programs online at booktv.org. >> jonathan rider looks at dr. martin luther king, jr., through his lesser known speeches and private conversations with colleagues. this is about an hour. >> i'm going to begin with a standard image of martin luther king and his relationship to americans to their culture. ..
>> all of those phrases that he loved, the majestic language of beloved community, or the interconnectedness of humanity, again, the content of culture that was beyond race. and that image is tied to that poetic kind of vision of king's which is of the little black children and white children holding hands and sort of moving off into the future of the real america about to perfect itself. so in this sense all, a whole lot of what we know of as, um, the identity politics of the last 30 years from black nationalism to the outness of i'm here and i'm queer to a yamaka worn proudly on the
sleeve up through christianity which has brought its identity into the modern civic world and said we're here too. king is a break of all of that stress on particular identity. now, it's not that this conventional image of king is wrong, but it's highly partial. and what i try to do in my book is to sort of take us to a more complicated picture of king, a backstage king who in many ways was earthier, more fervent, blacker -- and you should hear the quotes around that phrase -- um, rambunctious and rowdy, and certainly a less polite and noble king in many ways. so not the st. martin familiar to larger society, but this pack stage king who -- backstage king who emerged specifically beyond the statute think of the larger society -- scrutiny of the larger society. in a way, i try to reintroto
introduce the world to king by focusing on his relationship with his preacher buddies who i spent a good deal of time with, sort of looking to the king who with preached to black congregations. and, again, most of this is based on more than a decade of recovering recordings of the spoken king. king was really a man of spoken performance. king in the mass meetings and the special communion he established in selma and birmingham and lots of small towns across the black belt. and after having done that, i returned to king's cross over addresses to whites, and we can hear this other earthier, blacker voice operate anything the midst of his cross overtalk as well. but i'm not going to say much about the most famous pieces of that tonight. in the questions we can get into that if people have questions about "i have a dream" and "letter from birmingham jail."
but for tonight's purpose, i'm really just going to try to evoke this backstage king, as it were. now, king we know was an unbelievably dignified person x the mask of dignity was very important to him. and when he introduces himself to the larger white society right after the montgomery insurgency in the book "stride to freedom," he right in the first couple pages he strikes the most, the loft jesper sew that. loftiest persona. listening to opera, and he goes on noticing the spires of architecture, and it is the most refined king. and, again, king was a very refined person, and that was all part of him. but, of course, we know backstage, we know there's somebody in the car with him that day, vernon johns, who is a wild man black preacher, hell of a fella, who had hitchhiked a
ride with king, and king was dropping him off at ralph abernathy, who would become king's close friend and colleague in the movement. and we know king had to go on to this other church. he'd just been hired at dexter church. and king stopped, and vernon johns says, oh, don't go to that other place, come in here. mrs. abernathy's cooked us up some real food, and if you go to that church, you'll get white people's food, but here you'll get serious southern soul food. so king is smelling that food, and he loved to eat, and he's thinking really i'm supposed to go to this church, i'm about to take over as pastor, he says, okay, you convinced me. and they go in and chat about the new church, dexter church, which had lot of alabama state professors and was sort of a
snooty church, and they never shouted. and vernon johns says, you've got to be careful, because that's a big niggers' church. it's not that the metropolitan opera was not authentic, but these were with all part of king. and andrew young was describing for me, someone who worked with king for a long time in the movement, king loved to crack jokes about crackers, and his nickname for young the night really just moments before king was with killed, he was looking for young and finally sees him and says with mock impatience, just where with you been, lil' nigger? that was, again, this ethnic, again, backstage with his buddies. king was also a great mimic and a very funny guy. and, of course, he knew he would be killed from early on. after the montgomery boycott. he did not expect to live a long life. and one of the things he and his buddies used to do was preach their funeral sermons to each other.
