Thursday, February 29, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones, excerpt eleven)

from Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones:

The congregation applauded generously when the Gospelteers came on. Vivian stepped forward and told the congregation that the group would be singing some of the favorites of Mahalia Jackson, and the congregation broke into applause again. Anita would be singing the first songs solo, and the young woman took Vivian’s place in front of the group. She looked briefly at Counsel and he nodded once and began to play. Anita closed her eyes for a few seconds and began to sing as she always did—for God and for her father. Once, as she was singing at the Virgin Mother Baptist Church on Kentucky Avenue, Jesus had come down the aisle and sat down in a pew near the front. He told her that her voice pleased him. He had said no more than that, but she had taken his words to mean that he forgave her for living with John without marriage. And each time she saw her father, who would not forgive her, she wanted to tell him what Jesus had done and said. But she could not create the words. Perhaps the words were in the music, but it did no good, because her father did not come anymore to hear her sing.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones, excerpt ten)

from Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones:

They had lived, this woman and the father of Mildred’s four children, in a small house on Maple View in Anacostia, where Mildred had forced her son to take her. “I live in Northeast, Mama. I don’t know one thing about Anacostia.” “Buy a map. Get a map. I want to see where they live, where him and her live together.” “You just actin crazy.” “Do what I say.”

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones, excerpt nine)

from Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones:

She took the long way back home, lest she bring bad feelings back to her house. She walked downtown along F Street and looked in the store windows. At a shop at 12th Street, she bought a doughnut and several large cookies with the hundred-dollar bill and ate them unselfconsciously as she walked along, the way a child would. At a shoe store near 13th Street, she abandoned once and for all any hope she ever had that her mother would come to live with her and spend the rest of her life in the room on the second floor. And at Garfinkel’s she wondered if that doctor could go back inside her and pull one end of that pretty bow so that it would come untied and she might make Rickey, with all his whininess, happy.

Monday, February 26, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones, excerpt eight)

from Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones:

Madeleine said nothing more to Arnisa, and she and Samuel drove silently back to Washington. At her apartment, she got out without a word and did not hear Samuel say he was sorry. She opened the building’s front door and made sure it locked behind her. When she was back in her apartment, she looked out the window and found that the car had died on him once again. The car was parked in a space near the entrance to the parking lot with its hood up and Samuel was leaning into the car, a man being swallowed up. She lived on the second floor, facing the parking lot, and she could hear him and what he was doing. White people passed and paid no attention to him.

He worked late into the afternoon, now and again stopping to try to start the car or to step back and stare at it as if some solution might rise up from the roof and announce itself. The day was completely ruined for Madeleine, and throughout the afternoon as her father worked she sat angry in the chair with its back to the window. That morning she had looked forward to going to the deli down the street where she and Curtis sometimes bought sandwiches and pastries. But she knew she could not go out with Samuel blocking the path to the deli and the deli would soon be closed. There were few cars or people passing, and most of the world was quiet. The loudest sounds were those of her father’s muttering and of his tools against the car’s metal, all of it reminding her, first before anything else, that the day was forever wearing itself away.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones, excerpt seven)

from Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones:

He took the pitcher from her. “Your trouble’s that you live up there among all them white people. With the ghost people. They believe in that all forgivin shit, in all that stuff that cripples the soul. You should move out to Anacostia to be with real people, the people who know what day and night is like and never get the two confused.” Then he put his hands at the corners of her mouth and tried to fashion a smile. She hugged him, clung to him, and for those moments they were no more or less than a boy and girl without a mother and father.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones, excerpt six)

from Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones:

On the other side of Avis stood Marcus, her second son. Marvella noted out of the corner of her eye that he was yapping away, as usual, and at first Marvella thought he was talking to Avis or having another conversation with himself. “Everybody else is borin,” he said to her the first time she asked why he talked to himself. He was now seven. Long before the train came into view, it sent ahead a roar, which always made Marvella look left and right to make certain her children were safe and close. And when she turned away from the coming train, she saw that Marcus had been talking to the man with the dreadlocks.

Friday, February 23, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones, excerpt five)

from Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones:

The first time I waited on Kentucky Connors was just after Lonney separated from Brenda and went back to a room in his father’s house. Mrs. Jenkins didn’t tolerate the type of friendliness with customers that led to what she called “exploiratation,” so when I wanted a date with someone who came into the store, I’d arrange to set up things after I got off. The night Kentucky came in that first time, I purposely failed to put her pack of gum in the bag and ran after her.

