Pulitzer Winner Prof. David Garrow on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement

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This week on The Learning Curve co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson are joined by David Garrow, who was Professor of Law & History and Distinguished Faculty Scholar at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, and is the Pulitzer-winning author of Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Garrow shares his insights into the historical and religious context around key events and speeches in the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He examines the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as well as King’s famous speeches, including the “I Have a Dream” and “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” Garrow discusses Dr. King’s legacy for students and educators, with reference to “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and other writings that evoke the theme of human dignity through history, poetry, scripture, and America’s Founding ideals.

Stories of the Week: A new Boston monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King has stirred controversy. Concerned about students’ ability to cheat with the use of advanced artificial intelligence, some higher education and K-12 officials want to ban it outright. Gerard reflects on a young Dr. King’s emphasis on the need for thinking intensively and critically, for the goals of living a good life and workplace success.

This week on The Learning Curve co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson are joined by David Garrow, who was Professor of Law & History and Distinguished Faculty Scholar at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, and is the Pulitzer-winning author of Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Garrow shares his insights into the historical and religious context around key events and speeches in the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He examines the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as well as King’s famous speeches, including the “I Have a Dream” and “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” Garrow discusses Dr. King’s legacy for students and educators, with reference to “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and other writings that evoke the theme of human dignity through history, poetry, scripture, and America’s Founding ideals.

David Garrow was Professor of Law & History and Distinguished Faculty Scholar at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Previously, he taught at several noted colleges and universities, including Emory University, where he was Presidential Distinguished Professor. Garrow is the author of Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama (2017), a 1,460 page pre-presidential biography, a New York Times bestseller and one of the Washington Post’s 10 best books of 2017. He authored Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1986), which won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in Biography and the seventh annual Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. Garrow is also the author of The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1981) and Protest at Selma (1978). Garrow served as a senior advisor for “Eyes on the Prize,” the award-winning PBS television history of the American Black freedom struggle and as editorial advisor for the Library of America’s two-volume Reporting Civil Rights (2003). More recently, he was featured in the 2020 Emmy Award-nominated documentary “Who Killed Malcolm X?” and the 2021 Academy Awards Oscar-shortlisted documentary “MLK/FBI,” which was based on his 1981 book and his 2002 and 2019 update articles. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, The Nation, Newsweek, and Time. Garrow graduated magna cum laude from Wesleyan University and received his Ph.D. from Duke University.

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[00:00:00] Cara: Hello? Hello, hello. Learning Curve listeners. This is Kara Candel coming to you with a fabulous Gerard Robinson. Gerard, how you doing today? 

[00:00:35] GR: I’m doing well from beautiful Charlottesville, Virginia. 

[00:00:38] Cara: Always beautiful in Charlottesville, Virginia. I’m not gonna lie. It’s not beautiful here. It’s like dark. And kind of weird.

[00:00:45] And we got some snow. That wasn’t snow, so I couldn’t even ski. So I’m grumpy. Gerard, I’m grumpy about the lack of snow. 

[00:00:50] Oh, 

[00:00:50] David: you’re 

[00:00:51] GR: grumpy. Will you start off by saying dark and kind of creepy? I thought you were talking about your 

[00:00:55] David: co-host

[00:00:59] Cara: [00:01:00] Oh, my dear friend, Gerard, do you just lay it all out there and just wait for me to try and pick that up, don’t you, 

[00:01:07] David: Oh, which of course we know is all 

[00:01:08] GR: in good. 

[00:01:09] Cara: All always a good, we have a little too much fun sometimes. Actually on this show no, actually, despite the fact that it’s rather gloomy here today, it was a pretty cool weekend in Boston, Gerard.

[00:01:19] I think it might’ve made the national news because I think I read about it in the national news this weekend, but as you may be aware Boston has unveiled a new monument to Dr. Martin Luther King in Creta, Scott King, and it is in the People’s Garden, the first public garden in the country.

[00:01:36] The Boston Common, it is called the Embrace. And there were a lot of crowds trying to get to see the embrace. This weekend we snuck in and, and got a little bit of a glimpse. Not as much as we would’ve liked, but it’s really kind of cool. And I have to say it was wonderful to provoke conversation with my children around what they know about Dr.

[00:01:57] King’s legacy. He was a graduate [00:02:00] as you know, Gerard. He did his PhD at Boston University, one of my alma maters. And I don’t know, it was just, I thought it was a proud moment for the city. I know that there has as I think Mayor Woo said this weekend, she’s the mayor of Boston. She doesn’t think there’s much controversy in Boston, but there’s been some national controversy over the monument because it had pretty hefty price tag.

[00:02:18] It is a beautiful, large bronze cast. I think it was actually made in Washington state and then shipped to your piece by piece. But some controversy just over the fact of the price and could the money have been better spent. But if you’ve ever spent time on Boston common Gerard. . it’s such a beautiful place and, full of these kinds of monuments to our history, and I think it’s just amazing that Dr.

