Part 5—Recalling what Dr. King said: This morning, let’s visit some major personages of the liberal present and past.
We'll visit three such figures. Let’s start with Rose of Sharon.
Rose of Sharon Joad: Rose of Sharon Joad, 18, was Tom Joad’s younger sister. At the end of The Grapes of Wrath, she engages in an unusual act which radically extends the novel’s theme that the family has to go on.
Steinbeck saw the Joads as part of the American family—as emblems of the 99 percent. Trust us—their real-life counterparts would have had plenty of social views which would have led us modern liberals to denounce them as “slack-jawed yokels from flyover country” as we drove them from our tents.
The one percent loves it when we do this! In the day, Ole Massa’s next generation invented our country’s basic way of dividing the 99 percent.
Today, salonist liberals like Andrew O’Hehir perform this invaluable service. When Ava DuVernay turns Lyndon Johnson into a drawling racist, we dumbly stand and cheer.
Hillary Clinton: Our salonist wing spent last week denouncing the “slack-jawed yokels.” They were upset that a young woman in a small-town pizza joint isn’t on the exact same page we liberals are on at this precise point in time.
Because we aren’t the loftiest people, we seem to enjoy kicking down. We thought of this tendency when Anne Gearan quoted Hillary Clinton in last Saturday’s Washington Post.
Gearan was hard at work inventing a possible campaign dispute. Along the way, she quoted Clinton scolding two entire states for their flawed understandings.
At issue was Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” This is the way Gearan’s report appeared in our hard-copy Post:
GEARAN (4/4/15): In the current controversy, Clinton waded in last week using one of her favorite platforms, Twitter, to condemn Indiana for approving its version of the law. “Sad this new Indiana law can happen in America today,” she tweeted. “We shouldn't discriminate against ppl bc of who they love #LGBT”Had Clinton really “condemned Indiana?” In fairness, that was Gearan’s construction. Still, we had to marvel at the wider field of play.
Then when Arkansas lawmakers approved a similar version this week, Clinton tweeted again. “Like IN law, AR bill goes beyond protecting religion, would permit unfair discrimination against #LGBT Americans. I urge Governor to veto,” she wrote.
Until last year, Clinton opposed same-sex marriage. By her lights, there wouldn’t have been any same-sex weddings at all!
Now, it could seem that she was condemning whole states because some of their florists didn’t want to participate in same-sex ceremonies. Meanwhile, within our liberal tribe, our “dumb aggressives” were kicking down hard at a small-town pizza point owner.
We’ve always been like this, of course. Remember when Keith Olbermann and his slimy friend aimed waves of misogynistic insults at Carrie Prejean because she didn’t support same-sex marriage? President Obama held the same position, but KO dumped a truckload of misogyny on Prejean’s head because she was a white evangelical Christian and a young blonde woman.
What on earth has led us to think that we’re the good, decent people? It must be the way the brain is wired! There’s no other real explanation.
Clinton’s tweets were lofty and high-minded. Still and all, just last year, she had a different view. We the liberals are sometimes quite slow to observe such distinctions. Because Crystal O’Connor still has last year’s view, we felt the need to denounce her last week with reams of class- and race-based insults.
Do we think that other voters don’t see us behaving this way? The plutocrats are very happy to see the things we do.
Recalling what Dr. King said: In Indiana, some couples would have to call a second florist in order to plan their wedding. We modern liberals took to the ramparts to say this was Selma again.
Whatever you may think of these issues, that strikes us as a stretch. Inevitably, though, some in our tribe reacted to such thoughts by raining class-, race- and gender-based insults on the yokels’ and hillbillies’ heads.
We forget that our own most exalted leaders held the same positions ten minutes ago. We also rush to forget what Dr. King said.
In fairness, no florists were involved at the time. Dr. King, just turned 27, was reacting to a lesser event—the bombing of his home with his wife and infant daughter inside.
It was January 1956. The Montgomery bus boycott was underway. Dr. King, who was fairly new to the city, had been selected as the primary spokesman for its black community.
In his Pulitzer Prize-winning history, Parting the Waters, Taylor Branch describes what happened on the night of this bombing. Dr. King was informed of the bombing while at a public meeting. It still wasn’t known if his wife and daughter were safe.
By the time he reached his home, the mayor and the police commissioner were present. So was an angry crowd, some of whom were armed. After ascertaining that his wife and daughter were safe, King walked onto the porch.
Because his home had just been bombed, no one could quibble with his use of the word “hate.” This is Branch’s account of what Dr. King said and did:
BRANCH (page 165): King walked out onto the front porch. Holding up his hand for silence, he tried to still the anger by speaking with an exaggerated peacefulness in his voice. Everything was all right, he said. “Don’t get panicky. Don’t do anything panicky. Don’t get your weapons. If you have weapons, take them home. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remember that is what Jesus said. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love.”Say what? We want to do what?
Remember—Dr. King was speaking about people who really did “hate.” He didn’t have to pretend that he was confronting “haters,” a practice we love today.
“Be good to them,” he told the crowd. “We must meet hate with love.”
Dr. King’s words on the porch have been recorded in slightly different ways. In his earlier Pulitzer-winning book, Bearing the Cross, David Garrow adds one fascinating piece of advice from Dr. King:
“We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. Love them and let them know you love them.”
