The autobiography of martin luther

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courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith

that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflicter of it,

since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitter-

ness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame

in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and

change of heart.

In spite of the fact that I found many things to be desired in

Niebuhr's philosophy, there were several points at which he con-

structively influenced my thinking. Niebuhr's great contribution to

theology is that he has refuted the false optimism characteristic of a

great segment of Protestant liberalism. Moreover, Niebuhr has ex-

traordinary insight into human nature, especially the behavior of

nations and social groups. He is keenly avare of the complexity of

human motives and of the relation between morality and power. His

theology is a persistent reminder of the reality of sin on every level

of man's existence. These elements in Niebuhr's thinking helped me

to recognize the illusions of a superficial optimism concerning

human nature and the dangers of a false idealism. While I still be-

lieved in man's potential for good, Niebuhr made me realize his

potential for evil as well. Moreover, Niebuhr helped me to recognize

the complexity of man's social involvement and the glaring reality

of collective evil.

Many pacifists, I felt, failed to see this. All too many had an

unwarranted optimism concerning man and leaned unconsciously

toward self-righteousness. After reading Niebuhr, I tried to arrive at

a realistic pacifism. In other words, I came to see the pacifist position

not as sinless but as the lesser evil in the circumstances. I do not

claim to be free from the moral dilemmas that the Christian non-

pacifist confronts, but I am convinced that the church cannot be

silent while mankind faces the threat of nuclear annihilation. I felt

that the pacifist would have a greater appeal if he did not claim

to be free from the moral dilemmas that the Christian non-pacifist


I anticipated graduating from Crozer in May 1951. For a number of

years I had been desirous of teaching in a college or a school of

religion. Realizing the necessity for scholastic attainment in the

teaching profession, I felt that graduate work would give me a better

grasp of my field. I had a general knowledge of my field, but I had

not done adequate research to meet the scholarly issues which I

would confront in this area. I felt that a few years of intensified study

in a graduate school would give me a thorough grasp of knowledge

in my field.

My particular interest in Boston University could be summed up

in two statements. First, my thinking in philosophical areas had been

greatly influenced by some of the faculty members there, particularly



It is religion that gives meaning to life. It is religion that gives mean-

ing to the Universe. It is religion that is the greatest incentive for the

good hfe. It is religion which gives us the assurance that all that is high

noble and valuable will be conserved. Such fruits of religion I find to be

its greatest virtues, and certainly they cannot be ignored by any sane

man. I must now conclude that any atheistic view is both philosophically

unsound and practically disadvantageous. How I long now for that reli-

gious experience which Dr. Brightman so cogently speaks of throughout

his book. It seems to be an experience, the lack of which life becomes

dull and meaningless. As I reflect on the matter, however, I do remem-

ber moments that I have been awe awakened; there have been times

that I have been carried out of myself by something greater than myself

and to that something I gave myself. Has this great something been

God? Maybe after all I have been religious for a number of years, and

am now only becoming aware of it.

From a course paper submitted at Crozer Seminary, March 28, 1951

Dr. Edgar S. Brightman. For this reason, I longed for the possibility

of studying under him. Secondly, one of my professors at Crozer

was a graduate of Boston University, and his great influence over me

turned my eyes toward his former school. I had gotten some valu-

able information about Boston University from him, and I was con-

vinced that there were definite advantages there for me.


I can remember very vividly how in my recent seminary days, I was

able to strengthen my spiritual life through communing with nature. The

seminary campus is a beautiful sight, particularly so in the spring. And

it was at this time of year that I made it a practice to go out to the edge

of the campus every afternoon for at least an hour to commune with na-

ture. On the side of the campus ran a little tributary from the Delaware

river. Every day I would sit on the edge of the campus by the side of the

river and watch the beauties of nature. My friend, in this experience, I

saw God, I saw him in birds of the air, the leaves of the tree, the move-

ment of the rippling waves. . . . Sometimes I go out at night and look up

at the stars as they bedeck the heavens hke shining silver pins sticking

in a magnificent blue pin cushion. There is God. Sometimes I watch the

sun as it gets up in the morning and paints its technicolor across the

eastern horizon. There is God. Sometimes 1 watch the moon as it walks

across the sky as a queen walks across her masterly mansion. There is

God. Henry Ward Beecher was right; "Nature is God's tongue."

