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tv   [untitled]    February 21, 2012 9:00pm-9:30pm EST

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engaged, interested and able to think with the problem, whatever it happened to be. he had a wonderful visit with us and made an indelible impression, precisely because of who he was, what he was, being comfortable in his own skin which is often unusual or difficult for us. but it wasn't for martin. i always felt a sympathy there because people often think of folks who are comfortable in their skin as arrogant. there was nothing arrogant about martin king. but he was comfortable with himself and he was not a nerd. an intellectual maybe, but not a nerd. he dances with wolves. he could deal with his environment. one of the most interesting things about martin for me was the question of his leadership,
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the style of his leadership, how it was formed. how you made sense of it. andy young has suggested that martin was very much the baptist preacher with the authoritarianism that goes with that. and my whole impression was very different. now he worked very closely or my brothers worked very closely with him. the real estate broker, slater. they are on record as saying in the meetings that they held in albany where the guys were really going at martin, you know. i mean, with no let or hindrance. he would sit there for two, two and a half hours and take all the stuff in. and not blink. but not come back aggressively but simply absorb it. you could say, hey, arrogance. you know? walks off and comes back with a decision whereas slater and
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shabin thought, no, this is a sign of someone who takes his counsel, someone who has respect for the other. someone who knows how to listen and can think on his feet. now there would be the element of mysticism, to detach yourself from yourself so you almost look at arguments directed at you as not directed at you but as a position that's indifferent to you and sitting up in the sky. he seemed to be incredibly good at doing this. so there is a question of what sort of person we're dealing with there. there is a statue in washington, you know, or chinese sculpture, arms crossed and so on. we have that outside of martin luther's arm raised and pointing to some distant future.
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i may not get there with you, but, et cetera. this picture, adam faircloth who is with us here and did a superb book on the selc, this picture, has been argued, especially by adam, as being quite unreliable. that the great thing about king was not so much his ability to control a movement, but his ability to respond to and interact with it in such a way as to facilitate realizing its potential, its best self which is different from a vertical, top-down orientation and is much more consistent with a lateral/horizontal/communal orientation.
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that element in martin, i think, very much comes out of his community and enables you to see a peculiar combination. an unusual combination of someone who's very intelligent, smart and takes pleasure in intellect and has a serious streak at the core of him. someone who enables that quality in himself to interact with all of the different developments, all of the very tough people in his own movement who are around him. and to bring them together and keep the show on the road. i don't see him as a mystic. i see him as a deeply persuasive person, a person deeply grounded in himself, a person able to see eventualities and a person who is most of all capable of restraint and who will allow a lot of stuff to wash over him,
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only retaining what's important and not being inflamed by what might be regarded as inflammatory. i'll rest there. >> so let's start with the relationship between mays and thurman. i don't think most people are conscious of the relationship. move into the relationship between the impact and relationship between thurman mays upon king and move to where gandhi, put some more information on where gandhi fits in. mays and thurman. what was their relationship? >> mays and thurman were friends. mays was thurman's teacher. not that far apart in age. something else there, too. mays takes pleasure in saying i
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was thurman's teacher, which he was. they formed a relationship. mays enjoys hanging out with thurman than the rest of the morehouse faculty. he says that he's so impressed with young thurman and he was also their debate coach. both for thurman and james norbert. he was the debate coach. they were on the debate team. mays is the coach. they win a tournament and this is legendary that mays nearly jumped off the stage because of his team with thurman. this is really a crucial point. going back to your point about king is that they were able because they debated, they were able to entertain ideas. we live in a society where entertaining ideas is not considered valuable anymore.
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that people considered other people's perspective. now in order to have a perspective, i mean in order to -- you have to hear one another. that was something that mays and thurman preached a lot. this community, under at least mays's leadership for 27 years was the idea that your community was to be able to debate ideas. consider other positions. study other positions and also that came to the understanding that people of faith had different positions and s of god, it like the side
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of the elephant do you feel, touch and so forth. >> when howard thurman went to howard university at the divinity school mays was dean of the divinity school. so mays is in the responsibility of providing oversight to thurman's work, guidance of his career at howard and i think the friendship deepened. there you are dealint anthher ln here at morehouse where there is the role first of student and faculty member and then colleague. but to go to howard as in some sense colleagues, even though mays is in the position of oversight as dean, i think indicates the ways in which they were able to cultivate their relationship over time. tension developed there, as you might expect between a dean and a faculty member.
