In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., isolated himself from the demands of the civil rights movement, rented a house in Jamaica with no telephone, and labored over his final manuscript. In this prophetic work, which has been unavailable for more than ten years, he lays out his thoughts, plans, and dreams for America's future, including the need for better jobs, higher wages, decent housing, and quality education. With a universal message of hope that continues to resonate, King demanded an end to global suffering, asserting that humankind-for the first time-has the resources and technology to eradicate poverty.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the pivotal leaders of the American civil rights movement. King was a Baptist minister, one of the few leadership roles available to black men at the time. He became a civil rights activist early in his career. He led the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955–1956) and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1957), serving as its first president. His efforts led to the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Here he raised public consciousness of the civil rights movement and established himself as one of the greatest orators in U.S. history. In 1964, King became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end segregation and racial discrimination through civil disobedience and other non-violent means.
King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter in 1977. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was established as a national holiday in the United States in 1986. In 2004, King was posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.
The non-violent, colorblind, “I have a dream” Martin Luther King is such a fixture in the American imagination that it is difficult for many to conceive of a King who was, particularly in the last years of his life, far more nuanced and complex. There have been several books over the last few years trying to reclaim the King who marched with striking sanitation workers, was a strident critic of the American war in Vietnam, and advocated for a guaranteed income for all citizens. While these books provide a valuable service, it is the words of King himself that bring these ideals to life. Written a year before his death, “Chaos or Community?”, King is very much still in favor of non-violent protest, but he is far more pessimistic about how quickly true equality can happen. While critical of separatism and the Black Power movement of the time as self defeating and unrealistic in a society where people of all colors are economically interdependent, he is highly critical of Whites who pay lip service to equality but when it comes to Black families moving into their neighborhoods, working along side of them, or marrying their sons and daughters, their enlightened attitudes quickly evaporate. All too often Whites feel like being supportive of equality is enough and that any failure on the part of Blacks to be successful is their own fault. It is the old “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” school of thought that those who can’t must be inherently lazy or not intelligent enough to do so. King writes with thinly veiled outrage that the roots of discrimination and disenfranchisement are so deep that nothing short of a massive financial and social investment on the part of Whites can repair the structural damage that slavery, broken families, inadequate education, employment and housing discrimination have wrought in the Black community. This is King at his most radical (his argument that war is degrading to the human condition as well as advocating for the humanity of a universal income are well ahead of their time) and most forceful. He is not asking White people to dispense change at their leisure, he lays out what has gone wrong and what needs to be done immediately. Whenever I read King, I always wonder with more than a little melancholy what could have been had he lived a little longer. This book and its arguments for universal justice and human is perhaps the best example of that.
This is the last of Martin Luther King Jr.'s books and reflects the world-weariness that affected him deeply before his assassination. It is an uncharacteristically frank book, as King's frustration, transcendence and visionary thinking are so abundantly and powerfully evident. Yet, it's also hard not to be a tad saddened by it, too. Here, a modern martyr lays bare his soul and we find that he suffers greatly.
The subject matter of the book - including King's take on Black Power, white backlash, northern racism and the Vietnam War - is tough. This is the post-Voting Rights Act and -Civil Rights Act time when he had moved north to Chicago and run into a different type of intractable institutional racism (and classism). The fact that King addresses it unflinchingly, without his typical penchant for focusing almost exclusively on the positive, makes this a tougher but more meaningful read, too.
Yet, the power of his soul force - his unique, courageously lonely and transcendent morality - is inspiring. Of course, today, we look back and wonder why it took our society so long to see the folly, fallacy and foolishness of the Vietnam War, but King was among a very few in his time to have the courage to vocalize his dissent (as well as to pay the attendant costs for doing so). His critique is as prescient as it is powerful.
This being said, there are a few ideas here that have not worn well with time. For example, King suggests that "the ultimate way to diminish our problems of crime, family disorganization, illegitimacy and so forth will have to be found through a government program to helpf the frustrated Negro male find his true masculinity by placing him on his own two economic feet." One has to question the wisdom of advocating for an external solution that was not possible in his own time (nor, as it turns out, ever since). It is one of the sad ironies of King's life that he had such faith in the transformative power of government while being persecuted so mightily by his own.
So, for King fans this is a must read, the last missive from the Master. For those interested in the Civil Rights Movement, it will be interesting, but probably not as seminal as some of his earlier works like Why We Can't Wait. For those wanting to glimpse the humanity of an icon, this is the most honest and unsettling of his books. As you read it, it is very hard not to sense his sense of his impending demise, which makes it such an important book for us all to appreciate.
A new anthology of essays on the political philosophy of Martin Luther King, "To Shape a New World" (2018) (edited by Tommie Shelby and Brandon Terry), published to commemorate the 50th anniversary of King's assassination has encouraged me to read the books King published during his lifetime to try to understand him in his own words.
The fourth of King's five books, "Where Do We Go from Here Chaos or Community"? (1967)receives considerable attention in several essays in "To Shape a New World" as offering a full statement of King's late thought. King did much of the work on this book during a four-week stay in Jamaica where he was relatively free of other commitments or pressures. Following its publication in 1967, the book remained out of print until it was republished in 2010 as part of a reissue of King's writings in the "King Legacy" series.