and they would rehearse it, and king would say, oh, you know, you think they're going to get me first. but, no, you're going to be jumping in front of the camera, and they're going to get one of you. but i will preach you the best funeral you ever had. and then he would get going wit. with it. and this is one that he preached for andrew young. now, andy, when the klan finally gets you, here's what i'll preach: lord, white folks made a big mistake today. they have sent home to glory your faithful son, andrew young. lord have mercy on them, they killed the wrong negro. in andrew young, white folk had a friend so faithful and endearing they should have never harmed a hair on his head. of all my associates, no one loved white folks more than andy. [laughter] now, young was sort of the foil for this ethnic banter about who was black enough backstage, and joe lowery told me hilarious stories. and this was mainly because andrew young wasn't a baptist,
he was a congregationalist, and he had gone to morehouse college, he was a morehouse man, and his father was a dentist. so a lot of this was real class banter backstage. now, to turn, i don't want to say a less y'all, but certainly a different area of this was king's preaching. when king preached in synagogues, and he was very comfortable and fluent, very close friend with lots of rabbis. not just reformed rabbis, but, of course, conservative rabbis, abraham joshua herb el was particularly one of his closest clerical friends. and in liberal protestant churches, the quaker settings were familiar to him, the national cathedral. and when he was in those settingsing, he would tend to parade his knowledge. so there would be quotes from martin buber and, again, very fancy stuff. and, again, the refined king was
a real part of king. that was someone that was definitely the authentic king. he had that strain. but there was the other king. well, it's important to understand this refinement in some sense as a revolt against his father. dad and king who was a very powerful, authoritative figure was an old-fashioned whooper, and king was embarrassed at his daddy for the primitive pyrotechnics at the folk pulpit. and swore that he would never walk the benches, the most acrobatic form of black preaching, sort of wading out into the audience in the midst of emotion, and king looked down on all of that. and yet king had a more, an earthier, more fervent style of preaching that became especially noticeable the older he got and as he moved on from dexter to ebeneezer baptist church. actually, it was even there from the beginning, and a driver of him once drove him up to
barreling hamm from dexter church and said after the sermon he was amazed. dr. king, i've never heard you whoop before. at dexter, you never whoop. and king said, well, at dexter the old sisters don't shout and call to me like they did up here in birmingham x. he responded to southern black congress redwaitions as he got further from his graduate school airs and kind of persona. so you hear king, john lewis told me the first time he heard king he was a little boy out in troy, alabama, and he heard a sermon coming off of montgomery radio. and he said right away he could tell this was a learned, intellectual man, but he could still hear the rhythms of black preaching, and he could tell again. he didn't whoop, but there was a certain powerful, expressive dimension to it. and if you king when he's backstage at 'em newser, you hear a man with a passionate
relationship with his savior. he played this down in synagogues, he didn't talk a lot about jesus as the savior. it was moses and, again, exodus. he knew how to talk the talk. but king was not, um, a fundamentalist, but he had a passionate relationship with jesus. and if you listen to him celebrated and his vision of god was just as direct as immediate. and he would say nick nicodemusu must be born again. and he would talk about being alone, and he would say martin luther, stand up for justice. i will never leave you, never reeve you. so there's this earth distinguish, more traditional king who was the king that most black congregations knew, who saw himself not only as a social movement leader or a student, but a traditional christian bringing the good news of jesus and healing the broken-hearted.
and he would talk to ebeneezer and he would say, don't jump. are you disappoint r pointed tonight, ebeneezer? don't jump. he told a story about somebody who jumped off a building? st. louis, and he built this into pounding rhythms when he says, oh, don't jump when life gets you down in this traditional, earthier style against -- was powerful. sometimes when he would do never alone he would go right to the end of that into the hymn he promised never leave me, and you hear king almost singing like many, more traditional black preachers, blurring the lines of chanting and song and word in the crescendo. again, king is semi-singing, semi-chanting, never alone, never like a haunted man. but more than black style, when king was with black congregation, he was a teller of black stories.
and so there's a lot of debate lately about jeremiah wright, and trinity church describes him as unapologetically black and christian. and it's fair to say backstage king was unapologetically black and unapologetically christian. he loved to tell stories about his sauntering out into the world. typically, he would report that he was on a plane when a white passenger told him, you know, i grew up with so much affection and love for negroes. and king immediately interrupted himself. you hear in the sermon. he says he didn't say negro, couldn't say negro, he said negras. i know in my family we didn't grow up with any privilege for negras, we love them. you hear the congregation going, my, my, my, my word, speak.
