengthening the autonomy of his own race. He lost friends in Washington, the media and unions when he came out against US involvement in the Vietnam War.
Even so, no one could fault Martin Luther King for his commitment to the poor and abused, of any race or background. In this, he was steadfast to the end, in spite of incarceration, death threats and numerous attempts on his life. I don’t recall ever hearing him mention it publicly, but it must have been difficult for him to live with the knowledge that he had blood on his hands because many who followed his call for action, suffered mightily.
Still, he had a tremendous impact on the path this country took during his lifetime and for decades beyond. He had an equally strong impact on the lives of individuals, including this one. For a time before 1965, the world rested on King’s every word. People either loved him or hated him; there was no in-between.
Like the story of David and Goliath, King and his followers were mighty. They forced states to change laws that had been on the books for 100 years. They altered a nation’s perception of race and justice in a diverse society. In a way, King’s legacy may have outstripped his personal accomplishments, because the momentum he set in motion 45 years ago, is evident today.
I think the man was a genius but am afraid, if were alive today, he would fail to meet the level of scrutiny we insist on for our leaders. His genius was in transposing the simple truths of Gandhi’s non-violent resistance in India and Jesus' exhortation to turn the other cheek, to a workable plan for a society born and raised on violence.
As a Christian clergyman, King harnessed the power of religious beliefs to show fellow believers how to turn moral tenets into reality, in the form of laws affecting daily life, especially those affecting access to public accommodations and the voting booth. People already knew what was right and wrong, they just didn't know how to express it. King gave them the tools and pointed the way.
By adhering to non-violent actions, his followers believed they had “God on their side” and, so, would prevail. And, they did.
King was not the only individual responsible for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, but he certainly was a prime mover.
Few leaders understood as well as he did the importance and dignity of ordinary people, black or white. Early in his short life, King vowed to do all he could to make their lives better. By the mid-1960s he was teaching hundreds, then thousands and finally millions of other ordinary people – including a host of college students (like me), long-time activists and clergy of all backgrounds – how to play very small roles in an enormous theater.
The work of those involved in the US civil rights movement wasn’t easy and certainly wasn't pretty. Through training, organization and discipline, King empowered the powerless by incorporating them into large, committed but peaceful groups. He showed the world that, under the right circumstances, ordinary folk can overturn laws, up-end nations and change the expected course of history, just as we see happening today in the Middle East.
For more on this topic, go here For a look at my own memories of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, go to this group of stories.
By 1968, what was once radical -- i.e., principles of non-violent action, as exemplified by the work of Gandhi and King -- had proven to be a viable means of social change. At that point, non-violence lost its radical cachet and became more or less mainstream. By 1968, the only thing left for radicals was violence or at least the threat of violence, and that wasn't Martin Luther King's message, at all.
King's success proved violence wasn't necessary to affect change. Non-violent protest funneled power into the weak, and turned those who held onto Jim Crow as villains. When protestors couldn’t be riled, they were the perfect foil for exposing the true character of those who spat, shouted obscenities, raised their fists, or worse. Let the American people decide, who has more courage? Who is in the right? The one who speaks politely, is respectful and when faced with aggression turns the other cheek, or the one who hides behind dogs and billyclubs?
Thanks mostly to Dr. King, non-violence brought this country positive change in the form of rights protected by enforceable law, and opportunities for growth that have led to attitudinal change in places we never expected. That's not to say his work is done, by any means, but without the changes he set in motion, it's frightening to imagine where this country might be today.
On the other hand, the threat of violence as espoused by the radical left and right, brought us tighter security, restrictions and paranoia. Again, we reap what we sow, for better or worse.
Dr. King took young and old, black and white, and taught us the impact an individual can have on history. While it was all going on, it was hard to gauge where it would all end. For me, looking backward, I’m amazed at how much progress was made in such a short time, but also dismayed that there’s still so much left undone.
