Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community
When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King died in 1968 he had a huge public voice. He was optimistic about the Poor People’s Campaign in which countless people of all colors invested time and energy. He was thinking about poverty at home and Vietnam abroad, about the corporate and the military worlds. President Eisenhower had warned about “the military-industrial complex” in the fifties, but Camelot made us forget those issues under a veneer of fashion and glamour. King was having none of it. He was remembering Eisenhower’s words.
In 1967 Dr. King holed up in a little house in Jamaica with no telephone, in order to contemplate the movement. There he would write what became his final book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? The book grew out of a speech he made at the 11th annual Southern Christian Leadership Conference convention in Atlanta in August 1967, which he ended after his stirring words, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it is bent toward justice.” In this speech the Rev. Dr. King shows that he was aware of the smear campaign whispering that he was “Communist,” and he carefully dissects why, though he had studied the Marxist movement, he could not identify with it. He was a committed Christian and we should not forget that this was the source of his prophetic energy. He read Gandhi on non-violent resistance through the prism of his Christian faith and was committed to the program.
The book was not published until shortly after his death, but in it he connects the dots, calling for a shift in public policy from military spending to aid for the poor. He called for teaching African American history, at that time submerged to the point of non-existence. He challenged white Americans to go beyond shaking a finger at racism and to enter into real relationships. To that end he also criticized the Black Power movement that would further segregate America by blocking white folks from participation in the struggle.
Where Do We Go From Here would have had more influence had King lived. Unfortunately, it seems to have been buried with him by about 1970. The book went out of print, but it is available again. It could be considered must reading for those who really want to comprehend contemporary America.
The disheartening aspect of this, for me, is that the biblical and spiritual ground on which King built has washed away beneath our feet. Listen to these words from the speech:
“Let us be dissatisfied until that day when the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid.
“Let us be dissatisfied, and men will recognize that out of one blood God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth.
“Let us be dissatisfied until that day when nobody will shout, ‘White Power!’ when nobody will shout, ‘Black Power!’ but everybody will talk about God’s power and human power.”
Although full of references to the prophet Isaiah, to the creation story of Genesis, to the Biblical understanding of God’s power to unite people, these words hang in mid-air as their reference points become lost. The church is simply not the moral arbiter it was during his lifetime, and biblical references fail to move many people. So the question may be, in not through this impetus, where else will we find the moral compass in our day? I live in hope that these words may yet again stir consciences, not to guilt, but to action.
published 20 Jan 2012