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PROVIDENCE AND THE PROPHET: The Meaning of Martin Luther King

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Only four individuals in American history have ever been honored with federal holidays bearing their names: Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. Though separated by 500 years of history and dramatically divergent backgrounds, these four shared a common characteristic: an unshakable sense that their lives had been shaped by a higher power, to serve grand purposes. They each believed deeply in divine providence and meant to play a potent role in the new civilization rising in the New World.

As he often noted, King had been born to the ministry—his grandfather (his mother’s father, A.D. Williams) had been one of the most influential leaders of the black Baptist church and his father, known as “Daddy King,” married that preacher’s daughter and took over his Atlanta pulpit. Shortly thereafter, “Daddy King” traveled to Germany and felt so inspired by visiting sites associated with the Protestant Reformation that he changed his own name, and that of his five-year-old son (and namesake), from “Michael King” to “Martin Luther King.” That change provided the younger King with a resonant designation that carried historic weight, even before he began his pulpit career in Montgomery, Alabama, at the age of 26.

The decision to defy his father’s wishes and to leave the family base in Atlanta produced huge consequences—placing Dr. King in the right place at precisely the right time to seize his place in history. Less than six months after his arrival in Alabama, a local seamstress named Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger, resulting in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. As the “new kid in town,” young Reverend King accepted the burden of becoming mouthpiece for that boycott—which made him a national and international celebrity almost overnight. Had King taken any of the other five jobs offered to him, it’s hard to imagine how he would have become the most consequential leader in African-American history.

At the beginning of his rise, he became even more certain of his preordained destiny after experiencing his “Kitchen Table Vision”—a midnight epiphany when an exhausted, disheartened King felt God responding directly to his prayers with an unmistakable command.

This revelation—an uncomfortable episode for many secular historians—recalled MLK’s experience cheating death repeatedly as a child, surviving three serious accidents that might have easily killed him. During the bus boycott, he endured scores of threats and two serious bombing attacks on his home (and infant daughter). At age 28, a delusional African-American woman stabbed him in the chest at a book-signing, leaving him literally “one sneeze away” from his demise.

My new history program, PROVIDENCE AND THE PROPHET, features moving excerpts from Dr. King’s greatest addresses as well as highlights from lesser-known public utterances—like the explosive “Give Us the Ballot” speech during his first March on Washington in 1957, six years before “I Have a Dream.” That unforgettable and triumphant vision involved King shoving aside his wordy prepared text and soaring, without notes or preparation, to its thrilling conclusion. The program also recalls the way King became deeply controversial in the last year of his life—alienating LBJ’s administration with his opposition to the Vietnam War, and alienating “Black Power” radicals with his consistent devotion to non-violence. At the same time, King faced a nightmare of harassment by the FBI, based on J. Edgar Hoover’s conviction that the Nobel Prize winner worked with communists to undermine America. Hoover’s hostility generated a decade of wire-tapping surveillance, and even a diabolical attempt to force his suicide.

The CD and MP3 versions of this program highlight the excitement, exaltation and searing tragedy in King’s incomparably consequential 39 years—along with King’s 10 years of eerie premonitions of his own premature death. PROVIDENCE AND THE PROPHET is certain to become one of the most important and impactful programs ever released by the Medved History Store, providing an appropriate commemoration of a Christian leader lost to his country some fifty years ago.

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  1. Nani Tavares  •  Apr 7, 2018 at 2:45 pm

    The dream of King will not be realized until we make every effort to remove racism. This means NOT judging a person by the color of their skin which is precisely what calls of "White privilege" and accusations of bigotry before a person even opens their mouth simply because the person is white.

    I once explained the difference of racism in this manner:

    100 Asian kids apply to an ivy school, 98 are rejected. The 98 look within and wonder what they could have done to better their chances to win a spot.

    100 White kids also apply and 98 are rejected. Some blame the class system of their parents not being wealthy or influential enough. Some might blame political correctness: gender, minority, and financial quotas.

    Almost all of the 98 of Black kids not accepted first impulse would be to blame race; that they were rejected for the color of their skin.

    Until that last mentality is changed, America will always be racist.

    King, to his credit, understood this and in many sermons, warned that Blacks cannot blame everything on Whites. Unfortunately, until that race card no longer produces guilt and has zero value, King's "dream" will remain exactly that.

    A dream.

    • Jim Bird  •  Apr 8, 2018 at 10:30 am

      Beautifully stated Nani.

      • Nani Tavares  •  Apr 8, 2018 at 5:14 pm

        Jim, I've listened to some of King's sermons but for the life of me, I don't know why he is so idolized. Obviously he had a way with words but Blacks don't appear to have listened to him.

