While vacationing in the Caribbean in January and February 1967, King wrote the first draft of his final book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Accompanied by Coretta Scott King, Bernard Lee, and Dora McDonald, King rented a secluded house in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, with no telephone. This was one of the very few times in King’s adult life that he was completely isolated from the demands of the movement and could focus entirely on his writing. He labored on the initial manuscript for a month, sending chapters to Stanley Levison in New York for his revisions.
Where Do We Go from Here was King’s analysis of the state of American race relations and the movement after a decade of U.S. civil rights struggles. “With Selma and the Voting Rights Act one phase of development in the civil rights revolution came to an end,” he observed (King, 3). King believed that the next phase in the movement would bring its own challenges, as African Americans continued to make demands for better jobs, higher wages, decent housing, an education equal to that of whites, and a guarantee that the rights won in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would be enforced by the federal government. He warned that “the persistence of racism in depth and the dawning awareness that Negro demands will necessitate structural changes in society have generated a new phase of white resistance in North and South” (King, 12).
King assessed the rise of black nationalism and the increasing use of the slogan “Black Power” in the movement. While he praised the slogan as “a call to black people to amass the political and economic strength to achieve their legitimate goals,” he also recognized that its implied rejection of interracial coalitions and call for retaliatory violence “prevent it from having the substance and program to become the basic strategy for the civil rights movement in the days ahead” (King, 36; 44). Condemning the advocacy of black separatism, King maintained that there would be no genuine progress for African Americans “unless the whole of American society takes a new turn toward greater economic justice” (King, 50). Despite King’s impatience with Black Power proponents, he ended the book on an optimistic note, calling for continued faith in “mass nonviolent action and the ballot” and including his own “Program and Prospects” for black advancement (King, 129; 193–202).
After the book’s publication in June 1967, King used its promotional tour to reinforce points raised in its pages, speaking out on the living conditions of many black Americans and against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. At a luncheon in his honor, King chided the nation for doing nothing to eradicate slum conditions: “Everyone is worrying about the long hot summer with its threat of riots. We had a long cold winter when little was done about the conditions that create riots” (“Dr. King Deplores”). During a July television appearance, King repeated his assertion, made in the book and in his April 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam,” that “the war in Vietnam is clearly an unjust war” (King, 6 July 1967).
Where Do We Go from Here received mixed reviews. One critic called the book “incisive,” while another hailed it for its ability to speak “to the inner man” in a “moderate, judicious, constructive, pragmatic tone” (Where Do We Go from Here?, ad). One of the most scathing reviews appeared in the 24 August 1967 New York Review of Books: “Martin Luther King once had the ability to talk to people, the power to change them by evoking images of revolution,” the author said. “But the duty of a revolutionary is to make revolutions (say those who have done it), and King made none.” The review asserted that the Chicago Campaign was King’s last as a national leader. King has been “outstripped by his times, overtaken by the events which he may have obliquely helped to produce but could not predict. He is not likely to regain command” (Kopkind, “Soul Power”).
Garrow, Bearing the Cross, 1986.
Display ad, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, New York Times, 11 July 1967.
“Dr. King Deplores ‘Long Cold Winter’ on the Rights Front,” New York Times, 20 June 1967.
King, Interview on the Merv Griffin Show, 6 July 1967, MLKJP-GAMK.
King, Where Do We Go from Here, 1967.
Milton R. Konvitz, “Power for the Poor,” Saturday Review (July 1967): 28–29.
Andrew Kopkind, “Soul Power,” The New York Review of Books (24 August 1967): 3–6.