Lest We Forget — Michael Eric Dyson on how we have forgotten what Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in.
In June 1966, less than two years before he was killed, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached from his Atlanta pulpit of the dynamic dance between Good Friday and Easter, between death and resurrection, between despair and hope.
“The church must tell men that Good Friday is as much a fact of life as Easter; failure is as much a fact of life as success; disappointment is as much a fact of life as fulfillment,” he said. Dr. King added that God didn’t promise us that we would avoid “trials and tribulations” but that “if you have faith in God, that God has the power to give you a kind of inner equilibrium through your pain.”
From nearly the moment he emerged on the national scene in the mid-1950s until his tragic end in 1968, 10 days before Easter, Dr. King was hounded by death. It was his deep faith that saw him through his many trials and tribulations until the time he was fatally shot on that motel balcony at 6:01 p.m. on April 4 in Memphis.
Faith summoned Dr. King, an ordained Baptist preacher, to the ministry. It made him a troublemaker for Jesus and it led him to criticize the church, criticize the world around him and, in turn, be criticized for those things. In honoring his legacy today, we must not let complacency or narrow faith blind us to what needs to trouble us too.
Dr. King passionately believed that a commitment to God is a commitment to bettering humanity, that the spiritual practices of prayer and worship must be translated into concern for the poor and vulnerable. Dr. King would want us to live his specific faith: work to defeat racism, speak out in principled opposition to war and combat poverty with enlightened and compassionate public policy.
In his lifetime, he was disappointed in the complacency of both black and white churches. He would be as disappointed today. The white church largely remains a bastion of indifference to the plight of black people. White evangelicals continue to focus on personal piety as the measure of true Christianity, while neglecting the Social Gospel that enlivens Jesus’ words for the masses. Dr. King saw faith as an urgent call to service, a selfless ethic of concern that, he said, quoting the Hebrew prophet Amos, made “justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Today, in the midst of resurgent bigotry and deep divisions in this country, faith is too often viewed as an oasis of retreat, a paradise of political disengagement. On this Easter Sunday, as we mark 50 years since Dr. King’s death, it is a perfect and necessary time to remember his faith — and rekindle its urgency.
Dr. King often declared his preacher’s vocation by citing something like a biblical genealogy of black sacred rhetoric that traced through his family: “I grew up in the church. My father is a preacher, my grandfather was a preacher, my great-grandfather was a preacher, my only brother is a preacher. My daddy’s brother is a preacher. So I didn’t have much choice.”
But Dr. King’s faith underwent significant change. At first, he was discouraged from the ministry by a strain of black preaching that was long on emotion and short on reason. Then, at Morehouse College, his encounter with preachers like the school’s president Benjamin Mays convinced him that the ministry was intellectually respectable.
A midnight kitchen experience over a cup of coffee after he received phone calls threatening to blow out his brains and blow up his house during the Montgomery bus boycott gave the fear-stricken Dr. King a sense of God’s unshakable presence. He said that instead of inherited faith, he had to forge the terms of his own relationship to the Almighty.
“I had to know God for myself,” he explained. “I could hear an inner voice saying to me, ‘Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice, stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world.’”
For the rest of his life Dr. King did just that. His faith propelled him to fight Jim Crow, the ugly hatred it bred in the white soul and the haunting inferiority it left in black minds. It led him to speak valiantly against the lynching, bombing and shooting of black people who merely wanted what white people took for granted: a cup of coffee at any lunch counter, a room at any hotel they could afford, a drink at any water fountain they passed, a seat on a bus wherever they pleased and a desk in the nearest schoolhouse.
Dr. King’s faith put him at odds with white Christians who believed it was their mission to keep separate the races — the same people whose forebears believed it was their duty to enslave Africans and punish blacks who sought to escape their hardship. Dr. King realized that he wasn’t simply in battle against a society built on legal apartheid, but that he also had to fight against a racist culture that derived theological support from white Christianity.
