The Political Thought of Martin Luther King, Jr



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POSC 208 Civil Rights and Social Justice: The Political Ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Spring 2007 Prof: Barbara Allen

Tues Thurs Willis 408

SH 252 Mon – Thurs by appointment

10:10- 11:55 Sign up sheet at office




The Course
This interdisciplinary seminar will examine the speeches, sermons, and writings of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We will study King’s ideas as part of the larger discourse of non-violence and social justice that is foundational to King’s political action. King’s articulation of these ideas can be understood in several contexts: as part of a tradition of African-American political thought, as embedded in African-American Christian tradition, as a contribution to American civil religion, as an example of self-governing, vigilant citizenship expressed by The Federalist, and as part of an American tradition of optimism and eclectic liberal philosophy and action. We will look at King’s ideas in the context of the civil rights movement using historical assessments of the movement and its goals and through the lens of contemporary models of collective action, especially the dilemmas of coordinated, voluntary political participation. One of our goals will be to draw out the complexities of these ideas to see how they challenge the practice of democracy in the US and liberal political theory today. We will also look more broadly at the pan-African anti-colonial struggle with writings from three contemporaries of King, Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi, and Amilcar Cabral. The reciprocal influences of these writers help us add another dimension to our study of liberation, civil rights, and social justice as a global challenge.
Readings
The following books have been ordered for the course:
M L King. 1986. A Testament of Hope. James M. Washington, ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986. 006 250931 4.

ML King. Strength to Love, (some of this text is in Testament). 0 8006 1441 0

M L King. 1958. Stride Toward Freedom. New York: Harper & Row.

(optional text; it’s edited in Testament) 0 06 250490 8

M L King. 1964. Why We Can’t Wait. New York: Harper & Row.

(optional text for your library; also edited in Testament)

Taylor Branch. 1988. Parting the Waters. New York: Simon & Schuster. 0 671 45097 8

David Garrow. 1986. Bearing the Cross. New York: Vintage. 0 394 75623 1 (recommended)

Albert Memmi. Colonizer and Colonized. New York: Beacon. 0807003018

Franz Fanon. Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press. 0802141323

Amilcar Cabral. Unity and Struggle: Speeches & Writings New York: Monthly Review Perss. 0853456259. (recommended)

Reinhold Niebuhr. The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness: A Vindication of Democracy and of its Traditional Defense. New York: Scribner’s Sons 0684718545 (recommended)


On Reserve:

Barbara Allen, “Martin Luther King’s Civil Disobedience and the American Covenant Tradition.”

Vicki Crawford, et al, eds. Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers & Torchbearers.

ML King, “Shattered Dreams.”

Andrew Parker, ed. Nationalisms and Sexualities.

Geraldine Heng and Janadas Devan, “State Fatherhood,” Nationalisms & Sexualities. Joyce Hope Scott, “From Foreground to Margin,” Nationalisms & Sexualities.

James H. Cone, “Nothing but Men,” Martin and Malcolm In America.
In addition to these texts we will use The Chicago Defender and the Pittsburgh Courier, two important newspapers which we have purchased on microfilm for this course. We will also view the award winning PBS series Eyes on the Prize and hear audio tapes of King’s speeches and sermons.
Course Requirements

This seminar focuses on the political thought that we extract from King’s writings. These ideas were understood by the American “public” in several contexts of public opinion. Not only do we see differences in the response of several opinion groups within African-American communities, we also find regional, class, gender, and partisan differences in (white) American response to King’s ideas. These differences reflect the many ways Americans understand race, gender, sexuality, class, protest, citizenship, and government. King’s writings and life give us a unique case study for looking at many questions combining American politics and American political philosophy, bringing under scrutiny a host of modern concepts, including “the nation,” “the citizen,” “rights,” and so forth. Your research papers will reflect this link between theory and practice. To aid your research, you will be asked to lead one class discussion and write a discussion paper on the day’s readings. In this paper you will choose one theme from the reading to explore as your thesis for an analytical five page paper. It would also be appropriate to bring your own research to bear on this analysis of King’s ideas.


Grades will be computed as follows:
2 10-Page Essays 40% each 80%

Discussion paper & presentation 20%

Total 100%
Topics for Discussion and Reading Assignments

Part 1 Political Theory and Practical Politics

Tues Mar 27 Language and Perception: The Meaning of “Race”

Read Parting the Waters Ch 1-4

Thurs Mar 29 Library “Tour” of Research Materials

***************** Meet in Library ******************

Tues Apr 3 Political Thought and Action

Writings of ML King, approaches to the text

“Holt Street Church 1955” (read in class)

Read MLK “Nonviolence and Racial Justice,” “The Most Durable Power,” “The Power of Non-Violence,” “An Experiment in Love,” “Our Struggle,” “Walk for Freedom” “My Trip to The Land of Gandhi”

Montgomery Context

Parting the Waters Ch 5-9

Thurs Apr 5 Civil Rights and American Constitutionalism

Read MLK “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”

Allen, “MLK’s Civil Disobedience and …Covenant”



Bearing the Cross Ch 5

Part 2 King’s Political Thought

Tues Apr 10 King on Justice, Equality, and Liberty

Read MLK “A Testament of Hope,” “The Case

Against Tokenism,” “The Ethical Demands for Integration”

Niebuhr Children of Light Children of Darkness, pp. 1–33

Thurs Apr 12 Civil Religion and Religion in the Civil Rights Movement

Read MLK “I Have a Dream,” “Nobel Prize Acceptance

Speech,” “Our God is Marching On!”

