Martin Luther King, Jr. - Political and Social Views
In September 1944, Martin Luther King began his studies at Morehouse College in Atlanta, following in the footsteps of his father, Martin Luther King, Sr., and his maternal grandfather, A. D. Williams. Although King’s years at Morehouse were characterized by middling academic performance, his experiences outside the classroom set him on a path toward the ministry and the struggle for civil rights.
Created for radio in 1945 by Martha Rountree and Lawrence Spivak, Meet the Press first aired on television in November 1947. Martin Luther King appeared on Meet the Press five times. Though the tone of the program was often antagonistic, King appreciated the chance to reach a national audience and had a cordial relationship with Spivak, who was the show’s producer and a permanent panelist until his retirement in 1975.
A close advisor to Martin Luther King and one of the most influential and effective organizers of the civil rights movement, Bayard Rustin was affectionately referred to as “Mr. March-on-Washington” by A. Philip Randolph (D’Emilio, 347). Rustin organized and led a number of protests in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, including the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. While Rustin’s homosexuality and former affiliation with the Communist Party led some to question King’s relationship with him, King recognized the importance of Rustin’s skills and dedication to the movement. In a 1960 letter, King told a colleague: “We are thoroughly committed to the method of nonviolence in our struggle and we are convinced that Bayard’s expertness and commitment in this area will be of inestimable value” (Papers 5:390).
The 1960 presidential campaign between Democrat John F. Kennedy and Republican candidate Richard Nixon proved to be one of the closest elections in U.S. history, and one in which Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement played a pivotal role.
Jacob Mortimer Rothschild was a steadfast supporter of the civil rights movement and racial equality. As a rabbi, he spread ideals of peace and unity to his Atlanta congregation, despite hostile public responses. Rothschild described Martin Luther King as a “spokesman who—like a prophet of ancient Israel—had fearlessly confronted the society of his day with its failures; had sought to rouse men to a vision of their own nobility,” and who “has earned his place as the moral leader of our social revolution” (Rothschild, 20 November 1963).
Richard M. Nixon had a complicated relationship with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the African American freedom struggle. Although King later questioned Nixon’s sincerity, while Nixon served as vice president in the 1950s, King commented that with “persons like you occupying such important positions in our nation I am sure that we will soon emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man” (Papers 4:264).
Raised in the social gospel tradition of his father’s church, Martin Luther King encountered Reinhold Niebuhr’s less hopeful philosophy, Christian realism, as a student at Crozer Theological Seminary in 1949. King later evaluated Niebuhr’s contribution to theology as a rebuttal of “the false optimism characteristic of a great segment of Protestant liberalism” (King, 99).
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.
Martin Luther King often criticized nationalism, whether in the guise of Adolf Hitler’s tyranny or Senator Joseph McCarthy’s attacks against un-American activities. In 1953, when King was still in graduate school, he preached a sermon against nationalism, saying, “One cannot worship this false god of nationalism and the God of christianity at the same time” (Papers 6:133).