[00:02:40] Martin Luther King and Creta Scott King will be now there on the common for everybody to see from, from here forward. So I wanted to share that before we got into our stories of the week. I don’t know, j did you read anything about this beautiful monument yourself this 

[00:02:55] GR: weekend? The sad thing is the.

[00:02:58] Controversy lit [00:03:00] up Twitter and therefore people retweeting or posting. I saw that before. The good stuff. 

[00:03:06] Cara: Oh, come on man. That’s why I’m not on Twitter. . 

[00:03:09] GR: Yeah, I was like, so you guys are arguing about the price tag for this and Shelby talk about the price tag for the other people we’ve put up. I’m telling you, it’s rare that I hear anyone bring up anything about price tag, even when it’s tearing down.

[00:03:22] A monument. So, that was sad to see, but I was glad to see both of them honored. Yeah. Because without her, I don’t think you really have a Dr. King. She not only was a civil rights activist in her own right along, before she met him, she was involved in civil rights work, but as Boston as you know, A big lover of the arts and this example, arts being the music.

[00:03:47] Many people do not know that she was classically trained as yes a singer. And so she is adding not only that aspect to Boston, but uh, just a recognition of being a mother a social entrepreneur.[00:04:00] Yeah. And a, a leader to both sides of the political offenses for many decades after her husband’s death.

[00:04:05] So glad to see the couple recognized as one, because too 

[00:04:09] David: often we only focus on one. 

[00:04:11] Cara: Correct. And I think you’re right. I think that what the monument really does is show how intimately intertwined these individuals were. And I think it suggests, as you do here, that, Dr. King wouldn’t have accomplished all that he did without, without his wife, and he would not be the leader that we remember today.

[00:04:25] She was a leader in her own right for a very long time. It also got me thinking Jar, about another education related issue that I have been reading so much about. Some controversial, I’ve not been reading it on Twitter. Thank you very much. But. , you got me thinking because one, of course kids, for example, my kids’ age well and even me, I wasn’t alive at the time.

[00:04:47] Right. Nor were you. One of the things that sticks with us historically are, Dr. King’s words, right? He was such a brilliant order and writer and his words are what we remember. We can, listen to his story, we can [00:05:00] read about his life, et cetera. but so many of. Know the words that he spoke and that moved the nation.

[00:05:06] And words, my friend. Now bear with this hard transition here, but there is a point have been in the news quite a bit lately with regard to higher education, especially, which prompts a question here, jar. Now be honest. Have you ever, like when you were a kid, did you ever plagiarize an essay or cheat in any way?

[00:05:26] Maybe take, some liberties with somebody else’s words? Yes. When you were writing your own. Yeah. I mean, come on. Let’s all be honest, right? . 

[00:05:33] David: Oh no, I just cheated. I wasn’t a good writer in it in the first place. 

[00:05:35] GR: I just cheated across the board. 

[00:05:36] David: But that’s another story. 

[00:05:37] Cara: I, yeah. Well, okay, so I love that now that, we are where we are in our careers and our lives, that we could talk about this, but certainly I learned my lesson.

[00:05:43] I think I remember as early as elementary school, like cheating on a test and having to admit it and, and come to terms with it. But what, you know, so right now in higher education, as I’m sure you’ve been reading, it’s not just higher education, but this new. Technology artificial intelligence these chatbots, especially chat, g p t has been [00:06:00] getting a lot of attention, is really confounding so many in education, especially in higher education.

[00:06:08] And this is artificial intelligence that, you know, you can input. Information words, subject area, and it will produce it. I mean, who knows? Gerard. It could have produced something along the lines of Dr. Martin Luther King’s words and orations. I mean, this is some very serious technology. It can write poems based on just a, few little inputs.

[00:06:29] It can answer questions, it can write essays on, , any assignment that you’re given in higher education. And I have been, I have to tell. This has been coming up in my daily newsfeed just every day for weeks. And I thought we need to talk about it ever so briefly now, because we don’t have a lot of time.

[00:06:44] But I’d love to have somebody on to talk about this. And the thing is, Gerard, is that you are sort of watching higher education professionals, professors, and the like. Divide into a couple of different camps to try and figure out what are we gonna do about [00:07:00] this? Because, the ability to cheat, especially on college exams and essays has been around forever.

[00:07:04] Of course. Now, when I was an undergrad, you would just go to the place down the street and. If you were really desperate and you and your parents could send you money, you would pay 50 bucks to buy some essay that somebody wrote. You would try and make a few changes to it and you would probably get caught, right.