The book explores King's vision for the future of the Civil Rights movement at a critical time. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson had signed the Voting Rights Act days before the beginning of riots in Watts and elsewhere. The Civil Rights movement was becoming torn by factions between King's nonviolent movement and more militant, strident movements epitomized by the slogan "Black Power". In turn, some of King's white supporters had become disillusioned by his criticism of the Vietnam War and by what they saw as the increased stridency of the movement, creating a "backlash".
In his book, King emphasizes the need for social and economic justice and for political power among the disadvantaged, both black and white. The expansive nature of King's goals becomes apparent as the book proceeds. Thus, in the opening chapter, "Where Are We", King describes the success of the movement from 1955-1965 in securing the enactment of the Civil Rights and Voting Acts. Without downplaying the importance of these accomplishments, King points out that they have been insufficient to bring justice to African Americans in terms of housing, jobs, political power, and human dignity.
In the lengthy second chapter, King examines the "Black Power" movement and various separatist movements. He strongly critiques these movements as defeatist and as impracticable while acknowledging the validity of their critique of the white power structure. King presents himself as fighting for hope and for justice and for the need for their realization in an integrated America.
In the third chapter, "Racism and the White Backlash" King examines the conflicted history of the United States from American revolutionary days with the commitment to democracy resting uneasily with slavery and then with racism. He finds the white backlash and the pulling away from the Civil Rights Movement illustrative of these tensions. King writes:
"A vigorous enforcement of civil rights will bring an end to segregated public facilities, but it cannot bring an end to fears, prejudice, pride and irrationality, which are the barriers to a truly integrated society. These dark and demonic responses will be removed only as men are possessed by the invisible inner law which etches on their hearts the conviction that all men are brothers and that love is mankind's most potent weapon for personal and social transformation."
In his discussion of "The Dilemma of Negro Americans", King continues to emphasize that the condition of African Americans remains inextricably tied to a social structure in which they are marginalized. He points to the need of continued social action by African Americans and by others disenfranchised by poverty. King also advocates for large scale social and economic governmental programs which, he argues, are being thwarted by the money spent for a bad cause in Vietnam and by other examples of militarism. He calls for a personal and government revaluation of values that depends "more on its moral power than on its military power" with African Americans "assuming the role of creative dissenters who will call our beloved nation to a higher destiny, to a new plateau of compassion, to a more noble expression of humaneness."
King maps out an economic and political program in a chapter titled, as is the book, "Where do we go from here?. In this chapter, among other things, King proposes to fight poverty, among whites and blacks, by eliminating it directly rather than working around it. He proposes a guaranteed annual income, set at something approaching a median level rather than at the poverty level. King draws heavily upon the work of the 19th Century economist Henry George. He also argues eloquently that work in the modern age should not be a matter of mere drudgery or subsistence but should serve human needs and spiritual growth.
In the book's final chapter, King carries his vision still further to apply to the poor and marginalized throughout the world and not simply in the United States.
Some readers familiar only with sanitized accounts and the "I have a dream" speech many be surprised by the militancy of King's vision. I found much that is eloquent and valuable in this book in its spirituality, quest for justice, and passion. There is also much that is both a product of and a creator of the United States of the late 1960s when the book was written. The utopianism and perfectionism in this book is disquieting. In reading this book and thinking about King's legacy fifty years after his death, it is not necessary for the reader to agree with him in full or to call the United States back in every respect to the course outlined in his book. King's book and his thoughts deserve to be read and pondered. Readers should think through what is valuable in his vision and move forward.
No idea where all my notes went, but Dr. King cites lots of economic evidence in favor of a Basic Universal (aka Citizen's) Income.
This book should be required reading for all Americans starting in elementary school.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was working for not only Negro civil rights, but for economic rights for all poor people when he was cut down prematurely. I'd heard vague comments about this as a teenager, but since all we ever heard about was his famous 'I have a Dream' speach, I shrugged it off. Not only has reading his book (his last, written in 1967) been an intense eye-opener, but on doing some searching, I find that it is not my imagination that the book was ignored by press and buried by libraries. My own uni. library cannot purchase it because it is out of print, and the public library has it in another city, on the stacks where the public can't see it.
Dr. King forsaw the link between poverty and terrorism before terrorism was recognized as such before riots were given international expression by the global economy: "Social Justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention." P. 22 "Occasionally in life one develops a conviction so and meaningful that he will stand on... This is what I have found in nonviolence." P. 64
He also cites Dr. Kirtley Mather, ... in "Enough and to Spare" (P. 177)
As one gentleman, who may have ben there at the time, points out, Dr. King is not just what you see on TV. His mantle falls to all of us to pick up...
p6: quotes Hyman Bookbinder economic opportunity statement 29 december 1966 -not that difficult to erradicate poverty in the US if we had the will.
Two years ago my oldest son and daughter entered an integrated school in Atlanta. A few months later my wife and I were invited to attend a program entitled “Music That Has Made America Great.” As the evening unfolded, we listened to the folk songs and melodies of the various immigrant groups. We were certain that the program would end with the most original of all American music, the Negro spiritual. But we were mistaken. Instead, all the students, including our children, ended the program by singing “Dixie.”
As we rose to leave the hall, my wife and I looked at each other with a combination of indignation and amazement. All the students, black and white, all the parents present that night, and all the faculty members had been victimized by just another expression of America’s penchant for ignoring the Negro, making him invisible and making his contributions insignificant. I wept within that night. I wept for my children and all black children who have been denied a knowledge of their heritage; I wept for all white children, who, through daily miseducation, are taught that the Negro is an irrelevant entity in American society; I wept for all the white parents and teachers who are forced to overlook the fact that the wealth of cultural and technological progress in America is a result of the commonwealth of inpouring contributions.