but over the last few years and alice king told it since you negras have been demonstrating and you got others shouting "black power "and all this, we just don't feel the same kind of love towards ya. the hush falls across the congregation. after the watts riots, king would not disavow black nationalists and rioters. he would disavow their deeds and hold out the better way, but one of his most powerful moments of preaching in los angeles, mount zion baptist church, not long after the riots, and king looks about, and he says i know the temptation. and king had this sigh, and this sigh, and this sigh was his
substitute for whooping. he could use it as an accent mark to do anything. it could be that's those. oh. it could be in the presence of the divine, oh, it has a power. in this case it was pathos. oh, i know the temptation. to become bitter against the white man. i know it, it comes to all of us. and here the "us" is a black us, not a universal us. now, king is putting himself in the community of black bitterness and, of course, he had gone through a long phase of hating white people. it had taken him years to get over his hatred of white people just as it'd taken daddy king years to get over his hatred of white people. so when king was seen in some sense as this ethereal, sappy,
cheek-turning fellow by more militant blacks and by white society, they didn't understand that king's vision of love of the white man was tough-minded. he says it's like agape. oh, i know it's hard to love the white man. he's granting the legitimacy of that. he's not trying to argue against that. he says there's a better way. it doesn't mean, and then gets fancy, not felia, it doesn't mean you like the white man, oh, it's hard to like, love is the love of god operating in the human heart, so king identified powerfully with black alienation. but never was this sense of black communion more powerful than when king channeled the voice of the slaves. and this is something before black power, before black pride king had a powerful identification with the slaves. he actually brought it into his white preaching as well, but
that's another story. national cathedral, he didn't leave out the ancestors. but much of his preaching to black congregations was channeling the slaves' experience and invoking it. they were heroic people, they were wonderful. they created hope. how could they have a theology of hope because they had lived with rawhide wit, and king was sort of borrowing. he was a great sampler as the young hip-hop theorists would say of other people's language. he was taking from the theologian, howard thurman. and they took that question mark, is there a bomb in gilead, and they straightened it into an assertion, there is a bomb in gilead. so the slaves represented the superior moral virtue. but sometimes king would make himself the old slave preacher. and he would say that old slave preach every would say -- preacher would say all day long
you've been called a nigger, all day long you been told you ain't nobody, but i'm here to tell ya, you ain't no nigger, you are somebody. and, again, you can hear king's voice tremulous with passion because the wounds of slavery had not disappeared. he wasn't saying forget about that collective memory, transcend it through the higher realm. but that did not mean repressing the awareness, the collect collective memory that was so powerful to him. finally, this same powerful sense of tidiness appeared in the mass meetings. selma, birmingham, montgomery. and t important to understand king wasn't simply preaching because he's figuring out how to
create defiant liberation warriors. who had to walk out a church door. and king wasn't alone in this. he had this vast not only executive staff, but these tough characters. the field staff, the ground crew who prepared the kind of infrastructure for a king performance. and my wife katherine and i were down in atlanta the week of the anniversary with some of king's colleagues, somebody i spent some time with, willie bolden, who is one of the most extraordinary of these characters who, again, was beaten and scarred. and when king preached about, you know, it's better to live with a scarred-up body than a scarred-up soul, he was really talking about these tough characters who paved the way for the moral argument to get people to get the guts to walk over the bridge in selma, to walk out of that church door in birmingham knowing that there were bull connor and his people on the outside. so when king is in selma, he
says why have i come to selma. and he gives some of the same answers he gives the white ministers and the rabbi who have criticized him in birmingham which are all theological and morally universalistic answers. ic justice anywhere is injustice everywhere. but in selma he adds something different. i am here because my people are suffering. and this phrase, "my people," when king was shifting into the black ethnic frame, he was calling forth my people and identifying himself. and once you listen for that echo in the middle of "i have a dream," there are three places in which king turns from kennedy and white america and talks to something i must say to my people. he inte -- integrates that in the middle. i have come here to selma because my people are suffering.
i've come here to help you king come by here, my lord. lordy, lordy, somebody is suffering, and that is why i've come to selma. now, if i can find the pages, i'm going to quote from that are not out of order -- we'll more or less manage, i think. king's sense of communion in the mass meetings wasn't only to lift up his people because a lot of what he was always doing was elevating his people into biblical narratives, right? he put them into the crucifixion. this is the cross we bear for our people. or he was putting them to exodus or into those other stories of old testament deliverers. but sometimes it was the
indignant king and this indignant king when he seethed with racism was an angry black preacher. and he would say it's the black man who produced the wealth of the nation. all right. and the nation doesn't have enough sense to share its wealth and power with the very people who made it so. all right. and i know what i'm talking about this morning, the black manmade america wealthy. and before long he fell into this poetic meter that he often used in black belt meetings which established a claim to america that was deeper than civil religion and jefferson. we were here. that's his phrase, a black we. we were here before the pilgrim fathers landed in plymouth in 1620, we were hear, oh, yeah, before jefferson etched across the pages of history the majestic words of the declaration of independence. we were here. we were here.
