Moïse monta des plaines de Moab sur le mont Nebo, au sommet du Pisga, vis-à-vis de Jéricho. Et l’Éternel lui fit voir tout le pays (…) L’Éternel lui dit: C’est là le pays que j’ai juré de donner à Abraham, à Isaac et à Jacob, en disant: Je le donnerai à ta postérité. Je te l’ai fait voir de tes yeux; mais tu n’y entreras point. Moïse, serviteur de l’Éternel, mourut là, dans le pays de Moab, selon l’ordre de l’Éternel. (…) Les enfants d’Israël pleurèrent Moïse pendant trente jours, dans les plaines de Moab (…) Il n’a plus paru en Israël de prophète semblable à Moïse, que l’Éternel connaissait face à face. Nul ne peut lui être comparé pour tous les signes et les miracles que Dieu l’envoya faire au pays d’Égypte contre Pharaon, contre ses serviteurs et contre tout son pays, et pour tous les prodiges de terreur que Moïse accomplit à main forte sous les yeux de tout Israël. Deutéronome 34 : 1-12
Comme tout le monde, j’aimerais vivre une longue vie. La longévité est importante mais je ne suis pas concerné par ça maintenant. Je veux juste accomplir la volonté de Dieu. Et il m’a autorisé à grimper sur la montagne! Et j’ai regardé autour de moi, et j’ai vu la terre promise. Martin Luther King (extrait de son sermon à la veille de son assassinat)
Que la droiture soit comme un courant d’eau, et la justice comme un torrent qui jamais ne tarit. Amos 5: 24
Que toute vallée soit exhaussée, Que toute montagne et toute colline soient abaissées! Que les coteaux se changent en plaines, Et les défilés étroits en vallons! Alors la gloire de l’Éternel sera révélée, Et au même instant toute chair la verra. Esaïe 40: 4-5
Et nous sommes déterminés ici à Montgomery, de travailler et de nous battre jusqu’à ce que la justice jaillisse comme l’eau et le droit comme un torrent intarissable. Martin Luther King (Montgomery, 1955)
Nous ne sommes pas satisfaits et ne le serons jamais, tant que le droit ne jaillira pas comme l’eau, et la justice comme un torrent intarissable. (…) Je rêve qu’un jour toute vallée sera relevée, toute colline et toute montagne seront rabaissées, les endroits escarpés seront aplanis et les chemins tortueux redressés, la gloire du Seigneur sera révélée à tout être fait de chair. Telle est notre espérance. C’est la foi avec laquelle je retourne dans le Sud. Avec cette foi, nous serons capables de distinguer dans la montagne du désespoir une pierre d’espérance. Martin Luther King (Washington, 1963)
Vous proclamerez la liberté dans le pays pour tous ses habitants. Lévitique 25: 10
Mon pays, c’est toi, douce terre de liberté, c’est toi que je chante. Terre où sont morts mes pères, terre dont les pèlerins étaient fiers, que du flanc de chacune de tes montagnes, sonne la cloche de la liberté ! Mon pays, c’est toi que je chante (ancien hymne national américain)
Enfin libres, enfin libres, grâce en soit rendue au Dieu tout puissant, nous sommes enfin libres ! Negro spiritual
Hold the same fight that made Martin Luther the King, I ain’t usin’ it for the right thing, In between Lean and the fiens, hustle and the schemes, I put together pieces of a Dream I still have one …The world waitin’ for me to yell « I Have a Dream … Common
Now, the main thing, Martin Luther King wanted not to be a deity. He wanted to be just an ordinary man. He did not want to be a saint or viewed as a saint. He was just a human being, capable of becoming and producing and leading his people out of the wilderness of segregation into the promise land, saying to me, privately, long before he said it from the Memphis pulpit, « Ralph, I may not get there, but I have been to the mountain top. » « Take my people on across this Jordan to the land of Canaan », « And I want freedom for all Americans. » And he freed many white people and poor people who were black, American Indians, the native people of this country and he was just a marvelous and fantastic leader and I am surprised that they would center on four pages and I didn’t ever say that he had sex with anybody. I said that when I was awakened, he was coming out of the room with this lady and maybe, I don’t know what they did, he never told me he had sex with that lady. He may have been in there discussing and debating and trying to get her to go along with the movement, I don’t know, the sanitation workers track. I did not say that later that when we arrived at the motel, the Lorraine Motel, that he engaged in sex. I merely said that this Kentucky Legislator was there and when I discovered that he was in good hands, I took off and went to bed because it was about 1:30 to 2 in the morning. I did not try to dodge the issue. Ralph Abernathy (39:50-42:43)
Il y a, cependant, des considérations pratiques occasionnelles qui justifient les tergiversations, voire la répression. Au cours de la l’hystérie médiatique Monica Lewinsky, Bill Clinton a été neutralisé, incapable de mener à bien les tâches qui étaient les siennes avec le cafouillage sur les taches des robes bleues et la configuration exacte du pénis présidentiel. Il aurait pu être désastreusement distrayant si, pendant la crise des missiles cubains, on avait appris que les frères Kennedy se faisaient Marilyn Monroe à tour de rôle. Les grandes affaires du monde sont plus importantes que ces anecdotes. La vision de MLK n’a pas encore été entièrement accomplie: jusqu’à qu’elle le soit, son héritage doit être protégé, comme l’a été la réputation publique des Kennedy en leur temps. Tant pis si cela requiert une dose d’aseptisation, la lutte continue pour les droits civiques n’est pas chose futile. Néanmoins, je préférerais de beaucoup voir le film de Greengrass que celui de Spielberg, pas vous? John Sutherland (The Guardian)
Du rififi à Montgomery Les studios Universal ont décidé de lâcher Memphis, un projet de film sur Martin Luther King porté par le réalisateur Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday, United 93, Green Zone, la série des Jason Bourne…), qu’ils prévoyaient de sortir à l’occasion du prochain Martin Luther King Day, en janvier 2012. La raison officielle est qu’ils craignent que le film ne puisse pas être prêt à temps, mais il existe une raison officieuse, selon le site Deadline, qui a révélé l’information: «Les héritiers King se montraient très critiques envers le projet et ont exercé des pressions sur le studio pour qu’il l’abandonne. […] La famille aurait fait savoir qu’elle pourrait manifester publiquement son déplaisir concernant le scénario de Greengrass.» (…) «Il devait se concentrer sur les derniers moments controversés de Martin Luther King en mars-avril 68, de son combat pour les droits des éboueurs de Memphis à ses relations enflammées avec le président Johnson en raison de leur désaccord sur le Vietnam, en passant par sa vision du Black Power et de la classe ouvrière. Le film devait aussi s’attarder sur sa vie personnelle, alors qu’à l’époque sa tabagie s’intensifiait, son mariage s’effondrait et qu’il consommait des quantités déraisonnables de nourriture et d’alcool.»Un ami et confident de King, Andrew Young, ancien maire d’Atlanta, s’en est lui pris au projet dans les colonnes du quotidien britannique The Independent on Sunday: «Ce scénario était fondé sur des informations fausses. Des gens ont témoigné devant le Congrès du fait que le FBI avait fabriqué certaines informations, comme celle selon laquelle Martin et Coretta songeaient au divorce. […] C’est une histoire trop grandiose pour s’attarder sur des balivernes. […] Je veux que quelqu’un fasse pour Martin Luther King ce que Sir Richard Attenborough a fait pour Gandhi.» Deadline estime que cette attitude pourrait également s’expliquer par l’existence d’un autre projet porté par le scénariste Ronald Harwood (Le Pianiste de Polanski) et les studios Dreamworks de Steven Spielberg, qui ont payé les droits pour pouvoir utiliser les discours du leader des droits civiques. Un troisième projet sur Martin Luther King, Selma, du réalisateur Lee Daniels, a lui échoué à se lancer. Revenant sur cette affaire et sur celle de la mini-série sur les Kennedy tournée puis refusée par une chaîne américaine, le chroniqueur John Sutherland livre un point de vue ambigu dans The Guardian, en estimant qu’un certain degré de réécriture de l’Histoire peut encore se justifier: « La vision de MLK n’a pas encore été entièrement accomplie: jusqu’à qu’elle le soit, son héritage doit être protégé, comme l’a été la réputation publique des Kennedy en leur temps. Tant pis si cela requiert une dose d’aseptisation, la lutte continue pour les droits civiques n’est pas chose futile. Néanmoins, je préférerais de beaucoup voir le film de Greengrass que celui de Spielberg, pas vous? » Slate
Sad news. My MLK project involvement has ended. I did an extensive rewrite of the script, but the producers won’t go with it.
The script dealt w/ issues of adultery, conflicts within the movement, and King’s spiritual transformation into a higher, more radical being
I’m told the estate & the ‘respectable’ black community that guard King’s reputation won’t approve it. They suffocate the man & the truth.
I wish you could see the film I would’ve made. I fear if ‘they’ ever make it, it’ll be just another commemoration of the March on Washington
Oliver Stone has run smack into the same wall on a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr biopic that director Paul Greengrass hit when Universal kicked his MLK project Memphis to the curb two years back. Stone took to his Twitter account today to say that DreamWorks and Warner Bros rejected his script rewrite and that he was done with the movie that also had Jamie Foxx attached. It came down to the studios — which are in lockstep with the MLK estate that brought them the right to use his famous copyrighted speeches — rejecting Stone’s characterization of long-running rumors that King Jr. engaged in extramarital affairs. “I’m told the estate & the ‘respectable’ black community that guard King’s reputation won’t approve it. They suffocate the man & the truth,” Stone tweeted. He also added a message directly to MLK: ‘I wish you could see the film I would’ve made. I fear if ‘they’ ever make it, it’ll be just another commemoration of the March on Washington.” This is almost a carbon copy of what happened two years ago with Memphis, the superb script that Captain Phillips helmer Greengrass wrote and set at Universal with producer Scott Rudin. The project stopped in its tracks after a version of the script found its way to the King family, and Ambassador Andrew Young, who was one of Dr. King’s closest confidants during the turbulent Civil Rights movement of the ’60s. While Universal was never really clear on why it halted the movie, blaming scheduling, it is clear that a film disowned by MLK’s family might hurt its audience appeal. (…) I read the script for Memphis – which juxtaposed MLK’s final days, haunted by Hoover’s FBI, whose agents were then thrust into a ticking-clock thriller to find his killer — and found it to be exceptionally good, and the depiction of Dr. King with a woman who wasn’t his wife was presented in matter-of-fact fashion and wasn’t a focus of the story at all. It was just there. (…) I suggested that when films canonize subjects, audiences can sense it, and that is why good biopics mix reverence with warts-and-all treatment. (…) Stone had no choice to move off the project, which has to be blessed by Dr. King’s heirs. Greengrass has no such shackles. When I interviewed Greengrass recently, he promised that he will make the film. He just wants to do something else beforehand as he takes his time to find the right actor to play the Civil Rights leader. Here are the comments he made, right after the death of Nelson Mandela, whose recently released biopic Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom showed the former South African leader in a less than flattering light that included extramarital affairs. By the way, it didn’t undermine Mandela’s evolution and heroism. (…) Greengrass told me recently. “I don’t think it will be next. I didn’t want Memphis to come out when it was all about the King of ‘I have a dream.’ There’s an arc to that very great life, somewhat the reverse of Mandela’s life. 1963 was a moment of transcendent oratorical achievement that in the following year ushered in busing rights and other civil rights acts. I was more interested in the King of ’68, very late in his life, when I think he was having a crisis of faith. That felt real to me. My family, on my father’s side, is strict Baptist. I understand the valleys and the mountains of growing up with that, in a British context. The way I see it is, any time between now and four or five years’ time it will be time to make that movie. I also need to meet the actor who’ll play him.” (…) Even though there are pitfalls, fact-based films are often the most satisfying and enduring films Hollywood makes. But DreamWorks and Warner Bros are in a bind here. Stone is right, the forgettable biopics are the ones that are too reverent to their subject. “Martin, I grieve for you,” Stone wrote. “You are still a great inspiration for your fellow Americans–but thank God, not a saint.” Mike Fleming jr.
