Wednesday, October 28, 2015

MLK: [450] "years of sinning cannot be canceled out in four minutes of atonement": July 5, 1964 New York Times Magazine article by John Herbers

Critical Test for the Nonviolent Way
JULY 5, 1964
WHEN the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. moved his forces into St. Augustine on May 25, the Negro revolution had reached a critical stage. A new mili­tancy by both Negroes and segrega­tionists was on the rise.

In Jacksonville, Nashville, Atlanta and other cities, civil rights demon­strators had departed from their policy of nonviolence. The moderate Negro leaders who had so ably succeeded in placing the black man's cause before the conscience of America seemed in danger of losing control of the move­ment.

The white backlash stirred up by Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama in three Northern Presidential pri­maries was at a peak. Many whites sympathetic to the cause of racial jus‐

One was reminded of the lines writ­ten about the Negro drive by Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk:

“It is ... possible that as the move­ment gains in power, the reasonable­ness and the Christian fervor ... will recede into the background and the movement will become more and more an unreasoning and intransigent mass movement dedicated to the conquest of sheer power, more and more inclined to violence.”
EVERYWHERE there was growing uncertainty and concern about where the movement was headed. While the civil rights bill was virtually assured of passage sometimne during the sum­mer, no realistic appraisal of the forth­coming law could find in it more than a broadening of the legal base for
“We felt,” Dr. King said as he set up his headquarters here. “that the summer campaign needed a purifying prelude in the sense of having a move­ment where Negroes remained com­pletely nonviolent.”
St. Augustine is a critical test not only of Dr. King's ability to hold the imagination and allegiance of millions of Negroes but also of the nonviolent method.
It soon became apparent why Dr. King and his Southern Christian Lead­ership Conference had picked St. Augustine, the nation's oldest city, a seemingly inappropriate locale, as the starting point for the summer cam­paign.
The little city of 15,000, 35 miles south of Jacksonville, is not typically Southern and. like American society, as a whole, it presents a series of para­doxes. Accessible by land and sea, it
YET, politically and socially, St. Au­gustine is by any objective analysis a backwater area which has not only rejected Latin America's racial toler­ance but also the North American dream that all men should start with equal opportunities.
Historian Charles Arnade has said that white leaders of the city are forever looking long‐
The little city is a strong­hold for the far right. The John Birch Society and simi­lar organizations flourish. One of their main themes is that the civil rights movement and Communism are analogous, a view that is readily accepted by the poor whites who are the activists in the racial struggle.
YET St. Augustine is far from being the most segre­gated city in the South. As in most coastal communities, you can find Negroes and whites living side by side. The schools have token integration, munic­ipally owned facilities are de­segregated, and a few Negroes serve as law‐enforcement of­ficers.
What does stand out clearly in St. Augustine, however, is that further racial progress is blocked—not so much by local law and massive resistance as by terror.
Gangs of white toughs from the swamps and byways of St. Johns County are free to roam the city, attacking Negro dem­onstrators and white sympa­thizers. Hoisted Richard (Hoss) Manucy, a 45‐year­old former bootlegger, heads a force of men called “Manu­cy's Raiders,” whose main function is to terrorize the community's 3,500 Negroes and who patrol the streets in cars equipped with short‐wave radios.
White businessmen who have tried to bring about vol­untary desegregation of public accommodations or to set up a biracial committee to negotiate a settlement have had their windows broken. Homes and automobiles have been fired on and scores of Negroes have been beaten.
Manucy's men have not only been tolerated but a number were sworn in as special depu­ties to deal with racial demon­strations before Federal judge denounced this practice. When Negro leaders are taken to jail, the man who opens the door for them is Hoss Manucy, 220 pounds of him, grinning under a bat­tered cowboy hat.
Several juveniles were sent to the State Reformatory last year for indefinite terms after they had been arrested while picketing a lunch counter and after their parents had re­fused to sign statements say­ing the youngsters would take no further part in racial pro­tests. Four Negroes were
It was in this setting that Dr. King called for a return to the classical technique of nonviolence in which the Negro freely gives himself to the violence of the white man. The hope is that the oppres­sor may come to see his own injustice and not only free the oppressed but redeem himself and society in the process.
“The Negro,” Dr. King wrote in “Why We Can't Wait”, his latest book, “was willing to risk martyrdom in order to move and stir the social con­science of his community and the nation. Instead of submit‐
IN St. Augustine this has happened. Most of the brutal­ity occurred not during acts of civil disobedience, as in Birmingham and other cities, but during lawful demonstra­tions in the street and at a public beach segregated not by law but by extra‐legal in­timidation.
The white man came more than halfway to offer up his violence, almost as if he were acting out the role assigned to him. But is this likely to lead to acceptance of the Negro's demands for desegre­gation in public accommoda­tions and to creation of a bi­racial committee to hear Negro grievances and to bet­ter job opportunities for Negroes ?
It would not at first sight seem so. Dr. King and his non­violent army, rather than the angry whites in the town square, are seen as the ag‐