The tendency to ignore the Negro’s contribution to American life and strip him of his personhood is as old as the earliest history books and as contemporary as the morning’s newspaper. To offset this cultural homicide, the Negro must rise up with an affirmation of his own Olympian manhood. Any movement for the Negro’s freedom that overlooks this necessity is only waiting to be buried. As long as the mind is enslaved the body can never be free. Psychological freedom, a firm sense of self-esteem, is the most powerful weapon against the long night of physical slavery. No Lincolnian Emancipation Proclamation or Kennedyan or Johnsonian civil rights bill can totally bring this kind of freedom. The Negro will only be truly free when he reaches down to the inner depths of his own being and signs with the pen and ink of assertive selfhood his own emancipation proclamation. With a spirit straining toward true self-esteem, the Negro must boldly throw off the manacles of self-abnegation and say to himself and the world: “I am somebody. I am a person. I am a man with dignity and honor. I have a rich and noble history, however painful and exploited that history has been. I am black and comely.” This self-affirmation is the black man’s need made compelling by the white man’s crimes against him. This is positive and necessary power for black people.
Nevertheless, in spite of the positive aspects of Black Power, which are compatible with what we have sought to do in the civil rights movement all along without the slogan, its negative values, I believe, prevent it from having the substance and program to become the basic strategy for the civil rights movement in the days ahead.
Beneath all the satisfaction of a gratifying slogan, Black Power is a nihilistic philosophy born out of the conviction that the Negro can’t win. It is, at bottom, the view that American society is so hopelessly corrupt and enmeshed in evil that there is no possibility of salvation from within. Although this thinking is understandable as a response to a white power structure that never completely committed itself to true equality for the Negro, and a die-hard mentality that sought to shut all windows and doors against the winds of change, it nonetheless carries the seeds of its own doom.
Before this century, virtually all revolutions had been based on hope and hate. The hope was expressed in the rising expectation of freedom and justice. The hate was an expression of bitterness toward the perpetrators of the old order. It was the hate that made revolutions bloody and violent. What was new about Mahatma Gandhi’s movement in India was that he mounted a revolution on hope and love, hope and nonviolence. This same new emphasis characterized the civil rights movement in our country dating from the Montgomery bus boycott of 1956 to the Selma movement of 1965. We maintained the hope while transforming the hate of traditional revolutions into positive nonviolent power. As long as the hope was fulfilled there was little questioning of nonviolence. But when the hopes were blasted, when people came to see that in spite of progress their conditions were still insufferable, when they looked out and saw more poverty, more school segregation and more slums, despair began to set in.
Unfortunately, when hope diminishes, the hate is often turned most bitterly toward those who originally built up the hope. In all the speaking that I have done in the United States before varied audiences, including some hostile whites, the only time that I have been booed was one night in a Chicago mass meeting by some young members of the Black Power movement. I went home that night with an ugly feeling. Selfishly I thought of my sufferings and sacrifices over the last twelve years. Why would they boo one so close to them? But as I lay awake thinking, I finally came to myself, and I could not for the life of me have less than patience and understanding for those young people. For twelve years I, and others like me, had held out radiant promises of progress. I had preached to them about my dream. I had lectured to them about the not too distant day when they would have freedom, “all, here and now.” I had urged them to have faith in America and in white society. Their hopes had soared. They were now booing because they felt that we were unable to deliver on our promises. They were booing because we had urged them to have faith in people who had too often proved to be unfaithful. They were now hostile because they were watching the dream that they had so readily accepted turn into a frustrating nightmare.
But revolution, though born of despair, cannot long be sustained by despair. This is the ultimate contradiction of the Black Power movement. It claims to be the most revolutionary wing of the social revolution taking place in the United States. Yet it rejects the one thing that keeps the fire of revolutions burning: the ever-present flame of hope. When hope dies, a revolution degenerates into an undiscriminating catch-all for evanescent and futile gestures. The Negro cannot entrust his destiny to a philosophy nourished solely on despair, to a slogan that cannot be implemented into a program.
The Negro’s disappointment is real and a part of the daily menu of our lives. One of the most agonizing problems of human experience is how to deal with disappointment. In our individual lives we all too often distill our frustrations into an essence of bitterness, or drown ourselves in the deep waters of self-pity, or adopt a fatalistic philosophy that whatever happens must happen and all events are determined by necessity. These reactions poison the soul and scar the personality, always harming the person who harbors them more than anyone else. The only healthy answer lies in one’s honest recognition of disappointment even as he still clings to hope, one’s acceptance of finite disappointment even while clinging to infinite hope.
We Negroes, who have dreamed for so long of freedom, are still confined in a prison of segregation and discrimination. Must we respond with bitterness and cynicism? Certainly not, for this can lead to black anger so desperate that it ends in black suicide. Must we turn inward in self-pity? Of course not, for this can lead to a self-defeating black paranoia. Must we conclude that we cannot win? Certainly not, for this will lead to a black nihilism that seeks disruption for disruption’s sake. Must we, by fatalistically concluding that segregation is a foreordained pattern of the universe, resign ourselves to oppression? Of course not, for passively to cooperate with an unjust system makes the oppressed as evil as the oppressors. Our most fruitful course is to stand firm, move forward nonviolently, accept disappointments and cling to hope. Our determined refusal not to be stopped will eventually open the door to fulfillment. By recognizing the necessity of suffering in a righteous cause, we may achieve our humanity’s full stature. To guard ourselves from bitterness, we need the vision to see in this generation’s ordeals the opportunity to transfigure both ourselves and American society.