[00:07:18] But those services have always exist. This artificial intelligence is much more difficult for professors to detect. People are, are getting away with it. And so the two. that higher ed officials and even some K to 12 officials, New York Department of Education, for example, has banned this technology.

[00:07:36] They’re falling into the camp that says like, ban it. Or Mm. Can we sort of tepidly lean into it and figure out how to use this as a tool? Because I think some people are realizing if this is just the beginning of artificial intelligence that can write for us and speak for us it’s only gonna get better from here.

[00:07:53] And we might be outsmarted by the robots, which is so like 2001 a Space Odyssey. Like I’m kind of freaking [00:08:00] out about it. , the camps are the beat at camp or the ban at camp. professors are doing things like, hand write your essays in class. Like, can you imagine anymore? I, I don’t think anybody could read my handwriting at this point.

[00:08:12] I mean, a guy at the post office yelled at me that my handwriting was illegible. and they’re signing fewer essays. They are putting it in the student handbook that this is plagiarism and you know, will be detected. And of course, other tech companies are cashing in by creating their own ai.

[00:08:26] To detect the chat. G p i cheating ai, so it’s gonna be a whole new industry. Now, of course, part of this ban camp assumes, and this is coming from the former college professor in me, that the kind of writing we’re teaching folks to do in college is actually the way people are going to write in the real world or the way people are gonna write their.

[00:08:47] I personally object to that. As a professor, I, I would get as, I mean, I’m working on my own writing constantly and it needs work, but I would get essays where I would think, oh my goodness, if you give me another five paragraph essay, I just don’t know what I’m gonna do. I can’t do it. [00:09:00] Like formulaic, uninteresting writing is how we usually teach people to write.

[00:09:05] But this other camp that’s saying, you know, we probably can’t beat it. And this is the one that really interests me, ger. Trying to think of creative solutions to use the ai. So a professor at Northern Michigan University that is quoted in this article that I’m referencing here from the New York Times.

[00:09:23] The title of the article is Alarmed by AI Chatbots. Universities Start revamping How they Teach, but this Northern Michigan University showed out to Marquette. Professor is quoted. You know, maybe we have the artificial intelligence produce pieces of writing that students critique, that they evaluate, that they analyze.

[00:09:41] You could see middle school teachers and high school teachers using that as a tool. What if you had kids sort of compete with the chat bot? Because there are ways to do it. It’s not perfect yet, right? So it gets certain things wrong. It might even get certain, like answers to essay questions wrong in some cases.

[00:09:59] I [00:10:00] raise it because I think it is a fascinating issue. It’s, of course gonna probably plague higher ed a little bit more than it’s gonna con plague K to 12. It’s, you know, smaller children aren’t gonna have the kind of access to do these things, but high schoolers certainly will if they don’t already.

[00:10:15] and I think that this is gonna be something that is absolutely going to change the game, Gerard, and I am so curious to see where it goes. And like I said, simultaneously, it’s like brilliant and super creepy all at the same time. So there, I’ve used creepy twice now in this podcast, but I’d love to know, Gerard, have you been reading about this?

[00:10:35] Have you been thinking about this 

[00:10:37] GR: when you began to talk about your article? A book on my shelf popped to mind. I just pulled it. It is titled Robot Proof Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, and it was published in 2017. And the author, and please forgive me if I permission pronounce your last name, Joseph Aon, a o u n, who’s the former.

[00:10:56] President of Northeastern University in your [00:11:00] neck of the woods. 

[00:11:01] David:

[00:11:01] GR: picked up this book, and it’s probably at a conference where he was a speaker, at least I believe so, or one of his supporters were there. But it was a segment kind of focused on what you’re talking about. And this would’ve been 

[00:11:12] David: 2016 and 

[00:11:14] GR: he was saying some of the same things you.

[00:11:16] And he was talking about the same two camps, and I began to hear you talk about it. I, I began to think about two things that he said. Number one, he said in higher education, one thing that is constant is change and that higher ed leaders need to find a way. To prepare their students not only to work 

[00:11:34] David: with AI or what he call 

[00:11:36] GR: robotics.

[00:11:37] We use the term ai but also to understand that we’re gonna have to compete with them as well. And competition in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. So that’s number one. Number two he’s a graduate of m i t before going to Northeastern, he was at university of Southern California College of Letters, arts and Sciences.

[00:11:53] So he’s a humanist. But in his work he talked about the importance of creating a new scientific proof [00:12:00] framework he calls humanic. And that’s the blending of what students and scholars and humans are doing in line with what the academy and what the AI is. So AI 

[00:12:10] David: is something that’s been 

[00:12:11] GR: on my radar for more than 20 years.

