Martin luther king jr and the southern christian leadership conference
Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, JR., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by David J. GarrowEarly morning, April 4th,
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky,
Free at last! They took your life,
They could not take your pride (Bono, U2).
I learned so many things from this book. For example, that MLK was assassinated at 6 pm, so Bono got that wrong in his lyrics when he says early morning. Then of course pride rhymes a bit with life, so it worked in the song, but other than that, i believe it would be a poor choice to summarize the spirit of Martin Luther King with the word pride.
Bearing the cross is a long book. 800 pages with 170 pages of footnotes. It is, as the cover says, the most informative life of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the most thorough study of the civil rights movement (from the New York Review of Books). Note that this comment does not express any literary quality, or, for that matter, any reason at all why you should read this book unless you need to do a research on MLK and you dont have access to Google.
The writing is as dry as sand. Most of the book can be described as a collection of data and facts, organized in chronological order, from Rosa Parks to MLKs death. Many paragraphs begin with The following day, or Later that afternoon or even Twenty minutes later. Thats the level of detail!! Garrow took many years to put this book together, and he had access to an immense amount of hard-copy information, from interviews to newspapers to copies of FBI wiretaps.
Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the subject matter is so important and fascinating per se, that it still resounds and shines despite the flat, dry writing. To be fair to the author, at some points he will concede a little dramatization, in the choice of a particular verb or in the semi-emotional conclusion of a chapter. Mind you, we are talking about 1% emotion and 99% cold delivery of facts.
But emotion and drama is precisely what Garrow wanted to avoid. As he says at the end, by idolizing those whom we honor, we do a disservice both to them and to ourselves. His goal seems to be the 360 degrees representation of MLK as a man, almost as a reaction to all the hype and drama that seems to engulf and cloud MLKs history.
I can tell you that after reading this book I feel like I know MLK thoughts, feelings and motivations much, much better than what I did before. And that is a good thing.
I can tell you that this mans life should celebrated even more than what it is today, for what it represents. His weaknesses, his womanizing, his over-eating and his vanity, are dwarfed by his achievements and by the historical weight of the civil rights movement. MLK was not the only black movements leader, he was not the smartest, he was not the first or most original. But he became a symbol. That he accepted to live as such an important symbol for the last 10 years of his life, while thinking of quitting almost every other day, is a remarkable thing.
One thing above everything else differentiated him and elevated his message to real majestic heights: his relentless commitment to non-violence.
Now, I felt the importance of MLKs religious faith was addressed but not properly highlighted by Garrow. Its understandble, for when you collect an endless series of facts, you wont find much that says on that morning, he knelt down and prayed for 10 minutes, etc. Unfortunately, Garrow touches on MLKs spiritual side only at the beginning, ignoring it almost completely for the rest of the book. This is in line with the fact-shoveling style of the book, but it pays little respect to MLKs most important relationship, the one he had with God.
Despite the authors lack of interest for the importance that Kings spiritual life had for himself and the people around him, the author never forgets to mention that King, whatever he was doing, was always extremely tired, exhausted, almost every two pages. It gets ridiculous after a while. Oh, I certainly believe it to be true. Not hard at all to believe. To keep up with his schedule, he was taking some non specified pills. Again, not surprising at all. Every big political figure, today like in the past, is constantly using medicines and drugs to be able to keep going at that super-human pace.
But if you find the time to write that Dr King was exhausted all the time, had a slight bronchitis on that day, and a cough the other day, why dont you find any time to mention his constant, daily praying, or at least some comments on some religious sermons he held, that was far more important stuff? One time MLK goes on holiday and then hes back on the road for a series of speeches, and again every single thing Garrow describes must be preceded by despite his exhaustion, King did this and that.... Please give me a break. MLK was a big boy, a 30-something man with the constitution of a bull who, just like thousands of businessmen, yesterday and today, had to fly around and work long hours. Is that so out of the ordinary? I was really baffled by this aspect of the book. Perhaps writing the book became such an exhausting task for Garrow that he found the need to express his own feelings of exhaustion through MLKs life? But im overthinking here.
At any rate, I really enjoyed reading this book. This is history at its most detailed, which means you are free to judge and jump to conclusions, but not to invent something that is not true, or to exaggerate things. I found particularly grippong the part about the relationship with the FBI, and the conflict with J E Hoover, the Darth Vader of those years.
MLK was a pastor. He came from a priviledged background. He was a very gifted and spiritual man, who was chosen by history to play a special, unique part. Watching his speeches and interviews (on youtube) after having read this book is a particularly moving experience. Despite being aware of his shortfalls and weaknesses, you are even more inspired and filled with admiration.
And what an orator. In the words murmured by JFK immediately after the I have a dream speech in Washington: He is damn good.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Recognizing the need for a mass movement to capitalize on the successful Montgomery action, King set about organizing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference SCLC , which gave him a base of operation throughout the South, as well as a national platform from which to speak. King lectured in all parts of the country and discussed race-related issues with religious and civil rights leaders at home and abroad. King also looked to Africa for inspiration. In King and his family moved to his native city of Atlanta , where he became co-pastor with his father of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. In late October he was arrested with 33 young people protesting segregation at the lunch counter in an Atlanta department store. Charges were dropped, but King was sentenced to Reidsville State Prison Farm on the pretext that he had violated his probation on a minor traffic offense committed several months earlier. Dwight D.
Prior to this, Rustin, in New York City, conceived the idea of initiating such an effort and first sought C. Steele to make the call and take the lead role.
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The Southern Christian Leadership Conference
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference SCLC was created on January , , when sixty black ministers and civil rights leaders met in Atlanta, Georgia in an effort to replicate the successful strategy and tactics of the recently concluded Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott. Martin Luther King Jr. Later SCLC would address the issues of war and poverty. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference struggled during its beginning, with only one full time staff member, but soon expanded with the student sit-in movement of and the Freedom Rides of In December , the SCLC initiated its first direct action campaign in Albany, Georgia with a series of marches to protest segregation and discrimination. Kennedy to call for a national civil rights act.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott began on December 5, after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on the bus. The boycott lasted for days and ended on December 21, , with the desegregation of the Montgomery bus system. Martin Luther King, Jr. Despite a bombing of the home and church of Ralph David Abernathy during the Atlanta meeting, 60 persons from 10 states assembled and announced the founding of the Southern Leadership Conference on Transportation and Nonviolent Integration. They issued a document declaring that civil rights are essential to democracy, that segregation must end, and that all Black people should reject segregation absolutely and nonviolently. Further organizing was done at a meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana on February 14, The organization shortened its name to Southern Leadership Conference, established an Executive Board of Directors, and elected officers, including Dr.