A thought provoking, challenging, timeless classic. Dr. King's last book, written in 1967, prophetically addressed issues then and today in 2017. His invitation to nonviolent principles, as well as repentance from societal and Christian complacency in the presence of racism, poverty, and militarism is powerful. The reality that decades have passed and we neither listened nor learned, is sobering. THIS IS A MUST READ for anyone concerned with ending injustice around the world AND at home.
I bought this book when I was a junior in high school to understand the Civil Rights movement and find out about Martin Luther King Jr. in his own words rather than in what the mainstream media was saying about him. People forget that King was hated by many people in white America, and his message was often distorted by the media. He was especially condemned by the white (and black) establishment after he gave a 1967 speech opposing the Vietnam War.
We celebrate his holiday and put his picture everywhere and deliver our hosannahs, but there’s still a striking amount of ignorance regarding the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. The ignorance is on the right, of course: acknowledging the full depth of King’s achievement means in some way agreeing with the progressive project (and the modern Trump wing will have nothing to do with freedom, equality, justice, etc… it’s all about gettin’ the libs!). But ignorance is on the left, too, because saluting King completely means also saluting the American project, something very few progressives seem willing to do in our post-post-post modern age.
Think about the last time there was a riot, how you probably looked on Facebook and saw that King quote, the one about the riot being “the speech of the oppressed.” The person posting it probably thought he was a scoring a win for anarchy in the streets. But you don’t have to read deeply into “Chaos or Community” to see exactly where King falls on that particular issue:
“There is something painfully sad about a riot. One sees screaming youngsters and angry adults fighting hopelessly and aimlessly against impossible odds. Deep down within them you perceive a desire for self-destruction, a suicidal longing. Occasionally Negroes contend that the 1965 Watts riot and the other riots in various cities represented effective civil rights action. But those who express this view always end up with stumbling words when asked what concrete gains have been won as a result. At best the riots have produced a little additional antipoverty money, allotted by frightened government officials, and a few water sprinklers to cool the children of the ghettos. It is something like improving the good in a prison while the people remain securely incarcerated behind bars.”
What King was interested in was achieving democracy. What he understood deeply was that getting there requires political power, and that acquiring political power means forming consensus with Americans. Forming consensus does not mean compromising! It does not mean selling out! King again and again falls down on the side of nonviolence, again and again insists (contrary to the white moderate) that “improvement” is no substitute for justice, again and again acknowledges the deep psychological scars of racism that have affected individuals both black and white. He was, in a word, principled. But his most basic principle, I think, is love, and love will not tolerate riots, or violence, or vigilantism, or separatism, or giving up on our country’s democratic heritage.
We underrate his vision. It’s still radical as hell: can you recall any other leader in the past fifty years who based their entire political stance around love? We (the good people of the left) seem to think that our betterment involves adopting a European model, a communistic model, a model espoused by some dead French academic. What King proposes is an American model, one that uses our most unique feature-- our racial, religious, and sociocultural diversity-- as its engine.
And how damn inspiring he is, compared to the contemporary internet leftist! Everyone knows “I Have a Dream,” because it’s great… What’s even better about “Chaos or Community” is how it ties the dream to a realistic assessment of the civil right movement, and offers thoughtful, still-intriguing solutions to the problems of war, poverty, poor education, and joblessness. He makes process sound beautiful; when we organize and do political change right, it is beautiful. When he disagrees with one of his cohorts in the freedom movement, he does so in the spirit of vigorous debate. Perhaps because he was a true Christian, he refuses to look at his political enemies as sinners worthy of excommunication, but rather as misguided souls who need to be brought into the fold of racial harmony. To see the way the consensus on the contemporary left is formed now-- I.e. via bullying on social media, and labeling certain ideas as taboo, and backbiting each other even while the entire federal government is run by conservative maniacs-- would surely alarm King.
In the last couple of pages of “Chaos or Community,” he discusses what hinges on the success of the democratic project. In a world of nuclear weapons, endless war, ever-increasing economic equality, the threat of automation (which King mentions several times), and climate change (King doesn’t mention this, but you have to believe he would fully get behind the climate justice movement), your eyes are supposed to be on the prize. For King, the prize was a society where black people had authentic political power-- where they were embedded in government, respected in their communities, valued for their humanity-- and where they, and their white cohorts, used power wisely. “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”
So yeah, this is a great book, and it makes me think that we might underrate King as a writer, too. I think we are inclined to see him first and foremost as a speaker, and there’s no question he was a killer rhetorician. His words come alive on the page though, too, through his intelligence, his well-chosen references, his graceful sentences, his instinct for narrative (his history of “White Backlash” seems definitive for 1967, though obviously a lot of lashing has happened since then). He uses the diction and cadences of the great American writers, the Whitmans and the Baldwins, the men and women who connected the personal and the political with such detail and passion.
America was fortunate to have him-- America NEEDED to have him-- and fifty years later after his senseless murder, we need now, perhaps more than ever, to heed his words and honor his vision.