Nous ne rendons pas service à Martin Luther King et au pays qu’il a contribué à changer quand nous enjolivons l’image du tumulte social et politique déclenché par le mouvement pour les droits civiques, mouvement extrêmement controversé qui s’est heurté à une opposition acharnée. Tout comme King lui-même. On ne se souvient qu’imparfaitement de Martin Luther King, réduit à quelques fragments de rhétorique dans les gentils sermons du dimanche et à une silhouette de teinte sépia dans les parades scolaires. Si vous vous imaginez que King était un homme paisible et modéré sur le plan politique, passionné mais jamais provocateur, vous ne savez rien de lui. Vous avez fait d’une personnalité complexe une caricature. Il était bien plus que sa célèbre formule « Je fais un rêve ». Les archives historiques montrent que King était rejeté comme un communiste – un traître – par une grande partie des citoyens américains, et non des moindres, tel le directeur du FBI de l’époque, J. Edgar Hoover. Alors que King incitait ses partisans à n’opposer aux chiens policiers et aux lances à incendie que des têtes baissées, on l’accusait de fomenter des violences.(…) Si King louait généreusement les responsables religieux blancs, juifs et catholiques compris, qui soutenaient le mouvement pour les droits civiques, il critiquait aussi férocement les hommes d’Eglise blancs qui ne le faisaient pas. Dans un entretien accordé en 1965 au magazine Playboy, il expliquait : « L’Eglise blanche m’a considérablement déçu. Alors que l’homme noir lutte contre une terrible injustice, la plupart des religieux blancs n’ont à offrir que de pieuses absurdités et de sentencieuses bêtises. Les paroissiens blancs, qui tiennent tant à se dire chrétiens, pratiquent la ségrégation dans la maison de Dieu avec la même rigidité que dans les salles de cinéma. Les croyants blancs sont bien trop nombreux à se montrer timides et inefficaces, et certains sont hystériques dans leur défense du racisme et des préjugés. » Une des déclarations publiques les plus controversées de Martin Luther King a été sa dénonciation de la guerre du Vietnam, en 1967, lors d’un discours prononcé dans l’église de Riverside, à New York. Outre ses critiques à l’encontre de la guerre elle-même, il s’en est pris vertement au recours à la force de l’Amérique : « Je sais que jamais je ne pourrai de nouveau m’élever contre la violence dont font l’objet les opprimés dans les ghettos sans m’être d’abord exprimé sans ambiguïté à propos du plus grand pourvoyeur de violence dans le monde aujourd’hui, mon propre gouvernement. » Les Vietnamiens « nous regardent empoisonner leur eau, détruire leurs récoltes par millions d’hectares. Jusqu’à présent, peut-être avons-nous tué 1 million d’entre eux, des enfants pour la plupart », avait-il déclaré. Cynthia Tucker
“It was a good speech,” says Clarence Jones, writer of the final draft. “Substantively it was not his greatest speech. But it was the power of delivery and the power of the circumstances. The crowd, the march, the Lincoln Memorial, the beautiful day. So many intangible things came together … It was a perfect storm.” A great speech is both timely and timeless. First and foremost it must touch and move its immediate audience. It needs to encapsulate the mood of a moment, reflect, and then amplify it. But it must also simultaneously reach over the heads of the assembled toward posterity. There are many excellent speeches so narrowly tailored to the needs of their particular purpose that their lasting relevance is limited. The “I Have a Dream” speech qualified on both counts. It was delivered in a year that started with Alabama governor George Wallace standing on the steps of the state capitol in hickory-striped pants and a cutaway coat declaring, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” and ended with President Kennedy’s assassination. The march was held just ten weeks after Wallace stood in a schoolhouse doorway to prevent black students from going to college, and little more than two weeks before four black girls were bombed to death in Birmingham, Alabama, during Sunday school. So it came at a turning point for both the civil rights movement and the country. The speech starts, both literally and metaphorically, in the shadow of Lincoln (King spoke at the Lincoln Memorial), ends with a quote from a Negro spiritual, and in between quotes the song “My Country ’Tis of Thee” while evoking “a dream rooted in the American dream” and drawing references from the Bible and the Constitution. (…) It speaks, in the vernacular of the black church, with clarity and conviction to African Americans’ historical plight and looks forward to a time when that plight will be eliminated (« We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating ‘for whites only’. No, no, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream »). Its nod to all that is sacred in American political culture, from the founding fathers to the American dream, makes it patriotic (« I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.' »). It sets bigotry against colour-blindness while prescribing no route map for how we get from one to the other. (« I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists… little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. ») Gary Younge
These green bars represent familiar songs and hymns and scriptures throughout the piece. These words were sacred to the audience because they’d read and sung them together. The orange bars are references to political documents like the Constitution and the Declaration of independence. … Now let’s look at that amazing climax of the speech … there’s a lot of green … Green, remember, is the spiritual songs and hymns … the first batch of green is a scripture from the prophetic book of Isaiah making the audience fill as if they are fulfilling scripture. The second batch of green is a patriotic song « My countrys t’is of thee » … The fourth batch of green is the very famous negro spiritual « Free at last ». This serves as a powerful ending to his new bliss. What Dr. King did is he reached into the hearts of his audience. He identified things that were already there and resonated deeply with those things and utilized them throughout his speech to persuade the audience to work towards equality for all men. Nancy Duarte
The Memorial has generated some controversy, first for the choice of a Chinese sculptor. It’s also been pointed out that one of the engraved quotations is broadly paraphrased rather than quoted exactly, and another, though spoken by King, was originally from a sermon given a century earlier by Theodore Parker. Be all that as it may, the sculpture, “The Stone of Hope,” (…) the concept derives from a line in King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered 48 years ago tomorrow, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. King said that with faith in the dream, “we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” Yixin has shown King himself as a kind of stone of hope emerging out of the marble block. King’s language here, as so often, is deeply biblical. My uncle, Carl Scovel, a Unitarian minister, attended the March on Washington in 1963 and heard King and others speak. He said to me it was striking how biblical King’s rhetoric sounded, far more so than any of the other speakers. Hewing stone comes up a lot in the King James Bible. King may not be thinking of any particular passage, but there are several that he might have had in mind. Moses is commanded by God to hew two tables of stone that will become the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:1-4), for instance. And Jesus is buried in a tomb hewn out of the rock, with a stone rolled in front of it (Matthew 27:59-60). The Temple in Jerusalem is built by the workers of David and Solomon hewing stones out of the mountain (1 Chronicles 22, 2 Chronicles 2). One of the inscriptions on the walls of MLK memorial contains a passage from the prophet Amos that obviously spoke to King: he used it often, including during the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, and later in the “I Have Dream” speech. The wording on the memorial is from the Montgomery speech: “We are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs ‘down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’” In 1963, King modified the words slightly: “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’” The quoted verse is from Amos 5:24 and the language is that of the KJV, with the single exception of the word “justice.” The KJV translators chose “judgment” instead, but the word was altered to “justice” in the American Standard Version (1901), which King may have been remembering as well. (He could also have known the Revised Standard Version of 1952, which also has “justice,” but it changes “mighty stream” to “ever-flowing stream,” so King wasn’t remembering this translation.) The language of the King James Bible, its word choices, its rhythms and patterns of speech, have been a part of American public oratory for the country’s entire history, especially, though not exclusively, among African Americans. (Lincoln’s speeches were highly biblical.) Appropriately, at the inauguration of American’s first African American president, Barack Obama, the Rev. Joseph Lowry repeated the verse from Amos’s prophecy that was so important to Martin Luther King. In his benediction, Lowry looked forward, as King had done, to the time “when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.” Hannibal Hamlin
Four days after police arrested Rosa Parks for refusing to surrender her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Ala., bus, the young Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. explained the Christian foundation of the civil rights movement he was about to lead. « I want to say that we are not here advocating violence, » King said in a Dec. 5, 1955, speech at the Holt Street Baptist Church. « I want it to be known throughout Montgomery and throughout this nation that we are Christian people, » King said. « We believe in the Christian religion. We believe in the teachings of Jesus. The only weapon that we have in our hands this evening is the weapon of protest. » King, a Baptist minister and American patriot whose organization would be called the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, wanted the nation to know that the civil rights movement was rooted in fidelity to Judeo-Christian morality and to America’s founding documents. « And we are determined here in Montgomery, » King said that day in 1955, « to work and fight until justice ‘runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.' » In these last words, King was quoting from the Bible — Amos 5:24. A visitor to the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., will find 16 statements from King carved in granite there. One is from his 1955 Montgomery speech. In its entirety, it reads: « We are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs ‘down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.' » This is as close as the memorial gets to acknowledging that King was a Christian clergyman who passionately argued that discrimination was wrong because it violated God’s law. The words « God, » « Jesus » and « Lord » — ever-present in King’s speeches and sermons — are carved nowhere in the stones of the memorial dedicated in his name. King’s name is repeatedly carved into the memorial. But none of these carvings refer to him as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In all cases, he is called simply « Martin Luther King Jr. » (…) Near the close of his « I Have a Dream » speech » — delivered at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963 — King cites Isaiah 40:4-5. « I have a dream, » said King, « that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight ‘and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.’ « This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with, » King said. « With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope » On the right side of the granite statue of King at the memorial, the last half of this last sentence is carved in stone: « Out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. » The first half of the sentence — « With this faith, we will be able to hew » — is missing. Yes, the « faith » is missing. Just a few feet from this statue of King where the word « faith » has been edited from the passage of his « I Have a Dream » speech, there is a similarly secular quote from a sermon reprinted in King’s book, « Strength to Love. » At the end of that sermon, King said: « Jesus is eternally right. History is replete with the bleached bones of nations that refused to listen to him. » The Rev. Martin Luther King was a Christian clergyman who became an American hero by standing up for the God-given rights our nation was founded to protect. It is a shame the name of God cannot be found at his memorial. Terence P. Jeffrey
Attention: un tabou peut en cacher un autre !
Au lendemain de la véritable overdose de panégyriques qui a suivi la mort d’autre grand saint laïque qui, à quelques arrangements près avec son passé de terroriste repenti a eu, lui, droit à plusieurs films …
Comment ne pas s’étonner, 46 ans après sa mort-martyre, que l‘équivalent le plus proche de ce que les Américains puissent avoir d’un saint laïque n’ait toujours pas eu droit, malgré plusieurs récentes tentatives (les nombreux plagiats et les tout aussi multiples liaisons ne semblent décidément pas passer, du moins pour la famille King qui interdit aussi pour des raisons de droits la reproduction du fameux discours de 1963, la rampe de l’histoire ou en tout cas du cinéma grand public ?) , à aucun film ?
Mais surtout, contre toute vérité historique, que les divers monuments qui ont depuis été construits en son honneur aient pu à ce point gommer ce qui faisait justement la force et la résonance proprement prophétiques de ses discours et de son action …
A savoir non seulement les célébrissimes cadences mais la parole vive de la Bible elle-même ?
Terence P. Jeffrey
January 18, 2012
Four days after police arrested Rosa Parks for refusing to surrender her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Ala., bus, the young Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. explained the Christian foundation of the civil rights movement he was about to lead.
« I want to say that we are not here advocating violence, » King said in a Dec. 5, 1955, speech at the Holt Street Baptist Church.
« I want it to be known throughout Montgomery and throughout this nation that we are Christian people, » King said. « We believe in the Christian religion. We believe in the teachings of Jesus. The only weapon that we have in our hands this evening is the weapon of protest. »
King, a Baptist minister and American patriot whose organization would be called the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, wanted the nation to know that the civil rights movement was rooted in fidelity to Judeo-Christian morality and to America’s founding documents.
« And we are determined here in Montgomery, » King said that day in 1955, « to work and fight until justice ‘runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.' »
In these last words, King was quoting from the Bible — Amos 5:24.
A visitor to the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., will find 16 statements from King carved in granite there. One is from his 1955 Montgomery speech. In its entirety, it reads: « We are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs ‘down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.' »
This is as close as the memorial gets to acknowledging that King was a Christian clergyman who passionately argued that discrimination was wrong because it violated God’s law.
The words « God, » « Jesus » and « Lord » — ever-present in King’s speeches and sermons — are carved nowhere in the stones of the memorial dedicated in his name.
