On this MLK day, when the world feels confusing and fiery and (maybe) revolutionary, it seems like the exact right time to remember history. Although there are many, many excellent and thought-provoking pieces on MLK and his legacy, these are just a few gems I found in my search — a few unlikely ones (MLK had an advice column?) and a classic, his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. And this, I believe, is the right quote to begin with, courtesy of our managing editor Heartleigh and this Instagram post:
One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.” Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” — Martin Luther King Jr. ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’, 1963
Interestingly enough, the longest interview Martin Luther King Jr. ever gave to the press was to Playboy. In 1964, Playboy published an interview by Alex Haley, who would go on to write the famous 1976 novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Read Part I and Part II via Longform.org and be struck by quotes like this: “A strong man must be militant as well as moderate. He must be a realist as well as an idealist. If I am to merit the trust invested in me by some of my race, I must be both of these things.”
There’s no better time to reread MLK Jr.’s seminal letter on nonviolent resistance to racism. He began writing the letter in the margins of newspapers, on paper towels, on any scrap he could find in the cell where he was kept in solitary confinement after his arrest on April 12, 1963, on charges of violating Alabama’s public demonstration law. This quote still rings true: “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice…”
Tying together MLK’s “But If Not” sermon with Oprah’s raise-them-to-their-feet speech at the Golden Globes, this Longreads piece interweaves MLK’s biblical analogy on civil disobedience with the lack of men speaking up about the Time’s Up movement. Wearing a pin, yes, but not necessarily being the outspoken advocates we need. “Time will not run out on men learning how to speak up for what is right,” Catherine Cusick writes, “when the microphone makes its way back to them.”
Can you even imagine the sort of life-changing advice MLK must have given as an advice columnist? And I thought Dear Sugar was affecting. For a brief spell — September 1957 to December 1958 — MLK Jr. wrote a monthly column for Ebony that addressed race relations and also your typical advice column fare of relationships and dating. Find the complete archives here.