When MLK was presented to me in grade school, it was as a man whose “dream” has been achieved. You see, kids, there was a time in the South when black Americans could not ride at the front of a bus, send their children to school with whites, or eat at lunch counters. (Not really sure why, that's just how things were in the 60s; they didn't have Internet back then either.) Well, one day there was a tired, grumpy old black lady who didn't want to move to the back of the bus, and a nice black preacher helped her, so now we can all sit wherever we want and go home feeling good about ourselves. O beautiful, for spacious skies...
There are numerous issues with the way that the civil rights era is usually represented in schools, but perhaps the biggest, saddest lie of all is the watering down of MLK’s vision. He was an idealist and a radical. Desegregation was but one aspect of his vision to eliminate the "giant triplets" of poverty, racism, and militarism from this earth. Where Do We Go From Here represents a side of MLK that urgently needs to be taught. King's last book makes painfully clear how much work he believed remained for American society in 1967, and it is hard to imagine he would approve of the state of the union in 2015, black president or no.
Although many have invoked the president as a sign that we as a society are integrated, King would point to the fact that the wealth gap between blacks and whites has nearly tripled in the past 25 years. And this is not surprising given how we have ignored his words that "White America must assume the guilt for the black man's inferior status." With the likes of Bill O'Reilly arguing on television that the distribution of wealth today is entirely the result of individual initiative, and denying that the fact that he grew up in government-subsidized, all-white Levittown has any relevance for today, it is clear why the economic picture for the poor of all colors in this country has only gotten bleaker. We have not even reached the first phase of any recovery program: Acceptance. King said, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." Forty-eight years after this statement, we can safely pronounce ourselves spiritually dead.
King did not simply call for racial and economic equality, for his people to blend in seamlessly with American society as it stands. He called for a total shift in values. It is clear that King saw at the root of poverty, racism, and militarism the evil of our rampant materialism. "We must rapidly begin the shift from a 'thing'-oriented society to a 'person'-oriented society." The last chapter, in typical MLK rhetorical style, contains an extended metaphor likening our interdependent globe to a big house. We are all saddled on this planet together, and "together we must learn to live as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools."
King's unrealistic dream that someday humanity may manage to find its ass with both hands and not all kill ourselves can make this a bit of a depressing read. His visions for the world's future are so beautiful and his suggested program so intelligent and none of it is ever going to happen. However, I do take some comfort in the fact that a mind and spirit like his graced this sad earth, for all too short a time.
This book is amazingly relevant today, over fifty years later. It is an inspirational discourse on America’s racism. The facts he used are not even the worst. His arguments seem irrefutable to me. His suggested action has been partially taken but so much is yet to be done! Current politicians should have to read this and act or explain why they will not.
A remarkable book, apparently King Jr's last, published in June '67 a little less than a year before his assassination.
The context is amazing - the confrontation with the white Jim Crow arena in the South had been dismantled. King's disciplined non-violent resistance had proved enough of a contrast to the baton crunching and police dogs to raise up a majority of white indignation and anger that pulled the structure down. In 1965 major civil rights legislation had passed the US Congress and signed by President Johnson.
But the Watts riot in LA in 1965, and the Black Panther movement with its violent overtones was challenging King. The Southern Christian Leadership conference (SCLC) itself was filled with tensions as younger participants were eager to move forward, not remain obedient to the veterans. And King himself said that the "easy" challenge was over compared to the more difficult economic racially-charged challenge in the Northern cities that was still in front of his crusade for black equality. King's stand against the Vietnam War was also eroding his fragile coalition (as it was fraying the nation as a whole).
At this point, in early 1967, he took a sabbatical for 4 weeks and finished this book - the title starkly framing the road ahead and the stakes involved.
King's agenda for the near future, as outlined in his writing, was, he knew, bound to bring discomfort especially to the somewhat passive white support he had received to date. Pg 20, he writes, "Civil rights leaders had long thought the North would benefit derivatively from the Southern struggle. They assumed that without the massive upheavals certain systemic changes were inevitable as the whole nation reexamined and searched its conscience. This was a miscalculation. ... We forgot what we knew daily in the South: freedom is not given, it is won."
King argues again his convictions that non-violent resistance was the only way forward in a rebuttal to the Black Panther perspective. He described a larger view that the Watt riots were a huge setback, even as young people said they had won because the powers had paid attention to them.
King warned in this writing that the Negro receiving the vote, and acquiring only what was obviously fair in terms of lunch counter access and schooling was only the beginning, economic justice was next. A massive federal marshall plan was needed: jobs - not just training;, educational opportunities yes, but quota's too; , and even a minimum national income - all were appropriate and necessary to raise up his people from the levels they found themselves.
Repeat, this is uncompromising writing eloquently argued. It is uncomfortable and probing into the white psychology and passive privilege. Being one who dog-ears pages with powerful sentences and phrases, this book had 1/3 of its pages turned over by the time I was done with it.
The last chapter was poetic - its vision grand and encompassing. King writes, "This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited a great house, a great "world house" in which we have to learn to live together - black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu - a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with one another in peace." (pg 177). He goes on to make observations on socialism and capitalism, Communism and democracy - not flinching at describing failings in each, and strengths of each, at least in ideals.
One is left wondering what would the 1970's had been like if people the caliber of King and Kennedy had been alive to push their ideas and beliefs forward. Transformative hopefully, but fraught with social upheaval.
