Civil society depends on the mental, spiritual and moral health of the stranger. Rule of law is a privilege, a blessing, not a birthright.
“Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”
~Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
What I’m reading today courtesy of The Faith & Politics Institute’s Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
On this sad day commemorating 45 years since MLK’s death, a reminder that his message of nonviolence and the beloved community lives on in the work of one of his closest friends and confidants, Congressman John Lewis.
Obit of the Day (Historical): Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968)
Today marks the 45th anniversary of the death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was assassinated by James Earl Ray* on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King was in the city to support a strike by the city’s black sanitation workers. (The strike was precipitated by the deaths of two black workers who were crushed in malfunctioning garbage truck.)
Dr. King was standing on a balcony outside of his motel room joking with Jesse Jackson (future leader of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and presidential candidate). At 6:01 p.m. a shot rang out and Dr. King collapsed onto the balcony. It was determined later that he was shot with a 30.06 caliber rifle which struck him on the right side of the face and throat.
The 39-year-old civil rights champion was pronounced dead at 7:06 p.m. at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Memphis. It was quickly determined that Dr. King was shot and killed by a “bare headed white man in his 30’s, wearing a black suit and a black tie.” He was alleged to be driving a white Mustang.
The death of Dr. King, a believer in non-violent protest that he adapted from Gandhi, sparked actions in the black community that Dr. King had fought against more than a decade. Riots broke out in Los Angeles, Detroit, and Newark, NJ. In Chicago 3,000 National Guard troops were marched into the city’s West and South Sides where rioting and looting had broken out. Some fires were set but the casualty rate was low and the city returned to relative calm by that Monday. (It was during the Chicago riots that Mayor Richard J. Daley infamously ordered police “to shoot to kill any arsonist or anyone with a Molotov cocktail in his hand … and … to shoot to maim or cripple anyone looting any stores in our city.” There were anywhere from 9 to 11 deaths over the weekend but the causes were never determined.)
Dr. King, who was born Michael Luther King, Jr. but had it changed by his father so their names would honor the Protestant reformer, was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929. Following in his father’s footsteps, Dr. King decided in his junior year at Morehouse College to become a pastor.
He studied theology at Crozier Theological Seminary in Chester, PA where he was one of only 6 black students in a class of 100. But his leadership ability shone through and he was elected class president - the first African American to hold the position. He also earned a fellowship for doctoral work.
He enrolled at Boston College and while in Massachusetts, met Coretta Scott, who was studying music at Antioch College. They married in 1953.The following year Dr. King was hired as the pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He was 25 years old.
Then on December 1, 1955 Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man.
Four days later the Montgomery Bus Boycott began and Dr. King was elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association. The boycott lasted 381 days, brought national attention to Mrs. Parks, segregation, and the young Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (The boycott ended on December 20, 1956 after the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling declaring the bus segregation unconstitutional.)
From that time Dr. King became the face of the modern civil rights movement. He returned to his home of Atlanta in 1959 and from there with the support of organizations including the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Dr. King the push for civil rights across the segregated South.
Dr. King, and thousands of men, women, and children, would silently suffer through arrests, beatings, attacks by dogs, and blasts of fire hose water presenting to the United States and the world a non-violent response to unbridled violence and hatred.
Dr. King’s greatest moment was seen by millions. On August 28, 1963 A. Philip Randolph, the head of the International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, partnered with six other civil rights organizations planned a march on Washington, D.C. Dr. King spoke to the assembled crowd of 200,000 - of all races and ages - and television audiences in the millions telling them, “I have a dream…” (You can see the entire speech here.)
In 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. (In 1950 Ralph Bunche was the first black person to win the Peace Prize. He was given the award for his mediation in Palestine.)
The work of Dr. King and countless leader would lead directly to the passage of the 1964 Voting Rights Act and the 1965 Civil Rights Act, both signed by President Lyndon Johnson. Dr. King was present at the signing of the latter.
After Dr. King’s death he received a final measure of disrespect. Georgia governor Lester Maddox refused to allow Dr. King’s body to lie in state at the capitol building. He stated that Dr. King was an “enemy of the country.” He did not close the state government in Dr. King’s honor and refused to lower flags to half-staff until he was told that it was a federal order. Governor Maddox even placed the National Guard around the capitol building in order to “protect the property of the state.” Over 200,000 mourners attended Dr. King’s funeral and there were no incidents of violence.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was buried in Southview Cemetery with his parents. Later his body was moved to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center located at the former site of his boyhood home.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed the law making the third Monday of January a federal holiday in honor of Dr. King. On August 22, 2011 the Martin Luther King Memorial was opened to the public in Washington, D.C.
Note: This is a far from a full treatment of the life of Dr. King. It is a summary of his life and legacy. I know that I have left out significant moments in his life and career. There are myriad resources available detailing, in full, Dr. King’s life and legacy. OOTD recommends you search them out for more information.
Sources: NY Times obituary, NY Times assassination coverage, Chicago Tribune, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, CORE, Our Georgia History, Answers.com, Wikipedia.org
(Image of an unidentified girl walking past Dr. King’s coffin on April 9, 1968. The photograph is copyright of Harry Benson, www.harrybenson.com.)
* Although James Earl Ray was arrested and sentenced to 99 years in prison, there was later discussion that he was not either the true shooter or acting alone. Even members of the King family felt that Dr. King’s murder was part of a larger conspiracy. Mr. Ray died in prison in 1998 at the age of 60 having recanted his confession to the murder and pleading for a new trial. No evidence has been made public presenting another theory for Dr. King’s murder.
