Wednesday, January 16, 2013

MLK In Philadelphia

Listen to how Mr. Robert Bogle, President of The Philadelphia Tribune gets MLK:

Link to Text of Audio File Here 60 second excerpt

King had strong ties to Philadelphia
By Linn Washington Jr., January 14, 2007

Ask 10 people the question which town played a pivotal role in helping shape the Civil Rights philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and 10 out of 10 will most likely name Montgomery, Ala. Not one person would name the small suburban Philadelphia  town of Maple Shade, N.J.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1956 may have launched King into international recognition, but King’s first legal fight against racial discrimination took place during the summer of 1950 when he filed a lawsuit against a racist bar owner in Maple Shade.

Ask a different group of 10 the question of where and/or how King developed the intellectual framework for his now legendary strategies on non-violent confrontation, and many will mumble something about influences from King’s childhood growing up in that rigidly racist section of America located south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

However, once again, the Philadelphia area, and not King’s hometown of Atlanta, proved the accelerator for incubating the philosophies that would drive his Civil Rights strategies.

King himself acknowledges many transformative experiences he had in and around Philadelphia, experiences that influenced his life in large and small ways.
These influential experiences include King’s attendance at seminary school in Chester, his taking philosophy classes at the University of Pennsylvania and attending lectures in North Philadelphia, which proved important for his life’s vision.

For example, King wrote in his first book, “Stride Toward Freedom,” that he did not begin “a serious intellectual quest for a method to eliminate social evil” until he entered the Crozer Seminary, then located in Chester.

King enrolled in Crozer in September 1948 after graduating from Atlanta’s famed Morehouse College.

King may have climbed to the metaphysical mountaintop in Memphis in early 1968 – hours before his tragic assassination – but the Prophet of Peace’s philosophical views on the power of non-violent struggle took root in Philadelphia when he attended lectures on the Indian independence leader Gandhi.

One influential introduction to Gandhi took place on a Sunday in 1949 when King attended a lecture at the Fellowship House, then located on Girard Avenue in North Philadelphia. The speaker that day was Dr. Mordecai W. Johnson, the president of Howard University, who had traveled extensively in India.

King later wrote that he found Johnson’s speech “so profound and electrifying that I left the meeting and bought half-dozen books on Gandhi’s life and works.” Less than a decade after hearing Johnson’s “electrifying” speech, King wrote the notable figure asking for his assistance in the work of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

King, in a Dec. 12, 1957, letter to Johnson, explained that the SCLC sought to “implement through non-violent actions the decisions the NAACP has won in the courts.” King quickly pointed out that the SCLC had “no conflict” with the NAACP.
The purpose of King’s letter to Johnson was to ask him to serve on a national advisory committee for SCLC’s “Crusade For Citizenship,” a campaign devised to double the number of Black voters in the South.

At that time, segregationist laws and racist practices blocked the majority of Southern Blacks from exercising their Constitutionally guaranteed right to vote. Passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act – in the wake of massive protests organized by King and others – is one of the major victories of the ’60s era Civil Rights Movement.

While living in the Delaware Valley during the late ’40s and early ’50s, as King’s intellectual acumen expanded during his studies at the Crozer Seminary, his philosophical perspectives also broadened, aided in part by classes that he attended at the University of Pennsylvania.

One of the philosophy classes King audited at Penn was a graduate seminar in the ethics and philosophy of history, taught by professor Elizabeth F. Flower.

King was one of 10 participants in the seminar, which met on the first floor of a building on Walnut Street.

“We had to compete with the noise of the trolley cars on Walnut Street as well as the plumbing noises issuing from the faculty ‘gentlemen’s room,’ which abutted the classroom,” Flowers wrote in a letter decades later. “Martin Luther King’s contribution to the discussion was solid and articulate. Interestingly, questions of discrimination do not seem to have come up, but questions of peace and of conflict, of moral order and the effectiveness of a moral stance (as in Gandhi) were much in the air,” the letter stated.

King’s “thought was already vigorous and well-forged,” Flowers recalled. She also remembered King being intrigued by the activist Mohatma Gandhi and the philosopher Immanuel Kant.

Kant “provided several themes which run parallel to the tenor of King’s work,” Flower’s letter continued. Kant saw “humans as objects of respect, simply in virtue of their human rationality, uncrossed by any of the accidents of place, color, creed, origin.”

King’s long sought pilgrimage to India in 1959 – the home of Gandhi – was sponsored by thePhiladelphia based American Friends Service Center (AFSC).

King’s guide during his four-week stay in India was an AFSC representative named James Bristol, who lived in India with his family.

