Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

16
Jan
17

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. – January 16, 2017

Remember Martin Luther King Jr. – January 16, 2017

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“We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.

Dr. Martin Luther King,  March 25, 1965, Montgomery, Alabama

The freedom march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in the cause of African-American voting rights was pivotal to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Selma demonstrations and marches totaled 18 days. Begun on March 7, 1965, the first march was led by Congressman John Lewis, then head of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). When the initial group of approximately 600 marchers reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge and crossed into Dallas County, the were met by state troopers who proceeded to beat them back ost brutally. That first “Bloody Sunday” was the beginning of other horrific confrontations leading to the death of civil rights activist James Reeb. The third march, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, began on March 21st and culminated on the steps of the State Capital Building in Montgomery, Alabama on March 25th, 1965.

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The following is a rarely shown documentary of the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965. It is stark and brief and filled with sights, sounds and music.

Selma – Montgomery March 1965, brief documentary by Stefan Sharff

 

10
Jan
17

Stamina

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I’ve been hitting Gleason’s Gym three days a week since the beginning of September.  The usual schedule has been to get to the gym before seven—two mornings a week, putting in around 16 rounds plus 100 sit-ups before the rush to get to the office. On Saturday mornings, I put in a longish workout to net out about 20 rounds of work plus sit-ups (150 this past Saturday), including sparring with my trainer, Lennox Blackmoore.  I also take time to stretch and get in a fair amount of schmoozing.

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Len and I having been sparring for a couple of years with some regularity, but bits of minor health issues on both sides have pushed us off the mark for the last couple of months.  We’ll certainly pick it up again, but the return to more consistent pad work, plus extra rounds on the heavy bag have given me new insights into the sweet science.

14212050_10208382068522073_5102702498388978962_nThe regular training is also a barometer on all the other aspects of health—mental and otherwise, and given that my weight’s been creeping up over the last six months (seeing the doctor on that one given that I eat and exercise about the same), it’s been interesting to measure its effect on the illusive construct of stamina.

What Len will say is stamina is a matter of mind—and there’s nothing like a hard workout at 7:00 AM to test the theory because, let’s face it, some mornings have just been awful, or have had bits of awful that flower as a chrysalis into “oh what a beautiful morning,” great.

This morning’s boxing was a case in point.  Having gotten up at 5:30—after a less than great sleep—I managed to find my way through my morning “ablutions.”  By 6:30 I was bundled against the 19 degree temperature, slowly making my way through Cadman Plaza to walk to Gleason’s, but not before stopping a minute to take a picture of the buildings and the small park set against the pre-dawn sky.

By the time I walked through the door of the gym, I was resolved to push through the tiredness I felt—but there was nothing doing, when it came to my first couple of rounds shadowing boxing.  In fact, we are talking, an “Oy, are you kidding me?” kind of creakiness as my knees crackled, my neck stiffened and barely turning from side to side, and with my supposed stamina nowhere to be found.  By the time round one with Len started, I could barely crank my arms to limply hit the pads—especially the right which earned me a cranky “wake-up, wake-up, straighten out your arm and turn your hip.”

I just nodded, wishing that I could find some pithy retort, other than to give it another go.

“Push it, push it, see.”

This from throwing the right with too much elbow sticking out from the inside.

“And turn your hip!”

“Yep, got it,” I replied, not really having got it, but figuring if I kept hitting it that way it would eventually find it’s mark.

Catching a glimpse of the clock between rounds, I did an inner groan at seeing it was only 7:35, but gamely turned to keep going at it.

By round three, it did start to make sense; it also brought me to an epiphany about stamina.  I was so busy trying to work through the task of throwing a straight right from the inside that I was starting to forget that I was tired and achy and less than enthused.  The previous workout I’d had, had been my best in weeks. I’d been peppy as I shadow-boxed for four rounds, and even peppier when Len and I went a full six rounds on the pads in the ring. Having it to ourselves meant that we really worked the corners and when it was done, I went on to the small water bag for four rounds, the doubled-ended bag for four rounds, and finished with four rounds on the speed bag before 150 sit-ups and a lot of stretching.