and sometimes that we were here could become indignant even beyond angry. they kept us in slavery 234 years in this country, and they said they freed us from slavery, but they didn't give us any land. frederick douglass said wend have 40 acres and a mule. and then king underscores that that's not like ancient memory. they haven't given us anything. after making our poor parents work and labor for 244 years, and then king says you hear him the jeer, for nothing, didn't pay 'em a cent. and our young black boys and our young white boys are forced to fight together and kill together in brutal solidarity in vietnam, and when they come back home, they can't even live on the same block. a few weeks earlier, and this is
just month before his death as he was running across the black belt in the buildup to the poor people's march, king came back to that, and he said, oh, each individual has certain rights. all men are created equal. he says, oh, that's beautiful. america's never lived up to it. the men who wrote that owned slaves. and king then launched a devastating chronicle of the captive black nation. he said, did you know that even before slavery the white man sought to exterminate the indian? racism is very deep. they destroyed indigenous people. and notice that in a racial language, usually he hedges. he usually says not all white people, but it's the white man. do you know that in america the white man sought the exterminate
the indian, now a nation that got started like that got a lot of repenting to do. got a lot of repenting to do. now, what i wanted to do tonight is mainly give just an evocative sense of this backstage, kind of really variety of voices of king. and i'd rather sortover get to -- sort of get to see if you have questions. we can get into anything else you want to. because this is 40th anniversary, i want to return to this theme of king's premonition of his death. because king's death talk was eclectic. and it's kind of interesting, i think to commemorate him by sort of thinking about the many moods and modes that he could mull on his death.
sometimes it took the form of eerie unsettlement as a rattled king collapsed at the podium of his church and starts sobbing. if anyone should be killed, let it be me. it was snippy when a young activist would not relent in telling king you've got to join the freedom ride. they're beating our people. you've got to join. and king says, i will choose the time of my own -- [inaudible] it was pedestrian, almost dismissive with his battered field staff. oh, i settled that fear of death long ago. i don't think anybody can be free until you solve that problem. lie anything a hospital after he was stabbed by a mad black woman in harlem, and andrew young told me the story. according to young, it took the form of an out-of-body experience with king looking down and imagining a ring of
black clergy eager for his death, and king musing that he wasn't ready to go yet. death evoked a light quip before an airplane flight to memphis right before his assassination. when the pilot apologized for a bomb threat delayed takeoff. well, it looks like they won't kill me this flight after telling us all that. and around the same time on a tour across the black belt that cycle led from defiant rejection of body guards, i can't live that kind of life. i feel like a bird in a cage through resign. there's no way in the world you can stop somebody from killing you if they're determined to kill you. again, after engine trouble, i would much rather be martin luther king late than the late martin luther king. it could soar with intensity. i've been to the mountaintop, mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the lord, and it could exalt in a praise song, and i'm so glad i didn't die. thank you. [applause]
so i'm here to take any of your questions, observations, reflections about king himself or the legacy of king today. and, certainly, i've been feeling a lot of questions most places about king and obama and jeremiah wright. so any place anybody would like to cut in, you're most welcome. now, i'm being advised because c-span is taping, they're going to need to sort of get a mic close to you, so this gentleman here. i'm sorry, if you give me one minute to switch glasses, i'll even be able to see. there you go. >> i wanted to ask you, some of the things you were saying about king sounded like jeremiah wright. >> yeah. >> and what would king say about
jeremiah wright today, do you think? >> well, i think you might want to separate jeremiah wright's i don't want to call it a performance, but whatever it was yesterday, um, clowning around, playing the dozens, sabotaging obama, you know, the father angry at the son who surpassed him, whatever. many people have speculated. but if you go back and look at the sermons that have really gotten the most attention, wright's sermons that have gotten most attention, almost all of them are these little snippets ripped out of very complicated context. so if you look at the god damn america, wright with us not making a secular statement, he was in the middle of an extended biblical prophesy in which he was reflecting on the casualty of innocent children in war. and he had gone back to the
psalms and other places and was reflecting on the shift from worship to war. so there is a prophetic frame there which makes it sound different. and, in fact, there were some positive, harmonious things said about america early and later in the sermon. so when looking at a little bit, and if you cut into king at certain points, you could construct a very different king. the other thing i would say is king had a prophetic vision. when blacks were criticizing him for getting involved in the vietnam war, they were saying what are you -- stop worrying about the war. you're going to distract attention from black people's problems. you're a black leader. and king would say, no, before i was a civil rights leader, i was anointed to preach the gospel. and if you listen to king's most powerful preaching, he sees himself in the prophet line as many african-american clergy do.
