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Sunday, May 19, 2013
“Gospel of Freedom” is an inspired work that belongs in every English-language library. Author Jonathan Rieder gleans a host of illuminating revelations from the content of Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Prophetically, it was composed in 1963, a week before Sheriff Bull Connor turned police dogs and fire hoses loose on black students marching in a non violent civil rights protest.
Yet what an incarcerated King wrote, for the most part, was about a gospel of love and unity versus hate and all the evils associated with racism and segregation. His approach was polite in parts, cajoling and chiding in others but blunt when firmly warning “the fierce urgency of now.”
The brilliantly crafted letter appeared in only a few minor publications, initially. However, after riots erupted in many cities that summer, the letter was printed in a startling number of major publications.
The letter helped pave the way for the changing of public sentiments about race related issues; specifically in the South where white supremacy ruled. Outspoken proponents of Southern traditions, such as Alabama’s Gov. George Wallace, were ideologically, religiously and martially opposed to integrating their schools and lunchroom counters, and they were equally intent on keeping intact white-only restrooms, sections of theaters and drinking fountains.
“Gospel of Freedom” channels more than those turbulent times — the central people and organizations involved , including the Kennedy administration , and the president’s timely speech in which he identifies with black impatience.
In retrospect, it is clear that King’s loftiest goal was to see black Americans courageously and non violently lead the United States to live up to the glorious words in the Constitution about equality and freedom.
However, King realized that to many people he was a rash extremist, and he often joked with his associates about being assassinated before turning 40 years old. The primary reason being that King was opposed to all forms of injustice. And when he spoke against the war in Vietnam, his views were deemed seditious.
Also worth noting, to highlight King’s so-called extremist outlooks — as a minister and as a civic leader — he was an outspoken advocate when it came to the needs of the poor, of any color, women’s rights and workers’ rights, too; and he took a bullet in Memphis for siding with striking garbage collectors.
Still, King’s brilliance and humanity flame bright in this powerful book worth treasuring.
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