15107443_10208943471316792_3935173821081775570_nThe determinate in that case had been a decent night’s sleep—but for the workout at hand, something else was kicking in. Not exactly an extra gear so much as finding the space to just be. In other words, I was getting out of my own way and in doing so; tiredness, creaky bones and all of the other obstacles that had seemed fairly insurmountable began to peel away.

By the end of the fourth round I was ready to keep going—but having caught another glimpse at the clock I realized I didn’t have too much time left before I had to get going for work. Still, I remained in that moment, so to speak, as I practiced the straight right on the double-ended bag, and posed problems to myself from different angles and in different combinations from different sides.

And yes, my stamina was there. I could have kept going for many more rounds despite less than ideal sleep, and all of the other impediments that had felt like lead weights around my ankles.

I’ll be getting to the gym again tomorrow morning. With some luck, I’ll be able to pull the focus trick that’ll lead me to feeling bouncy and fit as I gyrate around the ring. And maybe if that happens enough times it’ll be more of a habit of mind than thinking that it’s only a manifestation of my physical condition—time will tell.

02
Jan
17

Women’s Boxing Circa 2017

Women’s Boxing Circa 2017

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Amanda Serrano defending title against Calixita Silgado, July 30, 2016. Photo Credit: Behind The Gloves

While women’s boxing has been around since “modern” boxing began in the 1720s, its place in American sports consciousness began with a trickle in the 1950s and grew to a steady flow by the late 1990s before petering back in the late 2000s.

Boxer Christy Martin’s bout against Irish fighter Deirdre Gogarty on the undercard of a Mike Tyson pay-per-view championship in 1996, put women’s boxing on the “map.” Not two weeks later Martin was on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine in her characteristic pink boxing attire, and for the likes of boxing impresarios Don King and Bob Arum, it was a race to find other female fighters to add to the undercard of boxing bouts.

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Such fighters as Lucia Rijker and Mia St. John, while not household names by any means, were becoming known in the boxing community—and even sported decent pay days that could be numbered in the thousands rather than the hundreds. At the same time, women’s boxing became a sanctioned amateur sport leading to the development of a national team in the late 1990s. The beginnings of international amateur competition began in 2001 coinciding with the legalization of the sport in countries across the world.

In the United States, the entry of Mohammad Ali’s daughter Leila Ali along with other boxing “daughters” such as Jacqui Frazier-Lyde, thrust the sport into the realm of popular culture including covers of TV Guide and a myriad of talk show appearances. With Leila Ali’s ascendency, however, other American female boxers of the period such as Ann Wolfe, Belinda Laracuente, and Layla McCarter, could not find traction on pay-per-view cards or on cable, despite excellent boxing skills (frankly much better than Ali’s) and by 2010, it was hard if not impossible to find female boxing on American television.

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At the same time, internationally at least, women’s boxing was in an ascendency in such places as Mexico, Argentina, South Korea, and Japan, not only with opportunities for decent fights, but reasonable paydays, and most importantly, fights which were broadcast on television—and continue to be to this day, with female bouts routinely marketed as the “main event.”

International amateur women’s boxing was also on the ascendency culminating in the inclusion of women’s boxing as an Olympic sport in the 2012 Games in London. For such European fighters as Ireland’s Katie Taylor and England’s Nicola Adams, winning gold medals became very important national achievements leading to endorsements and other opportunities, not the least of which was recognition of their place in history and as role models for younger women and girls. For America’s boxing phenomenon, Claressa Shields, who at 17 was the first American female to ever win a gold medal for boxing, the usual promise of Olympic gold endorsements never appeared, and any sense that the inclusion of women’s boxing in the Olympics would perhaps enable a resurgence of the sport in the United States did not materialize. The other American female medalist who won a bronze in the 2012 Games, Marlen Esparza, had slightly better luck in winning endorsements, with adds for Coca Cola and Cover Girl, and a certain amount of traction in the Hispanic community, but otherwise, her Bronze had little effect on the sport as a whole.

In fact, women’s professional boxing has remained virtually absent from the airways in the United States with very, very few exceptions over the past eight years—and in fact, with respect to national exposure, i.e., network television or nationally televised cable boxing programs (ESPN, et al), such instances can be counted on one hand between 2012 and 2016.