Reminiscence about Crozer years, ca. 1953



As a young man with most of my life ahead of me, I decided early to

give my life to something eternal and absolute. Not to these little

gods that are here today and gone tomorrow. But to God who is the

same yesterday, today, and forever.

SEPTEMBER 13, 1951

King enters Boston University's School of Theology

FEBRUARY 25. 1953

Academic advisor Edgar S. Brightman dies; L. Harold DeWolf

becomes nev/ advisor

JUNE 5, 1955

Receives doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University

The next stage of my intellectual pilgrimage to nonviolence came

during my doctoral studies at Boston University. Here I had the

opportunity to talk to many exponents of nonviolence, both stu-

dents and visitors at the campus.

Boston University School of Theology, under the influence of

Dean Walter Muelder and Professor Allan Knight Chalmers, had a

deep sympathy for the pacifist position. Both Dean Muelder and

Dr. Chalmers had a passion for social justice. One never got the

impression that this passion stemmed from a superficial optimism

concerning human nature, but from a deep faith in the possibilities

of human beings when they allowed themselves to become co-

workers with God. My association with men like that also caused me

to deepen my concern, and of course many of the studies I contin-

ued to make concerning the philosophy and theory of nonviolence

naturally influenced my thinking.

Theologically I found myself still holding to the liberal position. I

had come to see more than ever before that there were certain endur-

ing qualities in liberalism which all of the vociferous noises of funda-

mentalism and neo-orthodoxy could never destroy. However, while at

Boston, I became much more sympathetic towards the neo-orthodox

position than I had been in previous years. I do not mean that I accept

neo-orthodoxy as a set of doctrines, but I did see in it a necessary

corrective for a liberalism that had become all too shallow and that

too easily capitulated to modern culture. Neo-orthodoxy certainly had

the merit of calling us back to the depths of Christian faith.

I also came to see that Reinhold Niebuhr had overemphasized

the corruption of human nature. His pessimism concerning human

nature was not balanced by an optimism concerning divine nature.

He was so involved in diagnosing man's sickness of sin that he over-

looked the cure of grace.

I studied philosophy and theology at Boston University under Edgar

S. Brightman and L. Harold DeWolf I did most of my work under

Dr. DeWolf, who is a very dear friend of mine, and, of course, I was

greatly influenced by him and by Dr. Brightman, whom I had the

privilege to study with before he passed on. It was mainly under

these teachers that I studied Personalistic philosophy—the theory

that the clue to the meaning of ultimate reality is found in personal-

ity. This personal idealism remains today my basic philosophical po-

sition. Personalism's insistence that only personality—finite and

infinite—is ultimately real strengthened me in two convictions: it


I remember very well trying to find a place to live. I went into place

after place where there were signs that rooms were for rent. They were

iox rent until they found out I was a Negro, and suddenly they had just

been rented.

Quoted in the Boston Globe, April 23, 1965

gave me metaphysical and philosophical grounding for the idea of a

personal God, and it gave me a metaphysical basis for the dignity

and worth of all human personality.

Just before Dr. Brightman's death, I began studying the philosophy

of Hegel v«th him. This course proved to be both rewarding and stim-

ulating. Although the course was mainly a study of Hegel's monumen-

tal work. Phenomenology of Mind, I spent my spare time reading his

Philosophy of History and Philosphy of Right. There were points in Heg-

el's philosophy that I strongly disagreed with. For instance, his absolute

idealism was rationally unsound to me because it tended to swallow up

the many in the one. But there were other aspects of his thinking that

I found stimulating. His contention that "truth is the whole" led me to

a philosophical method of rational coherence. His analysis of the dia-

lectical process, in spite of its shortcomings, helped me to see that

growth comes through struggle.

My work at Boston University progressed very well. Both Dr.

DeWolf and Dr. Brightman were quite impressed. I completed my

residence work and began the process of writing my dissertation. My

dissertation title was "A Comparison of the Conception of God in

the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman." The con-

cept of God was chosen because of the central place which it occu-

pies in any religion and because of the ever-present need to interpret

and clarify the God concept. Tillich and Wieman were chosen be-

cause they represent different types of theology and because each of

them had an increasing influence upon theological and philosophi-

cal thought.

In 1954 I ended my formal training with divergent intellectual

forces converging into a positive social philosophy. One of the main

tenets of this philosophy was the conviction that nonviolent resis-

tance was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed

people in their quest for social justice. Interestingly enough, at this

time I had merely an intellectual understanding and appreciation of

the position, with no firm determination to organize it in a socially

effective situation.

