Sunday, 9 July 2017

Be Not Proud

"The summer of 1964 had been very difficult for my husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. The calls upon him were staggering and his life was filled with almost incredible pressures. He was away from our home in Atlanta much of the time, involved in the struggle for voter registration, in the movement to integrate public facilities, in a trip to Germany, in the presidential campaign, and in many other difficult and strenuous tasks. 

Because I was concerned about him, in October, soon after he returned from Germany, I encouraged my husband to go to St. Joseph's Hospital in Atlanta for a checkup, hoping that he would in that way be able to get a few days' rest. At about nine o'clock on the morning after Martin went to the hospital, the telephone rang; it rang most of the time in our house. Many of the calls were from people with whom Martin worked or who wanted to give support to the Movement or who wanted help from him. But many times the tele- phone brought threats, abuse, and a stream of obscenity. This time when I answered, the voice on the line said, "This is the Associated Press. I would like to speak to Dr. Martin Luther King." 

I explained that Dr. King was not at home, and the reporter said, "Is this Mrs. King?" When I replied that it was, he said, "We have just received word from Norway that your husband has been given the Nobel Peace Prize for 1964." 

It was too much to fully comprehend, but I tried to act calmly. He asked me whether he could get in touch with Dr. King for a statement, and I told him I'd contact my husband and have him call back. When the reporter asked for my reactions, I explained that it was hard for me to tell yet what I really felt. 

Of course, I had read in newspaper stories that Martin was being considered for the prize. After that we heard that he was high on the list of possible winners; but Martin and I both thought these reports were merely rumors, for we thought that the prize was given only to those occupied exclusively in international peace activities. Though Martin had often written and spoken of nonviolence as the salvation of a world in peril, we did not feel others saw the broad implications of his philosophy. 

"This year the prize is worth fifty-four thousand dollars," the reporter said. "What do you suppose Dr. King will do with all that money?" 

"Knowing him," I answered, "I'm sure he will give it all to the Freedom Movement." 

"How do you feel about that?" 

"I think that is where the money should go. I believe in it whole-heartedly." 

As soon as the reporter hung up, I called Martin at the hospital. When he answered in a sleepy voice, I said gaily, "How is the Nobel Peace Prize winner for 1964 feeling this morning?" 

"What's that?" Martin asked. 

"Martin, the Associated Press just called to tell us that the .m nouncement has been made, and you are the winner." After a long silence Martin said, "I'd better check to see if this is true." 

Martin told me later that he had fallen asleep after his early-morning breakfast at the hospital. When I called him with the news, he was stunned. He thought he was still dreaming. 

It took me quite a while to analyze my own reactions. Of course, the phone kept ringing, and my first thought was that Martin had checked into the hospital only the day before, and this meant that he would get absolutely no rest, because there would be all kinds of people trying to get to him. It seemed as if every time he got to the point where he wanted to get away from things, something would happen. 

On the other hand, I realized that this was exactly the sort of lift Martin desperately needed, and in that moment I was filled with joy. I sat quietly by the telephone and I prayed, "Thank you, Our Father. Thank you for what this means to Martin and to the children and to me. Thank you and help us to be worthy of this blessing." 

News of the announcement of the prize spread rapidly. Martin was visited by Archbishop Hallinan of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta. Bishop Hallinan offered his congratulations and then said to Martin, "May I give you my blessing?" Martin said, "Of course," and the Archbishop recited a traditional blessing and made a sign of the cross. Martin responded, then to his surprise, the Archbishop sank to his knees beside the bed and quietly said, "May I receive your blessing?" Later Martin told me how humbled he felt and how beautiful it was that a Roman Catholic Archbishop would receive the blessing of a Baptist preacher named Martin Luther. 

A little later I had a call from the staff at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference office to tell me that Martin had set up a press conference for eleven o'clock at the hospital and had asked that I come over and join him. 