Young people looking for a niche in activism today should know the door is still open to those who want to get involved. Pick your issue and get to work! Just look around and follow your passion. Are you concerned about the environment, or disparities in health or education? Are you ready to advocate for the arts, the homeless or the aged? Find others with the same interests, and get to work!
Several weeks ago, I was thrilled to be part of a group of people recognized in Springfield, Massachusetts for civil rights activities we took part in decades ago, either in the Freedom Rides of 1961 and other protests. Several Freedom Riders recounted horrific tales and – as you can probably tell from the photo -- I felt honored to be standing among them.
Western New England public television station WGBY, in conjunction with the Springfield Public Forum, hosted a preview of the upcoming documentary, Freedom Riders, produced by WGBH-Boston and scheduled to air on public television stations nationwide on May 16. Don’t miss it!
In the meantime, you might want to check out their website, which is full of interactive information, including the mugshots of those arrested during the Freedom Rides. (Not me, I was able to avoid jail.) I thought it was wonderful that those photos are now seen as badges of honor. At last!
For Part I of this post, go here. For a look at my own memories of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, go to this group of stories.
Today, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday, I’ve decided to celebrate by taking a look back at the work he’s known for, although this complex man excelled on many platforms.
No one can dispute the importance of Martin Luther King to the US civil rights movement. He was its guiding star and its most revered martyr.
Through King’s example and his teachings, hundreds of thousands of ordinary and unknown people pushed the movement ahead with a myriad of simple acts of personal, peaceful protest. Ultimately, they got legislation they wanted, acknowledging and guaranteeing civil rights on many – but not all – fronts. If those folk are still around, they know who they are, and we know they can’t help but think of those difficult days every year about this time, then again in April and August.
Although the US still has a long way to go to reach justice and equality for all, much has happened since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Our children and our grandchildren would find it difficult to believe what life was like for black people less than 50 years ago, when King was alive and pursuing his dream. But, I remember and so do many Birds readers, so I believe it's important to share those memories.
For an expanded essay on King’s life and the impact he had on the US, go here and then here to Some Thoughts on the Legacy of MLK, parts 1 and 2.
If you remember, won't you share your stories, too? Please hit Comments above, and leave them for all to read. You don't need to leave your email address.
I hope you don’t mind, but I’m republishing six short pieces I ran last year about civil rights and early 1960s sit ins. Maybe they will show you how Martin Luther Kind figured into the lives of those who were young in the 1960s.
Four posts are about life in and around Washington DC before the 1964 CRA, including a collection of my own memories. One of the four includes some incredible news footage of demonstrators trying to exert their right to eat or shop where they wanted. Music and prayer were integral parts of all the demonstrations I went to, so I’ve included a link to relevant music, performed recently by a few icons of the movement. The last post takes you to a collection of art saluting all civil rights leaders as real icons.
It’s a good day to remember Martin Luther King Jr and the legacy he left all of us. If he were alive today, I think King would be proud of what the civil rights movement accomplished, but not satisfied with the status of a lot of unfinished business.
A Martin Luther Kind memorial is being built on the Mall in Washington, DC. Not only will it honor a great man, but It will retell his story and help us listen more closely to his important words. For more on the memorial, go to today's Washington Post at
I was 17 and new to the University of Maryland when I saw a sign posted on a bulletin board announcing a training session in non-violent action at a nearby church. Now that I was away from home, I could consider doing things like this. After all, I WAS a college freshman, and it WAS 1961.
Contrary to my parents’ hopes and dreams for me to get a well-rounded education, meet some young lawyer at college and marry into comfort, I grew up fully expecting to save the world from injustice, infectious disease and bad music. Not necessarily in that order.
Four years of reading the progressive Methodist Student Movement's (now defunct) motive magazine plus high school social studies classes taught by two avowed socialists had radicalized me even more than I knew, but just as much as my parents suspected. Motive magazine carried many stories written about or by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., an advocate of the teachings of Gandhi, and a minister of large church in Montgomery, Alabama. I was intrigued, to say the least.