"Rediscovering Lost Values"

The thing that we need in the world today, is a group of men and

women who will stand up for right and he opposed to wrong, wherever

it is. A group of people who have come to see that some things are

wrong, whether they're never caught up with. Some things are right,

whether nobody sees you doing them or not.

All I'm trying to say is, our world hinges on moral foundations.

God has made it so! God has made the universe to be based on a moral

law.. . .

This universe hinges on moral foundations. There is something in

this universe that justifies Carlyle in saying,

"No lie can live forever."

There is something in this universe that justifies William Cullen

Bryant in saying,

"Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again."

There is something in this universe that justifies James Russell Low-

ell in saying,

"Truth forever on the scaffold.

Wrong forever on the throne.

With that scajfold sways the future.

Behind the dim unknown stands God,

Within the shadow keeping watch above his own."

There is something in this universe that justifies the biblical writer

in saying,

"You shall reap what you sow."

As a young man with most of my life ahead of me, I decided early

to give my life to something eternal and absolute. Not to these little

gods that are here today and gone tomorrow. But to God who is the

same yesterday, today, and forever.

I'm not going to put my ultimate faith in the little gods that can he

destroyed in an atomic age, but the God who has been our help in ages

past, and our hope for years to come, and our shelter in the time of

storm, and our eternal home. That's the God that I'm putting my ulti-

mate faith in. . . . The God that I'm talking about this morning is the

God of the universe and the God that will last through the ages. If we

are to go forward this morning, we've got to go hack and find that God.

That is the God that demands and commands our ultimate allegiance.

If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover these pre-

cious values—that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all

reality has spiritual control.



/ am indebted to my wife Coretta, without whose love, sacrifices, and

loyalty neither life nor work would bring fulfillment. She has given

me words of consolation when I needed them and a well-ordered

home where Christian love is a reality.

APRIL 27, 1927

Coretta Scott born in Heiberger, Alabama


Coretta and Martin meet in Boston

JUNE 18, 1953

King Sr. performs marriage in Marion, Alabama

It was in Boston that I met and fell in love with the attractive

singer Coretta Scott, whose gentle manner and air of repose did

not disguise her lively spirit. I had met quite a few girls in Boston,

but none that I was particularly fond of.

I was about to get cynical. So I asked Mary Powell, a friend from

Atlanta who was also a student at the New England Conservatory of

Music, "Do you know any nice, attractive young ladies?"

Mary Powell introduced us and I was fortunate enough to get

Coretta's telephone number. We met over the telephone: "This is

M. L. King, Jr. A mutual friend of ours told me about you and gave

me your telephone number. She said some very wonderful things

about you, and I'd like very much to meet you and talk to you."

We talked awhile. "You know every Napoleon has his Waterloo.

I'm like Napoleon. I'm at my Waterloo, and I'm on my knees. I'd

like to meet you and talk some more. Perhaps we could have lunch

tomorrow or something like that."

She agreed to see me. "I'll come over and pick you up. I have a

green Chevy that usually takes ten minutes to make the trip from

B.U., but tomorrow I'll do it in seven."

She talked about things other than music. I never will forget, the

first discussion we had was about the question of racial and eco-

nomic injustice and the question of peace. She had been actively

engaged in movements dealing with these problems.

After an hour, my mind was made up. I said, "So you can do

something else besides sing? You've got a good mind also. You have

everything I ever wanted in a woman. We ought to get married


I didn't want a wife I couldn't communicate with. I had to have

a wife who would be as dedicated as I was. I wish I could say that I

led her down this path, but I must say we went down it together

because she was as actively involved and concerned when we met as

she is now.

I told my mother, "Coretta is going to be my wife." On June 18,

1953, we were married. Although we had returned to Marion to be

married by my father on the Scotts' spacious lawn, it was in Boston

that we began our married life together.


Coretta Scott is a native of the South. She is from Marion, Alabama,

and she went to college in Ohio, Antioch College. Having inherited

a talent for music from her mother, Bernice Scott, as well as the

strength of quiet determination, she had then gone on with the aid

of a scholarship to work her way through the New England Conser-

vatory in Boston. She wanted to be a concert singer. She was a

mezzo-soprano and I'm sure she would have gone on into this area

if a Baptist preacher hadn't interrupted her life.