King’s name is repeatedly carved into the memorial. But none of these carvings refer to him as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In all cases, he is called simply « Martin Luther King Jr. »
How important was King’s Christian ministry to him? When he was thrown in the Birmingham jail for marching without a permit on Good Friday 1963, King wrote an open letter expressing disappointment with fellow clergymen who criticized the nonviolent movement to desegregate that city.
« I say it as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen, » said King.
In the same letter, King explained again how the civil rights movement was rooted in traditional Christian morality.
« A just law is a manmade code that squares with the moral law or the law of God, » King said. « An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. »
In this letter, King also again argued that the God-given moral law that demanded equal rights for African Americans was the same God-given moral law on which America was founded.
« We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands, » said King.
« One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters they were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage, and thus carrying our whole nation back to great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, » said King.
The granite slabs at the memorial do quote from this famous letter. But they steer clear of King’s invocation of God’s law, the Declaration and the Constitution. Instead they use these words: « Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever effects one directly, affects all indirectly. »
Near the close of his « I Have a Dream » speech » — delivered at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963 — King cites Isaiah 40:4-5.
« I have a dream, » said King, « that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight ‘and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.’
« This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with, » King said. « With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope »
On the right side of the granite statue of King at the memorial, the last half of this last sentence is carved in stone: « Out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. » The first half of the sentence — « With this faith, we will be able to hew » — is missing.
Yes, the « faith » is missing.
Just a few feet from this statue of King where the word « faith » has been edited from the passage of his « I Have a Dream » speech, there is a similarly secular quote from a sermon reprinted in King’s book, « Strength to Love. »
At the end of that sermon, King said: « Jesus is eternally right. History is replete with the bleached bones of nations that refused to listen to him. »
The Rev. Martin Luther King was a Christian clergyman who became an American hero by standing up for the God-given rights our nation was founded to protect. It is a shame the name of God cannot be found at his memorial.
Tomorrow (August 28) was to have been the day for officially opening the new and long-awaited Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, DC. Hurricane Irene delayed these plans along with so much else. (Check the Memorial’s website for updates on the ceremony plans for the future.) August 28 remains, of course, the anniversary of King’s famous “I have a dream” speech from the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.
For the past week, the site on the Tidal Basin, on a direct line between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, has been open to visitors, though, who could view the impressive sculpture by Lei Yixin and the many quotations from King’s speeches and writings engraved around the site. The Memorial has generated some controversy, first for the choice of a Chinese sculptor. It’s also been pointed out that one of the engraved quotations is broadly paraphrased rather than quoted exactly, and another, though spoken by King, was originally from a sermon given a century earlier by Theodore Parker.
Be all that as it may, the sculpture, “The Stone of Hope,” looks impressive, though I’ve as yet seen it only in photos. The concept derives from a line in King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered 48 years ago tomorrow, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. King said that with faith in the dream, “we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” Yixin has shown King himself as a kind of stone of hope emerging out of the marble block. King’s language here, as so often, is deeply biblical. My uncle, Carl Scovel, a Unitarian minister, attended the March on Washington in 1963 and heard King and others speak. He said to me it was striking how biblical King’s rhetoric sounded, far more so than any of the other speakers. Hewing stone comes up a lot in the King James Bible. King may not be thinking of any particular passage, but there are several that he might have had in mind. Moses is commanded by God to hew two tables of stone that will become the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:1-4), for instance. And Jesus is buried in a tomb hewn out of the rock, with a stone rolled in front of it (Matthew 27:59-60). The Temple in Jerusalem is built by the workers of David and Solomon hewing stones out of the mountain (1 Chronicles 22, 2 Chronicles 2).
One of the inscriptions on the walls of MLK memorial contains a passage from the prophet Amos that obviously spoke to King: he used it often, including during the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, and later in the “I Have Dream” speech. The wording on the memorial is from the Montgomery speech: “We are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs ‘down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’” In 1963, King modified the words slightly: “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’” The quoted verse is from Amos 5:24 and the language is that of the KJV, with the single exception of the word “justice.” The KJV translators chose “judgment” instead, but the word was altered to “justice” in the American Standard Version (1901), which King may have been remembering as well. (He could also have known the Revised Standard Version of 1952, which also has “justice,” but it changes “mighty stream” to “ever-flowing stream,” so King wasn’t remembering this translation.)
The language of the King James Bible, its word choices, its rhythms and patterns of speech, have been a part of American public oratory for the country’s entire history, especially, though not exclusively, among African Americans. (Lincoln’s speeches were highly biblical.) Appropriately, at the inauguration of American’s first African American president, Barack Obama, the Rev. Joseph Lowry repeated the verse from Amos’s prophecy that was so important to Martin Luther King. In his benediction, Lowry looked forward, as King had done, to the time “when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.” That final time of Justice might not yet have arrived, but Lowry must have been thinking that at least some of those waters had rolled down since 1963. King had looked down the Mall toward the Capitol as he shared his dream of racial equality, but Lowry, and Obama, looked back the opposite way from the steps of the Capitol itself.
Hannibal Hamlin, associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
January 17, 2014
Oliver Stone has run smack into the same wall on a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr biopic that director Paul Greengrass hit when Universal kicked his MLK project Memphis to the curb two years back. Stone took to his Twitter account today to say that DreamWorks and Warner Bros rejected his script rewrite and that he was done with the movie that also had Jamie Foxx attached. It came down to the studios — which are in lockstep with the MLK estate that brought them the right to use his famous copyrighted speeches — rejecting Stone’s characterization of long-running rumors that King Jr. engaged in extramarital affairs. “I’m told the estate & the ‘respectable’ black community that guard King’s reputation won’t approve it. They suffocate the man & the truth,” Stone tweeted. He also added a message directly to MLK: ‘I wish you could see the film I would’ve made. I fear if ‘they’ ever make it, it’ll be just another commemoration of the March on Washington.”
This is almost a carbon copy of what happened two years ago with Memphis, the superb script that Captain Phillips helmer Greengrass wrote and set at Universal with producer Scott Rudin. The project stopped in its tracks after a version of the script found its way to the King family, and Ambassador Andrew Young, who was one of Dr. King’s closest confidants during the turbulent Civil Rights movement of the ’60s. While Universal was never really clear on why it halted the movie, blaming scheduling, it is clear that a film disowned by MLK’s family might hurt its audience appeal. This is an incredibly difficult and emotional situation because it depicts flaws in a man whose message of tolerance and equality and nonviolence still means so much to so many and has made him one of the most galvanizing figures of the 20th Century.
I read the script for Memphis – which juxtaposed MLK’s final days, haunted by Hoover’s FBI, whose agents were then thrust into a ticking-clock thriller to find his killer — and found it to be exceptionally good, and the depiction of Dr. King with a woman who wasn’t his wife was presented in matter-of-fact fashion and wasn’t a focus of the story at all. It was just there. Young understandably felt differently. “There is testimony in congressional hearings that a lot of that information was manufactured by the FBI and wasn’t true,” Young told me. “The FBI testified to that. I was saying simply, why make up a story when the true story is so great? My only concern here is honoring the message of Martin Luther King’s life, and how you can change the world without killing anybody. You’ve seen glimpses of that in the fall of the Berlin Wall, in Poland, South Africa, in a movement in Egypt that began with prayers, where even mercenaries and the most brutal soldiers have trouble shooting someone on their knees. These regimes crumbled before nonviolent demonstrations, and that is a message the world needs.”
I suggested that when films canonize subjects, audiences can sense it, and that is why good biopics mix reverence with warts-and-all treatment. Young said: “It’s not wrong if the warts are there. But we had the most powerful and understanding wives in history: Coretta, my wife Jean, and Ralph Abernathy’s wife Juanita. These women were more dedicated and enthusiastic in pushing us into these struggles than anybody, and the inference Coretta might have been upset about Martin being gone so much or them having marital troubles, it’s just not true. Maybe I’m piqued because nobody read my book, and I tried to be honest, and I was there. We were struggling with history that we didn’t even understand, but somehow by the grace of God it came out right. We were trying to change the world — not by any means necessary, but by being dedicated to loving our enemies and praying for those who persecuted us. That’s hard to believe in this day and age. But I can remember when everybody had guns in the South, and after Martin’s house was bombed, they all came. He sent them home. Time after time, our nonviolent commitment was put the test, but that was one test we passed, even in extremely difficult circumstances.” Young said he offered input on Memphis but hasn’t heard back. “I said I would pay my own way to LA to sit with the writers, tell what really went on, and give them names, but nobody took me up on it,” he said.
Stone had no choice to move off the project, which has to be blessed by Dr. King’s heirs. Greengrass has no such shackles. When I interviewed Greengrass recently, he promised that he will make the film. He just wants to do something else beforehand as he takes his time to find the right actor to play the Civil Rights leader. Here are the comments he made, right after the death of Nelson Mandela, whose recently released biopic Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom showed the former South African leader in a less than flattering light that included extramarital affairs. By the way, it didn’t undermine Mandela’s evolution and heroism.
You’ll definitely see it, I’m just not quite ready to do it yet,” Greengrass told me recently. “I don’t think it will be next. I didn’t want Memphis to come out when it was all about the King of ‘I have a dream.’ There’s an arc to that very great life, somewhat the reverse of Mandela’s life. 1963 was a moment of transcendent oratorical achievement that in the following year ushered in busing rights and other civil rights acts. I was more interested in the King of ’68, very late in his life, when I think he was having a crisis of faith. That felt real to me. My family, on my father’s side, is strict Baptist. I understand the valleys and the mountains of growing up with that, in a British context. The way I see it is, any time between now and four or five years’ time it will be time to make that movie. I also need to meet the actor who’ll play him.”
These fact-based films continue to present creative quandaries, the latest of which is The Wolf Of Wall Street, which got a haul of Oscar nominations this week including Best Picture. It was among five fact-based stories that got Best Picture noms. Even though there are pitfalls, fact-based films are often the most satisfying and enduring films Hollywood makes. But DreamWorks and Warner Bros are in a bind here. Stone is right, the forgettable biopics are the ones that are too reverent to their subject. “Martin, I grieve for you,” Stone wrote. “You are still a great inspiration for your fellow Americans–but thank God, not a saint.”
Voir par ailleurs:
Le Nouvel observateur
LE PLUS. « I have a dream » est l’un des discours les plus célèbres du monde. Prononcés par Martin Luther King le 28 août 1963, ces mots fêtent leurs 50 ans. Mais ce jour-là, le pasteur a failli rater son rendez-vous avec l’histoire… Retour sur les coulisses avec Béatrice Toulon, formatrice spécialiste de la prise de parole en public.
« I have a dream » aurait pu rester dans les mémoires sous le nom « Let Freedom Ring » ou « Go back ». Il aurait pu ne pas avoir de nom du tout, car aujourd’hui, il serait oublié.
« I have a dream », le discours prononcé par Martin Luther King il y a juste 50 ans, le 28 août 1963, a failli être amputé de la partie du rêve éveillé qui lui a donné son statut de chef d’œuvre de rhétorique aux USA et dans le reste du monde.
Le 27 au soir, le leader du Mouvement des droits civiques est dans un hôtel de Washington, avec ses conseillers. Ils parlent du discours qu’il doit prononcer le lendemain. Le 28, on célèbre les 100 ans de l’abolition de l’esclavage. Ce sera le point d’arrivée de la grande marche « Justice et emploi » qui mobilise des dizaines de milliers de personnes qui réclament l’abolition de la ségrégation encore en vigueur dans les États du sud. 100.000 personnes sont attendues, les télévisions ont fait le déplacement.
« Ne mets pas ‘le rêve' »
Les discours, c’est son job. Martin Luther King est pasteur, un de ces prêcheurs du Sud qui changent les messes en kermesses. Il s’est aussi rodé au discours politique à force de meetings. Mais là, c’est différent. Il ne s’adresse pas à ses paroissiens, ni au militants des droits civiques, il s’adresse à toute l’Amérique, il doit lui faire comprendre qu’elle perd son âme en acceptant la ségrégation. Et qu’elle peut encore gagner son ciel.