Not surprisingly, my zeal for justice was tied to religion, a big part of my life. Not only was I active in a very liberal Protestant church, but I got even more fired up to right all wrongs -- by osmosis -- through through my part-time job as an pianist/organist and choir accompanist for several churches. That was how I earned money for college.
First, a little history lesson. In spite of its reputation for religious tolerance and enlightenment, parts of the state of Maryland may as well have been in the Deep South in 1961. They may not have had Jim Crow laws, but centuries of tradition forbade people of color to use the toilets at many gas stations or to eat at some restaurants in town. Nobody had to tell them, but little reminders like the one above were hung on the wall, just in case. If Black people wanted to eat, they could go to a restaurant’s kitchen door for carry out. If they needed a toilet, they had to find a service station willing to accommodate them.
In May, 1961, college students from all over started taking commercial buses to the Deep South from Washington DC to desegregate services up and down federal highways. They may not have realized it at the time, but they could have taken north-bound buses to do the same thing! In June of that year, the ambassador to the US from Chad (who wasn’t up on the tradition) had been refused table service at a roadside diner in Maryland. He filed a angry grievance with the US Department of State, without hesitation. Embarrassed, State pressured restaurants and gas stations along major federal highways (including the east-west US 40 and north-south US 1, which cut through the University campus) to be more accommodating to foreign dignitaries. Travelers were advised to wear traditional dress, so they’d be recognized.
The Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) jumped all over this humiliating event, sending out students from Bowie State College (then, a black school) to test service at restaurants up and down the Maryland highways. The Route 40 Freedom Rides were widely publicized, designed to pressure business owners into serving anyone who came in, whether they were black, white, dressed in African garb, or not. By fall, students at the University of Maryland extended the protests to businesses in and around College Park. Eventually, students from Howard University in DC took the protests further south toward the District line and beyond.
In fall of 1961, there still were holdouts in restaurant apartheid, even in College Park, home of the University of Maryland, with its huge population of foreign students. It was incredible! Here I was, a very young, white nobody going to school with the children of diplomats, who couldn't meet them at the Hot Shoppe for coffee or at The Little Tavern for a hamburger. The irony! The bigotry of a country professing justice and freedom for all, when people were being treating like animals just a few miles from the US capitol! I was appalled, and that got my juices flowing.
One October Saturday, I got up early to walk the mile and a half to Embry AME Zion Church in the Lakeland section of College Park, getting there in time for the training program and rally sponsored by CORE.
I should tell you I had never seen anything quite like Lakeland. To say the neighborhood was ramshackle was a gross understatement. This area, just yards away from US Rte1, as well as the state university, was straight out of Tobacco Road. Go here for some background on the community.
That morning, some older volunteers taught us about Maryland law and explained the basic theory of non-violent protest. God was on our side, they said, and it was important to make that fact obvious. Do not break any laws. Do not do anything to provoke attack or arrest. Remember: there are laws and there are traditions. We would test the laws, and just hope the police could be trusted to enforce them.
Here’s a copy of a CORE brochure for protests held at that time in other parts of the state. You’ll see that protesters were told to abide by the local laws. CORE would not send them out unless they were clean cut, well dressed, well mannered and could pass themselves off as just a couple of ordinary folk who wanted to share an ice cream soda with some friends of various colors, in their neighborhood eatery.
Without realizing it, I had just turned a page on the passive life of childhood and had become an activist, before I could even drive without a parent in the car, vote, or buy a beer.
Go on to Walking Down Freedom Road, Part 2 for more of this story.
For the remainder of my freshman year, I participated in the Freedom Ride extension protests whenever I had a spare weekend. For the most part, they were peaceful and successful at integrating restaurants along US-1, in the area around the university, and up toward Baltimore. That's what we set out to do and it worked! The next step -- passing a public accommodations law -- was up to the state legislature.
One weekend (late October or early November, 1961), things got a bit dicey.
