Reflections on young Martin Luther King Jr.

by: DeniseVelez

Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 16:04:36 PM EST



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Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta, GA, on Jan 15 in 1929.

Oh, I know we celebrate his birthday later on this month, but I wanted to think about him as a young child, and as a young man before he went on to become an icon of the civil rights movement.  

He was not so very different from many young black men born into a black middle class family.

Like many members of the black middle class his father, Michael was a preacher.

Like many members of the black middle class his mama was a teacher.

Like many members of the black middle class, the family roots were not far removed from poverty.

DeniseVelez :: Reflections on young Martin Luther King Jr.
King's paternal grandfather, James Albert King, had been a sharecropper near the small town of Stockbridge, Georgia, outside Atlanta. Like most sharecroppers, he had worked hard and earned little. King, Sr. was the second of ten children. He had left Stockbridge for Atlanta at the age of sixteen, with nothing but a sixth-grade education and a pair of shoes.

In Atlanta he worked odd jobs and studied, and slowly developed a reputation as a preacher. While preaching at two small churches outside of Atlanta, he met Alberta Christine Williams, his future wife, and King, Jr.'s mother. She was a graduate of Atlanta's Spelman College, had attended the Hampton Institute in Virginia, and had returned to Atlanta to teach. Her father, the Reverend Adam Daniel Williams, presided over Atlanta's well-established Ebenezer Baptist Church.

When King, Sr. and Williams married, they moved into the Williams home on Auburn Avenue, the main street of Atlanta's African American business district.

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After some time had passed, her father asked King, Sr. to serve as assistant pastor at Ebenezer, which he did. When the senior pastor died of a heart attack in 1931, King, Sr. took over his duties.

He was really born with the name Michael King Jr. His father changed his own name and his sons' in 1939 after a trip to Germany-to honor Martin Luther.

When I read about his childhood I am reminded that being middle class-and black-was not a protection from racism.

It still isn't.  

Martin Luther King Jr. was not an only child. He grew up with a sister who was older than him, Willie Christine King, and a younger brother, Alfred Daniel Williams King. Martin Luther King's childhood was a normal happy upbringing. He and his siblings consisted learned to play the piano from their mom and were guided by the spiritual teachings from their dad and grandfather.

But the family was quickly schooled on the harsh reality of the racial segregation of the south. A family outing to a shoe store resulted in the family being ushered to the back exit after being told by the storeowner that blacks were not allowed in the store. This was one of Martin Luther King's first episodes that were a result of the Jim Crow laws that were in effect at that time.

His childhood story illustrates something more important than what he went on to accomplish.  

When we look closely at what shapes people in the black community to fight for change we have to remember two important things.

The centrality of the church in our community.  And the bond of blackness forged by racism that supersedes and transcends classic "class" analysis.

To be white and middle class tends to separate middle class white people from poor whites. Rarely is there a shared cultural identity. There is often open derision-illustrated by pejorative terms like "trailer trash".

The black middle class does not have the luxury of abandoning those who are poor. Nor have we abandoned strong ties to our churches.

Many of us are clear that we are only a generation or two from sharecropping or slavery. Secondly we wear our brand on our skin-the mark of blackness places us in the same group no matter our social class.

The black church is still the center of much black life, and leadership is still drawn from it. Few of our churches are uni-class. We may attend service and be sitting in the same pew with a housemaid or day laborer.

Even those who moved away from Christianity, gathered around other preachers-like Malcolm.  

The lesson I learn when I look at the face of young Martin, is that he could have been any black child I see today. One of those black children missing no one pays attention to.  One of those black children murdered by stray gunfire. One of those black children who winds up in the school to prison pipeline. One of those black kids headed off to Sunday school.

I am also reminded (no matter my own non-christian persuasion) that those on the left who deride religion and spiritual faith openly on forums such as these, do little to forge the coalitions we need to move forward.  