Les conseillers se disputent pas mal sur le contenu du discours. Wyatt Walker, l’un de ses proches, est sûr d’une chose:
« Ne mets pas ‘le rêve’. C’est trop banal, trop cliché. »
Il parle de « I have a dream ». Ce rêve éveillé d’un monde meilleur, Martin Luther King le place systématiquement dans ses discours depuis quelques temps. Il aime cette idée de décrire une Jérusalem céleste sur Terre. Cela correspond bien à sa double personnalité d’homme d’Église et d’homme d’action.
La semaine précédente, son rêve a eu un beau succès dans son discours à Chicago. Walker insiste :
« Je t’assure, tu l’as trop utilisé. »
Martin Luther King travaille toute la nuit à son discours. Il dira plus tard qu’il a aussi beaucoup dialogué avec Dieu, pour l’inspiration. Le lendemain matin, il descend dans le hall muni et donne son texte à un assistant pour impression. Le rêve n’y figure pas.
« Dis-leur ton rêve, Martin ! »
Martin Luther King est le dernier intervenant de la journée, juste avant la bénédiction. La foule compte 250.000 personnes, du jamais vu. Mais l’ambiance est un peu molle. Les orateurs se sont succédé toute la journée, l’assistance est un peu fatiguée. Le rabbin Prinz évoque l’Allemagne sous Hitler, « un grand peuple devenu muet, simple spectateur » et exhorte les Américains à « ne plus rester muets ». Puis il passe la parole à Martin Luther King.
Orateur aguerri, King est stressé. Il lit son texte, trop. Ceux qui le connaissaient bien diront qu’il n’était pas à son meilleur. Peu à peu, il prend de l’assurance, lève les bras, se met à vibrer à la lecture des mots scandés comme dans les poésies :
« Go back to Mississipi, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana… »
La fin du discours approche. Son conseiller Clarence Jones racontera plu tard qu’à ce moment-là, Mahalia Jackson, la chanteuse et amie très chère du pasteur, lui lance depuis l’arrière de l’estrade :
« Dis leur ton rêve, Martin ! Le rêve… »
King poursuit encore son texte puis lève le nez, met son texte de côté et lance :
« Même si nous affrontons des difficultés, je fais un rêve… »
Clarence Jones entendit Walker s’écrier :
« Oh, merde ! Le rêve… »
Son public : toute l’Amérique
Il ne faut pas toujours écouter les conseillers. Ce que Walker n’avait pas compris c’est que jusqu’à présent, seuls les paroissiens et les partisans avaient entendu les discours/prêches de King.
Son public, cette fois, c’était toute l’Amérique. Il pouvait lui décrive avec son éloquence de génie qu’elle était devenue l’enfer sur terre mais qu’elle pouvait, si elle le voulait, devenir le paradis. Pour cela, il fallait lui faire prendre de la hauteur, une hauteur vertigineuse même, là-haut où les peurs s’effacent devant la beauté de la promesse.
Toute la partie précédente, solide, explicative, puissante n’arriverait pas assez haut sans l’offre d’un rêve, d’une utopie partagée. Martin Luther King expliquera plus tard qu’il avait senti qu’il fallait qu’il ajoute « I have a dream ». Il ne risquait rien, ce n’était pas vraiment une improvisation. Les témoins parleront d’une foule électrisée. L’année suivante toutes les lois raciales étaient abolies.
Pour le racisme, c’est une autre histoire…
Martin Luther King
Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C.
28 August 1963
I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the « unalienable Rights » of « Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. » It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked « insufficient funds. »
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.
We cannot turn back.
There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, « When will you be satisfied? » We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: « For Whites Only. » We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until « justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.« ¹
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: « We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. »
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of « interposition » and « nullification » — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; « and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.« 2
This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!3
¹ Amos 5:24 (rendered precisely in The American Standard Version of the Holy Bible)
2 Isaiah 40:4-5 (King James Version of the Holy Bible). Quotation marks are excluded from part of this moment in the text because King’s rendering of Isaiah 40:4 does not precisely follow the KJV version from which he quotes (e.g., « hill » and « mountain » are reversed in the KJV). King’s rendering of Isaiah 40:5, however, is precisely quoted from the KJV.
Also in this database: Martin Luther King, Jr: A Time to Break Silence
Audio Source: Linked directly to: http://www.archive.org/details/MLKDream
External Link: http://www.thekingcenter.org/
(traduction en français)
« Je suis heureux de me joindre à vous aujourd’hui pour participer à ce que l’histoire appellera la plus grande démonstration pour la liberté dans les annales de notre nation.
Il y a un siècle de cela, un grand Américain qui nous couvre aujourd’hui de son ombre symbolique signait notre Proclamation d’Émancipation. Ce décret capital se dresse, comme un grand phare illuminant d’espérance les millions d’esclaves marqués au feu d’une brûlante injustice. Ce décret est venu comme une aube joyeuse terminer la longue nuit de leur captivité.
Mais, cent ans plus tard, le Noir n’est toujours pas libre. Cent ans plus tard, la vie du Noir est encore terriblement handicapée par les menottes de la ségrégation et les chaînes de la discrimination. Cent ans plus tard, le Noir vit à l’écart sur son îlot de pauvreté au milieu d’un vaste océan de prospérité matérielle. Cent ans plus tard, le Noir languit encore dans les coins de la société américaine et se trouve exilé dans son propre pays.
C’est pourquoi nous sommes venus ici aujourd’hui dénoncer une condition humaine honteuse. En un certain sens, nous sommes venus dans notre capitale nationale pour encaisser un chèque. Quand les architectes de notre République ont magnifiquement rédigé notre Constitution de la Déclaration d’Indépendance, ils signaient un chèque dont tout Américain devait hériter. Ce chèque était une promesse qu’à tous les hommes, oui, aux Noirs comme aux Blancs, seraient garantis les droits inaliénables de la vie, de la liberté et de la quête du bonheur.
Il est évident aujourd’hui que l’Amérique a manqué à ses promesses à l’égard de ses citoyens de couleur. Au lieu d’honorer son obligation sacrée, l’Amérique a délivré au peuple Noir un chèque en bois, qui est revenu avec l’inscription “ provisions insuffisantes ”. Mais nous refusons de croire qu’il n’y a pas de quoi honorer ce chèque dans les vastes coffres de la chance, en notre pays. Aussi, sommes-nous venus encaisser ce chèque, un chèque qui nous donnera sur simple présentation les richesses de la liberté et la sécurité de la justice.
Nous sommes également venus en ce lieu sacré pour rappeler à l’Amérique les exigeantes urgences de l’heure présente. Ce n’est pas le moment de s’offrir le luxe de laisser tiédir notre ardeur ou de prendre les tranquillisants des demi-mesures. C’est l’heure de tenir les promesses de la démocratie. C’est l’heure d’émerger des vallées obscures et désolées de la ségrégation pour fouler le sentier ensoleillé de la justice raciale. C’est l’heure d’arracher notre nation des sables mouvant de l’injustice raciale et de l’établir sur le roc de la fraternité. C’est l’heure de faire de la justice une réalité pour tous les enfants de Dieu. Il serait fatal pour la nation de fermer les yeux sur l’urgence du moment. Cet étouffant été du légitime mécontentement des Noirs ne se terminera pas sans qu’advienne un automne vivifiant de liberté et d’égalité.
1963 n’est pas une fin, c’est un commencement. Ceux qui espèrent que le Noir avait seulement besoin de se défouler et qu’il se montrera désormais satisfait, auront un rude réveil, si la nation retourne à son train-train habituel.
Il n’y aura ni repos ni tranquillité en Amérique jusqu’à ce qu’on ait accordé au peuple Noir ses droits de citoyen. Les tourbillons de la révolte ne cesseront d’ébranler les fondations de notre nation jusqu’à ce que le jour éclatant de la justice apparaisse.
Mais il y a quelque chose que je dois dire à mon peuple, debout sur le seuil accueillant qui donne accès au palais de la justice : en procédant à la conquête de notre place légitime, nous ne devons pas nous rendre coupables d’agissements répréhensibles.
Ne cherchons pas à satisfaire notre soif de liberté en buvant à la coupe de l’amertume et de la haine. Nous devons toujours mener notre lutte sur les hauts plateaux de la dignité et de la discipline. Nous ne devons pas laisser nos revendications créatrices dégénérer en violence physique. Sans cesse, nous devons nous élever jusqu’aux hauteurs majestueuses où la force de l’âme s’unit à la force physique.
Le merveilleux esprit militant qui a saisi la communauté noire ne doit pas nous entraîner vers la méfiance de tous les Blancs, car beaucoup de nos frères blancs, leur présence ici aujourd’hui en est la preuve, ont compris que leur destinée est liée à la nôtre. L’assaut que nous avons monté ensemble pour emporter les remparts de l’injustice doit être mené par une armée bi-raciale. Nous ne pouvons marcher tout seul au combat. Et au cours de notre progression il faut nous engager à continuer d’aller de l’avant ensemble. Nous ne pouvons pas revenir en arrière.
Il y a des gens qui demandent aux militants des Droits Civiques : “ Quand serez-vous enfin satisfaits ? ” Nous ne serons jamais satisfaits aussi longtemps que le Noir sera la victime d’indicibles horreurs de la brutalité policière. Nous ne pourrons être satisfaits aussi longtemps que nos corps, lourds de la fatigue des voyages, ne trouveront pas un abri dans les motels des grandes routes ou les hôtels des villes.
Nous ne pourrons être satisfaits aussi longtemps que la liberté de mouvement du Noir ne lui permettra guère que d’aller d’un petit ghetto à un ghetto plus grand. Nous ne pourrons être satisfaits aussi longtemps que nos enfants, même devenus grands, ne seront pas traités en adultes et verront leur dignité bafouée par les panneaux “ Réservé aux Blancs ”. Nous ne pourrons être satisfaits aussi longtemps qu’un Noir du Mississippi ne pourra pas voter et qu’un Noir de New-York croira qu’il n’a aucune raison de voter. Non, nous ne sommes pas satisfaits et ne le serons jamais, tant que le droit ne jaillira pas comme l’eau, et la justice comme un torrent intarissable.
Je n’ignore pas que certains d’entre vous ont été conduis ici par un excès d’épreuves et de tribulations. D’aucuns sortent à peine d’étroites cellules de prison. D’autres viennent de régions où leur quête de liberté leur a valu d’être battus par les orages de la persécution et secoués par les bourrasques de la brutalité policière. Vous avez été les héros de la souffrance créatrice. Continuez à travailler avec la certitude que la souffrance imméritée vous sera rédemptrice.
Retournez dans le Mississippi, retournez en Alabama, retournez en Caroline du Sud, retournez en Georgie, retournez en Louisiane, retournez dans les taudis et les ghettos des villes du Nord, sachant que de quelque manière que ce soit cette situation peut et va changer. Ne croupissons pas dans la vallée du désespoir.
Je vous le dis ici et maintenant, mes amis, bien que, oui, bien que nous ayons à faire face à des difficultés aujourd’hui et demain je fais toujours ce rêve : c’est un rêve profondément ancré dans l’idéal américain. Je rêve que, un jour, notre pays se lèvera et vivra pleinement la véritable réalité de son credo : “ Nous tenons ces vérités pour évidentes par elles-mêmes que tous les hommes sont créés égaux ”.
Je rêve qu’un jour sur les collines rousses de Georgie les fils d’anciens esclaves et ceux d’anciens propriétaires d’esclaves pourront s’asseoir ensemble à la table de la fraternité.
Je rêve qu’un jour, même l’Etat du Mississippi, un Etat où brûlent les feux de l’injustice et de l’oppression, sera transformé en un oasis de liberté et de justice.
Je rêve que mes quatre petits-enfants vivront un jour dans une nation où ils ne seront pas jugés sur la couleur de leur peau, mais sur la valeur de leur caractère. Je fais aujourd’hui un rêve !
Je rêve qu’un jour, même en Alabama, avec ses abominables racistes, avec son gouverneur à la bouche pleine des mots “ opposition ” et “ annulation ” des lois fédérales, que là même en Alabama, un jour les petits garçons noirs et les petites filles blanches pourront se donner la main, comme frères et sœurs. Je fais aujourd’hui un rêve !