White evangelicals were opposed to Dr. King because they conveniently divided body and soul: Race was a social issue that should be determined by rules in society and laws generated by government. Such a view meant that the racist status quo was sacred. The point of religion was to save the souls of black folk by preaching a gospel of repentance for personal sin, even as segregation often found a white biblical mandate. After Dr. King spoke at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1961, the most prominent institution of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, many white churches in the South withheld financial contributions to the school.
If rabid racists were a clear threat to black well-being, it was the white moderates who claimed to support civil rights but who urged caution in the pursuit of justice who proved to be a special plague. In 1963, eight white Alabama clergymen issued a statement pleading for black leaders to slow their aggressive campaign against segregation in Birmingham, Ala. The clergymen cited “outsiders” who had come to Birmingham to lead demonstrations that were “unwise and untimely.”
The white clergymen blamed the black protests for inciting hatred and violence through their “extreme measures,” arguing that their cause “should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets.”
Showing The Way — Sophia Steinberg, a high school student, reports in The Nation how the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High are leading the way for her generation.
Minu smiled as she saw my homemade sign, finished in a rush to get to the march. We boarded the subway, surrounded by people who were clearly traveling to the same place we were. On our way to demonstrate against gun violence in America, we discussed our SAT scores and her upcoming trip to Japan. While we talked about the minor dramas of our junior year, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were preparing to speak in front of an international audience about the trauma they experienced during a school shooting.
Until late February, no major news source was giving a platform to Generation Z. Now, images of Emma González and her fellow survivors are ubiquitous. A classmate of mine at Beacon High School, Etta Gold, thinks “most kids are scared of the bureaucracy because they don’t believe they can actually change the law,” but the teenagers from Parkland are “inspiring when it comes to enforcing change.” I was impressed by their capacity to organize a national march, amid their own trauma and despite their age. Beacon junior Sam Sheridan echoed Etta’s sentiments: “Seeing people your own age [speak] makes a difference.” I wasn’t shocked to see that some of the few public figures who shared my views on privilege, gun control, and the president were high-school victims of gun violence.
During the march, I held my sign high as I listened to the solemn, empowering words of survivors and activists. Parkland student Meghan Bohner spoke about her firsthand experience with the shooter when I noticed tears streaming down my face. Around noon, we began our march around Central Park, booing President Trump’s New York properties along the way. My eyes were fixed on the crowd as protesters raised their fists and demanded change.
Watching Emma González’s speech later that day, I understood her power. She captivated the nation with silence. Etta agreed: “Something about González compelled [her] to keep watching.” Her bravery, so unwavering, makes change viable. If she could face the world with her questions, so could I. Her extraordinary speech rejected the mundane thoughts and prayers of so many politicians. Her very presence has created a path for teenagers to follow. Those of us who chose to walk that path have a chance at ending gun violence in black communities, preventing the sale of assault rifles, and most of all—saving lives. In González’s gut-wrenching silence, audiences could search for the solution and perhaps find it within themselves.
Soon after the march, Minu, who is a year older than me, found out she was eligible to become a registered voter. It will “feel good to really participate, she told me.” Before the March for Our Lives, I felt as though America could make its teens feel invisible. As I watched Minu join the thousands of newly registered voters, I realized that our teen spirit can no longer be ignored.
Laura’s “Vacation” — Brian Schatz in Mother Jones on Laura Ingraham’s sudden decision to take some time off.
Laura Ingraham, the Fox News host of The Ingraham Angle, announced late Friday that she is going on vacation for a week as advertisers continue to abandon her show.
Ingraham is leaving amidst ongoing controversy and boycotts. Earlier in the week, she took to Twitter to mock Parkland school shooting survivor David Hogg—the 18-year-old senior who has become prominent in the student movement for gun control—for not getting into some of the colleges he had applied to, saying that he whined about the rejections.
