Monday, January 19, 2015

Rev. Dr. MLK Jr. Day: His 1965 Interview with Alex Haley

Selma-Montgomery March: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King leading march
from Selma to Montgomery to protest lack of voting rights for
African Americans. Beside King is (l-r), Ralph Abernathy, James Forman,
Reverend Jesse Douglas and John Lewis, March 1965.
(Photo Credit: Steve Schapiro/Corbis)
Today on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I thought I'd post a link to one of the best interviews Rev. Dr. King (1929-1968) ever gave, with journalist and author Alex Haley, of Roots fame. The interview took exactly 50 years ago today, in January 1965, the year of the Selma-to-Montgomery March--and of the story underpinning Ava Duvernay's highly acclaimed new film Selma--and appeared in Playboy magazine, preceding the famous Alabama march and the assassination of Malcolm X, but following many other landmark moments in Rev. Dr. King's and the Civil Rights Movement's long march towards social, political and economic equality and freedom.

It's worth reading the entire interview (linked from, which gives a far fuller portrait of Rev. Dr. King's mindset in the mid-1960s. In it he talks about mistakes he felt he made, his disappointment of the lack of support and righteousness from white Christian ministers and churches in the cause of Black equality, the moving resistance of young people, the concept of "militant nonviolence," strategizing for the future for Civil Rights, a critique of the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X, the challenges of nonviolence and the dangers of violence as a solution, racist science and white supremacy, the relationship between African Americans and Black people around the globe, and so much more. Here is one quote:
King: I mean to say that a strong man must be militant as well as moderate. He must be a realist as well as an idealist. If I am to merit the trust invested in me by some of my race, I must be both of these things. This is why nonviolence is a powerful as well as a just weapon. If you confront a man who has long been cruelly misusing you, and say, “Punish me, if you will; I do not deserve it, but I will accept it, so that the world will know I am right and you are wrong,” then you wield a powerful and a just weapon. This man, your oppressor, is automatically morally defeated, and if he has any conscience, he is ashamed. Wherever this weapon is used in a manner that stirs a community’s, or a nation’s, anguished conscience, then the pressure of public opinion becomes an ally in your just cause.

and here is another, concerning the Civil Rights Act, which Rev. Dr. King didn't think went far enough:

King: One of these decisive developments was our last major campaign before the enactment of the Civil Rights Act—in St. Augustine, Florida. We received a plea for help from Dr. Robert Hayling, the leader of the St. Augustine movement. St. Augustine, America’s oldest city, and one of the most segregated cities in America, was a stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan and the John Birch Society. Such things had happened as Klansmen abducting four Negroes and beating them unconscious with clubs, brass knuckles, ax handles and pistol butts. Dr. Hayling’s home had been shot up with buckshot, three Negro homes had been bombed and several Negro night clubs shotgunned. A Negro’s car had been destroyed by fire because his child was one of the six Negro children permitted to attend white schools. And the homes of two of the Negro children in the white schools had been burned down. Many Negroes had been fired from jobs that some had worked on for 28 years because they were somehow connected with the demonstrations. Police had beaten and arrested Negroes for picketing, marching and singing freedom songs. Many Negroes had served up to 90 days in jail for demonstrating against segregation, and four teenagers had spent six months in jail for picketing. Then, on February seventh of last year, Dr. Hayling’s home was shotgunned a second time, with his pregnant wife and two children barely escaping death; the family dog was killed while standing behind the living-room door. So S.C.L.C. decided to join in last year’s celebration of St. Augustine’s gala 400th birthday as America’s oldest city—by converting it into a nonviolent battleground. This is just what we did.

and a third, concerning the relationship between Black Americans and Black Diasporic peoples:
King: Yes, I do, in many ways. There is a distinct, significant and inevitable correlation. The Negro across America, looking at his television set, sees black statesmen voting in the United Nations on vital world issues, knowing that in many of America’s cities, he himself is not yet permitted to place his ballot. The Negro hears of black kings and potentates ruling in palaces, while he remains ghettoized in urban slums. It is only natural that Negroes would react to this extreme irony. Consciously or unconsciously, the American Negro has been caught up by the black Zeitgeist. He feels a deepening sense of identification with his black African brothers, and with his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean. With them he is moving with a sense of increasing urgency toward the promised land of racial justice.
Do read the entire interview; so much of what he says still pertains today, a sign of his extraordinary vision and of the challenges we still face.

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