The exceptions have been certain local fight cards such as New York City-based promoter DiBella Entertainment’s Broadway Boxing series, which have promoted and televised female bouts on local cable television channels. The same was true of a few of boxing champion Holly Holm’s fights in her local New Mexico market.

Some women’s bouts are also available live from time to time on US or internationally based internet pay channels at anywhere from $10 to $50 a pop. Otherwise, the only other means of watching female bouts has been on YouTube and other video services, where promoters may upload fights days after the bout. Viewers have also come to rely on uploads from fans that record all or some portions of female bouts. The clips are uploaded to social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram and now Facebook Live, in addition to YouTube, Vimeo, et al. Additionally, it is possible to watch international female professional boxing bouts via satellite television. International amateur female boxing tournaments are also available on occasion for website viewing, and certainly women’s boxing in the 2012 and 2016 games were available on the NBC Sports website, albeit, after much searching.

Three of the handful of professional female bouts broadcast since the 2012 London Games included, boxing champion Amanda “The Real Deal” Serrano’s six-round bout which was televised on a CBS Sports boxing program on May 29, 2015, boxer Maureen “The Real Million Dollar Baby” Shea’s pay-per-view title bout on a Shane Mosley fight card broadcast in August 29, 2015, and the last nationally broadcast women’s bout on NBCSN, which pitted two highly popular local North East fighters Heather “The Heat” Hardy and Shelley “Shelito’s Way” Vincent for the vacant WBC international female featherweight title on August 21, 2016. This latter fight was the first female bout to be broadcast under the new upstart Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) promotion arm that has brought boxing back to broadcast television on NBC and CBS, as well as broadcasting on cable television outlets including Spike TV, NBCSN, and ESPN.

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Heather Hardy (R) defeated Shelito Vincent by MD in their ten round slug fest on August 21, 2016. Photo Credit: Ed Diller, DiBella Entertainment

Four months on from the PBC broadcast, with a second Olympic cycle resulting in Claressa Shields winning her second back-to-back gold medal at the 2016 Rio Games – the first American boxer, male or female to have won that distinction – the status of women’s boxing in the United States is at a crossroads of sorts.

Since 2012, mixed-martial arts (MMA) have made significant inroads across platforms on cable, broadcast and internet-based telecasts. Moreover, this increase in visibility has come at the detriment of boxing—with more and more advertising dollars being thrown towards MMA contests. Of significance, however, has been the increasing popularity of women’s MMA (WMMA)—especially since UFC, the premier MMA league added female MMA fighters to their roster. Beginning on February 23, 2013 (UFC157), UFC began broadcasting WMMA bouts.

With the announcer declaring it a “gigantic cultural moment,” Ronda Rousey, a former bronze winning Olympian in Judo, and the Strikeforce* bantamweight WMMA champion, easily defeated her opponent Liz Carmouche with a classic “arm bar” move and in so doing, established a new first for women’s martial sports. Rousey went on to capture the imagination of country with her girl-next-door looks, winning ways, and eventual appearance in films such as The Expendables 3 and Furious 7. This catapult of a female warrior in gloves (albeit not boxing gloves) to include being only the second female fighter to ever appear on the cover of Ring Magazine (to much consternation by the boxing community), did not, however, have any particular visible effect on the fortunes of female boxing, per se,

Her first loss, however, in UFC 193 on November 15, 2015, was to a female boxer turned MMA fighter, Holly “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holm. A highly experienced female boxing champion, Holm’s boxing career of (33-3-2, 9-KOs) while very impressive, never led to the kind of breakout name recognition or big dollar paydays that should have been her due, given her talents, and caliber of many of her opponents including bouts with such boxing royalty as Christy Martin and Mia St. John (albeit later in their careers), British boxing star Jane Couch who single-handedly created women’s boxing in England, and the truly fearsome French fighter, Anne Sophie Mathis. Ensconced in her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Holm enjoyed a loyal following and excellent local coverage, and while she was a known quantity in the boxing community; it was only with her forays into MMA that she was able to break through to a larger audience and a chance at bigger paydays and television exposure.

