Ledi Sayadaw was born on December 24, 1846, and given the birth name of Tet Kaun. His parents were both rice farms in a society in which one was either in agriculture or living a monastic life. Ledi’s parents decided to give one of their five children to the monastery, so Ledi entered at ten years old. Luckily he excelled and graduated at 15 with the name Nyanadaza, Banner of Wisdom. He left monastic life briefly to help his parents on the farm but returned at 20 for full ordination. After full ordination, he went to the capital city of Mandalay.
Burma was a very turbulent place when Ledi was coming of age. The British had already captured Lower Burma, and everyone knew the British wanted to expand to upper Burma. The royal family controlled upper Burma from Mandalay. One of the King’s functions was to keep order within Buddhist monastics, also known as the Sangha. If a monk broke his vows, the King would have the final say on his ex-communication. The Sangha would keep their vows and perform good deeds to build good karma for the rest of the community. Therefore, if the British dethroned the King, Buddhism could die.
While at the monastery in Mandalay, Ledi excelled and became a first teacher at 27. He was also forward-thinking and wanted to build a Buddhism that could take Burma into a new century. He teamed up with fellow scholar Hpo Hlaing, who had an extensive library of Western Science books and Burmese literature. They also worked together to learn and document British administration. The goal was to find the connections that are universal in all knowledge. They also wanted to have the tools to build an independent Burmese administration that ran efficiently.
Then in a twelve-day war starting on October 22, 1885, Upper Burma was conquered, and the King sent into exile. The same year Ledi created one of his first works of philosophy, “The Letter on Cows,” which forbade lay people from eating beef. This book was one of many on morality. The others were against a host of topics such as gambling and drinking.
Sociokarma was the underlying theme in all of Ledi’s works. It is the idea that individual actions and efforts can help or hurt the group. Keeping with the idea that individual effort improves the group, he also began his efforts toward meditation and teaching others by going into the forest in 1887. The meditation method he would use was Vipassana, which uses bodily sensation as the meditation anchor.
The Buddha also taught students within a particular order. The first aspect was morality. Ledi covered this aspect in his books on morality. Then was concentration covered by Ledi with Vipassana meditation. The last pin was wisdom. The book Ledi would cover this was 1897’s Manual of Ultimates. He decided to allow laypeople to learn complex philosophical concepts generally reserved for the clergy. He also began a form of sermonizing referred to as “fan down’ sermons. This new style of public speaking focused on laypeople and was relevant to their lives.
A more educated lay population was vital because colonial administration immersed Burmese society. Most Burmese children went to schools run by Christian missionaries. These missionaries would often berate Buddhism and other local customs as “heathen.” Those children and their parents needed to have rebuttals ready. Ledi’s resistance allowed the Burmese to keep their cultural heritage.
Buddhism, in Ledi’s view, had superior reasoning to Christianity. In the West, science and religion are often at odds. In Buddhism, science, defined as knowledge obtained from observable data, was part of Buddhism. Ledi saw Buddhism as transcending and including science. Buddhism goes on to include a multi-level cosmos in which humans and spirits inhabit. So Ledi could continue the tradition of chanting and other more mystic practices. The supernatural didn’t conflict with science or the reverse.
In addition to Buddhism encompassing science, it comprises politics. The struggle for Burma’s political freedom fused with the propagation of Buddhism. The coming of the British could end Buddhism by consuming all Burmese culture. Ledi wanted to make sure that it did not happen.
Ultimately Buddhism encompasses all areas of mundane life. Once one begins a regiment of meditation and philosophical study, they see the world with new eyes. This unique “insight” makes all pursuits a liberatory experience. One can see the suffering and the relief and move towards healing.
In 1913, Ledi began the Buddhist Foreign Missionary Society to bring Buddhism to Westerners. Those in the Society believed once Buddhism was introduced to the West a world movement would begin to unite people all over the world.
Ledi Sayadaw dies in 1923 at the age of 77 years old. However, his legacy lives on. He taught a layman named Saya Thetgyi. Thetgyi taught U Ba Khin, who taught S.N. Goenka. Goenka starts the Vipassana tradition that is popular in Asia and North America today. From the Goenka tradition, Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg became meditation teachers. These mediation teachers, along with Jack Kornfield, started Insight Meditation Center in 1975. So the most popular meditation traditions in the West began with the anti-colonial struggle.