Other relevant OOTD posts:
Dr. Joe Williams - St. Louis civil rights leader
Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth - SCLC co-founder and sometime critic of MLK
Clara Luper - Oklahoma civil rights pioneer (an OOTD favorite)
Rep. Katie Hall - Indiana Democrat who sponsored bill to create MLK holiday
Dan Martin - Atlanta florist who supplied flowers for Dr. King’s funeral
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
An hour with the extraordinary humanity of Congressman John Lewis. The civil rights movement he helped animate was — as he tells it — love in action. He opens up the art and the discipline that made nonviolence work then — and that he offers up for our common life even today. John Lewis so gives voice to the meaning of Passover and Holy Week.
Krista Tippett interviews civil rights legend and Congressman John Lewis in Montgomery, Alabama during the Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage. Amazing man!
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
This man is a voice for all ages and all seasons. Sadly, most people have probably never heard of this great civil rights leader. Vincent Harding wrote speeches for Martin Luther King Jr. and was one of his closest friends. But, he doesn’t live in the past. He is teaching new generations about the lessons of that time — and how those lessons can repair divisions in America today. He finds hope in young people today and says they are his answer to the question that drives him: “Is America possible?”
Forty-five years ago today, Thurgood Marshall was nominated by Presdient Lyndon B. Johnson for the Supreme Court. What a day. From todaysdocument:
Message of President Lyndon B. Johnson nominating Thurgood Marshall of New York to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, 06/13/1967
Thurgood Marshall was confirmed as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court by the Senate on August 30, 1967, following his nomination by President Lyndon B. Johnson on June 13. Marshall was the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court. His nomination followed a long and distinguished career as a prominent civil rights lawyer, and he argued more than 30 cases before the Supreme Court, including the famous and influential case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
“Once social change begins it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”
~Cesar Chavez, labor leader and civil rights activist, from his address to the Commonwealth Club on November 9, 1984
Photo by Salina Canizales (distributed with instagram)
Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge
by Krista Tippett, host
I interviewed James Gates once before, a few years ago, when we were creating our show on Einstein’s ethics. We talked then about Einstein’s little-remembered passion for racial equality. James Gates spent part of his childhood in segregated schools — experiences he does not take for granted now that he is a preeminent, African-American physicist. But what I was so taken by in that conversation years ago was how he explained Einstein’s social activism in terms of the values and virtues of scientific pursuit. He spoke of empathy as a potential byproduct of the process of discovery. A scientist’s “What if…” questions can evolve into human “What if…” questions.
James Gates’ capacity to share both from his humanity and his life in science strikes me again, and comes through even more forcefully during our more recent conversation in “Uncovering the Codes for Reality.” This time, I spoke with him about his particular passions. He is a string theorist, with a special emphasis on supersymmetry — a quality in the universe which, if demonstrated, might help support string theory as a way to reconcile the greatest puzzle modern physics has tried to solve since Einstein. Simply put, the universe seems to follow different rules at the highest and the smallest levels of reality. String theory imagines that deeper than atoms, deeper than electrons, behind quarks, all of reality is brought into being by filaments of energy. These “strings” might span the whole of reality, and possibly explain why gravity behaves so differently from varying vantage points. Some leading string theorists posit that there are at least eleven dimensions — far more than the three or four dimensions we are equipped to experience.
That is about how far I comprehend the idea behind string theory. The lovely thing about a conversation with James Gates is that my incomprehension does not matter. He gives me much to chew on, and be enriched by.
For starters, he is just the latest voice — others include the astrophysicist Mario Livio, and the astronomers Guy Consolmagno and George Coyne — to let me in to the secrets and power of science’s language of mathematics. He calls mathematics a kind of sixth sense — an organ of “extrasensory perception” — for scientists. By way of mathematics, scientists perceived and described the atom years before microscopes sophisticated enough to view them could be invented. Now, with mathematics, he and his colleagues are tracing clues and cosmic hints that may never be provable with our five senses — but that may shift our very sense of the nature of reality.
One of the things James Gates and some of his colleagues have “seen,” for example, are underlying codes embedded in the cosmos — error-correcting codes, like those that drive computer programs. (Full disclosure: he’s a fan of The Matrix — so am I — and we hear a little bit of that iconic movie in our one-hour podcast.) This is just one of many observations he makes that raises questions, he says, that physics alone can neither answer nor probe.
He is also working on an interesting frontier of expanding science’s own imagination about mathematical equations in describing reality. He and his colleagues have recently employed something called adinkras, visual symbols that may be able to unlock truths that equations alone cannot capture, just as there are truths that only poetry can convey.
There’s also a lot of fodder for one of my fascinations with the realm of science — the creative, playful, even spiritual act of naming things, especially in physics: beauty quarks and anti-beauty quarks, sizzling black holes, and superstrings, for example. The term adinkras, which comes from West Africa tradition and connotes pictures having hidden meaning, carries on this tradition.
James Gates’ own delight is infectious and illuminating, as much when he is letting us in on mysteries of the cosmos as when he shares the human lessons of his life in science. I’ll leave you with this, for example, as an enticement. When I asked him what he thought of Einstein’s statement that “imagination is more important than knowledge,” he said he had puzzled over this for many years:
“For a long time in my life, imagination was the world of play. It was reading about astronauts, and monsters, and traveling in galaxies, all of that kind of stuff, invaders from outer space on earth. That was all in the world of the imagination. On the other hand, reality is all about us. And it’s constraining, and it can be painful. But the knowledge we gain is critical for our species to survive.
So how could it be that play is more important than knowledge? It took me years to figure out an answer. And the answer turns out [to be] rather strange… Imagination is more important than knowledge because imagination turns out to be the vehicle by which we increase knowledge. And so, if you don’t have imagination, you’re not going to get more knowledgeable.”