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Martin Luther King, Jr. - Political and Social Views


Central to King’s approach to preaching and religion was the concept of a personal and knowable God. King described God in his sermon, “Living Under the Tensions of Modern Life,” as “a personal God, who’s concerned about us, who is our Father, who is our Redeemer. And this sense of religion and of this divine companionship says to us … that we are not lost in a universe fighting for goodness and for justice and love all by ourselves” (Papers 6:268). King’s belief in God as a higher being invested with a personality had its foundation in the theological school of personalism, which, according to King, represented the “theory that the clue to the meaning of ultimate reality is found in personality” (King, 100).

Wilkins, Roy Ottaway

As executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1955 to 1977, Roy Wilkins collaborated with Martin Luther King on many of the major campaigns of the civil rights movement. Although Wilkins favored a legal approach to achieving racial equality over King’s nonviolent direct action campaigns, the two leaders recognized that both methods were critical to advancing the civil rights cause. On the occasion of Wilkins’ 30th anniversary with the NAACP, King wrote to him: “You have proved to be one of the great leaders of our time. Through your efficiency as an administrator, your genuine humanitarian concern, and your unswerving devotion to the principles of freedom and human dignity, you have carved for yourself an imperishable niche in the annals of contemporary history” (King, 3 January 1962).

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

At the time of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth in 1929, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was already the largest and most influential civil rights organization in the United States. King’s father, Martin Luther King, Sr., was an executive committee member of Atlanta’s NAACP branch; and in 1944, King, Jr., chaired the youth membership committee of the Atlanta NAACP Youth Council. Although King believed in the power of nonviolent direct action, he understood that it worked best when paired with the litigation and lobbying efforts of the NAACP.

Watts Rebellion (Los Angeles)

On Wednesday, 11 August 1965, Marquette Frye, a 21-year-old black man, was arrested for drunk driving on the edge of Los Angeles’ Watts neighborhood. The ensuing struggle during his arrest sparked off 6 days of rioting, resulting in 34 deaths, over 1,000 injuries, nearly 4,000 arrests, and the destruction of property valued at $40 million. On 17 August 1965, Martin Luther King arrived in Los Angeles in the aftermath of the riots. His experiences over the next several days reinforced his growing conviction that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) should move north and lead a movement to address the growing problems facing black people in the nation’s urban areas.


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