Je rêve qu’un jour toute vallée sera relevée, toute colline et toute montagne seront rabaissées, les endroits escarpés seront aplanis et les chemins tortueux redressés, la gloire du Seigneur sera révélée à tout être fait de chair.
Telle est notre espérance. C’est la foi avec laquelle je retourne dans le Sud.
Avec cette foi, nous serons capables de distinguer dans la montagne du désespoir une pierre d’espérance. Avec cette foi, nous serons capables de transformer les discordes criardes de notre nation en une superbe symphonie de fraternité.
Avec cette foi, nous serons capables de travailler ensemble, de prier ensemble, de lutter ensemble, d’aller en prison ensemble, de défendre la cause de la liberté ensemble, en sachant qu’un jour, nous serons libres. Ce sera le jour où tous les enfants de Dieu pourront chanter ces paroles qui auront alors un nouveau sens : “ Mon pays, c’est toi, douce terre de liberté, c’est toi que je chante. Terre où sont morts mes pères, terre dont les pèlerins étaient fiers, que du flanc de chacune de tes montagnes, sonne la cloche de la liberté ! ” Et, si l’Amérique doit être une grande nation, que cela devienne vrai.
Que la cloche de la liberté sonne du haut des merveilleuses collines du New Hampshire !
Que la cloche de la liberté sonne du haut des montagnes grandioses de l’Etat de New-York !
Que la cloche de la liberté sonne du haut des sommets des Alleghanys de Pennsylvanie !
Que la cloche de la liberté sonne du haut des cimes neigeuses des montagnes rocheuses du Colorado !
Que la cloche de la liberté sonne depuis les pentes harmonieuses de la Californie !
Mais cela ne suffit pas.
Que la cloche de la liberté sonne du haut du mont Stone de Georgie !
Que la cloche de la liberté sonne du haut du mont Lookout du Tennessee !
Que la cloche de la liberté sonne du haut de chaque colline et de chaque butte du Mississippi ! Du flanc de chaque montagne, que sonne le cloche de la liberté !
Quand nous permettrons à la cloche de la liberté de sonner dans chaque village, dans chaque hameau, dans chaque ville et dans chaque Etat, nous pourrons fêter le jour où tous les enfants de Dieu, les Noirs et les Blancs, les Juifs et les non-Juifs, les Protestants et les Catholiques, pourront se donner la main et chanter les paroles du vieux Negro Spiritual : “ Enfin libres, enfin libres, grâce en soit rendue au Dieu tout puissant, nous sommes enfin libres ! ”. »
Voir par ailleurs:
by Rev. Ralph David Abernathy
October 29, 1989
BRIAN LAMB: Reverend Ralph David Abernathy, author of the book, « And the Walls Came Tumbling Down, » when did you first think that you wanted to write your autobiography?
ABERNATHY: Oh, about four or five years ago. I decided that I would write my autobiography and I have been working on it ever since then. Not straight out but for given periods, I would write and I would leave it, you know, and go back to it, and come back to it, and so I wanted to write this book.
LAMB: Are you happy about it?
ABERNATHY: Yes, I am very, very happy about it. I am so pleased that it is a good looking book and it is a good book and it is more than 600 pages of my life story. I am the son of a farmer and I grew up in Linden, Alabama — Meringo County, the heart of the black belt. My grandfather and my grandmother were born slaves and I just wanted to tell my story and to show the youth of America, the children of America, that you may be locked in poverty and you may have a difficult time surviving but you can be, what my dear friend, Martin Luther King, often quoted: « If you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill, be a scrub in the valley but be the best little scrub by the side of the hill…be a bush if you can’t be a tree. » So you can be something and somebody if you do not lose your sense of worth and dignity and somebody-ness.
LAMB: I want to start with the last part of the book first, the epilogue. In there you describe that in 1980 you supported Ronald Reagan for the presidency. Why did you do that?
ABERNATHY: Well, I did it for the simple reason first. I did not believe President Carter could lead the nation forward at that particular juncture. He is a good man but I just did not feel that you could run the country as he had ran the state of Georgia and he did not have, around him, the staff, that was able to do that. Secondly, I supported Ronald Reagan because he was talking about jobs and income and I went on with that side of my political life and thirdly, I believe that young black people should participate in both parties. The Republican Party has too long ignored us and the Democratic Party has taken us for granted and so since all of my colleges and the latter in various places across the country were supporting the Democratic Party, I felt that I should support Ronald Reagan.
I understood very, very clearly that it is a policy in politics, according to President Gerald Ford, that you reward your friends but you punish your enemies, so I thought that I would launch a job program and get help from Mr. Reagan and from the private sector as well as the public sector. The Republicans have most of the money in the country and I thought that I would get that type of help but he’d soon forgotten what I had sought to do to him, or I cannot get through. And one distinguished journalist, just happened to have been connected with my congregation and I had to do the grandmother’s funeral and she told me, « Dr. Abernathy, what you really should do to get to Mr. Reagan is get to Mrs. Reagan and maybe like that you can get through. » But Ed Meese and the people surrounded him. I just felt that they never let my calls through and never gave me ample time to explain fully the meaning of the foundation of economic enterprises development.
LAMB: Let’s go back. I did not mean to interrupt, but I want to go back so that the audience understands the context. You were asked to come and do public, hold up the hands and endorse President Reagan back during the 1980 campaign, and you did that. Do remember the city in which you did that?
ABERNATHY: Yes, in Detroit, Michigan.
LAMB: And you flew up there to do it and when you got there you had a meeting with the President. And then you walked out and found some of your other friends were there with you?
ABERNATHY: Yes, I found that other persons, including Jose Williams, former staff member of mine, at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, had come to join me in endorsing Mr. Reagan. But I had a private conference with Mr. Reagan because I wanted to get the guarantee from him that he wanted me to endorse him and that he would be accessible to me, because I didn’t want to just be endorsing a man that I was unable to talk to.
LAMB: After you endorsed him, the election is over, you tried to reach President Reagan, what happened?
ABERNATHY: Well, I could not get any farther than Ed Meese. I went out to Palm Springs to see President Gerald Ford and he was most sympathetic, most kind and he called the White House while I was there and he …
LAMB: This was in 1981, right in the first year?
ABERNATHY: Yes, and he said, « Well, hey Meese, I want you to arrange a meeting with the President and Ralph Abernathy has suffered greatly. » — Because my colleagues didn’t like that, you know. They tried to dry up my resources and everything. — And he said, « Well, I want him to be able to talk to the President. » And he said, « Well, I will arrange the meeting and you can be assured. » I was in his office at that particular time. I had set up the foundation for Economic Enterprises Development, was fully tax deductible and I had gone through this ordeal of my friend James Peterson had worked with me and he was the executive vice-president of the organization and finally the meeting was arranged. It was just about a five minute, ten minute meeting.
LAMB: With the President?
LAMB: Was he interested?
ABERNATHY: No, Mr. Meese had told me that he was not interested. He, Mr. Ford, thought that he could call to the White House, some millionaires, about one hundred of them, and they could give the money that was necessary — $100,000 each to the Foundation and take care of one who had suffered so much because I endorsed the President. Mr. Meese said that he could not call anybody to come to the White House and there were no private sector funds available and he told me that the public sector writes proposals. And we wrote a proposal, and finally, the Department of Transportation — finally we received a small grant from the Department of Labor, and that is all that we received and that was not enough to sustain that Foundation. So the Foundation now has no address to receive contributions but I am working still with the Foundation and James Peterson is working still with the Foundation and hopefully we will get it back operating.
LAMB: What did you do in 1984, did you endorse President Reagan for a second term?
ABERNATHY: No, I decided to go with my friend, Jesse L. Jackson. Jesse Jackson had expressed the hope and the dream of receiving the nomination of the Democrats. So, naturally, he was my former employee and my friend, and so I went to — I guess it was somewhere in North Carolina — and when he announced his candidacy I supported him all the way. He preached at my church and spoke at my church and we were able to give him more than $10,000 in offering for his candidacy. And we were proud to. And he has carried us closer as black people to the White House than any other person. Jesse Jackson is a good man. He is very, very articulate. He has his faults and failures as all of us have them and he has a big ego, but I do not know a President of the United States that has not had a big ego. I guess it takes a big ego to become the President.
LAMB: In the epilogue, again, you write about the illnesses that you had and you talk about the strokes. How many strokes have you had?
ABERNATHY: I have had two small strokes, never a massive stroke. I have had brain surgery, one of the carotid arteries was clogged and I went to Johns Hopkins Hospital. My wife took me there and I had a carotid artery and that artery supplies the blood flow to the brain — there are two — and I became the 51st person to undergo that microscopic surgery and it takes about 12 hours. I could not speak too clearly because of it being clogged. So, consequently, when the anesthesiologist came to me and gave me lessons and said, « Dr. Abernathy…, » — they call me « Dr. A. » — « Dr. A., when you wake up, I want you to wake up talking and when we ask you to move your right hand, don’t move your left hand and you have to prove to us that you understand when we ask, who is the President of the United States, we want you to say, ‘Ronald Reagan' ».
So, consequently, Mr. Reagan did call me and wish me success in everything and so when I finished with the surgery and the anesthesiologist called me, « Dr. A., wake up…, » I knew and I heard them the first time, but I knew that I would have to spend the rest of my life, from my meager earnings and savings, paying them for such an operation, so I just caused them some anxiety.
They had to call me the second time. « Dr. A., wake up… » and I said, « I love Jesus, I love Jesus, I love Jesus. » And they said, « Dr. A., don’t say another word, because you are running your blood pressure off the cuff. » What I was thought to be did not happen. I was to have a black eye and I was to have to be kept in intensive care for five to six days. But the next morning I was awakened and I had a full breakfast — bacon and eggs, juice and coffee and they said, « Now we are going to get you out of here, because you are doing fine. » And I called my wife over at the Hopkins Inn and she said, « Oh, Ralph, why are you — are you still perking and kicking…? » And I said, « I am back in my room at Johns Hopkins Hospital. » And she said, « I cannot believe it, they said that you would be there four to five days in intensive care. » But God was good to me and God be the Glory, he is due all the praise and people across this nation had fasted and prayed for me and my family and Juanita is a very, very, lovely wife and I am proud that she is the mother of my four, lovely children. She is a great woman and she is a woman of great intellect. And she is just — I love her.
LAMB: In the book, we have a picture here that the audience will see of your family, when was this taken?
ABERNATHY: Oh, that was taken, I guess, a couple of years ago.
LAMB: Can you tell us who is your daughter here?
ABERNATHY: Oh, that is Donzalae. Donzalae Abernathy is married to George Bosley and George Bosley is a high school — not high school — but college school mate, who majored in the movie industry also. Donzalae is an actress. She maintains her name Abernathy. She is married to a young white man but she is dedicated to the family. She is the second of our two daughters.
LAMB: This daughter right here?
ABERNATHY: That is Donzalae.
LAMB: And you say that she is married to a white man?
ABERNATHY: Yes, uh huh…
LAMB: Would you tell us the story that you tell in the book about the marriage itself?
ABERNATHY: Well, it is just a very, very comical thing. The church holds about 2,500 people and the marriage was scheduled for 11 o’clock and it was thought that George’s mother had a heart attack the previous evening and it turned out that she just had some gas pains or something like that but she was in the hospital. George was to go by and let her check him out and see his tuxedo, and he neglected — as young people will do — to call the church and be in contact with me and I thought that he might have stood up my daughter.
LAMB: How late was he?
ABERNATHY: He was about 45 minutes late.
LAMB: So you had a church full of 2,500 people?
ABERNATHY: Yes, yes and they were waiting and Father Jim Nickie from Chicago, Illinois, the Chaplain of the O’Hare Airport, had been invited to assist me in marrying my daughter and I was to marry her, but certainly he was to assist me and I had him go out and assure the people that George was running late and finally, George came. What a relief it was for me.
LAMB: All right, in this picture, in addition to Donzalae you have another daughter and let’s see on the screen please … Who is this daughter?
