King – Transformation from Conservative, Moderate, to Liberal

Is King a conservative, moderate or liberal?

Martin Luther King’s life evolved from 1956 to 1968 from a conservative to a moderate, then finally to a liberal. However, the philosophy he continually preached was of “nonviolent resistance.” (12) Even though the basic message remained the same, the manner in which he delivered it certainly changed.
King spent a great deal of time in his early public years (1956 – 1960) teaching the young people how to resist through nonviolence means. Often times his messages were proclaimed at church or other Christian organizations such as the YMCA (Young men’s Christian Association) or YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association) and generally directed to college age African Americans. When addressing these crowds King often referred to the bible as the foundational truth in which the nonviolence must emulate from. In the first five chapters of the book A Testament of Hope, the Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., King stresses heavily the Agape love found only through God. The deep seeded roots as a minister are evident in many of the speeches that King delivered. Not only does he refer to the bible, but also references the Declaration of Independence, Supreme Court rulings, and ancient Greek philosophers.
Once philosopher that King drew insight from was Greek philosopher Heraclitus who “argued that justice emerges from the strife of opposites, and Hegel, in modern philosophy, preached a doctrine of growth through struggle.” (135) King used these ideas to emphasize that America was evolving from the old ways of segregation and turmoil to a distinct fight for civil rights among the masses. Kings continued to draw strength from the conservative foundation of freedom, and used that wisdom to propel his ideas of nonviolence resistance as a means to achieve freedom for all.
Around 1960 King realized he needed to move into the middle ground of modernism in order to have the Civil Rights movement propelled further. King’s presentations began to bring in global perspectives. He started to realize there was much to be learned from other nations regarding how people are treated. He even took a trip to India in 1959 that began to help shape his thinking process. King began to outright address the governments handling the injustices of society against the African American population and specifically target laws and Supreme Court cases as seen in chapter 26. King bold laid out a plan for the president where “the president is the embodiment of the democratic personality of the nation, both domestically and internationally. His own personal conduct influences and educates.” (154) King clearly moved past the Christian community and reached out to the political influences that were available to him and challenged the president to make some changes in regards to Civil Rights. He went so far as to address Executive orders that previous Presidents issued in attempts to force the president to adhere to what ground work has previously been laid. (155) These ideas began to reach out to a broader audience that was including a great number of whites.
Perhaps the most remembered speech King gave that included several whites in the audience was the I Have a Dream speech. This presentation at the Lincoln Monument in 1963 concluded with Kings hope that “one day when all of God’s children – black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Catholics and Protestants – will be able to join hands and to sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, free at last; thank God Almighty, we are free at last.” (220) Even though King was not the organizer at this event, his popularity as a Civil Rights leader allowed his message to reach an even greater population of America and the world. King realized that it was necessary for all walks of life to buy into the ideals of the Civil Rights Movement or it was not going to succeed.
Around 1964 King made the switch from moderate to liberal. King moved out of the realm of just looking at the wrongs occurring against the black community, to standing in direct opposition to the war in Vietnam and the policies of the American government. This caused many of his previous supporters to position themselves away from him and several others began to call him anti-American. King explained his position against the war as “I was so increasingly compelled to see the war not only as a moral outrage but also as an enemy of the poor, and to attack it as such.” (635) King directly related the funds shifting from helping the underserved in America to fighting a war on foreign soil as a direct link to continued racism and exploitation of the poor.
The letter from Birmingham City Jail (chapter 46) allows King to have a chance to openly discuss his non violent resistance ideas with the public, but also bring to life the plight the black community faces on a daily basis. King attacks unjust laws by agreeing with Saint Augustine “An unjust law is no law at all” (293) In this particular letter King addresses the fact that he has transformed to being an extremist and relishes in the idea that he is in good company. Kings list of extremists include Jesus, Martin Luther, John Bunyan, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson and expounds on the accomplishments for the good of the people they achieved. (297-298) King clearly changed his idea that he must be reserve when presenting the issues to outright calling the issues evil and proclaiming himself to be an extremist for the cause.
While King started out as a conservative, his life experiences transformed his position to that of a moderate, and eventually on to a liberal. During these transformations, his message stayed the same; the only way to win the battle against Civil Rights was through non-violent strategies.


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