“Why, of all the men on this earth,” she said after I caught up with her and boldly told her to clear her calendar for that Saturday night, “would I think of going out with someone like you?” You can tell when girls are just being coy and want you to lay it on just a little thicker before they say yes. But there are others who have no facade, who are not seeking to be wooed, who give out smiles like each time they do it takes them a mile farther from heaven. And after they speak you’re a year older and a foot shorter. That was Kentucky.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones, excerpt four)

from Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones:

The pictures were of a security guard standing with folded arms between two paintings in what was clearly a museum. The man seemed to stand with an air of importance and authority, but the more Caesar studied the first pictures the more he saw that the man would never be anything more than a guard whose job was simply to stand between two paintings. The man’s expression changed but slightly in the series of photographs, but in the last one, as if he was finally aware that he was the photographer’s real subject, he was turning his head away and the camera caught only a blur. The guard, in a dark blue uniform, wore a dark blue hat with a shiny shield in the front, and though the hat was pulled down low over his forehead, Caesar could see that the mouth and chin were Sherman’s. “My father gave me my eyes and nose, but I got my mouth and chin from my old lady.” Sherman had been on his own since he was ten, but he always spoke of his parents as if he had had a full life with them.

“They were taken in the Smithsonian,” Manny was saying. “Not the one with that big elephant—that’s my favorite—but the art museum, the one with the paintings. When I heard he was working there, I just had to see it. So I had this guy and his whore that owed me a favor: Act like tourists and go down there and pretend they were Bamas in town to see the pictures, heh, heh.” Manny tapped his forehead. “Smart. Real smart.”

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones, excerpt three)

from Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones:

“I’m Wesley,” the guy said to Cassandra. “You want me to see what I can do with it?” He was country, stone Bama.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones, excerpt two)

from Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones:

Glady’s father was saying something to her that the two girls could not hear, then, after a few moments, his daughter told him they had to go.

“You call me now, you hear?” her father said. Gladys nodded, but Anita could see that the nod had no truth in it.

Monday, February 19, 2024

the last book I ever read (Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones, excerpt one)

from Lost in the City: Stories by Edward P. Jones:

He did not linger on Myrtle Street; he planned to make the visits there on his way back that evening. Janet’s boys, Carlos and Carleton, walked on either side of him up Myrtle to North Capitol, then to the corner of K Street. There they knew to turn back. Carlos, seven years old, told him to take it easy. Carleton, younger by two years, did not want to repeat what his brother had said, so he repeated one of the things his grandfather, who was losing his mind, always told him: “Don’t get lost in the city.”

Saturday, February 17, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt seventeen)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

Though he was supposed to speak that evening at Mason Temple, King asked Abernathy to fill in, saying he felt sick and needed to rest. King was in his pajamas when Abernathy called and asked him to come to the church. “The people who are here want you, not me,” Abernathy said.

A thunderstorm raged outside. On the last night of his life, King wore a long black raincoat over his suit and tie. People reached out to touch him as he stepped in the door and down the aisle to the pulpit.

Thunder echoed. Wind rattled the windowpanes. Shutters banged. Abernathy made the introduction. King spoke without notes.

“Something is happening in Memphis,” he said. “Something is happening in our world.”

Friday, February 16, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt sixteen)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

The week after the huge march in New York, King told Levison he had been in the hospital briefly for a series of tests. Doctors said he was fine, but King said he had been hoping they might order him to rest for a few weeks.

There was no rest in sight. King took to the road again in late April, visiting Cleveland, Berkeley, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. The journalist David Halberstam tagged along for ten days, conducting interviews for a profile in Harper’s Magazine. He found his subject “elusive, formal, gracious, distant.” Halberstam witnessed at least one tender moment, however. One day in Atlanta, when King took his children swimming at a friend’s house, Bernice fell and scraped her knee. King grabbed a piece of chicken as he tried to comfort her. “Let’s put some fried chicken on that,” he said playfully. “Yes, a little piece of chicken, that’s always the best thing for a cut.”

Thursday, February 15, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt fifteen)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

That same night, March 25, Viola Liuzzo drove back to Selma, her 1963 Oldsmobile crammed with marchers. Liuzzo was thirty-nine years old, married, a mother of five from Detroit. A white woman, Liuzzo challenged her children to consider their racial prejudices. How would they feel, she asked them, if all the Santas at the mall were Black? What if fashion magazines put only Black girls on the cover? When Liuzzo told her family she was going to Selma in response to Martin Luther King’s call for volunteers, her husband, a Teamsters Union business agent, balked.