We have created a narrative of MLK, Jr. as a peacemaker who wanted races to get along. This book speaks to his beliefs on nonviolence, but goes so much deeper on what he actually believed was happening to the country on a racial and economic level. There were times I felt like I was reading a book about current day 2017. So many things he wrote about in the 1960s are absolutely applicable today.
If you need a book to ground you in some spiritual, profound truths about our country, go back in time. You'll find solace in MLK's words, validation about specific beliefs and a call to action.
A few favorite quotes:
"Loose and easy language about equality, resonant resolutions about brotherhood fall pleasantly on the ear, but for the Negro there is a credibility gap he cannot overlook."
"The great majority of Americans are suspended between those opposing attitudes. They are uneasy with injustice but unwilling yet to pay a significant price to eradicate it."
"Every revolutionary movement has its peaks of united activity and its valleys of debate and internal confusion."
Pekná kniha - oplatí sa čítať, najmä ak Kinga človek vníma len "učebnicovo". A aj vyše 50 rokov po napísaní tento text má čo povedať - čo je zároveň nesmierne smutné.
V knihe sa King vysporiadava s ne/úspechom hnutia za občianske práva po prijatí niekoľkých zákonov. Vysvetľuje tu konzervatívny backlash a zdôrazňuje tiež, že úspešný boj proti rasizmu nemôže byť oddelený od boja za ekonomickú a sociálnu spravodlivosť.
Z textu jasne čnie, nakoľko je autorom kazateľ, text plynie priam deklamačne, cítiť z neho, že by znel dobre (lepšie?), keby bol prednášaný. Sila argumentu je miestami rétorická a človek si pri čítaní ľahšie všimne jeho občasnú vágnosť. Ale toto nemal byť policy paper, ani filozofická dišputa. Svoj cieľ kniha plní.
Každopádne mi pri čítaní viac ráz napadlo, nakoľko je mnohé z toho, čo King hlása ešte aj dnes "radikálne" - viac ráz som sa pristihol pri myšlienke, ako by náš mediálny "stredný prúd" vyodnotil Kingove argumenty, keby s nimi bol konfrontovaný bez znalosti ich pôvodu (toto je kniha, v ktorej odznelo jeho teraz často citované "A riot is the language of the unheard"). Slová ako "nebezpečný extrémizmus" a "radikalizmus" by sa im možno tlačil na jazyk. Ale možno len mám o našom strednom prúde predsudky.
An unquestionably important book. MLK's writing is incredibly coherent and well-structured. His ideas are definite, well-supported, and effective. It is distressing to read about problems that concerned him in the '60s that are still the same today, but this highlights the timelessness of MLK's thoughts. We could use more leaders today who have MLK's unique gifts: the triple threat of brilliant insight, clarity of expression, and authenticity (proven through a demonstrated commitment to act on his beliefs).
This book has been a balm to my spirit. With very, very few exceptions, this book, written in 1967, is as relevant today as it was then.
"First, the line of progress is never straight. For a period a movement may follow a straight line and then it encounters obstacles and the path bends. It is like curving around a mountain when you are approaching a city. Often it feels as though you were moving backward, and you lose sight of your goal; but in fact you are moving ahead, and soon you will see the city again. We are encountering just such an experience today. The inevitable counterrevolution that succeeds every period of progress is taking place. Failing to understand this as a normal process of development, some Negroes are falling into unjustified pessimism and despair. Focusing on the ultimate goal, and discovering it still distant, they declare no progress has been made."
"The hard truth is that neither the Negro nor white has yet done enough to expect the dawn of a new day. While much has been done, it has been accomplished by too few and on a scale too limited for the breadth of the goal. Freedom is not won by passive acceptance of suffering. Freedom is won by a struggle against suffering."
"Like life, racial understanding is not something that we find but something that we must create. What we find when we enter these mortal plains is existence; but existence is the raw material out of which all life must be created. A productive and happy life is not something that you find; it is something that you make. And so the ability of Negros and whites to work together, to understand each other, will not be found ready-made; it must be created by the fact of contact."
"One of the most agonizing problems of human experience is how to deal with disappointment. In our individual lives we all too often distill our frustrations into an essence of bitterness, or drown ourselves in the deep waters of self-pity, or adopt a fatalistic philosophy that whatever happens must happen and all events are determined by necessity. These reactions poison the soul and scar the personality, always harming the person who harbors them more than anyone else. The only healthy answer lies in one's honest recognition of disappointment even as he still clings to hope, one's acceptance of finite disappointment even while clinging to infinite hope."
"Ever since the birth of our nation, white America has had a schizophrenic personality on the question of race. She has been torn between selves--a self in which she proudly professed the great principles of democracy and a self in which she sadly practiced the antithesis of democracy. This tragic duality has produced a strange indecisiveness and ambivalence toward the Negro, causing America to take a step backward simultaneously with every step forward on the question of racial justice..."
"As Negroes move forward toward a fundamental alteration of their lives, some bitter while opposition is bound to grow, even within groups that were hospitable to earlier superficial amelioration. Conflicts are unavoidable because a stage has been reach in which a reality of equality will require extensive adjustments in the way of life of some of the white majority. Many of our former supporters will fall by the wayside as the movement presses forward against financial privilege. Others will withdraw as long-established cultural privileges are threatened. During this period we will have to depend on that creative minority of true believers."
"...if the present chasm of hostility, fear and distrust is to be bridged, the white man must begin to walk in the pathways of his black brothers and feel some of the pain and hurt that throb without letup in their daily lives."