[00:12:14] Going back to work by Alvin Toler. I believe in his wife on Future Shot, but in the last 10 years, more so, cause I’ve gone to great conferences, higher ed and K-12, but a lot of ’em higher ed, where they’ve talked about ai. So, 

[00:12:27] David: I don’t know what 

[00:12:28] GR: camp I’m in. I may have a foot in. Yeah. But what I do know is that we can make AI our friend, but trying to be agnostic will surely , make it our.

[00:12:39] Cara: Yeah, I mean, we have no choice. , I wanna be friends with AI 

[00:12:44] GR: because they’re among us. Exactly, 

[00:12:47] Cara: exactly. What are, what are 

[00:12:49] GR: you thinking about this week? So my story of the week comes from a paper in Atlanta, Georgia, and as you know, we talk a great deal about [00:13:00] K-12 and higher education. I read this article and it was a little different than what we discussed on our show in part.

[00:13:05] It’s going into the philosophy and purpose of education. And so in reading the article, the author identifies a couple of points that I wanna highlight and then put in context what that means from the aspect of workforce development. So the author said, quota seems to me that education has a twofold function to perform in the life of man and in society.

[00:13:28] One is utility and the other is culture. Education must enable a man to. More efficient to achieve with increasing facility, the legitimate goals of life. And where he’s saying, man, I’m also going to say woman, so man and woman or human beings. And when I think about utility and culture and life as the dad of three daughters, as a former educator of fifth grade students, as a current lecturer to graduate students, we’re talking about efficiency and the goals of life and what the author is saying.[00:14:00] 

[00:14:00] That there’s definitely a role for education as it’s preparing people for life. So it reminded me of a really good report I read. It was published by the Center on Education in the Workforce at Georgetown University. And the title of the report is the College Payoff, and there’s a subtitle, which the readers can go into.

[00:14:19] But what it shows is that if you have a high school diploma you. 1.6 million over your lifetime. On average. Those with associate’s degree, were looking at 2 million. Those who have a bachelor’s degree, we’re looking at 2.8. And then those who have a doctorate degree, we’re looking at the medium of about 3.2 million.

[00:14:38] But in the report it says that although the average high school graduate will earn 1.6 million over his or her lifetime, and we know that those with a bachelor’s degree, at least according to the report could earn 2.8. There are at least 25% of people who have a high school diploma who in fact make more.

[00:14:57] thin people with a bachelor’s degree. And [00:15:00] so what the report is really leading to, which is what the author is ultimately going to, is that when we think about the purpose of education, one thing is to go to college and some of them get a high school diploma and directly go into the workforce. That’s utility for them.

[00:15:15] That’s culture and life expectancy. We’ve talked on this show about the. Of stackable degrees and I’ve said, well, I’d be fine if my children decide to go to college. I’d also be fine if they decided not to. So for me, when I read about utility, about culture, about life, that’s just one example. And then the author goes further to get into the purpose of education.

[00:15:36] But really like hitting on some key points that are just so alive to our world today. The author said education must also train one for quick, resolute, and effective thinking, which is so true. Author also said to think incisively and to think of oneself is very difficult. Why? We are often prone to let our middle life become invalid by legions of half truths, prejudices and [00:16:00] propaganda at this point often wonder.

[00:16:02] Whether or not education is fulfilling its purpose. A great, so many of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths to save man from morra of propaganda.

[00:16:22] In my opinion, being the author’s opinion is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh. To discern true from the false, the real from Unreal and fact from fiction. Why? Because the author says, and I quote, the most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.

[00:16:45] And so when I think about education, these are some very good philosoph sometimes religious. Views on how to think about the purpose of education, and I decided to pick this article because it was written by an 18 year old Morehouse [00:17:00] student named Martin Luther King, Was at Morehouse in 1947 and he wrote this paper for the Maroon Tiger, which is the Morehouse newspaper.

[00:17:09] That was 76 years ago. And what he said about propaganda, about the press, about the media, the classroom, the pulpit, about the need to have education, help us sift through what’s fact, what’s false, what’s real news, what’s fake news. I mean, that was just tremendous and. Celebrate his life. I wanted to read this article written in the January, February edition, 1947 called The Purpose of Education.

[00:17:36] Kara, I can tell 

[00:17:37] David: you, 

[00:17:37] GR: when I was 18 years old, I was nowhere close to thinking about the purpose of education. Me neither. Or even if I did, I didn’t have the fluidity or the tenacity to even write something this good. What are your thoughts? 

[00:17:51] Cara: I, I mean, I’m just sticking with , the line. All of it sticks out, but the line.

[00:17:55] So much is that the man, or as you said, person who might be most dangerous is [00:18:00] one with intellect but no morals. And in that the purpose of education, that education must help us separate fact from fiction. And I have to say that, that, you know, in, in today’s culture that’s also about like, let’s all admit and agree that there is such a thing as fact , that there are facts that we can objectively.