It wasn’t her fight, he said.

“It’s everybody’s fight,” she answered.

After dropping off a carload of marchers in Selma, Liuzzo and another SCLC volunteer headed back to Montgomery to fetch more people. On a quiet stretch of highway in rural Lowndes County, four Klansmen in another car spotted Liuzzo and her companion. Outraged, apparently, at the sight of a white woman with a Black male passenger, the Klansmen shot at the Oldsmobile. Liuzzo was killed. Her passenger survived.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt fourteen)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

The FBI’s interest in King began in response to his association with Stanley Levison. “To Hoover,” wrote Paul Letersky, Hoover’s young office assistant, “Communism wasn’t simply a competing ideology; it was pure, unadulterated evil, a disease of the human spirit, and anyone who wittingly or unwittingly advanced its cause was the enemy.” Hoover believed that communists exerted influence on King. When King criticized the FBI as racist, Hoover took the remark personally, as he took most criticism. And the director became even more compulsive about the King investigation when wiretaps revealed the nature of the civil rights leader’s personal life.

The director did not act alone. Much of the bureau worked to undermine King, some agents driven by loyalty to Hoover and others driven by their own animus. Among the latter was William C. Sullivan, director of the domestic intelligence division, also known as Division Five. Sullivan—sometimes referred to as “Crazy Billy” within the bureau—appears to have been genuinely offended by King’s behavior. Sullivan was a short, neatly dressed man with a New England accent. He rose through the ranks of the FBI, from special agent to supervisor, unit chief, section chief, inspector, chief inspector, assistant director in charge of domestic intelligence and foreign operations, and, finally, assistant to the director in charge of all investigations. It was Sullivan who became outraged by King’s success at the March on Washington and who made the initial decision to bug King’s hotel room at the Willard Hotel. It was Sullivan who pitched the idea of promoting Samuel R. Pierce to supplant King as a civil rights leader. It was Sullivan who directed the FBI laboratory to make a tape with highlights of the scenes captured from microphone coverage of King’s hotel rooms. And it was Sullivan who wrote the threatening letter that went along with the tape.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt thirteen)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

Robert Kennedy, unconvinced, struggled to understand why King didn’t take the communist threat more seriously. At the very least, King’s ties to Levison damaged King’s reputation in Washington, where such things mattered. On October 7, the FBI formally requested permission to install wiretap coverage on King’s home and office in Atlanta. Three days later, Robert Kennedy signed the authorization. He also approved an FBI request for a wiretap on Bayard Rustin.

Years later, Robert Kennedy’s associates would argue that the attorney general had permitted the wiretaps because Hoover had pressured him to do so. In a series of 1964 interviews that would remain sealed until after his death, Kennedy said he believed that Levison was a communist and that King had fallen under Levison’s influence. “Their goals were identical, really, I suppose,” Kennedy said of Levison and King. But in those same interviews, the attorney general offered additional context for his capitulation. Hoover, he said, claimed he had dirt on the Kennedys, too, including a report about a liaison with “a group of girls on the twelfth floor … of the LaSalle Hotel.” Robert Kennedy said the liaison never happened, but he offered it as evidence of Hoover’s methods.

Monday, February 12, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt twelve)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

On the day of King’s arrest, a group of eight white clergymen in Birmingham had issued a statement calling on Black citizens to “withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better Birmingham.” The statement continued: “We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely.” Earlier in the year, most of the same white clergymen had written a statement encouraging white people in Birmingham to obey integration orders, declaring “no person’s freedom is safe unless every person’s freedom is equally protected.” The new statement appeared on page 2 of the April 13 edition of the Birmingham News, on the same page as a photo of King and Abernathy being shoved toward the paddy wagon.

The clergymen considered their message a plea for cooperation, moderation, and reason. But King, who read the statement under the weak glare of his jail cell’s lightbulb, became disturbed. Why did everyone keep telling Black people to wait? The Kennedys said wait. Birmingham’s mayor said wait. The reverend Billy Graham said wait. The Black professional class in Birmingham said wait. Editorial writers for The New York Times said wait. Give the government time to act, they all said; keep the peace, and trust the process. But for King and the people he felt called to lead, waiting signaled acceptance of an unjust plight. Waiting represented complicity. As King’s mind spun, he set to work. He wrote on the margins of the newspaper, and, when he ran out of room in the newspaper margins, he scribbled on napkins and toilet paper. Sometimes he used the paper in which his sandwiches had been wrapped.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt eleven)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