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especially a faculty member who spends time off campus traveling as thurman was. he was deeply involved -- this is another connection with the thurman-mays connection. it was the why that led thurman to go to india also. thurman was traveling all over the united states. >> it was still regular segregation. still regular segregation? >> the why was segregated. they had two different ys. in atlanta, new orleans, but black people did like under segregation everywhere carved out a space and made do. they had the committee of 11 as they called it around the ymca and, but they carved out a space uniquely their own. >> this is a wonderful story when thurman was a student here and there was a y conference and the leaders came up with a resolution about the seating in
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the auditorium such that it wouldn't be black people in the back, white people in the front but more side by side. thurman was incensed that this was the resolution because it continued segregation under another configuration. mays tries to keep him on board in terms of this event without deciding that this is a deal breaker. so mays was an early mentor of thurman. so the friendship evolved -- the relationship evolved into friendship. even though there is a friendship, i think in the mentor, mentee relationship. and there is a sense as you look at the correspondence, mays is
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even looking to thurman as a kind of spiritual mentor on issues which i think says something deeply about mays and not having this fixed notion of relationships which could be so easy between a professor and a former student. >> so dr. mays is four or five years older than thurman. when we look at the dates in history and say, oh, they're right together. but being on the same campus, four or five years is a big difference. >> right. >> what's the influence of these two upon dr. king? let's talk about that more. >> thurman, of course, is not an activist as you might say martin was. martin was very much caught up in activity of a direct social -- from the very early stage. not that he was involved in student politics at morehouse. but morehouse was a very small operation when martin was around.
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it was very comfortable for him. he didn't live on campus. he lived at home. the undergraduate population at that time was something like 400. we think of the norm as 3,000, but there is a big gap between the size of us now and the size then. so there is intimacy but the home location for martin. he went to chapel every tuesday. he heard dr. mays speak on those occasions. one of his most moving experiences was hearing
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mordechai johnson speak but we'll leave that to one side. he would have been deeply influenced by mays but i thought the closest connection would be with thurman. there is of course the dramatic development when he was stabbed by this deranged woman and he came within spitting distance. of departing to a better place, fortunately didn't. but he was visited in thurman in hospital. thurman acted in some degree as a mentor at that stage. he drew from a number of different sources. most especially i would have
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said from that boston university connection and one which led in the direction of worker-priest orientation. >> thurman's there -- >> no, no, no. >> he's at boston. >> dean of the chapel at boston. >> right. >> and thurman and mays aren't here at the same time dr. king is here. >> no, no. >> okay. >> i'm going to make an argument because i think in my book we often think of martin king as an old dude. you know, people in the movement called him the lark because of his sonorous voice. he has the black baptist teacher -- preacher affect. people kiddingly called him the lord. i would argue that mays is the
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central figure on him. i would argue not that thurman is important but the reason martin stayed home was he was 15 years old when he started at morehouse which had an earlier admissions program. because of world war ii, everybody is going to war and we need students. mays comes as president going, oh, many god. we don't have enough students. one of the things that even president obama mentioned was that dorothy height meets young martin luther king at the table of benjamin and sable mays' house, where they are entertaining. the mayses don't have children
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and king calls him his spiritual and intellectual father. i want to give you what that means. first of all, we all appreciate that mays -- considered the most liberal of to go study. the most open and radical. at that time, university of chicago divinity school was a seat of social gospel, but also about the scientific study of god by henry wyman, who mays studied with. mays wrote a book called "the negro's god as seen through literature." so king goes to boston university. who does he write part of the dissertation on? none other than henry wyman. who does he -- why go to crozer theological seminary? because edwin aubrey, mays'
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dissertation adviser was president at the seminary. my argument is that mays is the driving force bebe hind king being a socially committed activist preacher. that was mays' whole vision of not just creating king. he wanted to do it at howard university divinity school. he wanted to do that again by the creation of here in this town, the interdenominational theological seminary. it was mays' vision that black preachers were at the root the closest to ordinary black people. right? and that they, if they were well trained, that they move the masses toward freeing themselves from this constant oppression in the south. so my argument is this is why i spent time writing a book about mays. because i think he gets --
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even martin is quoting mays, no mays in a number of sermons, and his influence, it is mays that gives him the world stage. mays introduces him to world church leaders. opens the way for the meeting with christians and jews. the national conference of christians and jews. the national council of churches. all of these are mays' inroads. and thurman acts as a pastor. because if you're living under these harsh conditions as dr. king did, we just read, you know, david garro's biography and it's tiresome because he's never home. thurman is writing letters,
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corresponding with him and being that pastor when he's in boston. we don't think about martin as a young man with all the issues that young men and men go through and thurman certainly provides that in his -- both these men are wise counsel to a man who lives a very harried life. >> one level of advice is more intellectual than spiritual. i would say dr. mays' influence was more political. one significant incident would probably betray that. when martin was away from montgomery, up in nashville. a move was made against him by the police. he came back to atlanta.