[00:18:19] Agree upon, and that’s something that seems quite out of fashion and, gives me pause. So those words are really, really resonate Gerard and are very moving. . And, you know, I’m increasingly concerned, Gerard not only about our political rhetoric, but we’ve talked about Twitter already here about how many of us rely upon thinking, thinking that things like social media, Help us to understand facts.

[00:18:42] And I’m not talking about, the pandemic and disagreements over covid and stuff like that. I’m just talking about basic, like we need to live in an objective reality and with the younger generation too. Wow. I’m start, I’m gonna sound really old here. this bent toward relativism in a really, [00:19:00] really dangerous way.

[00:19:01] Like everything’s relative. Well, some things are not. Everything is relative, right? Can be a really dangerous downward slope. For humanity, period. And so, thank you for, highlighting this and I’m just so curious to know a little bit more about this article. 

[00:19:16] GR: Well, the great thing about the learning curve is we always post on the page we are gonna send on Wednesday a link to it.

[00:19:23] And you can find this link at a center at Stanford University which is at least was until recently. Um, The chair of it was. Dr. Cle, Warren Carson, who’s been a guest on our show because Coretta Scott King donated all of Martin Luther King’s papers to Stanford University who created the Martin Luther King Jr.

[00:19:41] Research and Education Institute. So you’ll find it there. We’ll have the link on our site. 

[00:19:45] Cara: Phenomenal and just so appropriate, Gerard, because as you know, coming up in just a moment here, we are going to be speaking with a foremost expert on Dr. Martin Luther King. We are going to be speaking [00:20:00] with Professor David Garrow and hopefully he’s on the line with us, Gerard, and we are gonna be right back to learn much more about this incredible person’s legacy right after.

[00:20:59] Learning [00:21:00] curve. Listeners we’re so pleased to welcome David Garrow. He was a professor of law and. Distinguished faculty scholar at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Previously, he taught at several noted colleges and universities, including Emory University, where he was presidential Distinguished.

[00:21:15] Professor Garrow is the author of Rising Star, the Making of Barack Obama, a F 1,460 page presidential biography, a New York Times bestseller, and one of the Washington. 10 best books of 2017. He authored Bearing The Cross Martin Luther King Jr. And the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1986, which won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in biography and the seventh annual Robert F.

[00:21:41] Kennedy Book Award. Garrow is also the author of. The FBI in Martin Luther King Jr. And protest at Selma. He served as senior advisor for Eyes On the Prize, the award-winning P B S television history of the American Black Freedom Struggle, and his editorial advisor for the Library of America’s two volume [00:22:00] reporting civil rights.

[00:22:01] More recently, he was featured in the 2020 Emmy award nominated documentary who killed Malcolm X and the 2021 Academy Awards Oscar shortlisted document. M L K F B I, which was based on his 1981 book and his 2002 update articles. His work has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Nation Newsweek, and Time Garrow.

[00:22:25] Graduated Magna Kun Laude from Wesleyan University and received his PhD from Duke University. What a bio professor David Garrow. Welcome to the Learning Curve. Oh, thank. Oh, we’re so pleased to have you and in such wonderful timing too. At the outset of the show, Gerard and I were discussing the establishment of a new monument here to Martin Luther King Jr.

[00:22:46] And Coretta Scott King here in the Boston Common. And, , we’ve been celebrating all weekend, the life and legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. You have written and spoken about how it’s important. To remember that first and foremost he was a [00:23:00] Baptist pastor. Can you share with us about his role as a young spiritual leader and preacher?

[00:23:06] Certainly in Montgomery, Alabama, wonderful city which, he rose during the mostly famous female led bus boycott in 55 and 56. Can you talk a little bit about his role? 

[00:23:17] David: Dr. King grew up in the black church. His family church in Atlanta, Ebenezer Baptist was the family business and had been the family business going back to his grandfather.

[00:23:29] And so he as a, you know, young man, teenager initially resisted the. Of becoming a minister. And then as, Laron Martin, who, who now is head of the King Papers project at Stanford as Laron Martin has, has emphasized and, and will really detail in a, in a forthcoming book it was some summer experiences in Connecticut.

[00:23:53] Where black college students would go and work on tobacco farms. This is in the mid [00:24:00] 1940s. That king sort of slipped into the role of being faith leader for this group of young black students , in rural Connecticut outside of, of Hartford. And so King knew by the time he graduated college at Morehouse in.

[00:24:17] In 1948 that he wanted to pursue the ministry yet he wanted to be a more educated preacher than his dad. And so he went first to seminary at Crozier in then in eastern Pennsylvania. And then went to Boston, University for a PhD in, in theology. So in 1950 when he’s there in Montgomery he has had not only the, life experience of growing up in the Southern Black Baptist Church but he’s also had a, a really first rate theological education.