ABERNATHY: This daughter is Wandalynn. Wandalynn is our oldest daughter. She lives in West Germany as she is an opera singer. She sang at the wedding of Donzalae. She is not married. I chided recently about being able to see one of my grandchildren before passing on to the other side, my new home. And she said, « Oh, daddy, I am not married. » And I said, « I would like to see some of my grandchildren. » And she said, « Well, what about a surrogate, grandchild? » And I said, « Oh, no, no, I want the real thing. I want a real Abernathy. »
LAMB: You have more children here in this picture, two sons, right here. Who are they?
ABERNATHY: Yes, that is Quamaylatuli, an 18-year-old student Williams College in Massachusetts now and Ralph David Abernathy III. He is a member of the State Legislature in Georgia.
LAMB: Ralph David Abernathy, our guest and the name of the book is « And the Walls Came Tumbling Down. » Where did you get the title?
ABERNATHY: Well, I just thought about it and finally concluded to use the old spiritual .. the battle is Jericho, Jericho. « And the Walls Came Tumbling Down. »
LAMB: Did you write this yourself or did you have help?
ABERNATHY: No, no, I wrote it myself. Naturally, I had editorial assistance, suggestions and I had research person who checked out the dates for accuracy and assisted me in reading and grammar and spelling of words and so forth but it is my writing, my story, my words. »And the Walls Came Tumbling Down ».
LAMB: How did you write it? Did you write it on a typewriter, long hand or a computer, or how?
ABERNATHY: Sometimes I wrote it on a legal pad, in long hand and I used to talk into a tape recording machine and the secretary would lift it from there and I would use various means. No I cannot operate a computer. I was not blessed with any such skills. I had to deal with the talking into a tape recorder or writing it in long hand. And I have my own type of short hand. You know, you have to write when you feel like writing, are inspired to write. I have to write my sermons like that So often my wife says to me, « You know, Ralph, if you complete your sermon and then we can go out to a party or visit some friends but you don’t write. » I don’t write like that. I have to wait for the moment of inspiration to come. And I can work, work and work and work and work long hours way until the wee hours of the morning. Often I sit up all night long.
LAMB: Did you write totally from memory or had you kept notes over the years?
ABERNATHY: I had kept notes over the years but mainly memory. As I acknowledged in the introduction, the Bible was written by many, many inspired men of God. But the life of Jesus is recorded in what is referred to as the Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And they give the life, the verse, the crucifixion, and the resurrection and the ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But they all tell it in a different day and I wrote it from my perspective. And I told it to the best of my ability. And memory sometimes fail. But I had a person to check me on accurate dates, especially the New York Times.
LAMB: There are 638 pages including the index in this book. And as you well know, three pages out of this book have been the focus of attention. The night before Martin Luther King was murdered. Are you surprised that only those three pages have been the subject of all the attention for this book?
ABERNATHY: Greatly surprised and disappointed.
ABERNATHY: Because to me it is only jealousy. I didn’t ask anybody if I could write my autobiography. It is my story. The story of my life. And you would believe it was the story of the life of my dearest buddy and friend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And so it is not his story, but it is my story. And the second reason why I am surprised — they took these four pages and created a controversy. And they sent me a telegram and tried to get me to retract, falsely accused me of not having written the book, and demanding that I withdraw. Tell the publisher « repudiate this book. » And I said to her, « I cannot do that. » And I went to Memphis on my first tour in promoting the book. And so when I got there, upon arrival at the Peabody Hotel, this young man from the commercial appeal on the newspaper …
LAMB: In Memphis?
ABERNATHY: … in Memphis, was there. And he was a black young man and he said, « Dr. Abernathy I need to see you and ask you some questions. » And naturally I didn’t want to talk to him but he said, « It’s very, very urgent. » And I went up and checked in and went up to the room and came back to talk with him and he told me that the Associated Press had received a telegram and that had been sent to me from The Martin Luther King Center for Non-Violent Social Change. I thought that was very, very unfortunate because The Martin Luther King Center for Non-Violent Social Change is being very, very violent.
These people had not come to see me at all. Only the Chairman of the Board, Mr. Jesse Hill, had come to see me. And he came not reaching me, keeping me standing all day that Saturday and all day that Sunday. And on the Sunday brought a dear friend of mine who signed the telegram and he just left on the message box of my wife’s telephone that I should look under the door because they had left a message for me, the copy that of the telegram that I would be receiving. And so I didn’t. It was piercing and strong –telling me to repudiate it and I talked to Dr. Kilgore and to him the next morning and Dr. Kilgore was in very, very unique position because he had enough love for me and my family and enough love for Dr. King Jr. and his family. He loved and supported both of us. He was now in North Carolina and Jesse Hill hooked me into Dr. King, Dr. Kilgore, and we talked, we talked, we talked and we prayed, and we prayed, and we prayed and I agreed to receive calls from Lerome Bennett and from Bob Johnson, the editor of Jet magazine in Chicago and the editor of Ebony magazine, since they were learned in that field of publication.
And the next time I heard from Mr. Hill he was telling me or telling my wife that he had received a message that I was supposed to answer that I was supposed to give in response to. And Lerome Bennett never called me. Bob Johnson never called me. And I didn’t dignify what they were trying to say to me. If they wanted to reach me my telephone is listed. The only black leader, national black leader in the country. I have a listed telephone and you can look in the telephone directory and see the Reverend Ralph David Abernathy and you can look in the telephone book under the Mary Kay Cosmetic Section, Business Section and my wife’s telephone is listed, Mrs. Juanita Odessa Jones Abernathy. And so, I have always had the burning desire to be accessible to the poor people of this country and the poor people of this land.
LAMB: Why do you think that your friends, and there are a lot of people that are well known — Jesse Jackson was in that — I assumed signed that telegram and others. Why do they feel that strongly about you publishing what you say is the truth about Martin Luther King?
ABERNATHY: Well, I don’t know you would have to ask them. I cannot answer that question.
LAMB: They help sales. Are you selling more books because of all of the controversy?
ABERNATHY: No, I don’t know, I have not been in contact with the Harper & Row. I just heard that they have ordered some more books, but I do not know how the sales of the books are going and whether they are helping or hurting. I just don’t know.
LAMB: What do you think of the way that the media has treated you, the interviews that you have they been fair?
ABERNATHY: No, a lot of people ask me the same old questions, there it goes again, the same question, over and over again. And Bryant Gumble from NBC, my brother, who is my hero, March Arden, long for him to have the host of the Today Show, and he, one week prior to my appearance on NBC, had come to Atlanta and taped in the interview with me and had not even mentioned anything about Martin Luther King womanizing or anything but he wanted me to come to New York last Friday and I went to New York and I told him, you know, « Why come to Atlanta and ask me nothing about these pages? » And nobody had to ask me anything about Martin Luther King’s womanizing and if they had been true, most people that read a book and buy a book, especially in the black community, they stop long before 435 pages. They don’t read that far but they created a controversy.
LAMB: Why did you fly all the way to New York to sit down with Bryant Gumble on the Today Show? Did he tell you what he was going to do, that he wanted to ask you about those pages before you flew up there?
ABERNATHY: No, he did not tell me that. I was scheduled to go to New York and to sign books and promote the book for Harper & Row. When I got there, just as I am in Washington today, I was invited to appear on your show, and so I was invited to appear on Phil Donahue’s Show. My wife and I were both on the show and bell hooks was on that show, Roy Ennis was on that show with us and the four of us dealt with Mr. Donahue the same day. And Jose Williams was invited and I understand that he had called me the Judas of the movement, and Jose Williams had always supported me across the years and he had brought 30 pieces of silver and Judas sold out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.
Now, the main thing, Martin Luther King wanted not to be a deity. He wanted to be just an ordinary man. He did not want to be a saint or viewed as a saint. He was just a human being, capable of becoming and producing and leading his people out of the wilderness of segregation into the promise land, saying to me, privately, long before he said it from the Memphis pulpit, « Ralph, I may not get there, but I have been to the mountain top. » « Take my people on across this Jordan to the land of Canaan », « And I want freedom for all Americans. » And he freed many white people and poor people who were black, American Indians, the native people of this country and he was just a marvelous and fantastic leader and I am surprised that they would center on four pages and I didn’t ever say that he had sex with anybody. I said that when I was awakened, he was coming out of the room with this lady and maybe, I don’t know what they did, he never told me he had sex with that lady. He may have been in there discussing and debating and trying to get her to go along with the movement, I don’t know, the sanitation workers track. I did not say that later that when we arrived at the motel, the Lorraine Motel, that he engaged in sex. I merely said that this Kentucky Legislator was there and when I discovered that he was in good hands, I took off and went to bed because it was about 1:30 to 2 in the morning. I did not try to dodge the issue.
I wanted to tell the story, where my book would have validity and not be thrown out by historians because they would say that he has been dishonest in not talking about the life of Martin Luther King to it’s fullest extent, so if he lies about one thing, looks over one side of the picture, the book is no good. I wanted it to be an honest and truthful book and I told nothing but the truth, so help me God. I am not a criminal and I challenge anybody to prove that the things that I said was not true in that book.
LAMB: Right after this book was published and right after the Memphis appeal reporter and the AP and all started writing about that four pages, the first thing that we read was that you had a couple of strokes and had brain surgery and that something was wrong — and that was why you put it in here, and did not quite know what you were doing. And then after another series of stories, we read that Bernard Lee, who was written about as the only other man with you that night, I believe, before. Is that correct?
ABERNATHY: Yes …
LAMB: Bernard Lee is out here in Lorton Prison as a chaplain …
ABERNATHY: Yes, that is right.
LAMB: …but then you hear Bernard Lee being quoted as saying that you were intoxicated that night.
ABERNATHY: Well, Bernard Lee is quoted as saying that he is the assistant pastor of the West 100th Street Baptist Church …
LAMB: Where you were?
ABERNATHY: And I, where I am today and Bernard Lee has never assisted me as pastor of the West 100th Street Baptist Church, so he told an untruth. I have never been a drinking man. I have never desired even a strong — a Coca-Cola is too strong for me and it burns my throat and I have never needed caffeine to wake me up. I have never been a smoker and I have never been a coffee drinker, even if it is decaffeinated coffee. They said that I have had two massive strokes and I have had brain surgery, but thanks be to God, you can ask me any question about what happened in the Movement. I was there and they were not there. I was there and I can give you an accurate account of what happened because I was there and I was alive and I was awake and I have never been drunk.
LAMB: One last question on this particular thing — Why have your former friends, or you may call them still your friends, worked so hard at trying to discredit you? What will be — after the dust clears on this — what is the effect of trying to discredit you?
ABERNATHY: Well, I really don’t know, for my so-called friends. First they are so-called friends because they didn’t come to see me out of the 25-30 people that signed that telegram. Many of them I do not even know and, consequently, only, I guess two people came to see me while I had these so called massive strokes. Now, I am not paralyzed. A massive stroke leaves an individual paralyzed or the mouth disfigured, or something like that. I have all of my thinking faculties and my memory. I talk slow and I am not — the wear and tear of the 63 years of my life has taken it’s toll on me — but I have been on this show.You told me when I came in that I came in here with the understanding that I was to talk to you for 45 minutes and you told me an hour and I am going an hour and I can go two hours, because I am an honest man and if you expect me to talk to you an hour, I will talk to you two hours if necessary.
Jesus says that when any man requires of you to walk one mile with him, walk two miles with him and that meant in my estimation, the one mile is required, but when you start walking the second mile, he is embarrassed and he starts loving you and being kind to you. And Jesus was a non-violent personality, but Jesus became violent on one occasion when he ran the people out of the temple because they were misusing his house. Martin Luther King shoved a woman across the bed the next day because he lost his temper. People are just people, human beings are mortal feeble beings and the apostle Paul had a thorn in his flesh of which he spoke about.
I could call you a list of people. I am staying at the Jefferson Hotel, but Thomas Jefferson had made some mistakes also. The father of our nation, George Washington had made mistakes, the slave girls talked about his affairs. And Franklin Delano Roosevelt — I don’t propose to know and be able to talk about these people and I do not speak of them in this book but I do speak of my friend, Martin Luther King Jr. and he would want me to tell it like it is and be honest and truthful and I am not trying to hurt Mrs. King because she knows it is public knowledge.