In response, Hogg called on his followers to contact her top advertisers. After two advertisers pulled their support, Ingraham, claiming to be moved by “the spirit of Holy Week,” apologized. Hogg didn’t buy it:
As Ingraham leaves for vacation, more than a dozen advertisers have now dropped her show. We’ve seen this kind of vacation before.
Bill O’Reilly took a “pre-planned vacation” last April amid advertiser cancellations after the New York Times detailed his settlements following harassment allegations from five women, totaling at least $13 million. He was fired soon after.
“Fear not,” Ingraham told her viewers on Friday. “We’ve got a great lineup of guest hosts to fill in for me.”
At Home With The Cohens — Calvin Trillin on the domestic side of Trump’s lawyer.
As the breakfast dishes were cleared away, both Cohens remained at the table with their coffees. Mrs. C, who had been gathering material for the family’s tax return, was looking through a pile of financial documents. Michael Cohen was studying his daily list of people to threaten.
“I see here that the electric bill is up a bit this year,” Mrs. C said.
“Mmmm,” Mr. C murmured. He was trying to decide whether the first person on his list would be frightened more by “I will take you for all the money you still don’t have” or “What I’m going to do to you is so fucking disgusting”—both of which phrases he’d used to threaten a Daily Beast reporter (to no avail) in 2015.
“The bill from that gardener who replaced the rose bushes seems pretty reasonable,” Mrs. C said.
“Mmmm,” Mr. C murmured again. He was considering using another phrase from that same Daily Beast encounter—“I’m going to mess your life up for as long as you’re on this fuckin’ planet.” That threat, he thought, had a nice mob-enforcer ring to it, particularly if he used what he sometimes referred to as his “Corleone voice.”
“Michael,” Mrs. C continued. “Here, stuck to the receipt from those people who repaired the washing machine, is a payment of a hundred and thirty thousand dollars to Essential Consultants. What is that all about?”
“That was hush money to a porn star,” Mr. C said.
“Michael,” Mrs. C said, in a weary voice, “I’ve told you before: people with no humor should not try to tell jokes.”
“That wasn’t a joke,” Mr. C said. “A porn star claimed to have had an affair with D.J.T., and, just before the election, I gave her a hundred and thirty thousand dollars to keep her mouth shut.”
“An affair with who?”
“With Mr. Trump. You might have seen Don, Jr., on television referring to his father as ‘D.J.T.’ We thought that would make him sound right up there on the level of Presidents like F.D.R. and J.F.K.”
“Donald Trump had an affair with a porn star?” Mrs. C asked.
“Definitely not,” Mr. C said. “D.J.T. is a happily married family man. He is a man of honor and integrity and one of our great Presidents. In fact, I’ve retained a fellow in South Dakota to do a title search on what seems to be some unused space on Mount Rushmore, just to Lincoln’s left. We could buy it secretly through a shell corporation—I know how to do that—and hire our own sculptor.”
“Let me get this straight,” Mrs. C said. “You paid a hundred and thirty thousand dollars to a porn star so that she’d remain quiet about something that didn’t happen? “
“Well, not directly. I paid the hundred and thirty thousand dollars through a shell corporation so it would stay secret.”
“Then how come we have here a Certificate of Formation for Essential Consultants, issued by the Delaware Secretary of State’s Corporation Division, and signed by you?” Mrs. C said, holding up a document.
“Well, it turned out to be not quite as secret as it might have been,” Mr. C said. “I made up really neat alliterative pseudonyms for D.J.T. and the porn star, but I couldn’t think of a really neat alliterative pseudonym for myself.”
“How about Danny Dumbass?” Mrs. C said.
“I don’t want you to be upset about this,” Mr. C said. “I’m sure we’ll be reimbursed.”
“You believe that Donald Trump, known to every subcontractor, supplier, and banker in New York as the King of the Deadbeats, is going to pay you back?”
“As I was saying,” Mr. C replied, “We prefer to refer to him as D.J.T. It sounds more Presidential.”
Doonesbury — Everything new is old again.