Of course, I went immediately. At the hospital I found all the reporters and photographers, with flashbulbs winking, crowded into the hospital chapel. Martin had written out a statement, and he answered their questions easily and calmly, as he always did. He told them that he would give all the money he was awarded to The Cause, as I had known he would. The prize money was later divided among Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Congress of Racial Equality, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Council of Negro Women, and American Foundation on Nonviolence, set up to further education in nonviolence. 

Finallv the reporters went away, and Martin and I went up to our room where we were left alone to sort out our thoughts and our emotions. 

Of course, I was pleased, but at the same time I was pondering. Why? Why was Martin's contribution considered of international importance? What was the deeper meaning of all this— some meaning that we were not yet able to understand? For this was not just a prize for civil rights, but for contributing to world peace. Though we were very happy, both Martin and I realized the tremendous responsibility that this placed on him. This was, of course, the greatest recognition that had come to him, but we both knew that to accomplish what the prize really implied, we still had a long way to go. It was a great tribute, but an even more awesome burden. I felt pride and joy, and pain too, when I thought of the added responsibilities my husband must bear; and it was my burden too. I think he put it best for both of us when he later said, in his acceptance speech, "I feel as though this prize has been given to me for something that really has not yet been achieved. It is a commission to go out and work even harder for the things in which we believe." 

Our solemn thoughts did not mean we were not joyful. Getting ready for our trip to Norway was great fun. The first question was whom we could take with us. We wanted as many as possible to go, because Martin felt that the prize was not for him alone but also for those who had worked at his side during our long and dangerous struggle. But he said, "I will not use one penny of this money for anything but The Cause. It will not be used for transportation or anything else." 

Some of Martin's minister friends generously contributed funds through their churches so that his mother, Alberta Williams King, and his father, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr., could go on the trip. Martin's father had, by that time, been pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta for thirty-three years. He is a big man. physically and spirtually. He stands strong and broad in his pulpit, afraid of no man, white or black, telling it like it is, preaching The Word to his congregation and giving them his overflowing love. 

At that time, Martin was his co-pastor at Ebenezer, and the two of them were very close. Daddy King, as we all called him, was immensely proud of his son's winning the Nobel Peace Prize. At the same time, he was genuinely humble, for he too was awed by the new responsibilities that had fallen on Martin's shoulders. 

Next on our list were the Reverend Ralph D. Abernathy and his wife, Juanita. Ralph, who was pastor of the West Hunter Street Baptist Church in Atlanta, had been my husband's closest friend and strong supporter from the first days of the battle of the buses in Montgomery, Alabama, back in 1955. Martin's brother, A. D. (Alfred Daniel) King, came, as did Martin's sister, Christine Farris, and Mrs. Nina Miller, a close friend of the King family. Many others of our friends and associates also made the trip: Andrew Young, Wyatt Tee Walker, Bernard Lee, Dorothy Cotton, Lillie Hunter, Septima Clark, Harry and Lucy Wachtel, Bayard Rustin, Dora McDonald, who was Martin's secretary, and ten or so more. Most of them paid their own way. 

I wanted to take my two oldest children; Yolanda, whom we call Yoki, was almost 9, and Martin Luther King, III, Marty, was 7. They both had been through a lot with us— threats and attempted bombings and knowing that their father was in danger. And when their daddy had been in jail, or when he was called a liar, or a Communist, or an Uncle Tom, they had learned to hold their heads high and believe in him. I thought it would be good for them to see their father receive the world's highest humanitarian award, but the Nobel Committee advised us against bringing children younger than twelve years old. The children were very disappointed when I told them they could not go though they understood the reasons. 

Early in December our party of about thirty people left Atlanta for New York on two separate flights— for the protection of the children, except in unusual circumstances, Martin and I never flew together. In New York several special activities had been planned for us by Ralph Bunch and the President of the U.N. General Assembly. We met representatives from Norway and Sweden, from England, and from some of the African countries. We began to feel that our trip abroad had already started. 

My husband took off for London first, most of the men traveling with him. The women followed the next day, and how pleased we were to have Daddy King flying with us. We were all together again in London, where Martin had several speaking engagements. 