Bristol, who lived in Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill section prior to his death, once recalled that the “humble” King received a far bigger reception in India than many heads of state because he was “leading a Third World struggle for decent treatment, using Mahatma Gandhi’s method of non-violence to achieve that end. Martin was a natural for adulation and enthusiastic praise in India.” 

Despite the royal reception, Bristol said King and his wife, Coretta, refused first class accommodations, preferring to live like regular Indians, sitting on the ground and eating off banana leaves.

When King “let his hair down” during late evening talks, three things became clear to Bristol: King was a militant, he deeply loved his enemies and he knew he would be killed some day.

King was deeply appreciative of AFSC’s sponsorship of his pilgrimage to India, which he called a marvelous experience. 

“ Words are inadequate for me to express my appreciation,” King wrote in a March 23, 1959, letter to an AFSC official. While praising Bristol in this letter, King declared that “… I am more convinced than ever before of the potency and rightness of the way of non-violence as a method for social change. I believe I came away with a deeper understanding of non-violence and also a deeper commitment.”

Two years before King’s spiritual pilgrimage to India, he accepted a personal invitation from Kwame Nkrumah to attend the independence ceremonies for the African nation of Ghana.

Nkrumah, like King, had his “Philly Connection,” attending classes at Lincoln University and Penn.

Among the African-American dignitaries invited to the ceremonies by NkrumahGhana’s first post-colonial leader, was the noted Philadelphia businessman, scholar and theologian Bishop R.R. Wright Jr., a pioneering Black banker and the first Black to receive a Ph.D. in sociology from Penn.

The sting of living in a segregated society was deeply embedded in King’s psyche before he came to the Crozer Seminary.

King’s first smack of racism came when he was 6 years old, according to an autobiography of religious development he wrote while at Crozer. This ugly incident occurred when the father of a white childhood friend forbade his son from playing with young Martin simply because King was a Negro.

“Here, for the first time, I was made aware of the existence of a race problem,” King wrote in this autobiography. “From that moment on I was determined to hate every white person.” However, King’s parent’s “would always tell me that I should not hate the white man … that it was my duty as a Christian to love him.”

King discussed how he wrestled with the dilemma of how to love people who hated him. King admitted that he “did not conquer this anti-white feeling until I entered college and came in contact with white students through working in interracial organizations.”
That childhood Atlanta experience was King’s first incidence of racism, but it was seeing a white man point a gun at him in anger that spurred King’s first anti-discrimination lawsuit.

One summer Sunday evening in 1950 when King, his seminary friend Walter McCall and their dates stopped at a Maple Shade, N.J. tavern for a beer, they were denied service by the tavern’s owner, Ernest Nichols.

Nichols cursed the two couples, chasing them from his tavern with a drawn gun. Close friends say King was “livid.” As a well-read person, King knew that New Jersey had one of the few anti-discrimination laws then in existence and decided to fight back with a lawsuit. 

King pressed charges and Nichols was found guilty of weapons charges and fined $50.

A civil lawsuit King filed against Nichols with the aid of the Camden NAACP office was later dropped. Many agree that King’s critical views on the Vietnam War were influenced by Philadelphia’s vibrant anti-war movement in the ’60s.

King’s linkage of the Black American Civil Rights struggle with the freedom struggles of other oppressed peoples in AfricaAsia and Latin America received early expression during speeches in the Philadelphia area. During a June 1958 speech in Cape MayN.J., King stated the Civil Rights Movement of African-Americans is part of “a worldwide revolt against the slavery and oppression of colonialism and imperialism.”

King returned to Philadelphia frequently throughout his career, both for business and relaxation. Fifteen thousand people attended one 1965 street corner rally where King spoke in Philadelphia. In the months before his April 1968 death, King came to Philadelphia often as he prepared for what would be his final major protest campaign.

King opened the first satellite office for his Poor People’s Campaign inside the real estate office onDiamond Street, owned by C. Delores Tucker.

“Martin was a man of peace,” Tucker once recalled. “But he was obsessed with economic and social justice for everyone, Blacks-whites-Hispanics, Christians and Jews.”

The Poor Peoples Campaign was a protest effort planned for WashingtonD.C., to improve conditions of poor people of all colors. 

A month after his Philadelphia office opened, King was murdered by an assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968, while he was in Memphis, Tenn., supporting striking African-American sanitation workers.

“Martin always said Philadelphia responded to him so well and he found friends here who stayed with him for life,” said Tucker, founder of  Philadelphia’s Martin Luther  King Center for Social Change. “He always found a responsive community for brotherhood in Philadelphia.”

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