POSC 351

Fall 2001

The Political Thought of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tues Thurs 10:10- 11:55

Professor: Barbara Allen

Sayles-Hill 253

Office: Willis 408
Phone: Ext. 4084

Office Hours

The Course

This interdisciplinary seminar will examine the speeches, sermons, and writings of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We will study King's ideas as part of the larger discourse of non-violence and social justice that is foundational to King's political action. King's articulation of these ideas can be understood in several contexts: as partaking of tradition of African-American political thought (constitutionalism), as embedded in African-American Christian tradition, as a contribution to American civil religion, as an example of self-governing, vigilant citizenship expressed by The Federalist, and as part of an American tradition of optimism and eclectic liberal philosophy and action. We will look at King's ideas in the context of the civil rights movement using historical assessments of the movement and its goals and through the lens of contemporary models of collective action, especially the dilemmas of coordinated, voluntary political participation. Our goal will be to draw out the complexities of these ideas to see how they challenge the practice of democracy in the US and liberal political theory today.



The following books have been ordered for the course:

M L King. 1986. A Testament of Hope. James M. Washington, ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986. 006 250931 4.

ML King. Strength to Love, (some of this text is in Testament). 0 8006 1441 0

M L King. 1958. Stride Toward Freedom. New York: Harper & Row. (optional text; it's edited in Testament) 0 06 250490 8

M L King. 1964. Why We Can't Wait. New York: Harper & Row. (optional text for your library; also edited in Testament)

Taylor Branch. 1988. Parting the Waters. New York: Simon & Schuster. 0 671 45097 8

Taylor Branch. 1998. Pillar of Fire. New York: Simon & Schuster. 0 684 80819 6

David Garrow. 1986. Bearing the Cross. New York: Vintage. 0 394 75623 1

On Reserve:

Barbara Allen, "Martin Luther King's Civil Disobedience and the American Covenant Tradition."

Vicki Crawford, et al, eds. Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers & Torchbearers.

ML King, "Shattered Dreams."

Geraldine Heng and Janadas Devan, "State Fatherhood," Nationalisms & Sexualities.

Joyce Hope Scott, "From Foreground to Margin," Nationalisms & Sexualities.

James H. Cone, "Nothing but Men," Martin and Malcolm In America.

In addition to these texts we will use The Chicago Defender and the Pittsburgh Courier, two important newspapers which we have purchased on microfilm for this course. We will also view the award winning PBS series Eyes on the Prize and hear audio tapes of King's speeches and sermons.

Course Requirements

This research seminar focuses on the political thought that we extract from King's writings. These ideas were understood by the American "public" in several contexts of public opinion. Not only do we see differences in the response of several opinion groups within African-American communities, we also find regional, class, gender, and partisan differences in (white) American response to King's ideas. These differences reflect the many ways Americans understand race, gender, sexuality, class, protest, citizenship, and government. King's writings and life give us a unique case study for looking at many questions combining American politics and American political philosophy, bringing under scrutiny a host of modern concepts, including "the nation," "the citizen," "rights," and so forth. Your research papers will reflect this link between theory and practice. To aid your research, you will be asked to lead one class discussion and write a discussion paper on the day's readings. In this paper you will choose one theme from the reading to explore as your thesis for an analytical five page paper. It would also be appropriate to bring your own research to bear on this analysis of King's ideas.

Grades will be computed as follows:

Seminar Paper


Discussion paper & presentation


Research Presentation




Topics for Discussion and Reading Assignments:

Part 1 Political Theory and Practical Politics

Tues Sept 11 Language and Perception: The Meaning of "Race"

Read Parting the Waters Ch 1-4

Thurs Sept 13 Political Thought and Action

Writings of ML King, approaches to the text

Read MLK "Nonviolence and Racial Justice," "The Most Durable Power," "The Power of Non-Violence," "An Experiment in Love," "Our Struggle," "Walk for Freedom" "My Trip to The Land of Gandhi"

Tues Sept 18 Religion in American liberal democracy

Read MLK "Letter from the Birmingham Jail"

Allen, "MLK's Civil Disobedience and …Covenant"

Bearing the Cross Ch 5

Part 2 King's Political Thought

Thurs Sept 20 King on Justice, Equality, and Liberty

Read MLK "A Testament of Hope," "Equality Now: The President Has the Power," "The Case Against Tokenism," "If the Negro Wins, Labor Wins," "The Ethical Demands for Integration"
Montgomery Context
Parting the Waters Ch 5-9