On Sunday he preached a sermon in St. Paul's Cathedral. Except for the Nobel ceremony itself, this was the high moment of the trip. The great seventeenth-century Anglican church was filled with people who had come to hear Martin. 

We were tremendously moved, not only by Martin's sermon but also by the Anglican ritual, which we had never seen— the priests in their vestments, the stately ceremony of the service, and the beautiful singing by the choir of men and bovs whose clear soprano voices were so pure. Martin found it a beautiful and inspiring experience. 

After Martin had ascended to the pulpit, he began to preach, his clear, rich voice filling the cathedral. His style of preaching grew out of the tradition of the southern Baptist ministers, with cadences and timing which he had heard from his father and other ministers as long as he could remember. But anyone who has ever heard him knows that what made Martin's sermons memorable was not the oratorical skill with which lie was so abundantly blessed, but the message which he brought and which came from his heart, straight to the heart of the listener. 

He preached one of his favorite sermons that day— "Three Dimensions of a Complete Life." It had a special meaning for me, because it was the theme of the first sermon I had ever heard him preach on a Sunday long ago in a little church at Roxbury, Massachusetts. And it was also the initial sermon he preached in the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, wliere he began his pastorate. 

But the sermon at St. Paul's Cathedral was not simply a repetition. As always, Martin took the theme and adapted it to his audience, adding new insights, changing it in accordance with the times and elaborating upon it extemporaneously. The text was From Revelation 21:16, "The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal." Martin described St. John's vision of "a new and holy Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God." This new heavenly city would not be an unbalanced entity with towering virtues on one side of it and degrading vices on the other. The most noble thing about the new city would be its completeness in all three of its dimensions, in its length and its breadth and its height. 

The troubles of the world, my husband said, were due to incompleteness. Greece gave us noble philosophy and poetic insights, but her glorious cities were built on a foundation of slavery. Western civilization was also great, bequeathing to us glories of art and culture as well as the Industrial Revolution that was the beginning of material abundance for man. But it was based on injustice and colonialism and allowed its material means to outdistance spiritual ends. 

America, he said, is a great nation, offering the world the Declaration of Independence and enormous technological advances, but it too is incomplete because of its materialism and because it has deprived twenty-two million Negro men and women of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. 

Just as the great cities, nations, and civilizations are incomplete, so have been many of our great leaders. The individual, Martin said, should strive for completeness within himself. The first dimension of a complete life is the development of a person's inner powers. He must work tirelessly to achieve excellence in his field of endeavor, no matter how humble. "Set yourself earnestly to discover what you are made to do and then give yourself passionately to the doing of it. This clear onward drive toward self-fulfillment is the length of a man's life." 

The second dimension of a complete life is concern for and identification with one's fellow man. "The recognition of the oneness of humanity and the need of active brotherly concern for the welfare of others is the breadth of man's life." 

There remained the third dimension, the height, man's upward reach. Some of us are out-and-out atheists, some are atheists in practice while giving lip service to God. Martin believed that a man must actively seek God. "Where will you find Him? In a test tube? No! 

Where else except in Jesus Christ, the Lord of our lives? . . . Christ is the Word made flesh. He is the language of eternity translated in the words of time. ... By committing ourselves absolutely to Christ and His way, we will participate in that marvelous act of faith that will bring us to the true knowledge of God." 

Summing up, Martin said, "Love yourself, if that means healthy self-interest. . . . That is the length of life. Love your neighbor as yourself; you are commanded to do that. That is the breadth of life. But never forget that there is an even greater commandment, 'Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the height of life. . . . 

". . . God grant that we will catch [John's] vision and move with unrelenting passion toward that city of complete life in which the length and the breadth and the height are equal. Only by reaching this city can we achieve our true essence. Only by attaining this completeness can we be true sons of God." 

As Martin was speaking, that great, sophisticated congregation sat silent and intent upon his words.