I left my dorm early that morning, signing out for College Park, but not listing the church's address. For whatever reason, I didn’t tell anyone -- even my roommate, who didn't approve of my CORE activities -- where I was going or what I was doing.
As instructed, I wore my Sunday dress, little black heels and all-purpose trench coat. My hair was done up in a neat French twist..
CORE sent out a bus, plus a few cars, each carrying two or three protesters, plus driver. One car contained only CORE reps, so they could act as witnesses to whatever happened, I figured. They would not be posting bail for us if we got arrested, however. They made that perfectly clear.
Usually, we went to places like the Little Tavern, Hot Shoppes or family diners. Frankly, I never wanted to eat at the College Park Little Tavern in the first place, but it was important to integrate any business that was part of a national chain.
On this particular Saturday, there was a young, loud, sloppily dressed white guy at the church who clearly was itching to spend some time in jail, as he boasted he had done numerous times in earlier Freedom Rides down south. He even brought along his guitar, just in case. In spite of his enthusiasm and experience, he looked like bad news to me.
Since I was only 17, jail time for me would be spent at a juvenile facility, where I would probably be held until my 18th birthday. I would miss a year of college, a year my parents had already paid for. My dad was out of work and quite depressed. My actions would place a heavy burden on the family. Still, I was prepared to go to jail if necessary, but not interested in promoting the idea. My only hope was to not get stuck going out on a ride with this jerk, but I did.
To continue reading, click on Read More, below right.
Here’s some footage from the early 1960s, showing what it was really like at some of the larger demonstrations. The clips culminate with the August 28, 1963, March for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Our kids and grandkids need to see this. Thank you, Mavis Staples, for keeping the spirit alive and relevant for almost 50 years.
After my sophomore year at the University of Maryland, I got married and moved to DC, where I spent the next 11 years. Washington DC was a predominantly black city at that time and Len and I were white interlopers, poor ones no less.
You may remember 1964. College students descended on the South over summer vacation, to help register voters and open what they called Freedom Schools for young black kids. They called it Freedom Summer, but for three young people, a young black man and at least one middle-aged woman, it should have been called Last Summer.
My husband occasionally sat in as a musician at clubs and, one summer night, he played at a coffee house in DC with three friends of ours, all black. (I was about 20 years old, at the time.) The bass player and singer followed us home, where the four of us stayed up all night listening to jazz, drinking coffee and talking.
The next morning, we all hopped into our old car and headed out to another musician’s house, deep into Northern Virginia. I don’t remember where he lived, but anything more than two miles outside the District was the Deep South. I drove, the bass player sat up front with me and the singer sat in the back talking to my husband.
We drove about 15 miles, part of it on a country four-lane, before I noticed a car following us. I didn’t think much of it at first, but mentioned it and the bass player suggested I slow down to let the car pass us. I did, but when our two cars were neck and neck, the other driver slowed to my pace.
I glanced over and saw two young white guys in the front seat, one driving and one holding a pistol up to his eye with two hands, aiming it at me out the open window.
At first, I couldn’t believe what I saw. I turned back to face the road, stared straight ahead, mumbled something like “Don’t look to your left” and slowed down, hoping they would speed ahead. They didn’t.
We went in tandem like this for a mile or two, slowing down, speeding up, with that gun never losing its potential to blow my head off. Eventually, they must have been satisfied they could shoot us if they felt like it, because they laughed, stomped on the gas and sped off.
I was so shaken I couldn’t drive any more, so the bass player took the wheel. He made a U-turn and took us back to the relative safety of DC. We knew that not only had we dodged four bullets, but we had avoided getting killed in a place where no would have cared enough to find out how or why.
If I didn’t get the message of hate at the College Park diner (follow link to earlier story), I got it that day in Virginia, loud and clear. I made up my mind on the way home that I would never doubt the violence that goes hand in hand with racial hatred, and would never, ever turn away from it again.
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