some people talk about the importance of the prophetic dimension. it's why black christianity has always gone further back. it's a kind of jewish christianity. the old testament prophets who identify the sinfulness of arrogant nations. so you could say that king, too, identified the sinfulness of arrogant nations, and he identifies america. he says nobody has been as big a purveyor of violence as the united states. he says, america, you've got a lot of repenting to do. now, king always came out of that and showed the way to the better way. so there are certain similarities in the prophetic anger at injustice. when king was in marx, mississippi, building up to the poor people's march and he sees these little black children with distended stomachs who are eating a couple pieces of fruit, and he goes back to the motel. tears are in his eyes, and ralph
abernathy, his partner, sees this, and he says king was silent. he didn't say anything for a long time. he was laying on the bed. and he says, ralph, i knew there was hunger, but i didn't know it was like that. and in that period both in black churches and the national cathedral king is saying god doesn't like the way his children are being treated. and he makes america into the parable of lazarus. and he says, you know, the rich man did not go to hell because he was rich, but because he won't recognize the poor man. so there was this angry, condemn that story part of king. jeremiah, jeremiah. i mean, there's a reason for that. i think there are differences between king and wright, but i think we've sanitized king. we've lost track at how much he was reviled in the final years.
"the washington post" and "the new york times" condemn his anti-vietnam speech at riverside church and, basically, said almost that it was treason. and king does quote that famous line of black poetry in there, america was never america to me. now, he gets beyond that always that's the king element, that he was tough-minded enough not to give in just to the emotion, but to hold out the better way. so king was pretty much roughed up in his time. we've taken all that out in creating the st. martin and it's why reverend c.t. vivian, one of the great men of nashville nonviolence, but he was part of john lewis' circle and all those other great young people in nashville, and cm t. vivian said that's why he didn't go to the 40th anniversary celebration of bloody sunday at selma. i went down because i wanted to
be with john lewis and watch people, you know, the march over the bridge. but a lot of king's field workers also didn't go, the guys who got their bodies ripped apart to prepare for selma, and they said, oh, this is going to be making nice. and at the last minute c.t. vivian agreed to give a sermon up there in brown chapel. and there is bill frist who was then the head of the republican leader of the senate presenting an american flag to john lewis. and there is a certain virginia senator who had not yet hurled his insult up on stage looking most uncomfortable. frist at least looked comfortable on stage. he knew how to behave. but what c.t. vivian said is what is this about? this is making nice and saying look how far we've come. king would have always said the prophetic dimension is to always look, you know, at who's suffering.
and there are always new people who are suffering. so there are certain parallels with wright that i think are fair to make, and it's something i got a lot of attention because there was a column in "the washington post" called another angry black preacher where he basically was quoting from my book and sort of identifying this of reminding us of the inconvenient king. anyway, i think, you know, i've gone on long enough. there are other people who want to get in here. good question. yes, dan. >> in his earliest going, when does he go from just training to be preach the gospel as a guy who was training young, defiant liberationists? things that affect him and make him go on a very different course from his father or otherwise sort of pick up the torch? >> it's a really great question, and there's a lot of people who have been thinking about king's late adolescence. at morehouse he was somewhat of
a playboy, ladies' man. he was a fine dresser, great closet full of suits. he, you know, look at those pictures. he really looked fine. and at seminary right not so far from here just, you know, there he was very engaged. his first time in a white world. remember, king grew up in an all-black world. and he loved seminary. he had his black backstage. he spent a lot of time in chester in black churches, but what was important there was he loved that white liberal protestant preaching, so he sucked it up. then he goes on to boston university, and he wants that ph.d.. and this is where the plagiarism on his dissertation sort of arises and some of these other things. king wasn't that interested in being an academic. he was playing in a way, he wanted to please his faculty, but he got bored once he was away from the preaching. so he's tooling around boston in his convert and dating the
ladies before he's met coretta, and he and his buddies are having a fine time. and he's thinking, am i going to go back to a little church, or am i going to become a professor, what am i going to do. and he decide he wants to preach the gospel, but it's still somewhat unformed. he goes back to montgomery and gets caught up in the bus boycott. he was a passive factor. events kind of pressed him into it, and he didn't leap right into it. he was their kind of compromise character because he was the new guy in town. >> [inaudible] >> yes. and king was somewhat, you know, he was known, at bu he ran the floss terse' club. and he started smoking a pipe and all of this affectation. and the real black activists, they would go to the philosophers' club, the die dialectic society, i think it
was called, it was even worse, and they would say there's no action here because these guys are trying to show their st. augustine and, you know, that's not where the alaska -- so king never set out to be a civil rights leader though his father was an activist and, certainly, a race man and took no gulf from white people, and he would sort of talk back to police. so king comes there, and he gets caught up in this. it wasn't that he didn't have progressive leanings, but the old ella baker statement that the movement made king as much as king made the movement is absolutely correct. and even in birmingham king tended not to be good at making decisions. he would delay and think on it, and they were running out of adult bodies. and james bevel, one of his young, firebrand ministers who really could mobilize the kids, and he'd been working on the young people. and some of these great, tough football players from birmingham high school, and they were ready