He said later that he could feel the current of their overwhelming response flowing toward him, and his own emotion rose with theirs. His father sat among them, completely carried away. Members of our party teased Daddy King afterward, saying that he was muttering under his breath a favorite phrase which he would have shouted out in our own Baptist church. He was saying, "Make it plain, son, make it plain." 

After the service Canon Collins of St. Paul's took us to his home for a brief reception. Then we had time to do a little sightseeing in London —the usual things: Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London. We drove down Whitehall, with its great government buildings— the Admiralty and the Foreign Office— which stood like monuments to the great empire that had been and was no longer; past the Houses of Parliament, with their long, splendid Gothic facade and Big Ben in its tower sounding the quarter-hours with the Westminster chimes. 

But the beauty and nobility of London were clouded for Martin by the thought, as he said, "that it was built by exploitation of Africans and Indians and other oppressed peoples." 

On December 8, we took off for Oslo. Because it was a short flight and we were supposed to be greeted officially this time, we all flew together in one plane.
So, for once, I had the pleasure of flying with my husband, sharing our high anticipation of all that awaited us in Oslo. Yet, as we flew north over the gray, stormy sea, f had a feeling of moving far away from the center of things toward an area of the earth remote to all of us. 

Though we landed fairly early in the afternoon, the sun was setting. In that month of the shortest days, there were only about four or five hours of sunlight in Oslo. This we had to get used to, and also to the intense crisp cold we felt as we stepped from the plane. 

But if the air was chilly, our greeting was warm. Of course, officials of the Nobel Committee were there, headed by Dr. Gunnar Jahn. We expected them, but not the crowds of people who came to welcome us, and especially the hundreds of young people. Martin made a brief statement to the press expressing his thanks to the Nobel Committee and to the assembled people for the warm welcome we received. Children presented us with bouquets of flowers. Then we walked slowly along a path cleared for us through the crowd. People were smiling and waving at us. We were able to shake hands with a few of them and waved back at the rest. What impressed both Martin and me was the genuine warmth of the people. It made us feel very much at home, and we felt a release, seldom known to us, from tension. 

The first evening we had no engagements. It was the birthday of Marian Logan, one of the members of our group, and we gave a surprise party for her at the hotel. It turned into a celebration of our trip, and of our hopes and expectations. Never before had so many of us been gathered together in a simple fellowship. Always there were meetings, decisions, emergencies, crises, pressures of various kinds. Martin and several of the others had been to jail many times. Some had been severely beaten. Churches and homes had been bombed. Now we were released from solemnity into joy and gaiety.
 After dinner, Martin, Andy Young, Ralph Abernathy, Wyatt Walker, and Bernard Lee formed a quintet and sang freedom songs in bcauti lul harmony. This was something they often did to break up the seriousness of staff conferences and retreats. Then we all sang freedom songs and hvmns together, and that night their words rang louder than ever before. We sang "Oh Freedom," "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around," "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?" and "Balm in Gilead," which my husband often quoted when he needed a lift: 

"Sometimes I feel discouraged And think my work's in vain But then the Holy Spirit Revives my soul again. 

There is a Balm in Gilead To make the wounded whole, There is a Balm in Gilead To heal the sinsick soul." 

This went on into the night. Other people staying at the hotel gathered around to watch and listen. I suppose they had never heard anything quite like it before. They were very warm and friendly, and again we felt the happiness of fellowship and the warmth of oneness. 

Later still, we moved out of the dining room into the lounge, and Daddy King began to talk about his emotions. "I want to say something to all of you now," he began, "and I want you to listen." He raised his finger to focus our attention in the way he does when he speaks From the pulpit in Ebenezer Church. "I want to try to tell you how I feel. I guess most of you know this, but I just have to say it now anyway." He stopped to draw a deep breath and let it out slowly as he does when he is gathering his thoughts. "I came from nowhere. My father was a sharecropper, and I didn't have the opportunity to get much formal training when I was growing up. It wasn't until I left the farm and went to Atlanta that I was able to get any real education. I was a man when I finished college, a grown man with my wife and three children. 

