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Questions for Thomas F.

Jackson, From Civil Rights to Human Rights:


Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Struggle for Economic Justice

1. How does Jackson's portrait of MLK differ from the sanitized version of public celebration?
Beyond media bias and right-wing propaganda, why don't we know more about King's political
and economic radicalism?

2. Jackson says that to understand King we need to understand those who influenced him
intellectually. How many of the people he discussed were new to you?

Howard Thurman? Reinhold Niebuhr? (43--47) A. Philip Randolph (p.31) Walter Rauschebusch
(p 35)

Did you know about the development of American Gandhism beginning in 1928 (pp. 36-38)?

How about democratic socialists/social democrats --Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Walter Reuther,
Ella Baker, Ralph Helstein of the United Packinghouse Workers?

3. How did King and his "social democratic circle" stand outside the student new left and offer
an alternative to Marixism-Leninism and revolutionary nationalism?

4. What were the dilemmas of class coalitions and power that MLK etc tried to resolve? What
lessons for today?

5. What was the Freedom Budget (257-258)?

6. How did King view race and class?

7. What did Bayard Rustin mean by "From Protest to Politics?" What was the tension between
Rustin's stress on the (organized) working class and King's placing the rural and urban poor and
the center of his efforts? (p. 189)

8. How did differences over the Vietnam war and questions about whether it should be linked to
the civil rights movement affect the democratic left? (pp.319-320)

9. What did you like most about this book? What was the most surprising thing you learned?

10. What were MLK's greatest strengths as a leader? What were his shortcomings (local
organizing and gender are often mentioned)?

11. What would MLK have to say about the politics of immigration reform?

12. Members of Democratic Socialists of America frequently describe our organization as


being in the tradition of "Eugene Debs, Norman Thomas, and Michael Harrington." Should we
add Martin Luther King, Jr.? A. Philip Randolph?
MLK Questions from Thomas Jackson

Stewart Burns wrote in a recent AHR review of Michael Honey's book Going down Jericho Road that King only paid "lip
service" to the need for economic justice before the Watts riot of 1965. Burns claimed King shared the narrow civil rights
priorities of the established Negro leadership class. Glen Eskew's portrait of King in his book on Birmingham concurs. Are
they right? Did King really pay "life service" to economic justice before 1965, as Jackson recently wrote in a letter to the
editor sharply criticizing Burns' "woefully wrongheaded" portrait?

For so many years southern students were the vanguard. How did their praxis and the experience of local activists such as
Septima Clark or Charles Sherrod figure in the "lessons learned in struggle" that came from the bottom up? What did local
northern activists contribute to King's vision of economic justice and class power?

How did this treatment of King change your thinking, if at all, on the meaning and strategies of nonviolence? Much of the
recent historical writing on the long civil rights movement has stressed the importance of a tradition of armed self defense to
protect political activists. How did King position himself with respect to this tradition? What would radical nonviolence
really mean, in terms of the organization of society and the strategies of the movement?

Many of King's critics on the left faulted him for pursuing strategies of "mobilization" that focused on dramatic protest,
media events, and charismatic oratory, strategies that proved increasingly ineffective as the 1960s wore on. How much truth
did these criticisms have? Were there diminishing returns to the strategy of "nonviolent theater" or was King wise to think
mass civil disobedience might bring results? What did these strategies achieve and what were the alternatives before the
movement and the country?

King is often portrayed as antithetical to black power philosophy and praxis. Were there elements of continuity, even
convergence, underneath the simplistic polarities of separatism versus integration that defined much of the debate? A
related question: how was King's view of "political and economic power for our people" changed by black power and the
urban crisis?

King tried to balance local empowerment and national policy reform. Where the rubber hit the road was where local
activists tried to shape the war on poverty. How were King's strategies and policy options shaped by these people and what
did he have to offer them in terms of a broader politics? Jackson implicitly criticizes King for putting too much focus on
national policy reform and the federal government as the key to poor people's emancipation. Or does he?

Is Jackson fair to Lyndon Johnson and the Democratic Party liberals?

King spoke eloquently to the need for a black-labor alliance, and died in a local struggle where that alliance was powerfully
real but contested. Was King really the champion of that alliance, or could he have done more earlier to support unionism or
black working class mobilization generally?

How have you traditionally understood King's dissent from the Vietnam War? King is often celebrated on the left for this
prophetic antiwar leadership. But did he really have a sophisticated view of the world political economy? How deep did his
internationalism run? Or was his political economy still pretty narrowly nationalistic?

Jackson claims King fiercely criticized American apartheid in the big cities, but did King fully understand the class
dynamics driving white resistance? What insights did the book give you into what J. Anthony Lukas called "America's dirty
little secret," class?

Jackson's next book is on the black revolution of 1963, if he doesn't do first a study of the great debate on the urban revolts
of the mid-to-late 1960s. Which one would you rather read?