[00:24:54] Cara: He’s short dead. Boston University also where I did my doctoral work. It’s always I know such a wonderful [00:25:00] connection here to here, to the city. So you’ve mentioned his desire to be a more educated pastor than his dad, you say, and, and certainly Dr. King in his life, which was too. Learned a lot of important lessons about organizing and, preaching.

[00:25:17] Now in the fifties, he co-founded the S C L C, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and he also played a secondary role in the Freedom Rides. Now the S C L C, its efforts weren’t always successful. We can point to places like Albany, Georgia. Could you discuss this period of his life as well as what he learned from.

[00:25:38] Experiences specifically with the Southern Christian leadership. , 

[00:25:43] David: the idea of S C L C as a south wide activist organization based in black church congregations grew directly out of the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 19 55, 19 56. The [00:26:00] initiative to start the Montgomery Bus Boycott came from the black women of Mo.

[00:26:07] They had been protesting the treatment of black riders on the public buses for several years before Mrs. Rosa Parks’s famous arrest. That is what led professor Joanne Robinson, the head of, of the women’s group in Black Montgomery to initiate the actual boycott. Dr. King got drafted as, Number one spokesperson for the boycott.

[00:26:33] Because as a black minister he was economically in a safer position than someone like Professor Robinson who taught at Alabama, what was then Alabama State College. A black school, but totally under the thumb of, white go. The Montgomery Boycott was a phenomenal success lasting more than 12 months.

[00:26:55] Totally unifying Black Montgomery it was Dr. [00:27:00] King’s New York City advisors who he had accumulated in the course of 1956 who really had the idea for scl. First and foremost, Byard Rustin who’s now much, well, better known than was the case 25 or 30 years ago. Pioneering openly gay black activist and, being openly gay was always an unspoken issue within the, the Southern Black Church of having a gay man in an influential role with.

[00:27:29] Ms. Ella Baker, a longtime activist who should be better known than she is. There’s an excellent biography of her by Barbara Ransby. And then also Stanley Levison white Jewish former Communist Party Insider who put the C P U S A behind him and realized the importance of, Dr. King and the southern movement.

[00:27:51] So they, in, combination with Dr. King and the. Alabama Pastors, King’s best friend, Ralph Abernathy. Fred [00:28:00] Shuttlesworth, a phenomenally courageous minister from Birmingham. It’s the combination of those New Yorkers and the Southern pastors that create S C L C. But as you mentioned, SCL C in its.

[00:28:14] Three or four years didn’t really get its act together. And it was the black college student protestors who kicked off the sit-in movement in the spring of 1960 that really revived the Southern movement. And then a year later when the Congress of Racial Equality organized the sit-ins to protest segregated.

[00:28:37] Situations on interstate bus facilities, which were supposed to be desegregated by that point. The sit-ins and the freedom rides are what really sort of kick off the black freedom struggle of the 1960s across the deep south. , 

[00:28:54] Cara: and of course it’s Birmingham, Alabama that we learn most about in school.

[00:28:58] Right. I have three young [00:29:00] children and I’m always curious to hear what they’re learning in school around Martin Luther, their King day. And sometimes I think the schools get it right and sometimes not so. Right. Correct. . so talk a little bit about, as somebody who’s thought so deeply about this, what do you think it is that students and teachers should know?

[00:29:17] MK in Birmingham about the Reverend Shuttlesworth and specifically the famous letter so often read in school’s letter from a Birmingham jail. 

[00:29:25] David: The most important thing to appreciate about Dr. King is that neither in Montgomery. Nor in the early sixties when he’s summoned down to Albany in southwest Georgia where a, a locally initiated protest movement had gotten underway.

[00:29:41] Dr. King had no desire. To be a leader to be a famous figure. He got drafted in Montgomery and rather reluctantly accepted that role that he’d been pushed into. And then when the students, when core, when the [00:30:00] local activists in Albany get things started he’s asked to come in and help.

[00:30:06] And he feels obligated to give of him. He has a very self-sacrificial understanding of himself. He would’ve been happier just to remain a pastor do some college teaching. But Birmingham in particular was what really elevated. The Southern civil rights struggle to the front pages of us newspapers day after day after day.

[00:30:33] And that was because of, of the courage and commitment of Fred Shuttlesworth and the other Birmingham activists. A majority of the Birmingham protest participants in May of 1963 were young. Sometimes high school or even junior high school students the extent to which young people made up the movement, not, not just college students with sit-ins is something that I think often [00:31:00] gets completely overlooked in an excessive focus on Dr.

[00:31:04] King. And other men wearing suits and ties. But Birmingham was what really forced. President John Kennedy and his brother, attorney General Robert Kennedy to embrace the Civil Rights Movement for the first time up until May of 1963, the Kennedy administration had been trying to keep the civil rights struggle on a back burner.