“The Drum Major Instinct”

“I see the Promised Land”

Tues Apr 17 King on History and Social Progress

Read MLK “Bold Design for a New South,” “Behind the

Selma March,” “The Current Crisis in Race

Relations,” “Who Speaks for the South,” “Next

Stop: The North”

Obstacles to Success

Parting the Waters Ch 9-15

Thurs Apr 19 Civil Rights Activism in a Federal Democracy

Read MLK “Equality Now: The President Has the Power,” “Give Us The Ballot,” “Black Power Defined”

“If the Negro Wins, Labor Wins,”

“Transcript of ‘Meet the Press’“

“Transcript of ‘Face to Face’“

“The Social Organization of Nonviolence”

“Playboy Interview”

Tues Apr 24 International Relations and Rights

Read “The Rising Tide of Racial Consciousness,” “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” “Facing the Challenge of a New Age,” “A Time to Break Silence,” “A Christmas Sermon on Peace,” “Trumpet of Conscience”

Thurs Apr 26 Nonviolence and Self-Determination: Challenging Views

“Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” “Love, Law, and

Civil Disobedience,” “Nonviolence: The Only

Road to Freedom,” “Showdown for Nonviolence,”

“Hammer on Civil Rights,” Where do We Go

From Here?

Remaining Nonviolent

Parting the Waters Ch 16-20

Tues May 1 The Beloved Community as Political Community

MLK “Suffering and Faith,” “A Gift of Love,”

From Strength to Love, “Tough Mind and Tender

Heart,” “Love in Action,” “Love Your Enemies,”

“Shattered Dreams,” “The Answer to a

Perplexing Question,” “Paul’s Letter to

American Christians”

On reserve: “Three Dimensions of a Complete Life,” and

“What is Man?”



Part 3 Putting Thought into Action

Thurs May 3 Developing the Idea of Direct Action in Practice

Watch Eyes on the Prize: Awakenings (1954-56)

Read MLK Stride Toward Freedom esp. Ch 6 and 8

Mary Fair Burks “Trailblazers” (reserve Women in the CRM)

Bearing the Cross Ch 1

Review Parting the Waters Ch 5

***************First Essay Due**************

Tues May 8 Developing an Organizational Structure

Charles Payne “Men Led, but Women Organized,” Vicki Crawford “Beyond the Human Self,” Carol Mueller “Ella Baker” (reserve Women in the CRM)

Read Bearing the Cross Ch 1-2; review 5

Watch Eyes on the Prize: “Fighting Back” (1957-62)

Bearing the Cross 3–5

Review Parting the Waters Ch 18

Thurs May 10 Public Opinion

Watch Eyes on the Prize: “Ain’t Scared Of Your Jails,”

“No Easy Walk” (1962-65)

Grace J. McFadden “Septima Clark,” Mamie Locke “Is this America?” (reserve Women in the CRM)

Read Bearing the Cross Ch 6-8

Review Parting the Waters Ch 19

Tues May 15 Dissent in the Movement, Organizational Tensions

Gender& Class

Watch Eyes on the Prize: “Mississippi: Is This America?” “Bridge to Freedom”

Read MLK Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

James H. Cone “Nothing but Men” from Martin and Malcolm In America (reserve)



Bearing the Cross Ch 9–11, epilogue

Joyce Hope Scott “From Foreground to Margin” and Geraldine Heng and Janadas Devan, “State Fatherhood” both in Nationalisms & Sexualities (reserve)



Part 4 Anti-Colonial Activism

Thurs May 17 Violence and Nationalism

Read Fanon, Wretched of the Earth: Sarte “Preface,” “Concerning Violence (all),” “Pitfalls of National Consciousness”

****************Second Essay Due************

Tues May 22 Colonial and Post-Colonial Culture, Orders and Disorders

Read Fanon, Wretched of the Earth: “On National Culture”

Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized, Part 1, “Portrait of the Colonizer

Cabral, Unity and Struggle, selections

Thurs May 24 National Order and Disorder

Read Fanon, Wretched of the Earth: “Colonial War and Mental Disorder”

Memmi, Part 2, “Portrait of the Colonized” and “Conclusion”

Cabral, Unity and Struggle, selections



Tues May 29 Class presentations


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