“I’m just a good old country boy,” Connor had said back in 1931, when he was beginning to gain public attention as a minor league baseball radio broadcaster, covering the Birmingham Barons of the Southern Association. Connor was born in 1897 in Selma, the son of a railroad dispatcher and a housewife. When his mother died, Connor moved in with an aunt and uncle on their farm in North Birmingham, where planting and plowing took priority over school. He might have followed his aunt and uncle into farming if he had not discovered a knack for describing minor league ball games based on the minimal account of events received over the telegraph machine when the home team was on the road. He sat in a studio, telegraph clacking, taking a transmitted report of a fly-out to right field, for example, and turning it into a story, inventing the looks on players’ faces between pitches, the joyful dash of a child in pursuit of a foul ball, the sweat and spit and sultry summer breeze. Another up-and-coming politician, Ronald Reagan, got his start the same way, combining nostalgia and fantasy to build rapport with an audience.

As a young man, Connor was slender. Even when he got older and grew thick-bodied and bulldog-faced, he was not physically imposing. His nickname derived from his gruff voice, which made him easily recognizable on the radio, as well as from his ability to “shoot the bull” in conversation. A reporter at the time of his emergence as a local celebrity described Connor as “absolutely genuine, totally unaffected, and lovable even at first meeting.” Before long, Connor leveraged his radio popularity to launch a political career. Like many office seekers at the time, he assured white voters that he would defend their right to live in a segregated society, but he was hardly more extreme or more vocal than other white Alabama politicians. As commissioner for public safety, he made race a priority, which meant using the police force to control and discipline the Black community. At that point, his nickname took on a new meaning: Connor assured voters he would be stubborn as a bull in preserving the city’s system of racial stratification.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt ten)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

King felt the pressure building in Black communities and recognized that his pacifist strategy left many frustrated. He sent a telegram to Robert Kennedy, the U.S. attorney general, declaring that it was unclear how much longer protesters would remain restrained in the face of “repeated mayhem and attempted murder.” The telegram arrived in Washington as King prepared to confront segregation in Birmingham, a city considered by many to be the nation’s most determinedly and viciously segregated. Some called it “Bombingham.”

Birmingham had a population of 340,000, about 40 percent Black. For Blacks and whites alike, the city lagged. Only about a third of the adult population had completed high school, and less than 7 percent of adults held college degrees. The median family income for residents of the city was $ 1,200 less than the national average. Black families had it even worse. They earned about half as much as white families. Black people were far less likely than white people to have completed high school or college. Lawmakers went to great lengths to make sure no cracks appeared in the wall of segregation. For example, if a restaurant wished to serve Black and white customers, the owner needed to build “a solid partition extending from the floor upward to a distance of seven feet or higher” and maintain separate entrances from the street, a requirement so costly and impractical as to make it almost impossible to satisfy. Less than 10 percent of eligible Black voters had managed to register, which allowed segregationists to retain control of city government. If the government failed to maintain segregation, the KKK could be counted on to serve as a last line of defense. When upwardly mobile Black families moved into the middle-class neighborhood of College Hills, they were met with so many bombs that the neighborhood came to be called Dynamite Hill. In 1956, three white men attacked the popular Black singer Nat King Cole in the middle of a concert at the Birmingham Municipal Auditorium. The following year, a Black handyman named Judge Aaron was abducted by white men and castrated. Aaron’s abductors poured turpentine on the wound as they further tortured their victim. In 1962, when a federal court ordered Birmingham to integrate its recreational facilities, the city instead opted to close its parks, playgrounds, pools, and golf courses. If the courts ever ordered the integration of schools, officials said, they would close those, too.

Friday, February 9, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt nine)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

On Sunday, November 18, 1962, King preached at Riverside Church in New York. After the service, a New York Times reporter asked King if he agreed with a report by the historian and activist Howard Zinn that Negroes demonstrating in Albany, Georgia, had distrusted the FBI. The FBI was such a powerful and widely admired American law enforcement operation that criticism of the agency made news. King said he strongly agreed with Zinn’s conclusion. “One of the greatest problems we face with the FBI in the South is that the agents are white southerners who have been influenced by the mores of the community,” King told the reporter. “To maintain their status, they have to be friendly with the local police and people who are promoting segregation. Every time I saw FBI men in Albany, they were with the local police force … If an FBI man agrees with segregation, he can’t honestly and objectively investigate.”