[00:31:29] And it was the commitment of the Southern movement that forced the Kennedy’s hand and led very directly to the introduction of, what a year. became the landmark of Civil Rights Act of 1964.

[00:31:43] GR: it was so great to hear you talk about King’s decision to become a pastor in part that he, because he wanted to be an educated pastor. And I think about role models like Benjamin E. Mays and Howard Thurman who was Boston University, who played a tremendous role. And so for educators and young people realize that [00:32:00] Dr.

[00:32:00] King did not just grow Of the earth it took educators to play a role. Well, when you think of Dr. King, often we celebrate him. We think of the 1963. I have a dream speech delivered in front of Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC in fact, where my mother-in-law and her dad were actually present.

[00:32:16] And we also think. To a different extent about his winning the Nobel Prize in 1964. Could you talk to our listeners about these events and maybe some unknown things that led to 

[00:32:28] David: him rising 

[00:32:29] GR: to those two 

[00:32:29] David: positions to make it happen? The I have a Dream speech as delivered on, on August 28 63 was.

[00:32:39] Majority part an advanced text, a written text that king had actually prepared, which was quite unusual for him. But the summation of that speech was completely extemporaneous. But it wasn’t only extemporaneous, it also directly echoed. Very, very similar remarks. He’d used twice in [00:33:00] the past at a rally in Detroit, Michigan two months earlier in June of 63.

[00:33:05] And then for the first time that we know of in Rocky Mount North Carolina back in November of, 1962 my colleague Jason Miller of North Carolina State discovered that tape recording only a few years ago. if anyone uh, does a web search for Jason Miller and Martin Luther King, it’ll take you to that 1962.

[00:33:28] And that this is a great example of how King as a speaker had this sort of mental library of stories, quotations biblical passages that he had in effect memorized going back even before Montgomery. And so he had this sort of spontaneous verbal library that he. absorb use move around.

[00:33:56] Jason and, and our additional m l k colleague Keith Miller [00:34:00] of Arizona State. The two Miller professors have done the best work of, explaining. King’s preaching sources and his use of of Poetics king is often, for example, using language from Langston Hughes. Not something that a historian like me who has no background in African American poetry would hear but it’s something that, Jason Miller and, Keith Miller can hear.

[00:34:25] And King’s most powerful orations. . Leaving aside, I have a dream to my mind were his sermons at Ebenezer Baptist, his home church after he moved back to Atlanta from Montgomery in early 1960. Because when King is preaching at Ebenezer as we touched on earlier the members of that congregation had known him since he was literally a.

[00:34:51] And so he has a, degree of relaxation, of, comfort in those Ebenezer sermons that you don’t quite see the equal [00:35:00] of either in his civil rights orations or if he’s speaking to some church audience in Chicago or Phil. Speaking about his 

[00:35:09] GR: memory and just the reservoir he could pull from a lot.

[00:35:14] History, philosophy, poetics we could find, and I’ve been to the mountaintop and it was delivered in Memphis, Tennessee where he was there to support striking sanitation workers. That was a part of a broader poor people’s campaign that scl, l c and MLK launched in 67, 68. I’ve listened to that speech many times at tears even to this day come down when you listen to it, just from what he had to say.

[00:35:37] Tell our listeners about the 

[00:35:39] David: meaning and the ethos of that. That mountaintop speech on April 3rd in Memphis is one of a number of very emotional and emotionally drained. Purposely saying, drained rather than draining. Speeches King gives particularly in the years after 1965 and it’s [00:36:00] important for everyone to realize that King going right back to 1956 in Montgomery was repeatedly confronted by the certainty, the reality of his own.

[00:36:16] Because there were so many threats and serious threats. As some people may remember. He was stabbed in the chest almost fatally in Harlem, New York in the late fifties by a lady who was mentally ill. And so King had come to a realization. He tells a film producer on, one occasion who’s thinking about doing a, a film about him.

[00:36:41] You know, how does the movie end? And King says to this fellow, it ends with me getting killed. And so that reality was always with him. And he would express it when he was most drained most exhausted, most depressed and. , [00:37:00] it’s a painful aspect of all the F B I surveillance directed at him from 1963 onward.

[00:37:07] That we can see through those telephone wire taps. What a, significant emotional toll Dr. King’s public. Took on his private life. And that’s especially true in 19 67, 19 68 when his very outspoken early criticism of the Vietnam War at a time when opposition to the Vietnam War was not respectable among liberal Democrats.

[00:37:38] Both with Vietnam and with announcing the poor People’s campaign for the spring of 68. King was quite knowingly purposely undertaking challenges that he knew would harm his own popularity. Yet he had such a strong belief in preaching the truth. Irrespective of whether [00:38:00] it was going to be popular or not.

