The Most Revolutionary Act

Diverse Ramblings of an American Refugee

Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall

Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall
New Plymouth, New Zealand
December 02
Retired psychiatrist, activist and author of 2 young adult novels - Battle for Tomorrow and A Rebel Comes of Age - and a free ebook 21st Century Revolution. My 2010 memoir The Most Revolutionary Act: Memoir of an American Refugee describes the circumstances that led me to leave the US in 2002. More information about my books (and me) at


APRIL 30, 2012 8:35PM

MLK’s Campaign Against “Un-Christian” and “Un-American” Blacks

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A Renegade History of the United States

by Thaddeus Russell

2010 Free Press

Book Review

(This book review is divided into three parts. Part III discusses Martin Luther King’s little publicized campaign to rid black people of “un-Christian” and “un-American” habits.)

Part III

For me, the most interesting section of A Renegade History of the United States is the chapter about Martin Luther King and his little known campaign to persuade so-called “bad niggers” to embrace the puritan work ethic and cult of responsibility and sexless self-sacrifice that has characterized the dominant American culture. In 1957 Reverend King launched three projects simultaneously: the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), to coordinate a nonviolent campaign to desegregate buses across the South, the Campaign for Citizenship to campaign for voting rights and a church-based campaign to rid African Americans of what King referred to as “un-Christian” and “un-American” habits. In 1957 he delivered a series of sermons condemning blacks who led “tragic lives of pleasure and riotous living” (see Problems of Personality Integration). In 1958 he wrote articles in Ebony and published his first book, Stride Towards Freedom, in which he claimed black poverty was as much due to laziness and a lack of discipline and morality, as to institutional racism. He also condemned rock and roll.

The Role of Violence vs Nonviolence in the Civil Rights Movement

Russell also weighs in on what has become a hot issue in the “diversity of tactics” debate in the Occupy movement. He lays out compelling evidence that 1) only a tiny minority of southern blacks participated in King’s nonviolent movement and 2) it was “bad niggers” and violence, rather than King’s nonviolent campaign, that won the first major civil rights victories in 1963. According to Russell’s careful review of Birmingham police records, the years between 1958 and 1963 saw a dramatic escalation of incidents in which black residents of both sexes punched, kicked, bit, stabbed and shot white residents who infringed on their freedoms, even in minor ways. He describes a number of these incidents in the book.

He also points out that the most famous image of the civil rights movement – of Bull Connor spraying protestors with a fire hose – culminated a week of rioting during the first week of May 1963. These weren’t nonviolent protestors being hosed but black rioters who, over a week, had injured nearly a dozen cops with rocks and bottles and who were arming themselves with knives and guns. The official history books quibble over the identity of the black people Bull Connor attacked with fire hoses, describing them as “bystanders,” “onlookers,” “spectators,” or “people along the fringes.” Yet police records make it really clear that Connor was dealing with a full blown race riot his officers were unable to quell.

Why the Chamber of Commerce Negotiated with King

According to Russell, this record of increasing black violence in Birmingham and other southern cities casts King’s famous “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” in a totally new light. In it he gives the Birmingham city fathers a clear choice: they can negotiate with him or face growing civil unrest.

“[I]f they [our white brothers] refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies, a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.”

Russell also quotes a fascinating Wall Street Journal interview with Sidney Smyer, the president of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce. Smyer brokered the deal with King and the SCLC. The Chamber of Commerce president talks of the desperation of the Montgomery business community to end the racial violence, owing to its extremely negative economic impact.

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I got the book, and the fact is this. Your review is so helpful to anyone who's starting to read it. Great review. R
A very interesting review...I had not heard of this book until now, but it looks right up my street.
Well, that's a huge disappointment. I understand the sentiment to a certain extent, but given that MLK was a womanizer himself, his derision of others who were as well is completely hypocritical, and that is something I never thought I'd say about him.

I already knew about the violence part of non-violent protest, but you just killed one of my heroes. Thanks a lot...

(and, remind me to skip out on any stuff about Brother Malcolm from this book. I can't take 2 in one week...)
I sure understand how you feel, Malcolm. However Russell stresses that Irish, Jewish and Italian leaders did the same. It was a period when "non-whites" were convinced that assimilation was the only route out of excruciating poverty.
It's not the message itself that disappointed me. It's the hypocrisy. Frankly, at the time, dumping off that segment of the population was probably a smart move so that a more polite, civilized (read - whiter) group could be presented to the public at large, thus further tugging at their heartstrings such that they would pressure their congressmen/women to end segregation and such.

I truthfully don't mind anyone, at the time, who decided to preach that message (Malcolm did the same thing, though this was also at a time when he was preaching segregation by choice, and especially economic segregation, a philosophy he lightened up on later in life). My issue is that I know for a fact that he cheated on his wife several times when he was delivering those messages, and did so many more times afterward.

That's the part that disappoints me. I could give a shit about it, otherwise.
The demonizing of prostitutes and other poor people that don't abide by the beliefs of the elites routinely overlooks the fact that it is often the elites that deprive them of the opportunities that they need in order to make more of themselves plus the fact that their beliefs are often prejudicial.

I have always been hesitant to criticize Martin Luther King Jr. because I agree with the vast majority of what he has done but there are somethings that have to be addressed eventually one of them, in my opinion is his reliance on religion that often doesn't make any sense instead of teaching people to think for themselves.

A bigger problem is a common one with reformers; many of those that have picked up his legacy have become part of the establishment and they have used his name for the wrong reasons. Even Glen Beck is attempting to do this but that is so bad it is easy to see through; when people like Al Sharpton do the same it could be more insidious. Sharpton is right on many issues but he often overlooks things when it suits his political purposes especially when it comes to supporting Obama who is a corporate stooge.
Very profound observations, Zachery, especially about MLK and religion and how he has been co-opted by the system.