King had good reason to complain. The FBI’s leaders all were white, as were almost all its agents. The agents assigned to Albany all were white. “The FBI men, ever lurking around the Albany Movement scene, made no secret of their unfriendliness to reporters, hostility to Negroes, and, to us, most ominous of all, friendliness to the local police,” wrote Pat Watters, a white reporter for The Atlanta Journal. “Report after report of violation of civil rights and of violence went to them from the movement, never to be heard about again.” For Watters, it came as a shock. The hostility of southern whites, condoned by police and abetted by the federal government, felt alien and un-American. Watters was only beginning to understand, he wrote, that Black people in the South lived with “the dread fact that the police are not on your side or the law’s.” How they endured and rose above that fear and threat amazed the young journalist. Black Americans, of course, knew all along that FBI agents working in the South were not on their side. “Where were they living? They were living with the sheriff,” James Baldwin said in a 1970 interview. “What were they doing on Sunday? Playing baseball with the sheriff and his men … Do you think I don’t know what’s going on?”

Thursday, February 8, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt eight)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

A month later, on June 18, 1957, the U.S. House of Representatives passed what would eventually become the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first significant legislation to address the rights of Black Americans since 1875. It created the Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Justice Department and authorized the U.S. attorney general to seek federal court injunctions to protect voting rights.

American Negroes, King told the graduating class at Kentucky State College that month, were “traveling toward the promised land of social integration, of freedom and justice.”

King reminded audiences that he was a religious leader, not an essayist or politician, and he seldom hesitated to chastise those who, in his mind, failed to live up to high moral and ethical standards. In April 1956, he published an article in Liberation magazine (ghostwritten by Rustin) that attacked so-called liberal whites, including the Mississippi novelist William Faulkner, who had urged Negroes to slow down their revolution or else risk a violent response. “It is hardly a moral act,” read the article, “to encourage others patiently to accept injustice which he himself does not endure … We southern Negroes believe that it is essential to defend the right to equality now. From this position we will not and cannot retreat.”

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt seven)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

Gayle not only called off negotiations but also ordered police officers to begin a campaign of harassment and intimidation, dispersing groups of Black passengers as they waited for rides, tailing Black drivers, and issuing citations for minor or nonexistent traffic violations. Drivers feared they would lose their insurance or their licenses over the tickets. On one Friday night, police arrested forty Black men for public drunkenness. During a public meeting in a church, police walked the streets outside, ticketing seventy-eight cars for parking violations.

Two days after Gayle called off negotiations, King himself became the target. Driving home from church, King stopped at a carpool station to pick up passengers. Two policemen on motorcycles pulled him over and told him he was under arrest for traveling at a speed of thirty miles an hour in a twenty-five-mile-an-hour zone. A patrol car arrived. Two policemen searched King before putting him in the back seat of their car. As the car cruised away from downtown Montgomery, King felt panic. They turned on to a street he’d never seen. Where were they taking him? He worried he might be lynched. “I found myself trembling within and without,” he said. “Silently, I asked God to give me the strength to endure whatever came.”

He felt relief at the sight of the Montgomery city jail.

It was his first time behind bars.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt six)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

On this night, King found a new voice. He discovered or sensed that his purpose was not to instruct or educate; his purpose was to prophesize. With a booming voice and strident words, he marked the path for himself and for a movement. He reminded the people that their advantage was in their moral superiority. They would not burn crosses or pull white people from their homes. They would protest peacefully, as their Christian faith instructed. They meant to reform American democracy, not overthrow it.

Monday, February 5, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt five)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

King’s dissertation attracted little attention until 1990, when scholars at Stanford University announced that substantial portions had been plagiarized. In his first draft, King copied most of the introduction verbatim from a book called The Theology of Paul Tillich. His problems seem to have been rooted in his use of note cards to organize information he gathered from books. In many cases, he copied verbatim from his source onto his note cards without creating a citation. He was especially weak when it came to citing secondary sources. He might read an author’s interpretation of a Tillich quote and then transcribe the quote and the interpretation onto a note card without taking note of the secondary source.

King’s approach to his dissertation, as the scholar David J. Garrow writes, may have been primarily a reflection of an awkward stage in life. He was a young dandy working to become a scholar, as his leadership of the Philosophical Club suggests. But he was only twenty-two years old when he entered the doctoral program. “Was the King of Crozer and BU actually a rather immature and insecure young man?” asks Garrow. “Was he a talented young preacher with no particular aptitude for scholarly creativity?”