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The irony of a Rousy’s loss to a boxer was not lost on the boxing community (nor has the fact that Rousey’s recent loss in UFC207 was due to her inability to defend against her opponents unrelenting boxing “strikes”). A growing number of boxing writers who have also begun to champion the place of women in the sport with such features as Ring Magazine‘s monthly feature by Thomas Gerbasi.

November 2016 brought a flurry of attention to women’s boxing. Claressa Shields appearance on the November 19th Sergey Kovalev-Andre Ward fighting a four-rounder against former foe and USA National champion in the amateurs, Franchon Crews not only ended in a unanimous win on the cards, but the chance to see the fight live as a free streaming event. Shields has been quoted as saying, “It’s definitely a big deal, and it’s a big deal for women’s boxing, period …We really wanted a fight where we could put on a show.”

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Claressa Shields delivering a straight right to Franchon Crews in their four round professional debut on November 19, 2016. Photo Credit: AP Photo/John Locher

Boxing writers and Shields herself have asked if this will be the launch point for women’s boxing—and with Claressa Shields recent appearance on the cover of Ring Magazine in celebration of her remarkable back-to-back Olympic gold medal appearances, she is certainly an important figure to be reckoned with as 2017 looms—not to mention her 77-1 boxing record in the amateurs.

Ireland’s Katie Taylor also be turned professional in England in early December, and quickly racked up to back-to-back wins with the second one also broadcast live on Showtime’s streaming online service.

Additionally, in late November, Stephen Espinoza, Executive Vice President at Showtime stated they intended to include female boxing on the network in 2017—a first since 2009. Espinoza has been flirting with the idea of putting a female bout back on the air for the last couple of years—and has paid keen interest in the success of DiBella Entertainment’s local fight cards that have included such female fighters as Amanda Serrano, Heather Hardy, and Shelito Vincent.

In an interview with The Sweet Science, Espinoza is quoted as saying; “It’s been on our to-do list for a couple of years. It’s really at its capacity. But we made a decision we are going to prioritize it.”

The first event is slated to be a WBO women’s world super bantamweight championship with the remarkably talented Amanda “The Real Deal” Serrano (30-1-1) set to fight Yazmin Rivas (35-9-1) in what promises to be a hard fought bout between two technically proficient warriors.

AIBAs (the world international amateur boxing association) rules change just this past week may be the most far-reaching. All women’s amateur elite bouts will now be contested with in three rounds of three minutes each. The parity of the rounds and number of minutes per round is a first in the amateur world—and while elite men will still contest without helmets, there is further discussion of this otherwise controversial rules change that took effect before the Olympics in 2016.

With respect to the number of minutes per round—the normalization of the three-minute round will, in my estimation put pressure on the pros to accept this change, especially as amateurs with experience in the changed format turn professional. Given that in MMA men and women contest using the name number of rounds and same number of minutes per round, there will certainly be more impetus to push through three minute boxing rounds for women. Some states allow this already—such as New York State, but there has been reluctance to push for fights using three rounds based on the perception that women will want more money. Given the pay equity issues that already exist, there may be somewhat of a case to be made, however, with the push to three minutes, that last claim of women’s boxing being “less” than men’s because of the number of minutes in a round will be pushed aside once and for all.

Showtime’s potential entry into broadcasting female boxing along with signs that boxing sanctioning organizations are beginning to put resources into the sport led by the World Boxing Council which has now held two consecutive WBC conventions devoted solely to women’s boxing may help further propel the sport back into a more prominent place in the United States—and in place such as the United Kingdom.

Time will tell whether this actually happens, but as always, I remain hopeful!

 

*Strikeforce was an MMA and kickboxing league operating out of California from 1985-2013. WMMA practitioners such as Mischa Tate and Ronda Rousey were important champions and helped prove the case for televising female MMA bouts. They were particularly popular draws on Showtime. Strikeforce was bought out in 2011 by Dana White and its roster eventually folded into UFC.

 

 

26
Nov
16

77 Front Street

77 Front Street

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Gleason’s Gym, 77 Front Street, Brooklyn, November 26, 2016, Photo Credit: Malissa Smith

I first entered Gleason’s Gym at 77 Front Street in January 1997. It was a late morning, during the week, and I’d been working up the courage to cross the divide into a “real” boxing gym for some time.