[00:38:02] And that degree of, commitment, of, courage, of, self-sacrifice is the number one thing that, that people should understand about Dr. King’s life. 

[00:38:14] GR: Here’s the last question before we have you. Passage of your choice. King often talked about saving the soul of America and even used some of the founding documents to make the point.

[00:38:25] We’re at a point in our nation’s history where people are 

[00:38:28] David: just questioning, do we even 

[00:38:29] GR: have a soul? What are some ideas that we can take away? As we think about King and we think about the soul of America, using him as a template for the.

[00:38:39] David: King was deeply committed to giving of himself to others. Again, the FBI wiretap transcripts are, A very powerful, surprising source of how utterly selfless he was that he didn’t want more honors when Time [00:39:00] Magazine names him, you know, man of the Year, as they called it back then for 1963.

[00:39:06] He remarks the Stanley Levison. What’s one more award? One more plaque. And when he receives the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize he feels that such an, an excessive individual honor that it makes him commit himself to giving of himself even more so. And the Nobel Prize is a clear motivat.

[00:39:31] For his feeling that he cannot avoid confronting US foreign policy in, Southeast Asia in Vietnam and, and the other countries there. And so it’s that willingness to sacrifice himself that I think is really a timeless message , of personal courage. something we see in the world today on a daily basis in Ukraine.

[00:39:56] Cara: Thank you so much for that. Professor Garrow, we are wondering , just to close us [00:40:00] out here, if you wouldn’t mind reading one of a passage of your choosing from your book Bearing the 

[00:40:06] David: Cross. No, certainly this is the, final paragraph of B T C One page epilogue, page 6 25. And it begins by quoting Ms.

[00:40:15] Ella Baker, whom I mentioned earlier, one of the three real co-founders of S C L C. Ella Baker aptly articulates the most crucial point, the central fact of his life, which Martin King realized from December 5th, 1955 in Montgomery until April 4th in Memphis, quote, the movement made Martin rather than Martin, making the movement.

[00:40:40] Unquote, as Diane Nash, who is a, important leader of sncc. Diane is still with us well into her eighties. As Diane Nash says, quote, if people think that it was Martin Luther King’s movement, then today they young people are more likely to say, gosh, I [00:41:00] wish we had a Martin Luther King here today to lead us.

[00:41:04] If people knew how that movement. Then the question they would ask themselves is, what can I do?

[00:41:13] Cara: They’re really wonderful words to leave us with, and I hope that we have. Younger folks out there listening to this as well, everything from talking about his commitment to the truth, , to the idea that we all need to ask. What I can do is, I think, a really important takeaways for us learning curve.

[00:41:27] Listeners, this has been Professor David Garrow. Professor Garrow, thank you so much for spending this time with us today and for your work. We appreciate you. 

[00:41:36] David: Thank you.[00:42:00] 

[00:42:31] Sit down. 

[00:42:33] Cara: Sit down, heaven.[00:43:00] 

[00:43:14] Always close it out with our tweet of the week. This one from friend of the show, Andrew Rotherham and . I like this. It’s a edgy wonk is so much fun. So the tweet is 2022, was about quiet, quitting, and 2023 is about quiet use. Of the s a t and then this links to a wonderful list on EDU wonk a blog that I’m sure some of our listeners read.

[00:43:38] And if they don’t, you should absolutely check it out. And it’s one of these like, you know, I don’t know who would do this. People magazine. it’s like edu wonks, what’s in and what’s out list. So I’m going to give you just a couple one is very pertinent to my story of the week.

[00:43:54] What’s out? Students don’t write enough in school. What’s in AI? Writes too much in [00:44:00] school. What’s out? Wishful thinking on academic recovery After covid, what’s in. Wishful thinking on school enrollment after Covid, . Let’s see, what’s another one? Reading wars are out and the science of reading Wars are in.

[00:44:16] So those are just a few very tongue in cheek. Lot of truth in there too. I would highly recommend this blog to our listeners. And next week Gerard, we are gonna be speaking with somebody who I think you know very well. I’ve had the honor of meeting just a couple times. We’re gonna be speaking with Kevin Chais.

[00:44:31] He is the president of Stride, K to 12 Inc. And former member of the Council of the District of Columbia. I am well, I look forward to all of our conversations, but I’m certainly looking forward to that one as well. Until then, Gerard, I will write you. Essay and send it to you over the weekend for you to grade.

[00:44:49] And it definitely won’t have any artificial intelligence 

[00:44:53] David: involved. Got it. Yeah. And 

[00:44:55] GR: I will use my robotic proof , eyes to do what I can. [00:45:00] Just kidding. Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

[00:45:00] Cara: I’m gonna pull one over on you. You wait and see. All right. You take care, Jeremy. Safe. Take care. Bye.

[00:45:49] As you can watch. How she runs. Don’t let.[00:46:00] 

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