Martin Luther King (d. April 4th, 1968) on the lukewarm liberal

by Kim on April 4, 2011

I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. 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 Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

[From "Letter from Birmingham City Jail", April 16, 1963]

If this excerpt were from a sermon, surely it’s text would be Revelation 3:14-16.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Rachel 04.04.11 at 8:41 am

Oh my goodness. Mea Culpa.

2

doug 04.05.11 at 8:18 pm

Where in this post is the term “lukewarm liberal”? If you know the family of MLK and speak with his niece you will find that he is not as much “liberal” as what people may think. I see no term “liberal” or any indirect reference to such in this letter from MLK.

3

Mendip Nomad 04.05.11 at 8:40 pm

Those that the Rev’d Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., described as “the white moderate” can legitimately been seen as being the same as those Kim describes as “lukewarm liberal” in his post title. Different time, different language, and the translation from one to the other is therefore not 100% accurate, but I think it’s close enough to be a fair equivalence.

4

doug 04.05.11 at 8:43 pm

I don’t believe it is accurate because it presupposes that MLK was a liberal for which he was not if one understands from what the family of his has clearly stated.

5

Mendip Nomad 04.05.11 at 10:11 pm

Doug, Dictionary.com gives the following, amongst others, as definitions of “liberal”: ‘favorable to progress or reform’; ‘free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant’; ‘open-minded or tolerant, especially free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.’; ‘characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts’. I think it’s possible, given such definitions, to describe MLK as having been a liberal.

6

doug 04.05.11 at 10:53 pm

“‘favorable to progress or reform’; ‘free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant’; ‘open-minded or tolerant, especially free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.’; ‘characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts’.”

Other than the “not bound by traditional or conventional ideas or values”, then I guess I’m a liberal (being sarcastic). I think this shows a flaw in the definition of liberal. Especially if one looks at to “what extent” of the definition of liberal. I think other than a word here or there 99% of the people in the Western world would be liberal by this definition hense the flaw in the definition therein.

7

doug 04.05.11 at 10:56 pm

..especially when one looks at the evidence that conservative people give more:

and from the liberal NY Times nonetheless:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/21/opinion/21kristof.html

8

doug 04.05.11 at 10:56 pm

and from liberal Michael Kristoff.

9

julie 01.15.12 at 11:30 pm

Liberal means fully applied and not restricted…Liberal is NOT a dirty word…There are times it is wise to proceed cautiously or Conservatively…but here we are talking about inclusion and not restriction…There is no reason to be so divisive….MLK was a wonderful man with a dream of Liberty for all…which is by definition…a Liberal seeking Humanitarian…

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