Martin Luther King on "The Negro and the American Promise"

Martin Luther King appears in Boston public television producer Henry Morgenthau III's "The Negro and the American Promise," alongside Malcolm X and James Baldwin.


Dr. Kenneth Clark: Malcolm X, one of the most articulate exponents of the Black Muslim philosophy, has said of your movement and your philosophy that it plays into the hands of the white oppressors. That they are happy to hear you talk about love for the oppressor because this disarms the Negro and fits in to the stereotype of the Negro as a meek, turning-the-other-cheek sort of creature. Would you care to comment on Mr. X's beliefs?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: Well, I don't think of love as, in this context, as emotional bosh. I don't think of it as a weak force. But I think of love as something strong, and that organizes itself into powerful direct action. This is what I try to teach in the struggle in the South. That we are not engaged in a struggle that means we sit down and do nothing.

There's a great deal of difference between non-resistance to evil and non-violent resistance. Non-resistance leaves you in a state of stagnant passivity and dead-end complacency. Wherein non-violent resistance means you do resist in a very strong and determined manner. And I think some of the criticisms of non-violence, or some of the critics, fail to realize that we are talking about something very strong, and they confuse non-resistance with non-violent resistance.

Clark: He goes beyond that, in some of the things I've heard him say, to say that this is deliberately -- your philosophy of love of the oppressor, which he identifies completely with the non-violent movement -- he says, this philosophy and this movement are actually encouraged by whites because it makes them comfortable, makes them believe that Negroes are meek, supine creatures.

King: Well, I don't think that's true. If anyone has ever lived with a non-violent movement in the South, from Montgomery on through the Freedom Rides and through the sit-in movement and the recent Birmingham movement, and seen the reactions of many of the extremists and reactionaries in the white community, he wouldn't say that this movement makes, this philosophy makes them comfortable. I think it arouses a sense of shame within them often, in many instances, I think it does something to touch the conscience and establish a sense of guilt. Now so often people respond to guilt by engaging more in the guilt-evoking act in an attempt to drown the sense of guilt. But this approach certainly doesn't make the white man feel comfortable. I think it does the other thing. It disturbs this conscience and it disturbs this sense of contentment he's had.

Clark: James Baldwin raises still another point of the whole non-violent position and approach. He does not reject it in the way that Malcolm X does, but he raises the question of whether it will be possible to contain the Negro people within this framework of non-violence if we continue to have more of the kinds of demonstrations that we had in Birmingham.

King: Well I think these brutal methods used by the Birmingham police force and other police forces will naturally arouse the ire of Negroes, and I think there is the danger that some will be so aroused that they will retaliate with violence.

I think though that we can be sure that the vast majority of Negroes who engage in the demonstrations and who understand the non-violent philosophy will be able to face dogs, and all of the other brutal methods that are used, without retaliating with violence, because they understand that one of the first principles of non-violence is a willingness to be the recipient of violence while never inflicting violence upon another. And none of the demonstrators in Birmingham engaged in aggressive or retaliatory violence. It was always someone on the sideline, who had never been in the demonstrations and probably not in the mass meetings, and had never been in a non-violent workshop. So I think it will depend on the extent to which we can extend the teaching of the philosophy of non-violence to the larger community, rather than those who are engaged in the demonstrations.

Clark: Well, how can you maintain this type of discipline, control, and dignity?

King: We do a great deal in terms of teaching both the theoretical aspects of non-violence as well as the practical application. We even have courses where we go through the experience of being roughed up. And this kind of socio-drama has proved to be very helpful in preparing those who are engaged in demonstrations. The other thing is --

Clark: Does this even include the children?

King: Yes, it includes the children. In Birmingham, where we had several young -- we had some as young as seven years old who participated in the demonstrations. And they were in the workshops. In fact, none of them went out for a march, or none of them engaged in any of the demonstrations before going through this kind of teaching session. So that, through this method, we're able to get the meaning of non-violence over. And I think there is a contagious quality in a movement like this. When everybody talks about non-violence, and being faithful to it, and being dignified in your resistence, it tends to get over to the larger group, because this becomes a part of the vocabulary of the movement.

Clark: What is the relationship between your movement and such organizations as the NAACP, CORE [Congress of Racial Equality], and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee? They're separate organizations, but do you work together?

King: Yes, we do. As you say, they are -- each of these organizations is autonomous, but we work together in many, many ways. Last year we started a voter registration drive, an intensified voter registration drive, and all of the organizations are working together. Sometimes two or three are working together in the same community. The same thing is true with our direct action programs. In Birmingham we had the support of SNCC and CORE and the NAACP. CORE sent some of its staff members in to assist us. And SNCC sent some of its staff members. Roy Wilkins came down to speak in one of the mass meetings, and to make it clear that even though the NAACP cannot operate in Alabama, we had the support of the NAACP. So that we are all working together on -- in a very significant way, and we are doing even more in the days ahead to coordinate --

Clark: Is there any machinery, machinery for coordination, actually exists now?

King: Well, we have had a sort of coordinating council, where we get together as often as possible. Of course, we get involved in many of our programs in the various areas and can't make as many of these meetings as we would like. But we often come together, I mean the heads of all of these organizations, to try to coordinate our various efforts.

Clark: What about the federal government? Have you made any direct appeal?

King: I think Mr. Kennedy has done some significant things in civil rights. But I do not feel that he has yet given the leadership that the enormity of the problem demands.

Clark: By Mr. Kennedy now, do you mean the president, or the attorney general?

King: Yes, I am speaking now of the president, mainly, and I would include the attorney general. I think both of these men are men of genuine good will, but I think they must understand more about the depths and dimensions of the problem, and I think there is a necessity now to see the urgency of the moment. There isn't a lot of time. Time is running out. And the Negro is making it palpably clear that he wants all of his rights, that he wants them here, and that he wants them now.



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