Tues Sept 25 King on the Individual and the African American in History

Read MLK "Facing the Challenge of a New Age," "The Rising Tide of Racial Consciousness," "Give Us The Ballot," "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution," "Black Power Defined"

Thurs Sept 27 King on History and Social Progress

Read MLK "Bold Design for a New South," "Behind the Selma March," "The Current Crisis in Race Relations," "Who Speaks for the South," "Next Stop: The North"

Obstacles to Success

Parting the Waters Ch 9-15

Tues Oct 2 King on Individual and Community:

Civil Disobedience in Democratic Theory and The Civil Rights Movement

Discussion of Research Design

******** Bring ideas (one paragraph) for topic (a thesis statement) to class *********

Read MLK "The Social Organization of Nonviolence" "Pilgrimage to Nonviolence," "Love, Law, and Civil Disobedience," "Nonviolence: The Only Road to Freedom," "Showdown for Nonviolence," "Hammer on Civil Rights," "Where do We Go From Here?"
"Transcript of 'Meet the Press'"

"Transcript of 'Face to Face'"

Remaining Nonviolent

Parting the Waters Ch 16-20

Thurs Oct 4 Library "Tour" of Research Materials

***************** Meet in Library ******************

Tues Oct 9 Civil Religion and Religion in the Civil Rights Movement

Read MLK "I Have a Dream," "Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech," "Our God is Marching On!" "A Time to Break Silence," "A Christmas Sermon on Peace," "The Drum Major Instinct"

***************Topic Proposal For Project Due in Class******

Thurs Oct 11 Love as Power: Agape in King's Thought

Suffering and self purification

Redemptive love and Direct Action

Read MLK "Suffering and Faith," "A Gift of Love,"

Playboy Interview," "I see the Promised Land"

From Strength to Love, "Tough Mind and Tender Heart," "Love in Action," "Love Your Enemies," "Three Dimensions of a Complete Life," and "What is Man?"

Tues Oct 16 The Beloved Community as Political Community

Read MLK from Strength to Love, "On Being a Good Neighbor," "The Man Who Was a Fool," "Shattered Dreams," (reserve) "The Answer to a Perplexing Question," "Paul's Letter to American Christians"

Part 3 King's Thought in Action

Thurs Oct 18 Developing the Idea of Direct Action in Practice

Watch Eyes on the Prize: Awakenings (1954-56)

Read MLK Stride Toward Freedom esp. Ch 6 and 8

Mary Fair Burks "Trailblazers" (reserve Women in the CRM)

Bearing the Cross Ch 1

Review Parting the Waters Ch 5

Tues Oct 23 Developing an Organizational Structure

Charles Payne "Men Led, but Women Organized," Vicki Crawford "Beyond the Human Self," Carol Mueller "Ella Baker" (reserve Women in the CRM)

Read Bearing the Cross Ch 1-2; review 5

Watch Eyes on the Prize: Fighting Back (1957-62)

Review Parting the Waters Ch 18

Thurs Oct 25 Role of Federal Government (esp. executive); Uses of Media

Watch Eyes on the Prize: Ain't Scared Of Your Jails

Grace J. McFadden "Septima Clark," Mamie Locke "Is this America?" (reserve Women in the CRM)

Bearing the Cross 3, 4, 5

Review Parting the Waters Ch 19

Pillar of Fire, Part 1

Tues Oct 30 Public Opinion, Ethics of Direct Action

Watch Eyes on the Prize: No Easy Walk (1962-65)

Read Bearing the Cross Ch 6-8

Pillar of Fire, Part 3

****************Draft of Research Paper Due in Class********

Thurs Nov 1 Dissent in the Movement, Organizational Tensions

Gender, Class & The Civil Rights Movement

Watch Eyes on the Prize: Mississippi: Is This America?

Read MLK Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

James H. Cone "Nothing but Men" from Martin and Malcolm In America (reserve)

Joyce Hope Scott "From Foreground to Margin" and Geraldine Heng and Janadas Devan, "State Fatherhood" both in Nationalisms & Sexualities (reserve)

Bearing the Cross Ch 9

Pillar of Fire, Part 4

Tues Nov 6 Movement Analyses of Economic Justice and Civil Rights

Watch Eyes on the Prize: Bridge to Freedom

Read MLK Trumpet of Conscience

Bearing the Cross Ch 10, 11, epilogue

Thurs Nov 8 Class presentations

Tues Nov 13 Class presentations

**********************Turn in Final Version of Paper**************