“All America and all the world knows that St. Augus­tine is unjustly being used as a battleground,” two officials of the quadricentennial pro­gram, W. I. Drysdale and Frank Upchurch, said in a joint statement. “And every­one everywhere knows that it was chosen for its publicity value and because of its help­lessly small size against such nationwide organizations [as the Southern Christian Lead­ership Conference.]
“But let no one misunder­stand.” they continued. “St. Augustine does not plan on rolling over and playing dead. It has survived 400 years only because it has been a decent and strong‐willed community. And, God willing, it will be such 400 years from now.”
IN his eight years as a na­tional civil rights leader, Dr. King has grown accustomed to this kind of response—a hard­ening of opposition rather than a move toward reconciliation. He sees it as a temporary and localized impediment in the over‐all advance of the Negro movement.
It is difficult to believe that Dr. King is only 35 years old (he was born Jan. 15, 1929), not because of his appearance but because of the veneration in which he is held by his as­sociates and followers.
“The good Lord doesn't make a Martin Luther King every day,” one aide told St. Augus­tine's Negroes. “If he can come down here and go to jail, the least you can do is go with him.”
Dr. King was hardly out of Boston University with a doc­torate in systematic theology when he rose to national prom­inence by leading the Mont­gomery, Ala., bus boycott of 1956, an assignment he ac­cepted with some reluctance.
He subsequently gave up his Montgomery pastorage, moved to Atlanta and established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which now has more than 60 full‐time work­ers and more than 100 affili­ates across the nation. He is also co‐pastor, with his father, of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
THE conference is hardly a model of organization and ef­ficiency. Dr. King lays no claim to being an administra­tor. “No one ever quite knows what the S.C.L.C. and Dr. King are going to do next,” a mem­ber of a rival civil rights or­ganization said. “They are a bunch of preachers, all heart and no business acumen.”
No one will dispute, how­ever, that Dr. King is the lead­ing spokesman for the Ameri­can Negro and the most prom­inent of his race since Booker T. Washington. He holds this
One day recently he sat on the screened porch of a St. Augustine home, sipped iced orange juice and talked of the goals and directions of the summer civil rights campaign. His appearance has changed little in the last eight years. He is a little thicker, but there is no flabbiness to him. He is a short man. Yet his broad, sloping face and thick neck give him a sense of power. There is no hint of the extra­ordinary life he leads. One day he is in a police car, guarded by a fierce dog on his way to jail for trying to eat at a segregated restaurant. The next day he is at Yale Uni­versity, accepting an honorary degree.
His life is repeatedly threat­ened, for he inspires hatred among segregationists like no other Negro leader. Yet he moves freely around town with no visible protection.
“St. Augustine will not be another Albany,” he said, re­ferring to that embattled South Georgia city where months of intensive demon­strations brought little gain for Negroes and left an embit­tered white population.
BUT while the white com­munity here was saying it would never yield, it did yield —a little. Many of the busi­nessmen in St. Augustine pledged themselves to comply with the civil rights bill once
“Even if we do not get all we should, movements such as this tend more and more to give a Negro the sense of self­respect that he needs,” Dr. King said. “It tends to gen­erate courage in Negroes out­side the movement.
“It brings intangible re­sults outside the community where it is carried out. There is a hardening of attitudes in situations like this. But other cities see and say, ‘We don't want to be another Albany or Birmingham,’ and they make changes. Some communities, like this one, had to bear the cross.”
CAMPAIGNING in Bir­mingham last year brought some desegregation in that city. But, more important in Dr. King's view, it touched off the Negro revolt of 1963 that caused President Kennedy to give civil rights top legisla­tive priority. By offering him­self to the white man's vio­lence, the Negro brought into being the civil rights act of 1964.
If classical nonviolence does not work in its purest sense — that is bringing about reconciliation and equal dig­nity of the races—then the Negro must accept for the time being a lesser victory: acceptance out of the white man's self‐interest.
But what of nonviolence in the future? Are Negroes ready to abandon it, as some have said, and go off on some other course which could be more disruptive to peace and order?
“I still feel,” Dr. King said, “that Negroes by and large in the United States are willing to follow tactical nonviolence.
“By that, I mean they be­lieve in it in a pragmatic sense, not as a way of life as I do. I think the Negro will continue to accept nonviolence if it can bring about concrete victories. I think this will be the test of the summer, so to speak.”
ONE thing is certain. Dr. King will continue to press his demands from a religious and spiritual base. He is too deeply rooted there to flourish elsewhere. Because of this he can be expected to inject some measure of humility and open­mindedness into the struggle.
“We will make progress,” he says, “if we freely admit that we have no magic . . . . If we accept the fact that 400 years of sinning cannot be canceled out in four minutes of atonement. “Neither can we allow the guilty to tailor their atonement in such a manner as to visit another four seconds of deliberate hurt upon the victim.”
These words take on special meaning for Americans when they see young Negroes in the nation's oldest city march into the flaying fists of the mob singing joyously “We love everybody.”

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