Thursday, July 31, 2008

Religion & The Civil Rights Movement

While tonight's discussion will commence with W.E.B. Du Bois and religion, we will eventually make our way to the Civil Rights Movement. Here's a brief snapshot of some of the people, events, and items we will cover.

Martin Luther King and Malcolm X
Malcolm X is a critically significant figure in the Civil Rights Movement, and it is interesting to consider how his points of view changed over time. You may want to listen to a Malcolm X address from December 1964--the same month Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his Nobel Prize speech--and read more about Spike Lee's 1992 movie Malcolm X. It is also interesting to remember that both King and Malcolm X had fathers who were Protestant ministers.

We will view several clips from Lee's movie in class. After a life of crime and an arrest, Malcolm spent time incarcerated. It was of course in prison that things began to change. Here's a clip where the (re)education began. And here's dramatized where Malcolm had a religious encounter, and "submitted" to Allah. In these scenes Malcolm famously went on a pilgrimage (hajj) that radically transformed his life. And here are the moving scenes of Malcolm's assassination, followed the an equally moving eulogy and appearance by Nelson Mandela.

As helpful as these scenes are-and the movie is based on Malcolm's autobiography-perhaps equally important are the thoughts of University of Houston scholar Gerald Horne. His 1993 essay "'Myth" and the Making of "Malcolm X"" (subscription required) explores the international dimension in Malcolm's work, life, and witness.

Although not addressed directly in the movie, and important question is the relationship between Malcolm X and MLK. An important book on the subject is theologian James Cone's Martin & Malcolm: A Dream or a Nightmare (1992). Read an interview with Cone in which he discusses the book.

Also important is Manning Marable's forthcoming biography of Malcolm X. Marable is involved in the Malcolm X Project at Columbia, and has talked about this work in several places. Check it out here and here.

Other primary materials include some of the FBI files on Malcolm X. Read Ossie Davis's eulogy for Malcolm X here and watch a video here.

While MLK is well-known for his "I Have a Dream Speech," it is also important to think about the "outing" of his radical politics toward the end of his life. Focusing on King's life post-1963, the "radical" phase Harvard Sitkoff captures in his recent book, it is interesting to analyze the following King speeches for content, rhetoric, and references to religion in general and Christianity in particular: Nobel Prize Speech (December 1964), Mountaintop Speech (April 1968), and the God is Marching On (March 1965) address.

In addition to excerpts from King speeches, it will be well worth your time to read his "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and the letter that prompted King's reply issued in 1963 by white Alabama clergy.

James Baldwin
James Baldwin is an important part of the CRM, and per the theme of this class, helpful as we try to better understand the central role of religion in the CRM.

The radio show Democracy Now recently devoted part of a show to Baldwin's legacy, interviewing his sister-in-law Carole Weinstein as well as actor Calvin Levels, who is performing a one-man-show of James Baldwin called "James Baldwin: Down From the Mountaintop." Read a review here.

Other Baldwin resources include a C-SPAN special here. Visit the blog of Professor Zero who has a page of Baldwin links. For those more familiar with Baldwin's work, there's tons to read here, or here. Or, read Baldwin quotes with links to other great sites.

Finally, artist Claire Burch has created some wonderfully stunning artwork with Baldwin as its subject, shares articles and letters, and offers poetic reflections with "Arrival of James Baldwin: Mysterious Circumstances." Finally, watch Baldwin footage on YouTube here.

Civil Rights Movement and Music
And for what it is worth, something to take note of: links to pages that deal with music and the CRM. Tunes 1, Tunes 2, and Voices 1, Tunes 3.

Counting the Cost with a Radical Faith: Non-white Participants in the Civil Rights Movement
Robert Graetz, a retired Lutheran minister who is white, participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and gave his time, effort, energy, struggle, and prayer to the CRM. His personal friends included Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.

His story is one of a number of white people who participated in the CRM. Rabbi Abraham Heschel was also a key figure in the movement, and many people reflect on his legacy.

Graetz has published two books on his experiences (click here too). Read a review of his latest book here. Follow this link to watch an interview with Rev. Graetz (fast forward to 4:40), and listen here to another interview.

April 4, 2008 marked the 40th anniversary of MLK's death. Read Graetz's reflections here.

In addition to studying the life and witness of Robert Graetz, we will spend some time examining the stories of nuns who marched in Selma in 1965, and delve into the stories associated with Southern Baptist minister Clarence Jordan and his multiracial community, Koinonia Farm.

That's all.

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