Food for Thought
 — Maria Gitin

Many civil rights veterans have a disdain for academic authors, particularly those who choose to write about Martin Luther King Jr. There were so many other leaders and yet, volume after volume continues to appear parsing this or that aspect of King's life and thought.

Recently, I read two new books that made me re-evaluate not only King's broader commitment to social justice, ending poverty and to world peace, but the valuable role of two authors who have not only done their research, but who came up in the struggle in ways that may not be widely known. Both men continue liberation work today through teaching, speaking and speaking out.

As a non-academic writer and civil rights veteran, I won't attempt to critique either book. But, I would like to recommend these two for closer reading by those who may have shied away from such works in the past.

First, Martin's Dream: My Journey and the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Clayborne Carson, Palgrave Macmillan 2013. This straight forward memoir details some of the challenges of procuring and curating the King Papers at Stanford University. Even more interesting to me it tracks the arc of consciousness of the young author who attends the 1963 March on Washington, initially identifies with SNCC not SCLC and who retains a relationship with SNCC leaders.

Few may be aware that Carson was active (and arrested) in anti-racism work in Los Angeles at the time of the LA police attack on Watts. The King Institute continues anti-oppression work including lectures, forums and presentation of a King play by Carson in both Palestine and China. Under Carson's direction, the King Papers Project has produced six volumes of King's speeches, sermons, correspondence, publications, and unpublished writings. This memoir provides a glimpse into the life of the man whose combination of commitment, determination and graciousness has led to the foremost accessible collection of King papers in the world.

Second, I am cheerfully biased toward King scholar, author and Vanderbilt University professor Lewis V Baldwin who grew up in Camden, Wilcox County, Alabama where I did field work with SCLC-SCOPE and SNCC during the summer of 1965. I challenge anyone who has dismissed King as compliant with "the powers that be" or too cozy with the Johnson Administration, to read King's social gospel messages of In a Single Garment of Destiny: A Global Vision of Justice, Beacon Press, 2013.

This carefully edited, beautifully produced slim volume highlights King's commitment to global liberation and to the end of white oppression. Like Carson, Baldwin first met King when he was young. Baldwin was sixteen when King came through Camden to encourage the voter registration activists who had been demonstrating for months in early 1965. Baldwin has devoted his scholarly life to the religious writings of King and this broadening of King's messages reminds us that faith and action were inseparable in The Movement.

Whether we claimed Christianity, Judaism, Atheism, Revolution or another or philosophy, it was faith — call it determination, confidence or commitment if you prefer — in the righteousness of the cause, in the wrongness of the segregationists and in our collective ability to overcome that led many to sacrifice their well being, even their lives, it was belief that we could end injustice kept us going. These two scholars have dedicated their lives to disseminating the words and work of King and will continue to influence generations of new students and readers, worldwide. We can benefit from reading these new works as well.

Copyright © 2013, Maria Gitin


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