King’s indiscretions, regardless of their cause, should have been caught. His advisers should have noticed King’s heavy reliance on a Boston University dissertation written three years earlier by a student named Jack Boozer. While acknowledging Boozer’s “very fine” dissertation in his introduction, King cited it only a few times while copying more than fifty sentences and relying heavily on its structure. Boozer and King had the same dissertation adviser, L. Harold DeWolf, yet DeWolf made few comments on King’s first draft while praising the writer’s “convincing mastery of the works immediately involved.”

Sunday, February 4, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt four)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

On November 19, 1950, a Sunday, King traveled from Chester to attend a lecture by Mordecai Johnson, a Morehouse graduate and the president of Howard University, at Philadelphia’s First Unitarian Church. Johnson, who had just returned from a trip to India, lectured on Gandhi. “His message was so profound,” King wrote years later, “that I left the meeting and bought a half dozen books on Gandhi’s life and works.” The books helped King overcome some of the doubts raised from his reading of Nietzsche. Gandhi showed King that “the love ethic of Jesus … was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking for so many months.”

Using a Greek word from the New Testament that theologians often employed, King referred to that loving spirit as agape, a love that offered understanding and goodwill to all, a force that made no distinction between friends and enemies, that encouraged love of everyone because God loved everyone. Agape, he said, offered the kind of power to fuel a nonviolent movement for justice.

“When we love on the agape level,” he wrote years later, “we love men not because we like them … but because God loves them.”

Saturday, February 3, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt three)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

King’s beliefs became more nuanced as he studied the works of Reinhold Niebuhr, in classes taught by Smith. Niebuhr argued that man’s sinfulness would inevitably interfere with attempts to form a more just society. Christian love alone would not change the world, not so long as political and economic systems created vast inequalities among God’s children. Nations and privileged groups within those nations would preserve the status quo, by force if necessary. In his 1932 book, Moral Man and Immoral Society, Niebuhr wrote that an oppressed minority group with no chance of amassing the power to challenge its oppressors might do well to adopt a strategy of nonviolence, as Gandhi did in India. “The emancipation of the Negro race in America probably waits upon the adequate development of this kind of social and political strategy,” Niebuhr wrote. “It is hopeless for the Negro to expect complete emancipation from the menial social and economic position into which the white man has forced him … It is equally hopeless to attempt emancipation through violent rebellion.”

King earned A’s in his philosophy classes and C’s in public speaking, in part because some of his white professors, it seems, were not enthralled with the Black Baptist style.

Friday, February 2, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt two)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

In his first semester at Crozer, in the fall of 1948, King took a class called Introduction to the Old Testament, taught by James B. Pritchard, who challenged students with his historical-critical take on the Bible, saying many of its stories were not to be taken as reliable history. Pritchard had found that Black students from the Deep South were particularly literal about their approach to the Bible, and he strived to shake them of their old ideas, as Patrick Parr wrote in The Seminarian, his important book on King’s Crozer years. That approach appealed to King, who had long bristled at his father’s fundamentalism. Yet for all his enthusiasm and determination, when in his first semester he was assigned by Pritchard to write a paper about the prophet Jeremiah, King fell back on a bad habit: he plagiarized—and this time in an academic setting where the consequences might have been severe.

“Religion, in a sense, through men like Jeremiah, provides for its own advancement, and carries with it the promise of progress and renewed power,” he wrote. The line came from a 1932 book titled The Rebel Prophet, by T. Crouther Gordon. Elsewhere in the same paper he copied all but one word of a passage from Prophecy and Religion, first published in 1922 by the renowned Old Testament scholar John Skinner.

With only nine students in the class, Pritchard should have had ample time to scrutinize his students’ papers. He might have noticed that King’s writing was far smoother in some passages than others. But he didn’t. He later hired King to babysit his children, paying him thirty-five cents an hour and giving the young student one of his first and most intimate views of white middle-class home life.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt one)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

Reverend King discouraged his children from taking jobs with white families, fearing they would learn to tolerate servitude and condescension. He urged them to avoid Atlanta’s buses, which operated on a first-come, first-served basis, with white passengers taking the front seats and Black passengers filling in from the rear. He also taught his children that protest in response to injustice was a duty. When Atlantans went to the polls to vote on whether to repeal Prohibition laws in 1935, white supporters of the laws sought the support of Black Baptist preachers. King and three other ministers issued a statement saying that while they surely hoped to preserve the government’s ban on alcohol sales, they regretted that their “white friends” were only interested in seeing Black people vote when it suited white people’s interests. “If our white ministers are really interested in our voting,” King and the others wrote, “let them courageously join us to fight for our elemental rights.”