"We will be greatly misled if we feel that the problem will work itself out. Structures of evil do not crumble by passive waiting. If history teaches anything, it is that evil is recalcitrant and determined, and never voluntarily relinquishes its hold short of an almost fanatical resistance. Evil must be attacked by a counteracting persistence, by the day-to-day battering rams of justice. We must get rid of the false notion that there is some miraculous quality in the flow of time that inevitably heals all evils. There is only one thing certain about time, and that is that it waits for no one. If it is not used constructively, it passes you by. In this generation, children of darkness are still shrewder than the children of light. They are always zealous and conscientious in using time for their evil purposes. If they want to preserve segregation and tyranny, they will not wait on time; they will make time their fellow conspirator. If they want to defeat a fair housing bill, they don't say to the public, 'be patient, wait on time, and our cause will win'. Rather, they use time to spend big money, to disseminate half-truths, to confuse the popular mind. But the forces of light cautiously wait, patiently pray and timidly act. So we end up with double destruction: the destructive violence of the bad people and the destructive silence of the good people."
"Our nettlesome task is to discover how to organize our strength into compelling power so that government cannot elude our demands...it would be the height of naivete to wait passively until the administration had somehow been infused with such blessings of goodwill that it implored us for our programs. The first course is grounded in mature wisdom; the other is a childish fantasy."
"Many civil rights organizations were born as specialists in agitation and dramatic projects; they attracted massive sympathy and support, but they did not assemble and unify the support for new stages of the struggle. The effects on their allies reflected their basic practices. Support waxed and waned, and people became conditioned to action in crises but inaction from day to day. We unconsciously patterned a crisis policy and program, and summoned support not for daily commitment but for explosive events alone. Recognizing no army can mobilize and demobilize and remain a fighting unit, we will have to build far-flung, workmanlike and experienced organizations in the future if the legislation we create and the agreements we forge are to be ably and zealously superintended...We shall have to have people tied together in a long-term relationship instead of evanescent enthusiasts who lose their experience, spirit and unity because they have no mechanism that directs them to new tasks."
This book -- and by extension, its author -- SO FAR AHEAD OF ITS TIME.
I was inspired to read it after visiting the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, GA. There, I learned that Dr. King was so much more than the flat, watered-down version presented in my high school history books. He was a real man with profound thoughts, agonizing feelings, and boundless hope. He was almost certainly a genius as well as a humanitarian, gifted speaker and eloquent writer. I learned so much from this book.
Dr. King almost effortlessly makes an airtight case for civil rights, knocking down excuse after persistent excuse about why we should not be involved and just let things "happen." He says (I'm paraphrasing) that no one's rights are GIVEN to them, they must DEMAND their rights. And if history tells us anything, that is 100% true -- not just for black people, but for women, LGBT people, disabled people and so on.
Something else I loved was his uncompromising position on nonviolent resistance. I grow increasingly concerned every time I hear people say that rioting is an acceptable form of protest, when it results in injury, death, and the destruction of people's livelihood. I long ago committed myself to nonviolence, but I have felt increasing pressure from my fellow activists to accept rioting as a legitimate form of protest. Reading Dr. King's work was a great assurance that there are nonviolent ways to achieve racial reconciliation. I lost track of how many times I highlighted in this book.
The only thing I have an issue with is how he proposes to deal with education. I taught in a mostly-black school so I absolutely understand his underlying point that black kids too often do not receive a quality education. However, he puts the blame on teachers, saying that they don't know how to teach and that a child's home environment shouldn't matter. I beg to differ that this is the case. I could cite studies to prove my point, but I would rather quote my actual students complaining of hunger, lack of sleep, feeling like they are not safe at home, etc. as reasons why they have trouble in school. If we are going to solve the problem of unequal education, we must also solve the problem of poverty. There is simply no other way around it. Children can't concentrate when they are hungry, homeless, or getting beat up at home. We have got to make the "war on poverty" a priority if we want to see lasting changes.
At any rate, I highly recommend this book, especially to my white friends!
There is something about reading MLK's work that humanizes him: when he references an author, I am reminded that he was a human who sat and read books, questioning and connecting and underlining. I am reminded that he had to sit at a desk or table or with a notebook teetering on his lap to pen these words.
It's taken me too long to read his work. It's taken the majority of Americans too long, too, apparently, based on how relevant his 55-year-old words still are today.
My major impression from reading this is sadness about Dr. King being taken from us too soon. We could have benefited greatly from more of this level of clarity of thought, moving eloquence, and passion for freedom and justice.
In all the controversy nowadays about Black history and such, could we just assign this book to read in high schools? Is MLK as the-nonviolent-one-who-has-a-federal-holiday-and-a Nobel-Peace-Prize mainstream and distinguished enough to avoid censorship?
It's valuable for the history. But also for current topics. So many issues in the news now (e.g. story about Black hair in national news literally today) are in this book despite its being more than 50 years old.