For more information read the book The Birth of Insight by Erik Braun. Click the link HERE
In the world, everything that marks an end, also marks a beginning. The end of one day is the commencement of another. The end of one task is the beginning of a new one. The tree blossoms, bears fruit, sheds its foliage, and immediately begins preparation for another crop.
Today means different things for each of us. To some it is the commencement of higher education to others it is a career in the world of work.
Select a goal and work earnestly toward it. Know what you want and shape your course of study toward that end. We as graduating students, must not only achieve our goals but bring our honors and awards back to our community, not limiting our help, but to help others help themselves, bridging the gap between one another.
Our parents, teachers, and others have attempted to equip us well. They have tried to instill in us the principle of hard work, honesty, and ambition that would lead to better standards. These are qualities that are essential for us to achieve our respective goals.
We have enjoyed that blessing, which Tennessee has bestowed upon us – free education. To us has been given freely that which great men of the past have obtained only with many sacrifices and much labor.
The future holds a promise. I wonder just what that promise may be. Your future of the next generation is in our hands. It matters little where we were born, or if our parents were rich or poor, but whether we live an honest life and hold our integrity firm in our clutch, I tell you my brother, it matters much.
The late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of the greatest men that lived in our time. He had a dream that we should further our educational capacities in order to build a better community and to have a brighter tomorrow. If not here, where, if not now, when if not you who. Remember the future of the world is limited by ourselves.
The second half of Essay on Untouchables 3: Politics is the source for this article.
Under the Providence of Mr. Gandhi
In Ambedkar’s view, Mohandas Gandhi was a complete failure at the second Round Table Conference, a meeting in London to define the future relationship between England and colonial India. The treatise by Ambedkar references one of a series of Conferences in which the terms of Indian self-rule, Swaraj, would be defined and a constitution formed.
In Gandhi’s Conference speeches, he stressed religious humility as a sage more than initiating a coherent plan for self-rule. He was not able to get any concessions from the British Government. Not only was he ineffective in dealing with the Brits, but he also insulted many of the Indian delegates. He accused Indian liberal delegates of not having a following. The Muslim and Depressed class delegates fought accusations of not properly representing their demographics. In the end, Gandhi drove a large wedge between all parties involved.
Despite his failure, he returned home to a hero’s welcome. Government and party officials organized a large parade. Mr. Gandhi never expressed any words of thanks because he had taken a temporary vow of silence. Ambedkar questioned if the people’s support was due to blind devotion or misinformation by the press. Gandhi did not fool everyone. A group of Dalits protested Gandhi’s return waving black flags. A riot broke out, and forty people died.
The fact Gandhi preaches against untouchability yet doesn’t aid Dalits in their efforts to achieve equality angered Dalits in attendance. Many Gandhi supporters opposed efforts in Mahad to obtain the rights to use the Chawdar Water Tank. His actions are perplexing since he spoke at length about Indian unity to fight colonialism. Ending untouchability and building a bridge between Hindus and Muslims is the paramount precursor to self-rule. Ambedkar goes further by dissecting Gandhi’s actions before and after the Poona Pact.
Before the Poona Pact, the strategy adopted by most Indians to end British tyranny consisted of three aspects. The first was non-violence. Not only was violence morally wrong, but the Indians also could not beat the strongest military in the world. The second was non-cooperation with the Government. The last was a tax boycott. This plan was codified in February of 1922 in the Indian city of Bardoli.
The Bardoli program not only determined interactions with the colonizers. There were also plans for Indian self-improvement. Programs to encourage domestic yarn spinning instead of buying imports, organizing national schools, and an alcohol temperance campaign were paramount in the freedom struggle. However, the most contentious issue was the method of improving the lives of depressed classes.
