Remembering Martin Luther King LET THE TRUMPET SOUND: THE LIFE OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. By Stephen B. Oates Harper and Row, New York 1982, 560 pages, $18.95 MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: THE MAKING OF A MAN By John J. Ansbro Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 1982, 352 pages, $17.95 DURING THE EARLY 1970s a peace newsletter described a meeting between prominent anti war leaders and a top assistant of Henry Kissinger. When the assistant pressed the activists for details of their peace plan, one of them declared, “Our job is to call for justice to roll down like waters. Yours is to build the irrigation ditches.” As Stephen Oates explains in his wellresearched biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., King did not share this protestor’s approach. While King often called prophetically for justice to roll down like water, he also negotiated with racist businessmen in Birmingham and with the political boss of Chicago to determine the shape of the irrigation ditches in their respective cities. He insisted on detailed agreements to facilitate integration. When King called people to the table of brotherhood, he didn’t mind helping with the seating arrangements. He could also execute brilliant and daring strategy, making sure that his own arrest occurred at the time a particular campaign needed it most. Furthermore, he saw that the brutalities of the segregationists were duly recorded by national tv cameras. When fire hoses stunned elderly demonstrators and police dogs bared their teeth to, black children, the nation and the world recoiled from the Keith D. Miller, a graduate student in English at TCU, is writing his dissertation on Martin Luther King, Jr. By Keith D. Miller violence in their living rooms. King’s decision to march thousands of children in Birmingham in spite of dangerously aggressive policemen was a particularly bold and risky choice. But it worked magnificently to gain national sympathy for racial equality. A son of the Texas Panhandle and a Ph.D. graduate in history from UTAustin, Oates enlivens King’s story with material from many interviews with those who knew him well. With the notable exception of Coretta King, many of these intimates revealed details of King’s life that have not before reached the public record. Why did so many of the principals of this narrative open their memories to Oates? Partly, no doubt, because of the sensitivity he gained for civil rights during his student days in Austin. In 1961 Oates participated in the picket lines, the sit-ins, and the stand-ins that activists employed to integrate the restaurants and theaters of the Austin Drag. Sensitivity gained in Austin, along with well-honed investigative skills, helped Oates locate new information to clarify the controversies surrounding King’s career. Not only did King initially face awesome white opposition, many failed to support his boycotts and demonstrations. They preferred to work solely through the courts. Several black groups, particularly after 1965, repudiated King’s call for nonviolence, attacking him as an inconsequential moderate. Along with his discussion of these controversies, Oates provides previously undisclosed information on the anti-King campaign waged by an implacable enemy: J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover, who successfully pressured Robert Kennedy to permit FBI wiretaps on King’s telephone, at one point publicly damned the civil rights leader as “the most notorious liar in the country.” Unable or unwilling to check Hoover’s machinations, President Kennedy advised King on ways to avoid FBI traps. Oates presents the strange tale of a President telling a citizen how to evade an uncontrollable federal official. The reasons for the Kennedys’ actions? Oates believes, “They were scared to death of Hoover.” Neither Hoover’s spying and slander nor the charges of King’s other critics seemed to bother King, however, until an avalanche of disdain struck him for his early opposition to the Vietnam War. Many leading figures, both black and white, felt that King, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, had no business discussing American war-making in Asia. King disagreed, reiterated his condemnation of the war, and added the nuclear arms race to his list of intolerable evils. In spite of his eloquence, many of his former supporters remained unconvinced, and their donations to the cause diminished. Bayard Rustin refused to support King’s plans to converge masses of protestors on Washington to disrupt the government in an effort to dramatize the suffering of the poor. King’s new unpopularity with many moderates, coupled with the intensified rejection of nonviolence by younger black leaders, produced in King an extreme moodiness and bouts with depression he had never known before. Oates reveals these private torments as well as King’s steadfast refusal to abandon nonviolence. The philosophical underpinnings of King’s unwavering dedication to nonviolence is the subject of John Ansbro’s study. King’s rigorous training in Western thought helped make possible his contribution to our political life. Ansbro leaves little doubt that King’s graduate school study of philosophers from Plato to Marx enabled him to see the world as coherent, whole, and knowable. But how did this knowledge help King succeed as a leader? Inspired by Hegel’s synthesis of opposites, he married the religious liberalism of his professors to the Christian realism of Reinhold Niebuhr. He took seriously Niebuhr’s critique of the liberals’ love ethic as ineffectual because of its failure to address the realities of power. Emulating Gandhi, he brought the love ethic out of the seminar rooms of Boston University and placed it on the streets of Selma, Alabama. There liberal theology met the powerful reality of policemen swinging clubs to enforce Southern injustice. Other intellectual stimulants, including 1 6 MAY 20, 1983
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