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Martin Luther King, Jr. - Political and Social Views

"Letter from Birmingham Jail"

As the events of the Birmingham Campaign intensified on the city’s streets, Martin Luther King, Jr., composed a letter from his prison cell in Birmingham in response to local religious leaders’ criticisms of the campaign: “Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?” (King, Why, 94–95).

Introduction to Southwest Africa: The UN's Stepchild

On 31 July 1959 Homer Jack, associate director of the American Committee on Africa, asked King to write an introduction for a pamphlet to “inform the American people about South West Africa—a subject about which they know practically nothing.”1 King agreed to provide the introduction on 5 August and sent it to Jack on 31 August, observing that the pamphlet will serve an important purpose: “I, myself; learned a lot by reading it, for my knowledge of Southwest Africa has been quite limited.”

Address at the Fourth Annual Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change at Bethel Baptist Church

In this typescript of his final address as president of the MIA, King summarizes the past year’s accomplishments, highlighting attempts to desegregate the city’s public schools and parks: “I think this is enough to say to the cynics, skeptics, and destructive critics that the MIA is still in business, and that while it does not have the drama of a bus boycott, it is doing a day to day job that is a persistent threat to the power structure of Montgomery.” He outlines the MIA’s “threefold task”: challenging segregation, suffering and sacrificing for freedom, and making ful

"Faith in Man"

In the following two handwritten outlines, King urges his listeners to remain aware of the evil potential of human nature while maintaining faith in the individual's ability to rise above the limitations of heredity, environment, and injustice. In the first outline, King cites two recent events as reasons for holding a pessimistic view of “the nature and destiny of man”: the lynching in 1955 of Emmett Till and the recent rioting at the University of Alabama in response to the admission of the school's first African-American student, Autherine Lucy.

To Kenneth H. Tuggle

Acting on a resolution from SCLC's executive committee, King requests a meeting with the chair of the Interstate Commerce Commission to discuss “discriminatory practices” faced by black interstate travelers.1 Tuggle replied on 28 October and agreed to a 25 November meeting in Washington, D.C.2 A press report indicated that Tuggle assured King that “action would be taken… upon receipt of complaints of discrimination.”

Gregg, Richard B.

Pacifist, writer, and activist Richard Gregg was the first American to publish a book on nonviolence. Gregg’s The Power of Nonviolence, published in 1934, explained Gandhi’s nonviolent principles and his methodology of social change. In the foreword to the book’s second edition (1959), Martin Luther King affirmed that “new ways of solving conflicts, without violence, must be discovered and put into operation” (Papers 5:99). In 1957, when King was asked by an official from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to name the books that most influenced him, he included Gregg’s book along with those of Gandhi, Henry David Thoreau, and Walter Rauschenbusch.

Draft of Chapter VIII, "The Death of Evil Upon the Seashore"

King finds inspiration in ideas presented in Phillips Brook's “The Egyptians Dead Upon the Seashore” for this semon, a version of which he delivered at Dexter in 1955.1 In a sentence deleted from the published version, King announces his faith in a just universe: “A mythical Satan, through the work of a conniving serpent, may gain the allegiance of man for a period, but ultimately he must give way to the magnetic redemptive power of a humble servant on an uplifted cross.” Retelling the tale of the Jewish

Black Power

Although African American writers and politicians used the term “Black Power” for years, the expression first entered the lexicon of the civil rights movement during the Meredith March Against Fear in the summer of 1966. Martin Luther King, Jr., believed that Black Power was “essentially an emotional concept” that meant “different things to different people,” but he worried that the slogan carried “connotations of violence and separatism” and opposed its use (King, 32; King, 14 October 1966). The controversy over Black Power reflected and perpetuated a split in the civil rights movement between organizations that maintained that nonviolent methods were the only way to achieve civil rights goals and those organizations that had become frustrated and were ready to adopt violence and black separatism.

Black Nationalism

Achieving major national influence through the Nation of Islam (NOI) and the Black Power movement of the 1960s, proponents of black nationalism advocated economic self-sufficiency, race pride for African Americans, and black separatism. Reacting against white racial prejudice and critical of the gap between American democratic ideals and the reality of segregation and discrimination in America, in the 1960s black nationalists criticized the methods of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and other organizations that sought to reform American society through nonviolent interracial activism. In his 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King described himself as standing between the forces of complacency and the “hatred and despair of the black nationalist” (King, 90).

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