Strength to Love
By Martin Luther King
Perhaps a generation that has eschewed the values of the Civil Rights Movement in their own pursuit of racial justice might be interested in reviewing what Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. himself said led him to the success they have not yet achieved. And a generation that saw his results would be interested in his strategy, if one could call it that.
If you will read this review you will know pretty well what is in the book. I have quoted representative passages. The page numbers are from the Fortress 2010 edition. The first quote is from Martin’s wife, the rest are from the text. The text was developed by Martin from sermons that he had given over time. Forgive him gently his use of words used no longer such as “negro.” Although I must say that any taint that belonged to it has been removed for me, since Martin is the first person I think of when I hear it. Is there such a thing as “unbearable dignity?” I remember him sitting with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show calmly sharing his expectancy of an early, violent death. An extraordinary man. Forgive him his plethora of masculine pronouns and absence of feminine ones. That is the way we were. Even in this enlightened movement women struggled for equality. That is another story.
Coretta Scott King quoted from the Foreword: If there is one book Martin Luther King Jr. has written that people consistently tell me has changed their lives, it is Strength to Love. I believe it is because this book best explains the central element of Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence, his belief in a divine, loving presence that binds all life.
Page 50: There will be no permanent solution to the race problem until oppressed men develop the capacity to love their enemies. The darkness of racial injustice will be dispelled only by the light of forgiving love. …Forced to live with …shameful conditions, we are tempted to become bitter and to retaliate with a corresponding hate. But if this happens, the new order we seek will be little more than a duplicate of the old order. We must in strength and humility meet hate with love.
Page 97: …as Paul testified, in life, or in death, in Spain or in Rome, “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
Page 101: Destructive means cannot bring constructive ends, because the means represent the ideal in the making and the-end-in-progress. Immoral means cannot bring moral ends, for the ends are preexistent in the means.
Page 112: But Christianity contends that evil contains the seed of its own destruction. History is the story of evil forces that advance with seemingly irresistible power only to be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice. There is a law in the moral world—a silent, invisible imperative, akin to the laws in the physical world—that reminds us that life will work only in a certain way. The Hitlers and Mussolinis have their day, and for a period they may wield great power, spreading themselves like a green bay tree, but soon they are cut down like the grass and wither as the green herb.
Page 125: If our white brothers are to master fear, they must depend not only on their commitment to Christian love, but also on the Christ-like love that the Negro generates towards them. Only through our adherence to love and nonviolence will the fear in the white community be mitigated. A guilt ridden white minority fears that if the Negro attains power, he will without restraint or pity act to revenge the accumulated injustices and brutality of the years. A parent who has continually mistreated his son, suddenly realizes that he is now taller than the parents. Will the son use his new physical power to repay for all of the blows of the past?
…The Negro must show them that they have nothing to fear, for the Negro forgives and is willing to forget the past. The Negro must convince the white man that he seeks justice for both himself and the white man. (I recognize that a white person would have no right to say these words.)
Page 127: Abnormal fears and phobias that are expressed in neurotic behavior may be cured by psychiatry; but the fear of death, non-being, and nothingness, expressed in existential anxiety, may only be cured by a positive religious faith.
Page 130: On a particular Monday evening, following a tension-packed week that included being arrested and receiving numerous threatening telephone calls, I spoke at a mass meeting. I attempted to convey an overt impression of strength and courage, although I was inwardly depressed and fear-stricken. At the end of the meeting, Mother Pollard (a well loved elderly parishioner) came to the front of the church and said, “Come here, son.” I immediately went to her and hugged her affectionately. “Something is wrong with you,” she said. “You didn’t talk strong tonight.” Seeking further to disguise my fears, I retorted, “Oh no, Mother Pollard, nothing is wrong. I am feeling fine as ever.” But her insight was discerning. “Now you can’t fool me,” she said. “I know something is wrong. Is it that we ain’t doing things to please you? Or is it that the white folks is bothering you?” Before I could respond, she looked directly into my eyes and said, “I done told you we is with you all the way.” Then her face became radiant and she said in words of quiet certainty, “But even if we ain’t with you, God’s going to take care of you.” As she spoke these consoling words, everything in me quivered and quickened with the pulsing tremor of raw energy
In my home world of Minnesota, I wonder what Martin would have done if he had entered the St. Paul police chief’s office to find himself face to face with a black man? And in Minneapolis to find himself facing the top cop, a lesbian woman? After they embraced, I would suspect he might start with: “I guess I don’t have to explain ‘prejudice’ to you.” And they might have responded, “Thank you for coming.”
Page 162: Due to the struggle for the freedom of my people, I have known very few quiet days in the last few years. I have been imprisoned in Alabama and Georgia jails twelve times. My home has been bombed twice. A day seldom passes that my family and I are not the recipients of threats of death. I have been the victim of a near fatal stabbing. So in a real sense I have been battered by the storms of persecution….
Recognizing the necessity for suffering I have tried to make of it a virtue. I have attempted to see my personal ordeals as an opportunity to transfigure myself and heal the people involved in the tragic situation that now obtains. I have lived these last few years with the conviction that unearned suffering is redemptive. There are some who still find the cross a stumbling block, others consider it foolishness, but I am more convinced than ever before that it is the power of God unto social and individual salvation. So like the Apostle Paul I can now humbly, yet proudly, say “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”
This is what Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference meant when they said they were ”nonviolent. “
Strength to Love, Martin Luther King Jr., Fortress Press, 2010