A History of Our Time: Readings on Postwar America

By William H. Chafe; Harvard Sitkoff et al. | Go to book overview

So Much History, So Much
Future: Martin Luther King, Jr.,
and the Second Coming of
America

Vincent Harding

Catapulted into national prominence by the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955– 56, Martin Luther King, Jr., became the foremost symbol and spokesman for the direct action phase of the civil rights struggle that produced the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voter Registration Act of 1965. With extraordinary eloquence and charisma, King communicated the essence of the black demand for freedom to white America, even as he inspired and mobilized African Americans to join that struggle. King’s articulation of nonviolence as a philosophical principle, and his reliance on the Christian doctrine of unconditional love as the starting point for his leadership, helped to make acceptable to millions of white Americans a program of change that, by previous standards of action, seemed revolutionary. At the same time, King was always in danger of not proceeding far enough or fast enough to satisfy his African American supporters.

In this article, Vincent Harding offers a personal, as well as historical, assessment of King’s journey as he sought both to respond to those who prodded him to take a more radical path, and to address the realities of white political power. With sensitivity and passion, Harding helps us to gain an inner sense of King’s own struggle, and a greater awareness of what King’s life meant to the values and direction of American society.

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