Entering the second floor boxing emporium was like stepping into history. It fit every image of a boxing gym I’d ever had. It was somewhat dark, even with the light streaming through the wall of south-facing windows. It was cavernous and peopled inside and outside of the three rings with mostly men, but at least one women punching a heavy bag—who I later learned was Jo, wife of gym owner Bruce Silverglade.

The gym also had a smell to it of old sweat and new sweat, and steam heat and wringing wet gym clothes, that was in strong counterpoint to the almost antiseptic feel of every other gym I’d ever been in—health clubs really, which had been where I’d started my first rudimentary foray into the sweet science.

Standing in Gleason’s for the first time, taking in it all, with Bruce touring me around, I felt a mixture of awe and more awe and a dose of anxiety, watching real boxers spar and train, and finally a sense of triumph for having placed myself among the acolytes of a sport that had been contested since Homer had written about it in the 7th century BC.

It was then I came across the quote from Virgil that so lovingly adorns the wall at Gleason’s:

Now, whoever has courage, and a strong collected spirit to his breast, let him come forward, lace on the gloves and put up his hands.

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What I realized on that morning, was that was going to be me. I was going to face my fear. Face a lifetime of not having understood that I could always have crossed the divide of a boxing gym to box—even though I was a girl, it just took doing it to make it happen.

Back when Gleason’s Gym first opened in 1937 in the South Bronx at 149th Street and Westchester Avenue, it was the largest gym in New York City—no mean feat given the popularly of the sport in a town that had been associated with boxing since it first crossed the Atlantic Ocean from England in the 1820s. There were many, many gyms packed into every corner of the City back then, but Gleason’s became synonymous with boxing in the 1940s and 1950s when such champions as Jake LaMotta, Phil Terranova, and Jimmy Carter, called the gym home. Visiting boxers such as Mohammad Ali continued to give Gleason’s even greater cachet when they came up to the Bronx to train ahead of important fights at boxing’s Mecca, Madison Square Garden. The occasional woman boxed there too—including Jackie Tonawanda who trained there shortly before the gym relocated to West 30th Street in 1974.

Gleason’s continued to maintain its legendary status at its new location for the next 11 years before getting the boot when the building they were in turned co-op and they moved out of Manhattan to 77 Front Street in Brooklyn in 1985. Back then, before DUMBO was even a name, the industrial area was a pretty scary place. Bruce said, at the time, anyone coming to the gym was told to “get off in Brooklyn Heights at Clark Street on the 2 or 3 train and walk down along Henry Street.” He told them to walk the long way around rather than risking the walk through Cadman Park from the High Street A and C station or the route from the F train at York and Jay Streets.

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Bruce Silverglade, owner, Gleason’s Gym, November 26, 2016, Photo Credit: Malissa Smith

The new home while out of the way had everything a great boxing gym needed: space and lots of it, a new owner in Bruce Silverglade who having become a full-time partner with Ira Becker brought the enthusiasm needed to keep the sport going at a time when it was waning in the imagination of the public. Bruce also brought the foresight to commit to having women in the gym and at his insistence built a locker room for women and well as men so that women always felt welcome in the gym.

img_5623As place, however, Gleason’s has always meant more, at least to me. It’s the place where I came into my own physically. I learned to overcome fear not of the ordinary kind, but the fear of my own power. Of being able to release my full physical being onto a boxing bag, and eventually in the ring against a person. It’s also where I learned the generosity of boxers. Of the myriad of tips and tricks my fellow boxers offered, and of hearing the ubiquitous “hi ya’ champ,” from one person or another every time I walked through the gym.

Morning, noon, or night, weekdays or weekends, there’s always someone to offer encouragement–even as they may be breaking one’s “chops” so to speak. And if I happen to get something right in the ring, I’ll hear someone sing out about it.

These days, Gleason’s sports six female boxing champions: Alicia Ashley, Heather Hardy, Ronica Jeffries, Sonya Lamonakis, Keisher “Fire” McLeod, and Melissa St. Vil.  And if there’s one thing the gym has brought is a feeling of comfort for women from 6 to 60, and beyond.

