On Birmingham’s most famous Sunday!


What two ministers said: Yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of Birmingham’s most famous Sunday.

As many people mentioned yesterday in the formal commemoration, Birmingham is not the same city today. We were struck by one part of the editorial in yesterday’s New York Times.

Three days after the bombing killed four children at Sunday school, Dr. King described the four girls as “victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity.” Reading yesterday’s editorial, we were struck by what two Birmingham ministers had already said:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (9/15/13): The city has planned a full day of remembrance and prayer on Sunday, along with a food festival and music. The commemorators have every right to blend somber and light as they mark a half-century of progress. But it’s worth remembering a point [Diane] McWhorter has powerfully made: the civil rights struggle was not simply a victory of good over evil, of the righteous defeating the Klansmen who gave “Bombingham” its bloody reputation. The struggle was good against “normal”—against the segregation that was seen as the natural order of things, buttressed by government, tradition and the law. In this, Dr. King and his allies were the radicals.

The most radical thing was their willful commitment to peace as a weapon for change and as a check on justified rage. The clouds from the dynamite blast had not even cleared when the Rev. John Cross stood before a furious crowd on the church’s front steps and said, “We should be forgiving as Christ was forgiving.” Then he handed a megaphone to the Rev. Charles Billups, who said: “Go home and pray for the men who did this evil deed. We must have love in our hearts for these men.”
To recall what Dr. King told a crowd in 1957 when his own home was bombed, just click here.

(His own later account of his remarks that night included this: “We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them.”)

Back to Birmingham Sunday:

“We must have love in our hearts for these men?” Reading the words of the two ministers, we were struck again by the radical strangeness at the heart of the nonviolent civil rights movement.

Not everyone felt the same way about that nonviolent approach, which had been derived in large part from Gandhi. But we’re always struck by how radically strange it is that people could have reacted to such events in such unusual ways. That they could have said such things, were willing to act upon them.

We think we all have a lot to learn from those highly unusual reactions. In our view, the instinct behind those reactions is barely visible in today’s liberal world.

“We must have love in our hearts for these men?” What in the world did those ministers mean? And why was their movement successful?

Tomorrow: A car ride with Bull Connor, 1961

Dr. King's full eulogy: On September 18, 1963, Dr. King spoke at the funeral service for three of the children. To read his full speech, click here.

Among other things, Dr. King said this: “Good night, sweet princesses. Good night, those who symbolize a new day.”


  1. Unless I'm mistaken, Gandhi said he would have taken up arms had the English been like the Nazis. I wonder if Dr. King's non-violence ever had a red-line.

    1. oliver 'to hell or to connaught' cromwell



  2. It is hard for me to find love in my heart for intentionally evil people. I'm not a Christian.
    However, I was intrigued by a man who was hit when on his bicycle and badly injured. He completely forgave the driver. And this was quite sincere. I must confess this is not the way I would have reacted.

    1. Hattie,

      It is hard for me to find love in my heart for intentionally ignorant people.

      I suspect that the search for love is just as hard for Christians. However they have the satisfaction of being able to profess love for those in this life whom they take the pleasure in believing will suffer eternal torment in the next.

    2. The love King proclaimed is not a sentiment or a feeling. It was a willful choice. This decision was manifested in his words and actions.

  3. I think this is one of those instances that points to the failings of Dr. King and the civil rights movement in the big picture, and how his fervent belief in the slave master's religion held back his philosophy and actions. There is nothing noble or commendable about instantly forgiving or loving early-american taliban who bombed 4 little girls dead.

  4. King's reaction in the face of real evil exists in stark contrast to today's lefties who seem to be ever hungry to stoke resentment and rage against those who they perceive, often on the basis of extremely poor and even imagined evidence, to be racist, misogynistic, homophobic, etc.

    1. And don't even mention those lefties so ravenous they laugh at those they perceive, often on the basis of extemely poor but obvious blog commentary, to be imbecelic, fatuous, and clueless.

      KZ (Imagining even Dr. King with a limited patience)

    2. Yeah! How about that lefty candidate for President in 2012 who loved to stoke resentment and rage against the 47% of Americans he thought were "takers."

      Oh wait.

    3. what lefties? now theyre culture warriors, effectively an arm of the the true right, crowding out the the true economic left.

    4. Dear deadrat,

      Romney is an assclown but he is a right-wing assclown. I'm comparing liberals of the past to ones of the present day. That should have been obvious to you from the original context. You are also an assclown.


      What lefties? How about Digby, Atrios, Amanda Marcotte, PZ Myers, the entire staff at MSNBC which was so anxious to punish George Zimmerman for reasons that made no factual sense. Where the hey have you been?

    5. HBraintree,
      Did it occur to you that what distinguishes present day liberals from the noble tribe in the past is their access to readers and viewers like you over the internet and cable?

      KZ (Admiring those who admire the saints of their youth)

    6. Poor, poor George ...oh yeah, he's alive.


    7. HB,

      Romney is right-wing? How could I have gotten that wrong? "Oh wait" I didn't.

      Think of the smallest thing you can. Now divide that by the largest number you can think of. You're now close to how much I care about your opinion of me, which is probably more than anyone else reading this blog. So why bother?

      Where was I during the Zimmerman trial? Carefully explaining to people here and at least one other blog that the evil Zimmerman was a product of faulty narrative. I'm not defending "lefties" in general or "lefties" who get things wrong in particular. I'm just ridiculing you for your choice of targets.

      Clear now?

  5. Four children killed at Sunday School! Killed at Sunday School.
    I will never forgive.

    Dr. King and the other Ministers are great men of history.

    I am not.


  6. To all who are so careful to refer to Dr. King by his proper title: while acknowledging that he and many others derived their ideas from the philosophy (and practice) of Mahatma Gandhi, why not give the latter his due title as well..

    Or, if unaware of it, prefixing a Mr. would be the least one could do?

    1. Mahatma Gandhi.
      "Mahatma": High-souled. Venerable.
      A great man. A man of history.


    2. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King is his full title.

    3. @CeciliaMc: Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi would be *his* full "title" to use the same idea as in your comment but that is missing the point equally. The argument is that he is being referred to without *any* title, but I will not belabor this further.