To Joseph Tusiani
Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr.
Date: August 8, 1959
Location: Montgomery, Ala.?
Topic: Little Rock School Crisis, 1957
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Political and Social Views
On 2 August Italian-born poet Joseph Tusiani requested that King respond to a set of questions for an article to be published in the Italian-language magazine Nigrizia.1 In this reply, King suggests that the Little Rock school integration conflict may have been "a blessing in disguise" because it forced people to recognize that the desegregation problem "had to be met forthrightly." He also blames the federal government, "especially the president," for failing to take a "strong, moral stand" after the Supreme Court's 1954 desegregation decision. Tusiani's questions and King's translated answers appeared at the end of the article in the January 1960 edition of Nigrizia.2
Dr. Joseph Tusiana
553 East 188th Street
New York 58, New York
Dear Dr. Tusiani:
I am in receipt of your letter of August 2, and I hasten to answer it before leaving town in a few hours. I regret that a very tight schedule at this moment will not permit me to give detail answers to your questions.
Answer to question number 1:3 In my opinion the main obstacle to the realization of brotherhood in the United States and other parts of the world is man's failure to respect the dignity and worth of all human personality. The problems facing our world in the area of human relations are chiefly moral. They are not merely economic and political, but they are basically moral. Actually, moral value is supreme and gives worth to all others. That is why personality as the locus of moral value has irreplaceable worth and must be respected. Segregation, colonialism, and economic imperialism all violate that principle. Any society degrades itself when it heaps indignities upon persons.
Answer to question number 2:4 I was certainly disappointed when the Little Rock incident occured some time ago. It was a shocking demonstration of how one man, through irresponsible action and demagogic tendencies, can lead a whole state into acts of meaness that no normal or rational person would commit.5 Moreover, it was a tragic revelation of what prejudice can do to blind the visions of men and darken their understanding. However, there are two other things that must be said about Little Rock. It might have been a blessing in disguise in that for the first time this issue was brought to the forefront of the conscience of the nation, and men of goodwill came to see that this problem had to be met forthrightly. Too long had we been dealing with it in a light, easy going manner. It must also be admitted that if the Federal Government, especially the president of our country, had taken a strong, moral stand when the Supreme Court rendered it's decision in 1954, federal troops probably would not have had to stand in Little Rock. But the tragic fact is that while the forces of goodwill in our nation remained silent, the forces of opposition mobilized and organized.
Answer to question number 3:6 I definitely feel that the present situation is brighter than it was a few years ago. We are nearer the promised land of integration than we were ten years ago. It is true that we have more tension in some areas of the South than we had a few years ago, but this tension is a necessary phase of the transition. It is a sign of the progress that we have made, rather than tragic retrogression. It is indicative of the fact that a new order is being born in America and the old order of segregation and paternalism is passing away.
Answer to question number 4:7 If I added a chapter to my book, Stride Toward Freedom, I would probably turn to a discussion of the effectiveness of nonviolence in international relationships. It would be my contention that this method must be adopted not merely on the local level in struggles between relatively small groups, but even between nations. In a day when nuclear weapons are plentiful and guided ballistic missles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence; it is either nonviolence or nonexistence. If mankind feels that it has a right to exist, then we must find some alternative to war. I would contend that the only true way to peace is the way of love, patience, understanding, goodwill, and an adherence to principles of justice.
As I said, these answers are briefer than I would ordinarily make them and they were given in a great deal of haste. However, I hope they will serve your purpose and I am happy to know that you have chosen me as a subject for your article in the Italian magazine, Nigrizia.
With every good wish.
Martin L. King, Jr.
P.S. I would appreciate your sending me a copy of the article when it is written. Although I don't read Italian, I would appreciate having it in my files.
1. Nigrizia, a magazine dedicated to "Africa and the black world," had been published by the Comboni Missionaries since 1882. Giuseppe (Joseph) Tusiani (1924-) was born in San Marco in Lamis, Italy. He received his Ph.D. (1947) from the University of Naples and emigrated to the United States that year. He served as the chair of the Italian department at the College of Mount Saint Vincent (1948-1971) and also taught at Hunter College (1950-1963) and New York University (1956-1963). Tusiani published numerous volumes of poetry and other works in English, Italian, and Latin. Prior to this interview with King, Tusiani had written on African American spirituals for Nigrizia. He later published Influenza Cristiana nella Poesia Negro-Americana (Bologna: Nigrizia, 1971).
2. "La Non Violenza Del Dott. King," Nigrizia (January 1960): 23-24, Tusiani was pleased with the "enthusiastic" response to the article and requested a second interview with King; Maude Ballou replied that King was too preoccupied with the southern struggle to respond at the time (Tusiani to King, 20 April 1960, and Ballou to Tusiani, 5 May 1960)
3. Tusiani had asked: "What, in your opinion, constitutes the main obstacle to the realization of brotherhood on earth and, especially, in U.S.A."
4. "The grievous incident of Little Rock must have wounded your heart immensely; what was your reaction to it?"
5. King refers to resistance by Arkansas governor Orval Faubus to school desegregation in Little Rock.
6. "Would you call the present situation brighter than it was a few years ago?"
7. "Should you add a chapter to your Stride Toward Freedom, what would you like the world to know?"
Source: MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Boston University, Boston, Mass.