Quotes: -"And so the ability of Negroes and whites to work together, to understand each other, will not be found ready-made; it must be created by the fact of contact." -"What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love." -"Fewer people have been killed in ten years of nonviolent demonstrations across the South than were killed in one night of rioting in Watts. ... Beyond the pragmatic invalidity of violence is its inability to appeal to conscience. ... Nonviolence is power, but it is the right and good use of power. Constructively, it can save the white man as well as the Negro." -"Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. ... Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." -"... American slavery is distinguished from all other forms of slavery because it consciously dehumanized the Negro. In Greece and Rome, for example, slaves preserved dignity and a measure of family life." -"Structures of evil do not crumble by passive waiting. If history teaches anything, it is that evil is recalcitrant and determined, and never voluntarily relinquishes its hold short of an almost fanatical resistance. Evil must be attacked by a counteracting persistence, by the day-to-day assault of the battering rams of justice."
A monumentally important book that is sadly just as relevant today.
While the basis for Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? is non-violence, King is much more radical than much of America today chooses to remember him as.
King is a proponent for many ideals that would be considered extreme and socialistic, even by today's standards. From basic universal income, wealth distribution, education reform, & government subsidies for the difficult to employ, King calls for a complete change in American values & spending.
"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
And here we are.
“In the days ahead we must not consider it unpatriotic to raise certain basic questions about our national character.”
“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”
Essential. So much truth and brilliance. MLK’s arguments for nonviolent protest and sustained social justice efforts are the highest form of both philosophy and call to action. A small but significant part of the book: King’s proposals for allocating government resources for housing, basic income, etc. are more socialist than my own; I found them compelling. Where Do We Go From Here is as urgent and powerful as one would expect, an in-depth look into the thoughts of one of the world’s greatest leaders.
Goes over the little known fact that MLK advocated for universal basic income. This is really something that more people should read to truly understand the idea of non-violence and learn how economics fits into MLK's political theory.
"We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. This may well be mankind's last chance to choose between chaos and community."
Martin Luther King's last sentence from his last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community sums up his powerful and convincing argument for nonviolent coexistence for humanity. I have to admit that King has become more of symbol for me as a black man than actually reading and digesting what he has actually written. I've heard his "I Have a Dream Speech" many times throughout my life. For a good portion of my childhood, American black history only goes from slavery to civil rights. We have offered Martin Luther King to the American population as the Moses figure that freed all of black folks. Unfortunately, our society has presented symbolism (however well intentioned) as a three-course meal instead of the appetizer that it should always have been.
King wrote his fourth and final book during the last 18 months of life. I learned he was living in Chicago (I never knew that he lived there and it's a great city.) and wrestled with the issues of that time, like the Black Panthers, Nation of Islam (covered in Malcolm X's autobiography), and white liberalism. Where Do We Go From Here took on those concerns head-on and King did not mince words in defense of his nonviolent philosophy to bringing a lasting change in American society.
Here's an example of his thoughts in the chapter about racism and the white backlash:
"Racism is a philosophy based om a contempt for life. It is the arrogant assertion that one race is the center of value and object of devotion, before which other races must kneel in submission. It is the absurd dogma that one race is responsible for all the progress of history and alone can assure the progress of the future. Racism is total estrangement. It separates not only bodies, but minds and spirits. Inevitably it descends to inflicting spiritual or physical homicide upon the out-group."
King pulls no punches in that paragraph and gives the best definition of racism I have heard or read in my entire life. I will always refer to this paragraph when someone asks me what is racism. Also, he addresses the black power movement of the late 1960s and the dilemma of African Americans living in a world where whiteness is the standard in American society. King (like Malcolm X) believes in an international perspective for the true liberation of black people along with other people of color. I have always believed in that perspective and seeing in it both Malcolm X's autobiography and King's last book confirms that I have always been on the right track about having an outlook that includes all people of color throughout the world. My upcoming novel, Ciscoe's Dance, has a comment from Diondray Azur to the main character, Ciscoe Maldonado, that reflects the same outlook:
We are all connected. If there’s anything I have learned from traveling in both regions of this land, Ciscoe. We are all connected. And sooner we can realize it; the better off we will be as people.
Diondray wrote the comment in a letter to Ciscoe as he travels the entire land of Kammbia. Human beings have much more in common than what we perceived as differences. King shows the blueprint of that reality in his last book and urges leaning into that commonality instead of the division promoted by the extremes of our society.
I'm delighted that I have actually read King's words and have a newfound respect for his philosophy. He understood the time he lived in and saw that it applies to our current situation. Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community should be required reading for high school and college students for American History classes. Also, I would recommend this book for readers who are politically active and have considered King as milquetoast in his response to American white supremacy.
In many ways this book is an evolution and 360 transformation from MLK Jr earlier work and philosophies. He tackles ideas and persons he was once so dismissive of including Black power slogan, riots and Black nationalism. He acknowledges how the civil rights movement one dimensionally addressed the issues of the South, but ignored the struggles of the Northern urban cities. He discusses the split between him and Stokely Carmichael. He highlights the inaction of the Black middle class, ( his main base of followers) A man who once defined his intellect by quoting Western philosophers and European leaders now celebrates prominent African American leaders. The books discusses everything from poor housing, to education inequality to unnecessary war to capitalism. Finally the book gives strategies on how to actually achieve Freedom, still focus on the non violent movement , but emphasizes the need for unity, mass involvement and ORGANIZING.
Written in 1967, "Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community" charts what should have been the next phase in Dr. King's work, clearly directing us to the need for a concentrated effort on poverty and economic social justice. Reading these words in 2012 leaves one cold - for all the progress the civil rights era brought to America, on these economic issues we may as well be standing still.
"Where do we go from Here: Chaos or Community" is a must read to get a full picture of Dr. King's understanding of history, his present day, and what could have been...