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he met in his daddy's house with all the worthies in atlanta at that time. all of them because his father was very worried about his going back to montgomery and was trying to counsel him against doing that. all of them apparently were opposed to martin going on to montgomery. the only one who spoke supportively to martin in regard to returning to his post there was dr. mays. that's a very political position. a very powerful position and he was certainly centrally located in that regard. but the regard he held for thurman was, i think, on a very different plain. a different spiritual and
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intellectual plain. i'm biased. i'm reading them from an islamic perspective. i have no problem in the way -- well, for instance, they deal with jesus almost always as master. the master said. the master said. they don't get into the son of god so much. i think maybe dr. mays does. but when i read -- so we're going to talk about that. i know we said we'd get to gandhi, but let's deal with christ and christianity. because i see in thurman and dr. king this clear picture that we have had a master teacher in our midst. we need to learn from him. and i hear this clear idea of the oneness of god that's above
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the master teacher. >> that very much reflects thurman's perspective. when we speak of thurman's spiritual influence and, as you said, spiritual and intellectual. i think that combination's important. i think it's spiritual, intellectual and personal. when i asked thurman what influence he had on martin luther king, jr., i think he if a -- facetiously said i had less influence on martin luther king, jr., than any other professor at boston university. we both laughed because this is a time when everyone is claiming they had a major influence on the thinking of martin luther king, jr., because he took a class from them or something. thurman and king would spend
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sunday afternoons watching baseball together. it's this intimate, personal dimension thurman will often speak of. but in talking with persons who were close to king at the time, they said martin luther king, jr., was eager to get to chapel to listen to thurman as he preached on sunday mornings. so there is this sort of intaking that's going on also with king as wel read much of king. you can hear so many of thurman's themes being resonant in king's writing. and here king is startg century. he lists howard thurman. it says something about the significance of thurman but this conversation we are having is bringing forth the importance of the multiple influences upon thurman.
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we mentioned mordechai johnson. a figure who is lost to a lot of scholarship in a sad way. i think thurman's perspective on jesus is both a tremendous tar toward which we are working and is extremely difficult for many christians to embrace, because for many christians, thurman's perspective seems outside the bounds of christian orthodoxy and therefore outside christianity itself. there are many who appreciate christology in terms of establishing community with a christian identity. also feeling like he's left the christian camp and the way in which he seeks to do that. >> he didn't see it at all. i think it's a worthy conversation for the christian
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family to have. rather than assuming that these boundaries that some would claim as orthodoxy and therefore is the defining factor of the faith makes a necessity the way in which you can declare true disciples versus heretics. plus the christian family has a way of burning people at the stake for heresy one century and declaring them saints the next century. >> also mays had what one would call a low christology. in theological circles there is high christology, that jesus the christ as a high christology and then there is low christology. mays had an understanding of
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jesus that what makes jesus lord is he died for his convictions. it's not for your sins. he understood the moment, the time and he was willing to do what it took at that time. these men were liberal minded in their thinking. >> what about dr. king? how would you categorize -- i know very early in writings -- i think 1959 or so, he's always speaking of christ as the master and not in the god sense but in this teacher who has come and given him so much. >> i had the feeling martin was
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more like a french anist ano in the 19th century. his focus to me seemed not theological but ethical. the focus was upon what was done, not about what was -- not on what was inherited. that gets you the social gospel, into your obligations to do for those who are in need, et cetera, et cetera. this becomes absolutely crucial to the man which lifts him above any sort of narrow denominational identity. that i think made him great, too. he could be a member of a community, no question about it. that was his strength. but he could step outside the community in terms of his being able to relate to people.
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who had other identities. it's a great struggle, i think with niche. who was the most repugnant that he could encounter. he had to struggle with coming to grips. he always loved haguele, of course, as most young men do, you know. this business of getting past that and if you could then deal with alternative ideology outlooks which were in variance with what you believed in then you were getting somewhere. that's your invictus theme. >> right. dr. king says isn't it something that well, he believed the greatest christian in modern times was not a christian at all and that was gandhi. he felt gandhi or anyone who wanted to have a world of peace,
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that gandhi was inescapable. let's talk about gandhi's influence. >> i think when he said that he was thinking of gandhi not as a hindu. though obviously he was. he was thinking of gandhi as a moral human being. that's where you have to defer to that socratic element in martin. there is obviously the attraction toward gandhi, you know, in terms of what he had achieved and the spiritual strength that enabled that achievement. it's terribly important. but also implicit in martin and there is appreciation of this movement in human terms that far transcended the indian case.


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