For many on the left who pride themselves in their openly militant atheism-poor whites and their churches and revival meetings are merely objects of scorn. There is vocal derision of evangelicals, yet one of the most powerful progressive voices we hear today is that of Rev. William Barber, head of the N.C. NAACP, an evangelical pastor.  

The fact that you don't believe is your business. Mocking those that do disses many members of our most solid and stable Democratic Party voting block.

Young Martin's family was guided by their strong spiritual belief. This is true in many black families.  

So when you quote or cite the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. remember young Martin.

Before you post remarks categorizing all people of faith as delusional, remember young Martin.

Before we get swept away in the celebrations to come-look at his young face. Then look at the faces of young black school kids.  

Celebrate our children today.

Accept that many are growing up as he did.

Guided by faith.

"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."
Martin Luther King, Jr.

cross-posted from Black Kos

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The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr would be 84 today (2.00 / 34)
Had he lived.
So happy "real" birthday.
My apologies if I sound rather crabby today about militant atheism .  I have never been silent when factions from the religious right attempt to and often succeed in restricting or demolishing civil and human rights.
What has driven my remarks today is the nature of the black American cultural experience.  It is so deeply rooted in black church traditions it is almost impossible to tease out the threads - whether it is music or dance or food/family gatherings/funerals or even the West African cultural memory (hidden under layers of Jesus-Holy ghost) of spirit possession.
My staunchest atheist comrades in our community still do much of their organizing in church circles.
Having been raised by an atheist/Marxist dad during the red diaper baby years I was never taught to disparage people of faith traditions.  I would have had to turn my back on my entire family and our friends.

Most have survived with faith.


"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


Young enough to perform at the Sandy hurricane benefit! (2.00 / 13)
Hell he might have brought the average age down.

But I hear you loud and clear. Although I left Chrisitanity long ago and ain't looking back, I recognize how much some of those Sunday mornings formed whatever character I may have and indeed stimulated intellectual curiosity and personal integrity as well.

If it is not too off point, I would like to cite in full the passage from Karl Marx (the second religion I abandoned) that is always half quoted and half understood.

Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man - state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.



[ Parent ]
Thank you. (2.00 / 21)
I didn't find your remarks at all "crabby" about the role of the black church. I have a rather complex relationship with the faith of my own forebears, but have somehow managed to come through my experiences without losing respect for what they (and others) hold sacred. And for that I'm grateful.

I really enjoyed this look at Dr. King's background, something I know very little about. Thanks again!

There are, in every age, new errors to be rectified, and new prejudices to be opposed. ~Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)


Thanks ...I guess (2.00 / 20)
I looked at this after I wrote it and realized that I had wandered into semi-rant territory, rather than just "young Dr. King.



"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
I mentioned in Tuesday's Chile that President Obama (2.00 / 22)
will use MLK's bible during the swearing in.  I like that.

"Pin your money to your girdle and don't talk to strangers."  My Grandmom's advice when I went away to school.  I don't wear a girdle and have never met a stranger.  Sorry Grandmom!

I think that is awesome :) (1.95 / 19)
thanks for being purple/orange  

"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
LOL! Sometimes I get a little dizzy going back and forth. I (2.00 / 18)
really like it here and at the same time many of the orange are like family.  I'm taking the best of both.  Glad you're purple/orange too.

"Pin your money to your girdle and don't talk to strangers."  My Grandmom's advice when I went away to school.  I don't wear a girdle and have never met a stranger.  Sorry Grandmom!

[ Parent ]
I'm dizzy too (2.00 / 19)
trying to deal with comments in both places - with my two finger typing speed.  

"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
Oops, did not mean that (2.00 / 6)
I was sane. No way. Intended to write "same here."

[ Parent ]
I'm sure that will be the cry from (2.00 / 13)
 wingnuttia

"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
amusingly, (2.00 / 5)
you hear the same call from plenty at Daily Kos.

[ Parent ]
Denise - (2.00 / 13)
my similar thoughts are here.