      • Ty  •  Apr 9, 2018 at 3:26 am

        Human beings with ideologies have a wonderful ability to pick and choose what they want to remember about a person, and what to ignore.

        To the group that wants to continue to blame external society for the current state of outcomes for black people, this king quote:

        "Do you know that Negroes are 10% of the population of St. Louis and are responsible for 58% of its crimes? We've got to face that. And we've got to do something about our moral standards. We know that there are many things wrong in the white world, but there are many things wrong in the black world, too. We can't keep on blaming the white man. There are things we must do for ourselves."

        Is not going to be a favorite of theirs. In the same way, there are many left leaning policy statements King makes that conservatives have either never heard or don't WANT to hear so they can keep pretending he was aligned with them from stem to stern.

    • Ty  •  Apr 9, 2018 at 3:21 am

      The mythology of MLK to modern conservatives is funny. If you knew a fraction of what he believed outside of civil rights, you modern day republicans would HATE the man more than you despise the average liberal pushing for weaker liberal policies.

      MLK was for universal healthcare, he was for a variation on a guaranteed minimum income. He was against the Vietnam War. He was MORE to the left than the average modern democrat (though we are moving to the left in modern times). His attitude was not just let the chips fall where they may like the conservative model, try harder, because nearly 100% of outcomes in your broken incomplete fantastical models of outcomes = what YOU put into something. His model was that some people need more help than others do, and that if someone was making an effort, there ought to be a higher floor of outcomes. Not to make us all equal, but to give every human being some basic floor because they are not trash and refuse just because some do not produce as much as others.

      But the conservative model? Let the market decide, let nearly 100% of ones worth as a man or woman be based on what they produce, or who they can lean on in their own community for charity. And if some people happen to have less well off communities to lean on, sucks to be them. And that eternal sentiment of the conservative soul, never stated, but almost always implied. Not my problem. I'll take care of me and mine, you take care of you and yours. Not a nation, a collection of tribes and factions.

      That is NOT the model MLK wanted. But to lash out at all those beliefs about a revered figure? Not a good look, and so they engage in the worst kinds of lies about the man. The lies of omission.

      • Averien  •  Apr 10, 2018 at 5:00 am

        Neil Degrasse Tyson is a good-to-great scientist in his particular field of expertise. He's an above-average to good scientist in fields tangentially related to his field of expertise. He routinely makes a fool of himself when he steps outside those bounds. Ben Carson is an amazing neuro-surgeon. He's a baffoonish politician. Dr. King had expertise on race relations, and on the numerous, legitimate difficulties, discriminations, and dangers blacks in his time faced. His views on that subject, and his hope for their solution, carry the weight of expertise. The fact that he was proven right, consistently, on the subject and methodology of solution cement his legacy. But he wasn't an economist. He wasn't a medical administrator. While it's good to remember that he had views outside his area of influence, it's beyond silly to treat those views with the same weight and importance as either his religion, or his civil rights leadership. It's a great silliness that we have grown accustomed to as a culture– defining a person based on one aspect of their character or history (good or bad), and then thrusting that weight on all else they do. King's importance to the Civil Rights movement cannot be overstated; his importance on economic theory is readily disposable, as are his perspectives on most things. As are yours, and mine, and the vast majority of people– because in those avenues and arenas, he was just another dude.

      • Ty needs counseling  •  Apr 10, 2018 at 11:12 pm

        Hey Tyrell, don't put him too high on a pedestal. He was a Christian, and I know how you hate Christians. Maybe you can excuse him for being a Christian because he has some far-left views?

    • Ty needs counseling  •  Apr 10, 2018 at 11:09 pm

      You don't know many asians. Many are hateful about race issues; you just have to be around them a lot for it to come out.

      • Nani Tavares  •  Apr 11, 2018 at 5:57 am

        Ty needs: Asians do not fall back on racism. Neither do Whites. And yes, there is racism among both. But it is the Blacks that won’t give up the race card, As Jim so easily got and I pointed out. The dream of King was not of a perfect utopia of financial and class equality but a country where a person would be judged on their character and not the color of their skin. This is impossible as long as that race card has value to the Liberals and the Blacks for it is a card that BEGINS with race.

        I honestly believe that every time a person says the words “White Privileged”, a part of that person cringes for they know they are being racist…against Whites.

  2. Jim Bird  •  Apr 10, 2018 at 1:58 pm

    Ty and Av,
    Nani’s point is why do some people never give up racism? Answer: Democrats will lose their #1 campaign issue, that being, Republicans are racist. Democrats cannot win the White House without 85% of the African American vote. Whatever the 2 of you are talking about is nonsensical.

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