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Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (King Legacy) Paperback – January 1, 2010
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Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of the greatest organic intellectuals in American history. His unique ability to connect the life of the mind to the struggle for freedom is legendary, and in this book-his last grand expression of his vision-he put forward his most prophetic challenge to powers that be and his most progressive program for the wretched of the earth.—Cornel West, professor of religion and African American studies, Princeton University, and author of Race Matters
About the Author
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968), Nobel Peace Prize laureate and architect of the nonviolent civil rights movement, was among the twentieth century’s most influential figures. One of the greatest orators in US history, King also authored several books, including Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, and Why We Can’t Wait. His speeches, sermons, and writings are inspirational and timeless. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.
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I was inspired to read it after visiting the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, GA. There, I learned that Dr. King was so much more than the flat, watered-down version presented in my high school history books. He was a real man with profound thoughts, agonizing feelings, and boundless hope. He was almost certainly a genius as well as a humanitarian, gifted speaker and eloquent writer. I learned so much from this book.
Dr. King almost effortlessly makes an airtight case for civil rights, knocking down excuse after persistent excuse about why we should not be involved and just let things "happen." He says (I'm paraphrasing) that no one's rights are GIVEN to them, they must DEMAND their rights. And if history tells us anything, that is 100% true -- not just for black people, but for women, LGBT people, disabled people and so on.
Something else I loved was his uncompromising position on nonviolent resistance. I grow increasingly concerned every time I hear people say that rioting is an acceptable form of protest, when it results in injury, death, and the destruction of people's livelihood. I long ago committed myself to nonviolence, but I have felt increasing pressure from my fellow activists to accept rioting as a legitimate form of protest. Reading Dr. King's work was a great assurance that there are nonviolent ways to achieve racial reconciliation. I lost track of how many times I highlighted in this book.
The only thing I have an issue with is how he proposes to deal with education. I taught in a mostly-black school so I absolutely understand his underlying point that black kids too often do not receive a quality education. However, he puts the blame on teachers, saying that they don't know how to teach and that a child's home environment shouldn't matter. I beg to differ that this is the case. I could cite studies to prove my point, but I would rather quote my actual students complaining of hunger, lack of sleep, feeling like they are not safe at home, etc. as reasons why they have trouble in school. If we are going to solve the problem of unequal education, we must also solve the problem of poverty. There is simply no other way around it. Children can't concentrate when they are hungry, homeless, or getting beat up at home. We have got to make the "war on poverty" a priority if we want to see lasting changes.
At any rate, I highly recommend this book, especially to my white friends!
Also, King explains his philosophy of nonviolence and successfully describes how it can be an effective strategy to change a racist society. In effect, nonviolence weakened the institutions established by segregation by exposing their moral contradictions.
Yet, another passion drove King: integration. This was the most surprising part of the book. From what I read he believed in integration to a fault, arguing that African Americans should completely assimilate into white society. Many African Americans have followed this path, which has decimated African American communities.
Near the end of the book King presents his solution for addressing poverty and education, which is truly idealistic. For example, he suggests the government should create a fund to help fight poverty and education. However, King underestimated America’s perpetual flaw: its infatuation with capitalism, a system where 99% of the wealth is concentrated in less than 1% of population of America. Morally, Dr. King is right, but we're talking about America, where poverty has been become a criminal offense—a felony.
For too many African Americans, the America that King describes in his book still exists today. As a result, the African American community in twenty-first century America vacillates between chaos and community, much like in Charles Dickens’s novel, A Tale of Two Cities: African Americans are living in both the best and the worst of times; we have an African American President and African American males are being slaughtered in the streets of America.