"I wanted my children to have all the things I had not had. I prayed For the Lord to let them do the things I could not do. This young man here became a minister, and I wanted him to have the best training available, so he was able to get his Ph.D." 

Then Daddy King talked about The Struggle over the years and how difficult it had been for him and Mamma King to live with the knowledge that what Martin was doing was so dangerous. He talked of the threats they had been subjected to, the two of them. He said, "You don't know how it feels when some stranger calls you on the phone and tells you that he wants to kill you, or kill your son." 

By now we were all crying, and Daddy King, standing there so big and kind, not bitter at all, said, 

"I have to talk about this, because even though I feel so proud tonight about what is happening here in Oslo, I also must be humble. 

I don't want to get puffed up with pride; I am not that kind of person. 

So I have to continue to pray so that the Lord will keep me humble. 

The Devil is busy out there, and we have to pray that God will keep my son safe." 

We were crying because we had all come such a long way and because Martin was at last receiving the recognition which he had been denied. 

The next afternoon Martin and I were to be received by King Olav V of Norway. We found him to be informal and cordial. He had studied in America and seemed quite eager to talk with Martin. He discussed the race situation in general terms and showed, by his comments and questions, that he was very well informed about conditions in the United States and had warm sympathy for American Negroes. He was a man of goodwill. 

The next day, December 10, 1964, Martin received the Nobel Prize. We had quite a time getting him ready. He had to wear formal dress, striped trousers and a gray tailcoat. While several of us were working on the ascot, Martin kept fussing and making funny comments about having to wear such a ridiculous thing. Finally he said, "I vow never to wear one of these things again." 

He never did. 

But I must confess that when he was finally dressed, he looked very handsome— so young and eager and excited, almost like a boy going to his first dress-up party. 

The ceremony was held in Aula Hall of Oslo University, a long and narrow auditorium, decorated with hundreds and hundreds of small white flowers. The stage was low and very deep, with an orches- tra filling the back of it and the rostrum in front. The hall held about 700 people, and it was crowded to capacity. We sat in the front row with the Nobel Committee. I kept thinking of the several thousand people gathered outside who, because Martin had been escorted through a back entrance, did not even catch a glimpse of him. 

Then King Olav came in, with Crown Prince Harald and an aide. Everyone stood up, and the orchestra played the Norwegian national anthem. The King's party sat in special chairs close behind us, and the ceremony began. 

First the orchestra played a selection. Then Dr. Jahn read the beautiful citation, which said in part: "Dr. King has succeeded in keeping his followers to the principle of nonviolence . . . without Dr. King's confirmed effectiveness of this principle, demonstrations and marches could easily have been violent and ended with the spilling of blood." 

When the speech was over, Dr. Jahn presented Martin with the prize, a gold medal, and the scroll. Then Martin stepped up to the rostrum to make his acceptance speech. After paying the preliminary courtesies, Martin said: 

"I am mindful that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs, and even death. I am mindful that only yesterday in Philadelphia, Mississippi, young people seeking to secure the right to vote were brutalized and murdered. 

"Therefore I must ask why this prize is awarded to a Movement which is beleaguered and committed to unrelenting struggle; to a Movement which has not won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize. After contemplation I conclude that this award, which I receive on behalf of the Movement, is a profound recognition nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and racial questions of our time— the need for man to overcome oppression without resorting to violence. 

"I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in mankind. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life which surrounds him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daylight of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality." 

As I sat listening to Martin, I tried to remind myself of Daddy King's words about humility. Yet I could not help myself. I was proud of Martin and of what he stood for. I was proud that his work, and that of his associates, had made better the lives of so many of our countrymen. I was proud that black people all over the world had felt renewed courage and hope because of this man, my husband. 

"Forgive me, Lord," I prayed silently. "Forgive me if I am filled with pride. But that's how I feel. I am so proud of Martin and what he has tried to do that I am worse than puffed up. I feel as if I might burst. Lord have mercy." 

The thunder of applause as Martin finished startled me from a reverie. 

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