Beautiful - thank you for linking (2.00 / 12)
to your piece.  

"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
I've always thought the Golden Rule... (2.00 / 14)
was a good way going about life.  It happens that I'm a believer, but I feel much more affinity with many atheists and agnostics than I do with many fellow believers.

For those of us that are believers, and are on various shades of the left, our faith is an extremely important part of what makes us what we are.

As to your reference to certain people, I see them as being no different than the intolerant assholes on my sides.  It's why I like to say that I'm cool with atheists, but can't stand Atheists.

I'm a Democrat.  Yellow.  New.  Progressive.  Blue.  Liberal.  Centrist.  We need them all in our big tent.


It is possible to be an atheist and an asshole (2.00 / 1)
just as it is possible to be religious and be an asshole.  

"Most people worry about their own bellies and other people's souls when we all ought to worry about our own souls and others' bellies" Israel Salanter

[ Parent ]
Thank you so much for cross-posting this. (1.88 / 17)


am thinking back (2.00 / 15)
to the place I got to meet you face to face on a Sunday morning :)

"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
Beautiful write up, thank you. (2.00 / 11)
I am naturally crabby so your crabbiness never even had a chance of showing through at all in my reading.
(if it was there at all)

It was a time of Giants (2.00 / 5)
And they killed them all. I've never recovered.

A couple generations..... (2.00 / 1)
You write about "a couple generations away".

I am reminded of a joke.

A young man goes to be interviewed for a job. He is nervous. While waiting, he notices that the man set to interview him is name Jacques LaFontaine.

He mentions this to LaFontaine's secretary who replies:

"Don't let it worry you. His father was Hans Spritzwasser and his grandfather was Moishe Pisher"

:-).


"Most people worry about their own bellies and other people's souls when we all ought to worry about our own souls and others' bellies" Israel Salanter


Religion and delusions (2.00 / 1)
I do think religion is a delusion. But that doesn't mean that 1) The delusion isn't useful or 2) That people who have these delusions can't be wonderful people.

Most people are decent. Some people are less than decent, some are more. Some few are evil or saintly; I have noticed no relationship between "believing in God" and being any of those things.

I do think some people use religion as a crutch.  So? I use eyeglasses as a crutch. If religion helps a person get through this hard life more easily, why would I want to take it away?

"Most people worry about their own bellies and other people's souls when we all ought to worry about our own souls and others' bellies" Israel Salanter


My only particular problem with the Black church (1.00 / 1)
is confined to SOME (unfortunately many) Black churches that preach intolerance - any intolerance, but in particular intolerance of GLBTIQ people and people with HIV/AIDS.

If you are a believer, then I think you must believe that God made us all. Intolerance, then, is a way of saying that God made an error.


"Most people worry about their own bellies and other people's souls when we all ought to worry about our own souls and others' bellies" Israel Salanter


I don't think the black church is any more (2.00 / 1)
intolerant than white churches.

That meme has been pushed by well-funded ultra-right white groups.

It's also been spread to cause rifts with the white gay community.


"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
Many thanks! (2.00 / 3)
I was bemused a while ago when an ardent orange atheist asserted firmly and repeatedly that Martin Luther King was not religious and in no way motivated by religious commitments. I tried to offer some counter-evidence but strongly held frames can clip off anything.

yes - I've read other similiar (2.00 / 2)
remarks - which all attempt to re-write and twist MLK into someone that suits the commentor's sensibility  

"If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition"

Bernice Johnson Reagon


[ Parent ]
Glad to see you here, I was beginning to wonder if (2.00 / 2)
you had caught hubby's bug. Hope you are well.
Fascinating diary, as usual, and not quite as depressing as some of the other topics you write about. Thanks!
PS: I always read your stuff, depressing or not, because your posts are thought-provoking!

(aka translatorpro on GOS)

Wer kämpft, kann verlieren. Wer nicht kämpft, hat schon verloren.
                       - Bertolt Brecht


[ Parent ]
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