to go. and people said, oh, you can't use the king -- the kids, you know? king was in jail, and bevel said this movement is dead. we will not have a civil right bill, we're just going to have to let the kids out. and he and andy young and some of these others, they basically set the kids free. king then had to come onboard. the times said this is unethical and callous to exploit little children, and bevel was teaching -- preaching and saying god could not exempt the children because we are fighting for the kingdom of good. you cannot exempt someone from the realization of the kingdom. and king then starts preaching, and there was another child on that dusty road in jerusalem and tells the story of jesus on passover. and he got caught up in a quarrel right with the elders in the temple l. and he says and he got caught up. and these children are about,
you know, these children are about their parents' business. so king had to be pushed. now, at a certain point he gave his life to the movement. but it starts in a kind of interesting, human, almost novelistic way. he did not set out to do this exactly. >> [inaudible] those same words about slavery and before jefferson and that kind of thing? >> no. his father was a whooper and a very traditional baptist. he had a kind of prophetic, like c.l. franklin, aretha franklin's father, you i'm sure know one of the great preachers of the 20th century, and king had a lot of great people who trained him, very sophisticated preachers who were blending refinement and passion. so if you look at the cultural labor that produced king was tutored like all -- whether becoming a surgeon or a car mechanic or a painter, he went
through his tutorial not just with the folk pulpit, but a deepening of his capital by studying benjamin mays who had been working on elegance and passion, gardener, taylor and brooklyn, and aretha franklin's father had an exodus preaching. and daddy king did spend a month with his rival who had gone on to a white seminary, and king was attracted to borders. borders was the man who wrote the sermon, "i am somebody," that jesse jackson ripped off from king because jesse jackson watched everything thing king did for three years. if you can't run -- that's like king in birmingham. awe of those things. so daddy king did have this prophetic exodus commitment. and he and borders did a full month on preaching on the liberation impulse of exodus. and as many people would say, that's the central narrative in african-american religion. so daddy king had that, and daddy king had been involved in the naacp.
but the refinement and some of this other stuff, um, that's king elaborating it through the crossover artists who were really his idols, benjamin mays, howard thurman. and howard thurman, i mean, king would sample howard thurman's story of what happened to him in india to tell the story of what happened to king in indian. king was introduced once as an untouchable, and he tells the congregation, oh, here's a fellow untouchable from america. and everybody, oh, i was peeved. and you hear the audience wincing, oh, my, my, you know, this is terrible. and i thought about it, and i could not stop on the highway and take my children in a motel or get them food. and i said, yes, i'm an untouchable. he got that from mays. all these things. if you look at mays' graduation speeches at howard or, morehouse and lincoln, king recycled a whole lot of that and howard thurman as well. so this is the hip-hop aspect of
king, his ability to weave as in "i have a dream" which was this brilliant on the spot, he wasn't planning to give i have a dream, and jackson was up on the dais with him. it wasn't most of king's better speeches because it was very restrained, and he was worried about kennedy and the civil rights will. so he had to be very careful. and then halfway through he throws down the prepared text and just does free form black preaching. and he's just on the spot combining all his riffs and blending them, and john kennedy is reading along, and he looks up -- this is how good because kennedy who didn't really like king and king really did not respect kennedy, and suddenly king, though s is one speaker admiring another artist. and he says, where's he going now, you know? [laughter] he took off. what's happening here. yes, michael. >> i have two unrelated
questions, and you can decide to answer either or neither of them. first, i want to go back to the jeremiah wright example and less on the similarities or differences of their rhetoric, but the fact as you mentioned md that it's a snippet that we hear of jeremiah wright, and that's at least in part because of the world we live in now with youtube and fox news and surveillance all over the place. >> right. >> could you speculate a little bit on what, you know, whether or not a leader like king could emerge in the information environment we live in today? and then the second up related question -- unrelated question is a more personal one. you're writing a book about an iconic figure in the black community, and you're white. and you're also presenting this figure as a really, a real person with multiple approaches, flaws. could you talk a little bit about what it was like in the process of interviewing people
about this and what the reaction has been broadly and in the black community as to the politics of this a little bit? >> yeah, i'll take both of them. [laughter] well, you know, the -- i think your question in a way contains its answer. it's impossible to imagine king sort of surviving in the current information age because if you think about king in terms of, you know, there's a lot of this fancy academic theory about the post-ethnic world, we have these multiple identities and there's more shifting back and forth. and king was precociously the case because he'd been in more environments. nonetheless, his ability to straddle audiences was in part based upon the ability to compartmentalize and keep them separate. so at one point one of his best friends, king's best friends was his jewish colleague, stanley levinson.