J. Edgar Hoover had revealed Martin Luther King’s lifestyle and in the book I tell of visits that I had made on his behalf and I am not trying to tell the children, his lovely children, of anything about that day because I love those children and they call me Uncle Ralph and they cited to me in the telegram that the Uncle Ralph I know would not do this. Yet, they do all kinds of things, including sending me mail to my house where they invite not my wife to the birthday celebration of Mahatma Ghandi. They are just always trying to ignore and re-write history.
If you go to the King’s Center on the marches and demonstrations and if you go to the Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport, you will see pictures of me and Martin marching together and that somebody has cropped me off. They have decided that I am not going to fill my rightful place in history and, if they have the power to broad out my having been there by the side of Martin Luther King, they are willing. They have my permission to try to block me out because I came as Jesus came to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to free the captives to set liberty to those of the blues and to proclaim the acceptable year of the law. I have been talking to you all this time and have not even taken a drink of water from this lovely cup that I am going to take and put in a loftily place, signifying that I was here today.
LAMB: Let me ask you, and we are about out of time. Your chapter headings are Atlanta, Albany, Birmingham, St. Augustine, Selma, Chicago, Memphis, Charleston, Martin Luther King Jr., and then you have a chapter heading Jesse Jackson. Now let me read to you the last paragraph that you wrote about Jesse Jackson in this chapter. »Yet I have supported him twice in his bid for Presidency… » – I assume that is 1984 and 1988?
ABERNATHY: That is right.
LAMB: « … And I suspect that I will support him again if he chooses to run. Over the years I have come to love and admire Jesse in part because he has matured into a great leader, in part because he has been so supportive of me. » You go on to write though in the book, or you wrote before that in the book, about the night that Martin Luther King was killed and the story that we have looked at many times since then — was Jesse Jackson there and did he cradle Martin Luther King his arms? And you talk about how close you were to him, and that Jesse Jackson. — I haven’t got the quotes here right in front of me — was nowhere around right after the shot was fired. How much admiration is there from Jesse Jackson to you? And after this episode, where he has denounced you in what you said here, do you think that you will still support him the next time that he runs for President?
ABERNATHY: Jesse Jackson is a good man and he has shown amazing growth in his maturity as we all. He was young then but he did not cradle Martin Luther King. He was down in the Courtyard and his first reaction was to call Mrs. King and notify her that he had been shot. But I rushed to the side of Martin Luther King and I cradled him in my arms and Bernard Lee, I want you to ask him — didn’t I and he commit civil disobedience and stay in the operating room and the doctor came over and said to me that it would be an act of mercy if God took him because he would be a vegetable. He would be paralyzed from his neck down. And I want you to ask Jose Williams, where did Jesse Jackson get that blood from — the man that called me the Jesus and the man that has supported me all of these years. And I have never done anything but try to tell the truth and try to be with Martin Luther King in all of his efforts while he was alive and lived in Resurrection City, right here in Washington D.C. and built the Resurrection City and stayed in the Movement — trying to keep Martin Luther King’s dream alive of exposing poverty in this nation.
LAMB: What is your favorite chapter, we just have a minute left, of all the chapters?
ABERNATHY: Oh, my favorite chapter is the chapter Little David, the first chapter in the book, because I just love, I just love my daddy. Upon birth when I was delivered by my maternal grandmother, Ellen Bell, he came home and made my name Little David and I regret that fact that my sister later added Ralph, because Ralph does not have much meaning but I love the name David. I was a Little David, like the goal I faced and I was able to do much, much to help Martin Luther King realize his dreams and my dreams and the dreams of all black people in this country.
LAMB: Our guest for the last hour has been Ralph David Abernathy and this is the book. « And the Walls Came Tumbling Down, » an autobiography. Thank you for being with us.
ABERNATHY: Thank you so very, very kindly.
August 2, 2009
Forty years after his death, the popularity of Martin Luther King remains extraordinary. He is perhaps the single most praised person in American history, and millions adore him as a hero and almost a saint. The federal government has made space available on the Mall in Washington for a national monument for King, not far from Lincoln’s. Only four men in American history have national monuments: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt; and now King will make five.
King is the only American who enjoys the nation’s highest honor of having a national holiday on his birthday. There are other days of remembrance such as Presidents’ Day, but no one else but Jesus Christ is recognized with a similar holiday. Does King deserve such honors? Much that has been known to scholars for years—but largely unknown to most Americans—suggests otherwise.
As a young man, King started plagiarizing the work of others and he continued this practice throughout his career.
At Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, where he received a bachelor of divinity degree in 1951, many of his papers contained material lifted verbatim and without acknowledgement from published sources. An extensive project started at Stanford University in 1984 to publish all of King’s papers tracked down the original sources for these early papers and concluded that his academic writings are “tragically flawed by numerous instances of plagiarism.” Journalist Theodore Pappas, who has also reviewed the collection, found one paper showing “verbatim theft” in 20 of a total of 24 paragraphs. He writes:
“King’s plagiarisms are easy to detect because their style rises above the level of his pedestrian student prose. In general, if the sentences are eloquent, witty, insightful, or pithy, or contain allusions, analogies, metaphors, or similes, it is safe to assume that the section has been purloined.”
King also plagiarized himself, recycling old term papers as new ones. Some of his professors complained about sloppy references, but they seem to have had no idea how extensively he was stealing material, and his habits were well established by the time he entered the PhD program at Boston University. King plagiarized one-third of his 343-page dissertation, the book-length project required to earn a PhD, leading some to say he should be stripped of his doctoral degree. Mr. Pappas explains that King’s plagiarism was a lifelong habit:
“King’s Nobel Prize Lecture was plagiarized extensively from works by Florida minister J. Wallace Hamilton; the sections on Gandhi and nonviolence in his ‘Pilgrimage’ speech were taken virtually verbatim from Harris Wofford’s speech on the same topic; the frequently replayed climax to the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech—the ‘from every mountainside, let freedom ring’ portion—came from a 1952 address to the Republican National Convention by a black preacher named Archibald Carey; and the 1968 sermon in which King prophesied his martyrdom was based on works by J. Wallace Hamilton and Methodist minister Harold Bosley.”
Perhaps King had no choice but to use the words of others. Mr. Pappas has found that on the Graduate Record Exam, King “scored in the second-lowest quartile in English and vocabulary, in the lowest ten percent in quantitative analysis, and in the lowest third on his advanced test in philosophy.”
King lived a double life. During the day, he would speak to large crowds, quoting Scripture and invoking God’s will, and at night he frequently had sex with women from the audience. “King’s habits of sexual adventure had been well established by the time he was married,” says Michael Eric Dyson of Georgetown University, a King admirer. He notes that King often “told lewd jokes,” “shared women with friends,” and was “sexually reckless.” According to King biographer Taylor Branch, during a long party on the night of January 6 and 7, 1964, an FBI bugging device recorded King’s “distinctive voice ring out above others with pulsating abandon, saying, ‘I’m f***ing for God!’”
Sex with single and married women continued after King married, and on the night before his death, King had two adulterous trysts. His first rendezvous was at a woman’s house, the second in a hotel room. The source for this was his best friend and second-in-command, Ralph Abernathy, who noted that the second woman was “a member of the Kentucky legislature,” now known to be Georgia Davis Powers.
Abernathy went on to say that a third woman was also looking for King that same night, but found his bed empty. She knew his habits and was angry when they met later that morning. In response, writes Abernathy, King “lost his temper” and “knocked her across the bed. … She leapt up to fight back, and for a moment they were engaged in a full-blown fight, with [King] clearly winning.” A few hours later, King ate lunch with Abernathy and discussed the importance of nonviolence for their movement.
To other colleagues, King justified his adultery this way: “I’m away from home twenty-five to twenty-seven days a month. F***ing’s a form of anxiety reduction.” King had many one-night stands but also grew close to one of his girlfriends in a relationship that became, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer David Garrow, “the emotional centerpiece of King’s life.” Still, sex with other women remained “a commonplace of King’s travels.”
In private, King could be extremely crude. On one FBI recording, King said to Abernathy in what was no doubt a teasing remark, “Come on over here, you big black motherf***er, and let me suck your d**k.” FBI sources told Taylor Branch about a surveillance tape of King watching a televised rerun of the Kennedy funeral. When he saw the famous moment when Jacqueline Kennedy knelt with her children before her dead husband’s coffin, King reportedly sneered, “Look at her. Sucking him off one last time.”
Despite his obsession with sex and his betrayal of his own wife and children, and despite Christianity’s call for fidelity, King continued to claim the moral authority of a Baptist minister.
King stated that the “vast majority of white Americans are racist” and that they refused to share power. His solution was to redistribute wealth and power through reparations for slavery and racial quotas:
“No amount of gold could provide an adequate compensation for the exploitation and humiliation of the Negro in America down through the centuries. Not all the wealth of this affluent society could meet the bill. Yet a price can be placed on unpaid wages. … The payment should be in the form of a massive program by the government of special, compensatory measures which could be regarded as a settlement.” Continued King, “Moral justification for such measures for Negroes is rooted in the robberies inherent in the institution of slavery.” He named his plan the Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged. Some poor whites would also receive compensation because they were “derivative victims of slavery,” but the welfare of blacks was his central focus.
King has been praised, even by conservatives, as the great advocate of color-blindness. They focus too narrowly on one sentence in his “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he said he wanted to live in a nation “where [my children] will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” The truth is that King wanted quotas for blacks. “[I]f a city has a 30 percent Negro population,” King reasoned, “then it is logical to assume that Negroes should have at least 30 percent of the jobs in any particular company, and jobs in all categories rather than only in menial areas.”
One of King’s greatest achievements is said to have been passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At the signing ceremony on July 2, he stood directly behind President Lyndon Johnson as a key guest. The federal agency created by the act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, now monitors hiring practices and ensures that King’s desires for racial preferences are met.
Like liberals today, King denied racial differences. In a reply to an interviewer who told him many Southern whites thought racial differences were a biological fact, he replied:
“This utterly ignorant fallacy has been so thoroughly refuted by the social scientists, as well as by medical science, that any individual who goes on believing it is standing in an absolutely misguided and diminishing circle. The American Anthropological Association has unanimously adopted a resolution repudiating statements that Negroes are biologically, in innate mental ability or in any other way inferior to whites.”
The conclusions to be drawn from his belief in across-the-board equality were clear: failure by blacks to achieve at the level of whites could be explained only by white oppression. As King explained in one interview, “I think we have to honestly admit that the problems in the world today, as they relate to the question of race, must be blamed on the whole doctrine of white supremacy, the whole doctrine of racism, and these doctrines came into being through the white race and the exploitation of the colored peoples of the world.” King predicted that “if the white world” does not stop this racism and oppression, “then we can end up in the world with a kind of race war.”
In his public speeches, King never called himself a communist, instead claiming to stand for a synthesis of capitalism and communism: “[C]apitalism fails to realize that life is social. Communism fails to realize that life is individual. Truth is found neither in the rugged individualism of capitalism nor in the impersonal collectivism of communism. The Kingdom of God is found in a synthesis that combines the truths of these two opposites.”
However, David Garrow found that in private King “made it clear to close friends that economically speaking he considered himself what he termed a Marxist.” Mr. Garrow passes along an account of a conversation C.L.R. James, a Marxist intellectual, had with King: “King leaned over to me saying, ‘I don’t say such things from the pulpit, James, but that is what I really believe.’… King wanted me to know that he understood and accepted, and in fact agreed with, the ideas that I was putting forward—ideas which were fundamentally Marxist-Leninist. … I saw him as a man whose ideas were as advanced as any of us on the Left, but who, as he actually said to me, could not say such things from the pulpit. … King was a man with clear ideas, but whose position as a churchman, etc. imposed on him the necessity of reserve.” J. Pius Barbour, a close friend of King’s at seminary, agreed that he “was economically a Marxist.”
Some of King’s most influential advisors were Communists with direct ties to the Soviet Union. One was Stanley Levison, whom Mr. Garrow called King’s “most important political counselor” and “at Martin Luther King’s elbow.” He organized fundraisers for King, counseled him on tax issues and political strategy, wrote fundraising letters and his United Packinghouse Workers Convention speech, edited parts of his books, advised him on his first major national address, and prepped King for questions from the media. Coretta Scott King said of Levison that he was “[a]lways working in the background, his contribution has been indispensable,” and Mr. Garrow says the association with Levison was “without a doubt King’s closest friendship with a white person.”
