As you know I am preparing for my remarks tomorrow to celebrate and commemorate the 91st birthday Martin Luther King Jr. As I continue my research I stumbled upon a few weeks ago a rare article from James Baldwin and a series of interviews that he did with Martin Luther King. https://harpers.org/
“The Reverend King is not like any preacher I’ve ever met before. For one thing, to state it baldly, I liked him.”
That quote from Baldwin says a lot. He was likable and approachable. Dr. King was different than other preachers. Take away his title which he earned and their titles and when you look at the man, King stood head and shoulders above anyone in American history, maybe even the entire history of the profession of ministry. There are many people who have “style” and no “substance.” There are others who have “substance” and “no style.” Dr. King was the “style of substance.” I thought that quote noteworthy.
Secondly and even more importantly in the same article James Baldwin says.
“What he says to Negroes he will say to Whites; and what he says to Whites he will say to Negroes. He is the first Negro leader in my experience, or the first of many generations, of whom this can be said; most of his predecessors were in the extraordinary position of saying to white men, hurry, while saying to black men, wait.”
This quote raises the question of intellectual, spiritual and moral integrity. There is no substitute for that. A leader devoid of this basic characteristic isn’t a leader at all, but the foot shuffling, head bobbing, ham boning, tool of the establishment. I’ve wasted alot of time with people who got this model of leadership down pat. I must admit my gullibility, during a phase of style admiration. I did not recognize the character trait, until I was in both cultural settings. In the black setting, they speak in a dialect that includes the streets and familiarity. In other cultural settings they speak in a dialect that respects the kings language and lacks the authenticity of the reality of our circumstance.
When a person speaks with this kind of integrity, he or she will take heat from both sides. Because it is this integrity the challenges the conscience￼. For example you can’t blame everything on the white man, and ignore our moral degeneracy. Some of the things the white man does he does because he thinks we are not moral. On the other hand, the Negro lives across this country on an island of material poverty amongst a sea of material wealth and prosperity￼. The stock market doesn’t mean anything to us including its fluctuations. ￼And yes I believe the economic conditions of health-carelessness, homelessness, joblessness, mass incarceration contribute to moral degeneracy. With that said we must speak with integrity to both sides of the dilemma.￼
I found a third and compelling comparative analysis that Baldwin made to distinguish profoundly our King from Booker T. Washington.
“He is not, for example, to be confused with Booker T. Washington, whom we gratefully allowed to solve the racial problem single-handedly. It was Washington who assured us, in 1895, one year before it became the law of the land, that the education of Negroes would not give them any desire to become equals; they would Be content to remain-or, rather, after living for generations in the greatest intimacy with whites, to become -separate. It is a measure of the irreality to which the presence of the Negro had already reduce the nation that this utterly fantastic idea, which thoroughly controverts the purpose of education, which has no historical or psychological validity, and which denies all the principles on which the country imagine itself to have been found, was not only excepted with tears but became the cornerstone of an entire way of life. And this did not come about, by the way, merely because of the venom or villainy of the south. It could never have come about at all Without the tacit consent of the north; and this consent robs the north, historically and actually, of any clean tomorrow superiority. The failure of the government to make any realistic provisions for the education of tens of thousands of illiterate former slaves had the effect of dumping this problem squarely into the lap of one man – Who knew, whatever else he may not have known, that the Education of the Negroes had somehow to be accomplished. Whether or not Washington believe what he said is certainly an interesting question. But he did know that he could not accomplish his objective by telling white man what they wanted to hear. and it has never been very difficult for a Negro in this country to figure out what white men want to hear: he takes his condition as an echo of their desires.
There will be no more Booker T. Washington‘s. And whether we like it or not, and no matter how hard or how long we oppose it, there will be no more segregated schools, there will be no more segregated anything. King is entirely right when he says that segregation is dead.”
And I would personally add
“Martin Luther King Junior killed it.” Now for all who have read what James Baldwin has said and what I have concluded, understand that I have very little room in my thinking for Booker T. Washington and his modern disciples. I see and hear their ideas on Facebook and other places all the time. I listen patiently, but I know regurgitated thought when I hear it. They don’t know I know. In the back of your mind must be equal high-quality. If it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for us, and there’s no need to build anything separate and apart￼ from the other.
We die in every war from the revolutionary to the present, we built this nation, I believe in the death of second class citizenship￼￼. I believe in first class citizenship for everybody￼.
Later in the article Baldwin says “the problem of Negro leadership in this country has always been extremely delicate, dangerous, and complex. The term itself becomes remarkably Difficult to define, the moment one realizes that the real role Of the Negro leader, in the eyes of the American Republic, was not to make the Negro a first class citizen but to keep him content as a second class one. This sounds extremely harsh, but the record Bears me out and this problem, which it was the responsibility of the entire country to face, was dumped into the lapse of a few men. Some of them were real leaders and some of them were false. Many of the greatest have scarcely ever been heard of.”
Enough said for that now.
In the image below is Dr King with James Baldwin over Dr. kings left shoulder is my late great friend Rev. Dr. Bernard Lee. There is the rare photo that you can find where Bernard Lee is not in it with Martin Luther King Jr. He was faithful and there was￼ no one closer. He was the keeper of Dr. King’s most private confidences. He passed in 1991 at age 55. https://www.nytimes.com/