Love them and let them know you love them? This peculiar suggestion noted, we return to Branch’s account of Dr. King’s words on the porch:
BRANCH (continuing from above): By then, the crowd of several hundred people had quieted to silence, and feeling welled up in King for an oration. “I did not start this boycott,” he said. “I was asked by you to serve as your spokesman. I want it to be known the length and breadth of the land that if I am stopped, this movement will not stop. If I am stopped, our work will not stop. For what we are doing is right. What we are doing is just. And God is with us.”Say what? We the people weren’t even allowed to boo the police commissioner?
King stepped forward to a chorus of “Amens,” but as soon as [police commissioner] Sellers stepped forward to speak, the mood vanished as suddenly as it had arrived. The mob booed him. When policemen tried to shout them down, they booed even louder.
King raised his hand again. “Remember what I just said,” he cried. “Hear the Commissioner.”
Below, we’ll show you Dr. King’s account of what he said that night. First, let’s recall what he said in Stride Toward Freedom about the city commissioners.
Later on the night of the bombing, the Kings were at a church member’s home, where they had gone for safety. In this passage, Dr. King described his thoughts about the people who had just bombed his home, and about the city leaders he felt had enabled their conduct.
DR. KING (page 138): I could not go to sleep. While I lay in that quiet front bedroom, with a distant street lamp throwing a reassuring glow through the curtained window, I began to think of the viciousness of people who would bomb my home. I could feel the anger rising when I realized that my wife and baby could have been killed. I thought about the city commissioners and all the statements that they had made about me and the Negro generally. I was once more on the verge of corroding anger. And once more I caught myself and said: “You must not allow yourself to become bitter.”“I said to myself these are not bad men!” Even their ministers taught them the things they believe, an incredulous Dr. King said.
I tried to put myself in the place of the police commissioners. I said to myself these are not bad men. They are misguided. They have fine reputations in the community. In their dealings with white people they are respectful and gentlemanly. They probably think they are right in their methods of dealing with Negroes. They say the things they say about us and treat us as they do because they have been taught these things. From the cradle to the grave, it is instilled in them that the Negro is inferior. Their parents probably taught them that; the schools they attended taught them that; the books they read, even their churches and ministers, often taught them that; and above all the very concept of segregation teaches them that. The whole cultural traditional under which they have grown—a tradition blighted with more than 250 years of slavery and more than 90 years of segregation—teaches them that Negroes do not deserve certain things. So these men are merely the children of their culture. When they seek to preserve segregation they are seeking to preserve only what their local folkways have taught them was right.
Try to remember who and what Dr. King was talking about. He wasn’t talking about a florist who says she regards a gay customer as a friend. He wasn’t talking about a pizza joint owner who serves gay costomers in her store but doesn’t want to participate in a ceremony she regards as religious.
On the night his house was bombed, Dr. King refused to hate. His own account of what he said is almost embarrassing in the modern liberal contest. We modern liberals may want to avert our gaze:
DR. KING (page 137): In this atmosphere I walked out to the porch and asked the crowd to come to order. In less than a moment there was complete silence. Quietly I told them that I was all right and that my wife and baby were all right. “Now let’s not become panicky,” I continued. “If you have weapons, take them home. We cannot solve this problem through retaliatory violence. Remember the words of Jesus: ‘He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.’ ” I then urged them to leave peacefully. “We must love our white brothers,” I said, “no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo through the centuries: ‘Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.’ This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love. Remember,” I ended, “if I am stopped, this movement will not stop, because God is with the movement. Go home with this glowing faith and this radiant assurance.”We must love our white brothers and make them know we love them?
In the modern context, those words may feel embarrassing. During that earlier era, other black ministers gave this advice on the occasion of other bombings. We saw videotape of this conduct on C-Span just last year.
Dr. King was talking about people who had just firebombed his home. He didn’t call them hillbillies, rednecks or even slack-jawed yokels.
Thinking of the city commissioners, he told himself that they were good men. He kept telling the black community and its white friends that they had to refuse to hate the people who were conducting and enabling these “vicious” acts.
It’s possible that we modern liberals wouldn’t like Dr. King very much. In their comments at Salon, our “dumb aggressives” would almost surely rain insults on his head for the way he just kept praising “the love ethic of Jesus.”
Here at THE HOWLER, we keep telling the analysts that Andrew O’Hehir is a good person, and we’re sure he is. We tell them that name-calling liberals are good people with a blind spot which makes them the plutocrats’ friend.
“They say the things they say about pizza shop owners because they have been taught these things,” we tell the young people. “From the cradle to the grave, it is instilled in them that the slack-jawed yokels are inferior.”
“Even their ministers tell them that,” we have been heard to say. We point to the letters from the rabbi and the minister in last Thursday’s New York Times.
Gradually, the youngsters have started accepting this dog food. That said, they still see these liberals kicking way down at people like Rose of Sharon.
Divide and conquer, the plutocrats say. We liberals seem eager to serve them.
Where did Dr. King get these ideas: “As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished...”
For more selections from Stride Toward Freedom, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/3/10. We recommend the whole book.