Coretta's father, Obie Scott, a short, stocky man of dark com-

plexion, is a strong and courageous man. People are strongly at-

tracted to him because of his warm personality. He loves people and

is always ready to help someone in need. Although reared on a farm,

Obie Scott was always concerned about going into business for him-

self. He finally succeeded and operated a trucking business, a combi-

nation filling station and grocery store, and a chicken farm. Despite

the reprisals and physical threats of his white competitors, he at-

tempted to get ahead in these various businesses and dared to make

a decent living for his family. He has never been an Uncle Tom, but

he had to suffer certain insults and even humiliation in order to

survive in his community. The amazing thing is that he came

through all of this with his courage undaunted, without becoming

Darling, I miss you so much. In fact, much too much for my own

good. I never realized that you were such an intimate part of my life. My

life without you is like a year without a spring time which comes to give

illumination and heat to the atmosphere saturated by the dark cold

breeze of winter. . . . O excuse me, my darling. I didn't mean to go off

on such a poetical and romantic flight. But how else can we express the

deep emotions of life other than in poetry? Isn't love too ineffable to be

grasped by the cold calculating hands of intellect?

By the way (to turn to something more intellectual) I have just com-

pleted Bellamy's Looking Backward. It was both stimulating and fascinat-

ing. There can be no doubt about it. Bellamy had the insight of a social

prophet as well as the fact finding mind of the social scientist. I wel-

comed the book because much of its content is in line with my basic

ideas. I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my

economic theory than capitalistic. And yet I am not so opposed to capi-

talism that I have failed to see its relative merits. It started out with a

noble and high motive, viz., to block the trade monopolies of nobles, but

like most human systems it fell victim to the very thing it was revolting

against. So today capitalism has out-lived its usefulness. It has brought

about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to

the classes. So 1 think Bellamy is right in seeing the gradual decline of


I think you noticed that Bellamy emphasized that the change would

b evolutionary rather than revolutionary. This, it seems to me, is the

most sane and ethical way for social change to take place.

Eternally Yours,


Atlanta, July 18, 1952

bitter. Coretta often made comparison between me and her father.

Even in the early days of our courtship, she used to say, "You remind

me so much of my father." I don't suppose any compliment could

be more inflating to the male ago.

Coretta's mother, Bernice Scott, is quite different from her father

in many respects. In contrast to his overflowing personality she is

rather shy. She is an attractive woman, fair in complexion, possess-

ing narrow features and long black straight hair. In knowing her,

one soon detects that she is a person of courage, determination, and

amazing internal strength. She is deeply devoted to her family, al-

ways willing to sacrifice her needs to those of her children. More

than anyone else, she taught Coretta her moral and ethical values,

not by what she said alone, but also by her example.

"Staying with the struggle to the end"

My devoted wife has been a constant source of consolation to me

through all the difficulties. In the midst of the most tragic experi-

ences, she never became panicky or overemotional. I have come to

see the real meaning of that rather trite statement: a wife can either

make or break a husband. My wife was always stronger than I was

through the struggle. While she had certain natural fears and anxie-

ties concerning my welfare, she never allowed them to hamper my

active participation in the movement. Corrie proved to be that type

of wife with qualities to make a husband when he could have been

so easily broken. In the darkest moments, she always brought the

light of hope. I am convinced that if I had not had a wife with the

fortitude, strength, and calmness of Corrie, I could not have with-

stood the ordeals and tensions surrounding the movement.

She saw the greatness of the movement and had a unique will-

ingness to sacrifice herself for its continuation. If I have done any-

thing in this struggle, it is because I have had behind me and at my

side a devoted, understanding, dedicated, patient companion in the

person of my wife. I can remember times when I sent her away for

safety. I would look up a few days later, and she was back home,

because she wanted to be there.

July 23, 1954



How goes everything? I received your special and naturally I was over-

joyed to hear from you. I was happy to know that the Women's Day went over

in a big way. Your analysis of Gardner's sermon was very good. I see you are

a very keen observer.

I am doing quite well, and studying hard as usual. I have plenty of privacy

here and nobody to bother me.

All of your friends that I have seen are doing fine. Everybody asks about


We had our Philosophy Club Monday night and it was well attended.

Brother Satterwhite did the paper.

How are all of the folks?

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