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Gleason’s Gym trainers Lennox Blackmoore and Hector Roca, November 26, 2016. Photo Credit: Malissa Smith

When I first stepped into Gleason’s I was 42. These days, at 62, having boxed at Gleason’s on and off for 20 years, I feel it’s my home. As home, however, it’s come to have many meanings: For one, it’s the place where I can feel truly ageless.

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It’s where I’ve penned my Girlboxing blog, and due to the true support and generosity of Bruce Silverglade, it’s where I wrote parts of my book, A History Of Women’s Boxing. More than anything, however, even more than boxing, Gleason’s Gym is where I came into my own as a writer.

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Today, November 26, 2016, marked the last full day of Gleason’s 31 year history at 77 Front Street.

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Come Monday, November 28th, the gym will begin its next incarnation around the corner at 130 Water Street. As Bruce put it, the gym in its fourth iteration is “starting a new chapter.”

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For those of us on the early Saturday morning crew who rattled around this morning, embracing each other and otherwise reminiscing, there was a feeling of camaraderie, awe, and for sure a twinge of sadness. Gleason’s is after all, our collective home, but as Heather Hardy said, “it’s exciting that we are all going over there. And this right here, it won’t be any different from today to Monday.”

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If place is location–then yeah, things will be different, but if place is a state of being then 77 Front Street, will live on for all of us that have called this iteration of Gleason’s Gym home. And sure the paint won’t be peeling in the new place, and it’ll be C-L-E-A-N clean, we all figure after a few weeks that special Gleason’s odor will start to permeate the space, and before we know it the paint will start to peel there too.

08
Oct
16

The thing about groping

The thing about “groping”

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I’ve had men grope me or attempt to grope from the age of nine on—all sorts of men, from strangers, to trusted male adults (camp director, camp counselor, and a few high school teachers), to my stepfather, to my boss who chased me around a desk (yep all those Doris Day memes were actually true), to purported “friends,” including a really “lovely” time of it when I was “roofied,” not to mention the low-life swine who lifted me off my feet in a strangle hold while telling me if I moved, I would die.

Most of the experiences happened between the ages of nine and twenty-five, but that’s not to say that I haven’t been on the receiving end of some pretty lewd and awful comments walking around in broad daylight, never mind in the evening, with the sense that if I were not in a constant state of readiness—bad stuff would happen. And frankly, if you ask me what the most dangerous thing in the world is, my answer is a group of rowdy men coming towards me—something I have literally experienced around the world as a sense of fear and foreboding in as varied places as the corner of 100th Street and Broadway in Manhattan, on a backstreet in Old San Juan, waiting at a ferry terminal in Sumatra, and on the beach at Eilat, Israel among other places.

What disgusts, saddens, and angers me about Donald Trump’s “groping” comments from the leaked 2005 Access Hollywood tape, is not the crudeness of his language, or his posturing swagger about how being a “star” means women will “let you…do anything,” but how he and Billy Bush, objectified the young woman, Arianne Zucker, waiting to escort Trump to his soap opera “gig.” In doing so, he gave the implication that he could assault her at will, and more so, Billy Bush, emboldened by the older Trump’s, explicit sexual discussion of trying to bed the married “Nancy,” put Arianne in Trump’s way by saying, “How about a little hug for the Donald? He just got off the bus.”

Unfortunately, it keeps with my life long wariness of rowdy “groups of men,” even if in this case it only took two—and imagine, if you will, that Arianne was escorting them into a darkened club and that they had all sat together at a table. Would they have both “stolen” kisses as if they were bashful little 12-year-old-boys with a first crush by their sides? Or would it have been more sinister, with a kiss and a grab at Arianne’s breast or vagina or backside? After all, Trump stated, “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”

And Billy, a “host” on Access Hollywood—emboldened by the notion of not having to be bound by the norms of civil behavior, began to enact the notion that “stars” have no rules, what with his teacher, “the Donald” having given him permission through his pernicious example.