and in the mid, well, probably around '66 there was another adviser who wanted to bring out recordings of king's sermons as a money-making for selc. and king really trusted levinson, and he went to levinson and said, what do you think? and levinson said, don't do it. it's too much the black idiom. it'll hurt you. and there was nothing like jeremiah wright in there. it was just king in vernacular, you know, king backstage preaching to black people saying, oh, i went to cleveland, and there was this brother there, leader of the national. and levinson understood that the white audience was comforted by king. it's not that they were, did not respond to his moral appeal, but their ability to respond to the moral appeal was based on king's gentility. he knew how to ease them through logic and corollary. and so he often plays the role
with whites of the instructor. i'm sure you would all agree with me that, you know, prejudice is the, that it is a sin is defined as the degrading of the human personality, and does not racism degrade human personality, therefore, you know, walk with me, brothers and sisters. racism is sinful. or establish the good samaritan and remember the samaritan, very important point, the presbyterian, george buttreck was of another race and tribe, right? so kick would remind his audience, jewish audiences he'd say, you know, i am sure that if i was in germany, i would not want to sit on the sidelines while my jewish brothers were, you know, suffering. and then he would bring the boom. ergo, therefore, you shouldn't sit on the sidelines for us. well, king's ability to move white audiences especially
liberal protestants, reform jews, quakers, that larger white kind of religious and secular audiences based on them having a comfort with him and the information environment, i think, would have made it impossible. and in that sense we can just think how hard it is to get this data. i mean, a lot of what i have very few people have listened to. now, there are a lot of people out there, i have to give credit to a whole lot of people. but right after he writes letter from birmingham jail, he goes to a church, and i found a tape that hadn't been discovered until about a year ago, and he's talking about in letter from birmingham jail, my dear fellow clergy, right? and he's so angry. it's written in jail. the general of birmingham told me, oh, king's cup had run over, he was furious. let's focus on black people, and king is furious, and he walks
into the church of black people and he talks about these preachers said we're naughty. [laughter] and he's just so, you know, so for king to be powerful he had to segregate it, and i think the answer is just implied by the question. it's just impossible to imagine how he would have -- it was hard enough even then. now youtube would be running, oh, he said white people will put black people in concentration camps. king said that. he said, you remember what they did to the japanese, they could do that to black people, and that's what king thought about the white backlash. so, i'm sorry, your second question -- [inaudible] >> is the personal aspect and the politics of it. you know, in certain ways you would think there was a combination of chutzpah and humility involved in doing this book. it's not just that king is an iconic figure. there are a lot of brilliant people who have written some pretty brilliant things about
king on whose shoulders i stood, but you don't do this unless you think you can say something fresh. so then there was the question, you know, how's the white guy going to get access to this. and i think because i've studied race my whole life and my, you know, first work as an academic was on white backlash. and i found it much harder, you know, i was dealing with vigilantes in brooklyn who fire bombed the homes of black people who moved in, i would be interviewing people who would say -- after i'd been vetted. they thought either i was a reporter or an fbi after they found out i was a stand up guy, you can trust him, he doesn't talk. and then people would stop me, oh, you want to find out? you know, you asked me before what i thought about the negroes, and i'd done a whole interview with this guy. come back home, we'll open a
bottle of whiskey, and you can meet the little woman. sophisticated people who have told their life story like joseph lowery, andrew young. it wasn't so hard because i had sort of -- i just felt as a student of race, i've studied, you know, korean/black conflict in brooklyn. i just think i've never felt whiteness as a barrier except in the sense that we're all limited by who we are, you know? but on the other hand who we are is also gives us privileged access. so, you know, can men women? can women men? if you follow the logic of that methodology, if i really believed that was an impediment, obviously, there are impediments. on the political side, i was worried about certain people not talking to me. and there was one of the foot soldiers who i really wanted to talk to who simply said i'm tired of white people writing the story of our black lives and getting rich off it.
and i said to this fellow, i said, you talk to anybody who's talked to me, it's not what i'm up to. i said, i'm not going to beg you, but i argued with him. i said, fine. but i really did feel a kind of humility with the foot soldiers because they can't protect themselves, and their story hasn't been told. willie bolden, j.t. johnson, these were people who were king's bodyguards who in philadelphia and mississippi one year after the killing of. >> westerner, goodman and cheney during the her at this -- meredh march, king went back, and they're standing in philadelphia, mississippi, and king goes up to the assistant sheriff who had had the three men in his custody before he delivered them to the mob that killed them, and king says you're the guys that had, you know, those boys. and price looks at him and says, that's right.