What were Levison’s political views? John Barron is the author of Operation SOLO, which is about “the most vital intelligence operation the FBI ever had sustained against the Soviet Union.” Part of its work was to track Levison who, according to Mr. Barron, “gained admission into the inner circle of the communist underground” in the US. Mr. Garrow, a strong defender of King, admits that Levison was “one of the two top financiers” of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA), which received about one million dollars a year from the Soviet Union. Mr. Garrow found that Levison was “directly involved in the Communist Party’s most sensitive financial dealings,” and acknowledged there was first-hand evidence of Levison’s “financial link to the Soviet Union.”
Hunter Pitts O’Dell, who was elected in 1959 to the national committee, the governing body for the CPUSA, was another party member who worked for King. According to FBI reports, Levison installed O’Dell as the head of King’s New York office, and later recommended that O’Dell be made King’s executive assistant in Atlanta.
King knew his associates were Communists. President Kennedy himself gave an “explicit personal order” to King advising against his “shocking association with Stanley Levison.” Once when he was walking privately with King in the White House Rose Garden, Kennedy also named O’Dell and said to King: “They’re Communists. You’ve got to get rid of them.”
The Communist connections help explain why Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy authorized the FBI to wiretap King’s home and office telephones in October 1963. Kennedy, like his brother John, was deeply sympathetic to King but also aware of the threat of communism.
Mr. Garrow tried to exonerate King of the charge of being a fellow traveler by arguing that Levison broke with the CPUSA while he worked for King, that is, from the time he met King in the summer of 1956 until King’s death in 1968. However, as historian Samuel Francis has pointed out, an official break with the CPUSA does not necessarily mean a break with the goals of communism or with the Soviet Union.
John Barron argues that if Levison had defected from the CPUSA and renounced communism, he would not have associated with former comrades, such as CP officials Lem Harris, Hunter Pitts O’Dell, and Roy Bennett (Levison’s twin brother who had changed his last name). He was also close to the highly placed KGB officer Victor Lessiovsky, who was an assistant to the head of the United Nations, U Thant.
Mr. Barron asks why Lessiovsky would “fritter away his time and risk his career … by repeatedly indulging himself in idle lunches or amusing cocktail conversation with an undistinguished lawyer [Levison] … who had nothing to offer the KGB, or with someone who had deserted the party and its discipline, or with someone about whom the KGB knew nothing? … And why would an ordinary American lawyer … meet, again and again, with a Soviet assistant to the boss of the United Nations?”
Other Communists who worked with King included Aubrey Williams, James Dombrowski, Carl Braden, William Melish, Ella J. Baker, Bayard Rustin, and Benjamin Smith. King also “associated and cooperated with a number of groups known to be CPUSA front organizations or to be heavily penetrated and influenced by members of the Communist Party”—for example, the Southern Conference Educational Fund; Committee to Secure Justice for Morton Sobell; the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America; the National Lawyers Guild; and the Highlander Folk School.
The CPUSA clearly tried to influence King and his movement. An FBI report of May 6, 1960 from Jack Childs, one of the FBI’s most accomplished spies and a winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for Intelligence, said that the CP “feels that it is definitely to the Party’s advantage to assign outstanding Party members to work with the [Martin] Luther King group. CP policy at the moment is to concentrate upon Martin Luther King.”
As Republican Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina concluded in a Senate speech written by Francis, King’s alliance with Communists was evidence of “identified Communists … planning the influencing and manipulation of King for their own purposes.” At the same time, King relied on them for speech writing, fundraising, and raising public awareness. They, in turn, used his stature and fame to their own benefit. Senator Helms cited Congressman John M. Ashbrook, a ranking member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, who said: “King has consistently worked with Communists and has helped give them a respectability they do not deserve. I believe he has done more for the Communist Party than any other person of this decade.”
King strongly doubted several core beliefs of Christianity. “I was ordained to the Christian ministry,” he claimed, but Stanford University’s online repository includes King’s seminary writings in which he disputed the full divinity of Jesus, the Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection, suggesting that we “strip them of their literal interpretation.”
Regarding the divine nature of Jesus, King wrote that Jesus was godlike, but not God. People called Jesus divine because they “found God in him” like a divinely inspired teacher, not because he literally was God, as Jesus himself claimed. On the Virgin Birth, King wrote:
“First we must admit that the evidence for the tenability of this doctrine is to [sic] shallow to convince any objective thinker. How then did this doctrine arise? A clue to this inquiry may be found in a sentence from St. Justin’s First Apology. Here Justin states that the birth of Jesus is quite similar to the birth of the sons of Zeus. It was believed in Greek thought that an extraordinary person could only be explained by saying that he had a father who was more than human. It is probable that this Greek idea influenced Christian thought.”
Concerning the Resurrection, King wrote: “In fact the external evidence for the authenticity of this doctrine is found wanting.” The early church, he says, formulated this doctrine because it “had been captivated by the magnetic power of his [Jesus’] personality. This basic experience led to the faith that he could never die. And so in the pre-scientific thought pattern of the first century, this inner faith took outward form.” Thus, in this view, Jesus’ body never rose from the dead, even though according to Scripture, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.”
Two other essays show how King watered down Christianity. In one, he wrote that contemporary mystery religions influenced New Testament writers: “[A]fter being in contact with these surrounding religions and hearing certain doctrines expressed, it was only natural for some of these views to become part of their subconscious minds. … That Christianity did copy and borrow from Mithraism cannot be denied, but it was generally a natural and unconscious process rather than a deliberate plan of action.” In another essay, King wrote that liberal theology “was an attempt to bring religion up intellectually,” and the introduction to the paper at the Stanford website says that King was “scornful of fundamentalism.” King wrote that in fundamentalism the Trinity, the Atonement, and the Second Coming are “quite prominent,” but again, these are defining beliefs of Christianity.
Known and unknown
King is both known and unknown. Millions worldwide see him as a moral messiah, and American schools teach young children to praise him. In the United States there are no fewer than 777 streets named for him. But King is also unknown because only a few people are aware of the unsavory aspects of his life. The image most people have of King is therefore cropped and incomplete.
In the minds of many, King towers above other Americans as a distinguished orator and writer, but this short, 5’6½ » man often stole the words of others. People believe he was a Christian, but he doubted some of the fundamentals of the faith. Our country honors King, but he worked closely with Communists who aimed to destroy it. He denied racial differences, but fought for racial favoritism in the form of quotas. He claimed to be for freedom, but he wanted to force people to associate with each other and he promoted the redistribution of wealth in the form of reparations for slavery. He quoted the ringing words of the Bible and claimed, as a preacher, to be striving to be more like Jesus, but his colleagues knew better.
Perhaps he, too, knew better. His closest political advisor, Stanley Levison, said King was “an intensely guilt-ridden man” and his wife Coretta also called him “a guilt-ridden man.” Levison said that the praise heaped upon King was “a continual series of blows to his conscience” because he was such a humble man. If King was guilt-ridden might it have been because he knew better than anyone the wide gap between his popular image and his true character?
The FBI surveillance files could throw considerable light on his true character, but they will not be made public until 2027. On January 31, 1977, as a result of lawsuits by King’s allies against the FBI, a US district judge ordered the files sealed for 50 years. There are reportedly 56 feet of records — tapes, transcripts, and logs — in the custody of the National Archives and Record Service.
Meanwhile, for those who seek to know the real identity of this nearly untouchable icon, there is still plenty of evidence with which to answer the question: Was Martin Luther King, Jr. America’s best and greatest man?
Why ‘I have a dream’ was and still is an exceptionally good speech
by JC Durbant
As a biographer of Martin Luther King’s famous 1963 speech recently said, a great speech is a speech that is “both timely and timeless”, that is a speech that is both adapted to the occasion and its immediate audience but also a speech that will stand the test of time. And ‘I have a dream’ obviously qualifies on both counts.
Timely because it appealed to and had a message for all the different types of audience that were then present, the over 200, 000 thousands who were physically there on Washington’s Mall and the probably millions who were listening in or watching at home on their radios or televisions. To the ordinary blacks who needed encouragement for the present and hope for the future (“we are not be satisfied”, “go back to Mississippi”) and the militant blacks who were tempted by the violent ways of Malcom X and the Black panthers (“discipline”, “dignity”). But also to the average whites and the largely white authorities who needed to understand the black population’s unacceptable condition and their responsibility in it as well as the white supremacists who needed to be shown blacks were just as American as they were and not the savages they portrayed them to be (“police brutality”, “lodging in motels and hotels”, “For Whites only signs”, the northern “ghettoes”, the “vote” question).
And timeless because it appealed to all that was then and still is sacred to all Americans. First by placing itself literally in the shadow of US history’s most respected president (the majestic Lincoln memorial but also the centennial of his Emancipation Proclamation which offered freedom to the South’s slaves willing to fight for it). But also by profusely and patriotically quoting from the founding texts of the nation: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (”unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal”) as well as the old national anthem (“America, my country ‘tis of thee”) and the Liberty bell’s biblical motto (“proclaim liberty throughout the land”). And of course, not to mention the Gettysburg Address reference (“five score years ago”), the naming of all the major states and a Shakespeare half quote (“summer of discontent” from the opening of Richard III), from the Bible itself – King never let you forget he was a pastor – both directly (“justice rolls down like waters”, “every valley shall be exalted”) and through an old Negro spiritual (“Free at last”).
But both timely and timeless by the way Dr. King and his speechwriters so effectively made use of all the riches of eloquence and rhetoric. From the easy-to-remember anaphora and epistrophe (the famous “I have a dream” – which is also “deeply rooted” in the quintessential American dream – repeated no less than eight times, “now is the time”, “satisfied”, “let freedom ring”, “free at last”, “together”) to the biblical cadences and parallelisms. From the analogies, comparisons and metaphors to the alliterations, rhymes and rhetorical questions, not to mention the humor and irony (“bad check”, perhaps the only direct reference to the March’s original goal of jobs). And of course from King himself, the deep, powerful voice to inspire, build up emotion and win over both heads and hearts. Then, as the crowd’s cheering amply shows in the recording but also as the civil rights legislation and his Nobel prize proved the following year or just more recently his own national holiday and memorial in the nation’s capital. And still, fifty-one years later – and not just to Americans – under an African-American president, today.
(I am happy…I Have a Dream) I got a Dream
(That One Day ) Were gonna work it out out out
(I Have a Dream) I got a Dream
(That One Day) That one day
(That One Day) I’ma look deep within myself
(I Have a Dream) I gotta find a way…
My Dream Is To Be Free
In search of brighter days, I ride through the maze of the madness,
Struggle is my address, where pain and crack lives,
Gunshots comin’ from sounds of Blackness,
Given this game with no time to practice,
Born on the Black list, told I’m below average,
A life with no cabbage,
That’s no money if you from where I’m from,
Funny, I just want some of your sun
Dark clouds seem to follow me,
Alcohol that my pops swallowed bottled me,
No apology, I walk with a boulder on my shoulder,
It’s a Cold War – I’m a colder soldier,
Hold the same fight that made Martin Luther the King,
I ain’t usin’ it for the right thing,
In between Lean and the fiens, hustle and the schemes,
I put together pieces of a Dream
I still have one
The world’s seen me lookin’ in the mirror,
Images of me, gettin’ much clearer,
Dear Self, I wrote a letter just to better my soul,
If I don’t express it then forever I’ll hold, inside
I’m from a side where we out of control,
Rap music in the ‘hood played a fatherly role,
My story’s like yours, yo it gotta be told,
Tryna make it from a gangsta to a godlier role,
Read scrolls and stow slaves,
And Jewish people in cold cage,
Hate has no color or age, flip the page,
Now my rage became freedom,
Writin’ dreams in the dark, they far but I can see ’em,
I believe in Heaven more than Hell,
Blessings more than jail,
In the ghetto let love prevail,
With a story to tell, my eyes see the glory and well,
The world waitin’ for me to yell « I Have a Dream