The point is sex and one’s desire for sex should never overwhelm one’s decorum. Moreover, as a way of life, it enables the worst in human behavior and most importantly swamps the right of the other person to be left alone, such that in the final analysis, it has nothing to do with sex—but is instead all about power.

By objectifying a woman as merely a set of body parts, Trump, devoid of human feeling or consideration, asserts power in the same way as any garden-variety sexual predator. And at the age of 70, this man, running for President of the United States, who has lived a lifetime enacting and reenacting such scenarios—along with the likely thousands of plastic boxes of Tic Tacs he’s purchased over the years—remains an accomplished masher, “fooling” women into giving “it up.”  What is pathetic is that it is clearly not even for pleasure, but fuels a need to brag about it, such that even on a bus with a random group of men he happened to find himself with, he felt the need to discuss his sexual exploits, just as he felt quite compelled to discuss his penis size during one of the primary debates.

Talk about an “ew” moment … and what, no one figured out what a low life sleaze he was from hearing him talk about it on national television while running for the right to represent the party of Lincoln in a presidential race?

That my experiences, which were primarily in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s are still so much a normative “thing” in 2016 is a terrible and sad indictment on how our culture continues to essentially condone that kind of behavior. Is it any wonder that sex trafficking, child sexual abuse, and the assorted and related continuing prospect of sexual assault and rape are front and center, always, for women in America?

04
Jun
16

Thinking about The Greatest …

Thinking about The Greatest …           

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Mohammad Ali, 1970, Photo Credit: Yousuf Karsh

When I was a girl growing up in the 1960’s I recall having peripheral knowledge of boxing—and certainly of the man who took the boxing world by storm when he became the Heavyweight Champion of the World followed in short order by his conversion to the Nation of Islam.

That man, Mohammad Ali, and his choice to not only become a Muslim, but a Black Muslim writ large in my consciousness. After all, 1964 was a watershed year in the long march for Civil Rights in the United States. The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 coupled with his decision was in my eyes a strong statement in a world that continued to castigate people of color into subservient humiliation. I’ll add that as a ten-year-old girl, I lacked the sophistication to understand the nuanced interplay of sports, fame, politics, and personal conviction that rip-roared through the press on an almost daily basis after he made his decision public. I did, however, know greatness when I saw it and felt forever bound to the fortunes of this man who took a stand.

By the mid-1960s the United States was convulsed by revolution playing out as a nightly diet of riots, anti-war marches, and horrific images of war from far off Viet Nam. Muhammad Ali’s journey, which could have stopped with his personal decision to embrace the Nation of Islam did not, however, begin and end there. Rather, he embraced his fame and his place in the larger community to speak out about what mattered to him—including refusing the draft.

At a rally for fair housing in Louisville, Kentucky, in March 1967, a month before his formal refusal he said:

Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?

No, I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would put my prestige in jeopardy and could cause me to lose millions of dollars which should accrue to me as the champion.

But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is right here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality… If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. But I either have to obey the laws of the land or the laws of Allah. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail. We’ve been in jail for four hundred years.

His refusal, and subsequent conviction cost him dearly. He lost the right to fight, was vilified in the press as a radical and though his conviction was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court—his years away from boxing cost him, even as he fought hard and with extraordinary courage and fortitude to reign supreme again.

No less a man than Nelson Mandela has felt inspired by Muhammad Ali’s actions. And for a young girl, growing up in a time of confusion and difficulty, his very presence, fortitude, and strength made me feel inspired.

My heart goes out to his family as they mourn him—just as I mourn his loss with the community of the world forever touched by his greatness.

Rest in Peace.

18
Jan
16

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. – January 18, 2016

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. – January 18, 2016

Martin Luther King Jr.

The following is the full text of Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail in response to criticism leveled at him by eight white clergymen from Alabama in a local newspaper. The letter was written four months before he led the March on Washington in August 1963. It is well work reading as we honor Dr. King’s legacy.

martin-luther-king-mug-shot

16 April 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants–for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham’s mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, 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.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro’s frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible “devil.”

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies–a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some -such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle–have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as “dirty nigger-lovers.” Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of segregation. Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “nonviolently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood, Martin Luther King, Jr.




February 2017
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