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Stories

Personal Preface on the Black Revolution of 1963

I met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when I was twelve and he was thirty-two, in a house of worship in my hometown. It was April 1961, a month before the freedom rides that desegregated southern bus terminals. Dr. King was spending a few days visiting Williams College, talking with students, in mountainous western Massachusetts. That Sunday evening he was preaching at the tall Gothic chapel up the street from my home. He gave a sermon called “Three Dimensions of a Complete Life.” As I marched down the aisle to find a seat, I found myself walking right next to the heroic preacher, awash in his brightly colored robes. He looked holy. His chocolate face was glowing. Read More→

Categories : Stories

Never Alone

Jun 30, 2013

From COSMIC COMPANIONSHIP: SPIRITUAL TEACHINGS OF MARTIN LUTHER KING
Edited by Stewart Burns  (forthcoming January 2014)

PROLOGUE: NEVER ALONE
         MLK remembers his “Kitchen Conversion,” January 1956

One of the most dedicated participants in the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, was an elderly black woman whom we affectionately called Mother Pollard. Although poverty-stricken and uneducated, she was amazingly intelligent and possessed a deep understanding of the meaning of the movement. After having walked for several weeks, she was asked if she were tired. With ungrammatical profundity, she answered, “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.”

On a particular Monday evening, following a tension-packed week which included being arrested and receiving numerous threatening telephone calls, I spoke at a mass meeting. I attempted to convey an overt impression of strength and courage, although I was inwardly depressed and fear-stricken. At the end of the meeting, Mother Pollard came to the front of the church and said, “Come here, son.” I immediately went to her and hugged her affectionately.

“Something is wrong with you,” she said. “You didn’t talk strong tonight.”

Seeking further to disguise my fears, I retorted, “Oh, no, Mother Pollard, nothing is wrong. I am feeling as fine as ever.” But her insight was discerning.

“Now you can’t fool me,” she said. “I knows something is wrong. Is it that we aren’t doing things to please you? Or is it that the white folks are bothering you?” Before I could respond, she looked directly into my eyes and said, “I don told you we is with you all the way.”

Then her face became radiant. She said in words of quiet certainty, “But even if we ain’t with you, God’s gonna take care of you.”

As she spoke these consoling words, everything in me quivered and quickened with the pulsing tremor of raw energy.

* * *

I came home. My wife had already fallen asleep. I crawled into bed to get some rest to get up early the next morning to try to keep things going. I was about to doze off when the telephone rang. It was around midnight. You can have strange experiences at midnight.

I picked up the phone. At the other end was an ugly voice. That voice said to me, “Nigger, we are tired of you and your mess now. If you aren’t out of this town in three days, we’re going to blow your brains out and blow up your house.”

I’d heard these things before, but for some reason that night it got to me. I turned over and I tried to go to sleep, but I couldn’t sleep. I got out of bed and began to walk the floor. Finally, I went to the kitchen and heated a pot of coffee.

I was ready to give up. It seemed that all of my fears had come down on me at once.

I started thinking about many things. I pulled back on the philosophy and theology that I had just studied in the universities, trying to give philosophical and theological reasons for the reality of sin and evil. But the answers didn’t quite come.

I sat there and thought about a beautiful little daughter [Yolanda, or Yoki] who had just been born about a month earlier. She was the darling of my life. I’d come in night after night and see that little gentle smile. I sat at that table thinking about that little girl and thinking about the fact that she could be taken away from me any minute. I started thinking about a dedicated, devoted, and loyal wife who was over there asleep. She could be taken from me, or I could be taken from her. I got to the point that I couldn’t take it any longer. I was weak.

Something said to me, you can’t call on Daddy now. You can’t even call on Mama now. You’ve got to call on that something in that person that your daddy used to tell you about. That power that can make a way out of no way. I discovered then that religion had to become real to me. I had to know God for myself.

My head in my hands, I bowed down over the kitchen table and prayed aloud. I never will forget it. I prayed out loud that night.

I said, “Lord, I’m down here taking a stand for what I believe is right. I think the cause that we represent is right. But now I am afraid. Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now. I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage. I am afraid.

“I can’t let the people see me like this, because if they see me weak and losing my courage, they will begin to get weak. They too will falter.

“I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”

At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced it.

I could hear an inner voice saying to me, “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice, stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world.”

I’ll tell you. I’ve seen the lightning flash. I’ve heard the thunder roll. I’ve felt sin-breakers dashing, trying to conquer my soul. But I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on.

He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. No, never alone. No, never alone. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.

Almost at once my fears began to pass from me. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.

 * * *

Three nights later, our house was bombed. Strangely enough, I accepted the word of the bombing calmly. [His wife Coretta and baby girl were home but not injured.] My experience with God had given me a new strength and trust. I knew now that God is able to give us the interior resources to face the storms of life.

 

Sources: MLK, Strength to Love (Fortress Press, 1963), 125-26; Clayborne Carson and Peter Holloran, eds., A Knock at Midnight (Warner Books, 1998), 160-62; Strength to Love, 113-14.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories : Stories