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.