and king is preaching and saying i believe the people who killed those three boys are in this crowd, and people are proudly saying, we're here, all right. and it was the most frightened king ever was except for marquette park, chicago. so these men who i wanted to talk to who have been scarred up, and they said were reluctant to talk to you because you're going to get our story. and i had to stay on their case. but i started -- they did start to open up, and i did see when willie bolden kind of preached when we were together in atlanta at the reading, and he came out. i said, willie, i was really nervous. you're one of the people i've really been waiting to hear from, and he said, well, i gave you a hard time -- he said to the group, i wasn't going to talk to john, he said, but i got up, you ask my wife. he said i didn't read the whole book yet, i started to cry. and he could see me welling up, and this was like, you know, i
felt i'd acquitted myself politically. so far, um, judged i don't see a white/african-american difference. many of the african-american audiences i've talked to and the radio shows have been very responsive that i'm getting a king that makes sense to them and sort of reclaiming him. and on the other hand, i'm not, you know, i don't deny the importance. one of my arguments is the white and the black talk were equally authentic because it was king's christian universalism, all god's children was the balance. interestingly enough, i haven't found the politics so difficult so far. but stay tuned, so -- i think we have time for i think we have one or two more questions. dan? >> did he will talk in private about that, about that dichotomy in himself about sort of going over the bridge between his
white self and his black self or adjusting for a certain audience and then coming back? did he ever address that? >> king, you know, one of the things that i started out with a lot of academics who are trying to set up this distinction between the white king and the black king. often the ethnocentric reclaiming of the black king as the real king. and what i've tried to show is that king really didn't see it as the black or the white. he didn't think like that. he did think in terms of black audiences or white audiences, but when i said to john lewis like this vulgar, bawdy preacher talk, and those guys were unbelievable, you know, that's how they let loose at the end of the day, quipping and laughing. and john lewis, congressman lewis was saying i was close to king, but i wasn't part of the work-a-day staff. so king didn't talk that way. you want to call that black talk, and in the book i'm more or precise about this, or is it really white masculine talk with
people who happen to be black? so the same thing. when king gave his first sermon at ebeneezer baptist, he could have gone to the folk pulpit, but he took a sermon structure from harry 'emmer because he loved listening to those liberal white ministers, mccracken at riverside church, you know, ralph mead, all of these incredible white liberal -- it was the white preachers he liked. so it breaks down because king preached white to black audiences and black to white audiences. so one reviewer, and it was, you know, somebody who got the book wrong, one of the few people, um, you know, thought i was saying, you know, that the white voice was inauthentic. king didn't carve it up that way. you know, he was way too beyond race. he was anchored in his blackness
and comfortable in his humanity. and that's why, of course, with sclc, when people were getting upset and saying why are you worrying about the vietnamese, the whites of appalachia in and he said, you know, god does not see color, you know? very powerful. yes. >> um, you're so well prepared to write this book, were there some surprises that you encountered along the way? >> yeah. you know, the real surprise happened earlier. i thought this book was done about eight years ago. and i had a lock on it, i had a very fancy publisher, had a neat thesis, and it really was the split between the black and the white king. and how he moved from black audience to white audience. and i started hearing things i hadn't heard enough, but i just
heard enough to know that here he is with unlettered black folk in the black belt discoursing -- [inaudible] and then i got a tape of king at an scl retreat lecturing on marx, and he says, now, marx was a jew. and he's reflecting on his jewishness and how it affected the creation of marxism. and then i start listening to the tapes where when king was with the sclc preachers, you know, the preaching is both entertainment and serious. so they loved to hear king preach. and c.t. vi yang, reverend vivian told me the story. king was with the people, and he said, oh, you know, i don't have the voice -- no, at one point he says, okay, you know, i'm ready, i'm going to preach about it. and vivian says we all thought he had been preaching. and another time he says i'm just going to talk to tonight. i don't have the voice.
i can't preach to you all. and you hear groans. they want to hear him preach, right? the preachers want him to preach. and they're groaning. he's sick. i don't have the voice. he says when i'm done hosea williams will preach about it. king gets caught up in the moment, and he's flying, and one -- you know, he's going and there'll be no -- and the god will look on his children, and he's going finish and the lion will sit down with the lamb. and then king catches himself, and he looks out at the audience and he says, y'all better be careful, you're going to make me preach. and they crack up. so there was a self-consciousness about some of these yores, but sometimes it was just artless. it became the language of the body that he just, i don't think he thought about it at a certain point. it became seamless. he sensed at a certain point how to do it. so here's one of the self-conscious though. y.t. walker told me t