In 1962 Martin Luther King began writing a biweekly column for the New York Amsterdam News. The column was intended to highlight King’s views on contemporary issues, including the efficacy of nonviolence, the state of the civil rights movement, and the role of the church in the freedom struggle.
Founded in 1909 by James Henry Anderson, the New York Amsterdam News was a weekly newspaper that reported on issues relevant to the African American community. At its height in the 1940s, the newspaper had a circulation of 100,000 and was one of the four largest African American newspapers in the United States. It published columns by such black notables as W. E. B. Du Bois, Roy Wilkins, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and Malcolm X.
In his column King commented on a myriad of issues, including his evolving attitudes on the progress of civil rights reform. In a February 1962 column, King addressed the question, “Are you satisfied with President Kennedy’s stand on Civil Rights?” King admitted that the question was complicated given that the Kennedy administration had appointed blacks to key government positions and issued an executive order eliminating employment discrimination. However, King called Kennedy “cautious and defensive” when it came to providing the “strong leadership in Civil Rights that is necessary to grapple with the enormity of the problem.” King was further dismayed when the president backed “completely away from the most challenging order, namely, an order to end discrimination in Federally assisted housing” (King, “The President’s Record”).
King used the column to speak out on the issues of the day. He told the Christian church that “moral coercion” and “action in the area of job discrimination” were necessary for social change, writing: “We cannot be a sheltered group of detached spectators chanting and singing on sequestered corners in a world that is being threatened by the forces of evil” (King, “The Church Must Be Firm!”). In December 1963 he charged that John F. Kennedy’s death was caused “by a morally inclement climate” that arose from “our constant attempt to cure the cancer of racial injustice with the vaseline of graduation; our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim” (King, “What Killed JFK?”).
The consequence of violence in America was a frequent topic of King’s columns. He mourned the death of Malcolm X in a March 1965 column: “Like the murder of Lumumba, the murder of Malcolm X deprives the world of a potentially great leader. I could not agree with either of these men, but I could see in them a capacity for leadership which I could respect” (King, “The Nightmare of Violence”). Following the Watts rebellion in Los Angeles later that year, King maintained that the cause of the violence was primarily economic and was “the beginning of a stirring of a deprived people in a society who have been by-passed by the progress of the past decade” (King, “Feeling Alone in the Struggle”).
King gave attention to the civil rights movement in his column and paid tribute to unsung heroes of the movement, including Esau Jenkins, Fred Shuttlesworth, and James Meredith. He continued to write the column through 1966. In 1971 the New York Amsterdam News was purchased by Percy E. Sutton, H. Carl McCall, and Clarence B. Jones.
King, “The Church Must Be Firm!” New York Amsterdam News, 23 November 1963.
King, “Feeling Alone in the Struggle,” New York Amsterdam News, 28 August 1965.
King, “The Nightmare of Violence,” New York Amsterdam News, 13 March 1965.
King, “The President’s Record,” New York Amsterdam News, 17 February 1962.
King, “What Killed JFK?” New York Amsterdam News, 21 December 1963.