Swami Shraddhanand and two others headed the Committee on Untouchables. Mr. Shradddhanad resigned from the committee because it was ineffective at getting results for depressed classes. The committee was an amelioration program not committed to ending separate facilities or marriage prohibition, but to convince people to give up caste. One of their contradictory policies was to fund separate wells not to offend locals while preaching against segregation.
Dalit led civil disobedience campaigns were the only way to end untouchability. When Dalits led their own struggle, Mohandas Gandhi was their biggest opponent. His logic for opposition was extremely puzzling. He claimed Dalits should not fight for their rights because the upper-caste committed the sin, so upper-caste need to end untouchability. The logic was extremely perplexing from a man waging a civil disobedience campaign against the British. Shouldn’t the British do the work to grant India freedom by Gandhi’s logic? Gandhi did not only obstruct Dalit advancement, but he also discouraged non-Hindus, including Sikhs, from helping Dalits. Ambedkar refers to Sikhs as militant and protestant Hindus. He did not see them as fundamentally different from Hindus.
Gandhi’s most detrimental act against Dalits happened at the Second Round Table Conference. An agreement took place in the first Round Table Conference based on a recommendation of the Simon Commission to create a separate electorate for Dalits. Similar agreements to disproportionate representation were extended to Muslims and Sikhs. Gandhi’s protest to the Dalit electorate was not only uncouth; it threatened the ratification of the constitution and the entire independence struggle.
Gandhi then began to collude with Muslims against Dalits. He offered the Muslims weightage in the new Parliament. Weightage having more votes than their percent of the population. In exchange, the Muslims would oppose Dalit claims to a separate electorate.
Gandhi and His Fast
The issue that deadlocked the Second Indian Round Table Conference of 1931 was Communal Electorates. Ambedkar and his faction wanted a separate electorate with reserved seats for Depressed Classes. Depressed Classes are defined as not only untouchables but scheduled caste, scheduled tribes, and other backward castes. Gandhi and his contention wanted only a general electorate. After the Round Table Conference ended, the British Government proposed a compromise.
The compromise, called the Communal Award, reserved 78 seats for Depressed Classes in a general electorate. Most Indians that suffered from untouchability were not happy with the agreement. Those of marginalized groups that did not suffer from untouchability felt it was acceptable. Even though Ambedkar was not entirely satisfied, he could also accept the compromise.
Gandhi felt that Dalits having their own electorate would weaken Hinduism. He felt untouchability and other forms of oppression were moral and religious in origin. A redistribution of political power would not improve the condition of Depressed Classes and destroy Hinduism. Gandhi decides to write a letter to the British Government while in jail informing them he would fast to the death to prevent Depressed Classed from having their own electorate. His fast began on September 20, 1932.
Gandhi’s opposition for a separate electorate for Dalits was inconsistent with his support for disproportionate representation for Sikhs and Muslims. He reasoned the Sikhs, and Muslims were more organized and politically aware. Dalits were less so due to current and historical oppression. The oppression was rooted in Hindus seeing Dalits as different. Therefore, labeling Dalits in a separate electorate would perpetuate the stigma and make things worse.
Ambedkar rebutted this argument by explaining labeling in and of itself is neither good or bad. It is the motivation behind the labeling that makes it good or bad. When Dalits are labeled to be excluded and disadvantaged in society, it is, of course, detrimental. However, to repair the accrued disadvantage, Dalits separate to build their community. The separation will not only help Dalits but the entirety of India. A separate electorate would empower Dalits and be a first step to rebuilding their community.
Gandhi’s fast put Ambedkar in a compromised position. He could not give away the political power the British granted the Dalits. The death of Gandhi could result in the assault of the same Depressed Classes in retribution. Ambedkar decided compromise would be the best solution. The Poona Pact was signed on September 24, 1932, was the result.
The terms of the Poona Pact were that there would be 151 reserved seats for Depressed Classes in the Central and Provincial governments. The reserved seats will be competed from candidates in a separate Depressed Class primary to elevate four candidates. Once the four candidates won the primary, a general electorate would pick the one that wins the reserved seat.
Ambedkar assessed the results of the Poona Pact as less than optimal. The Depressed Class candidates always had to appeal to a majority Caste Hindu electorates. These hamstrung Dalit representatives couldn’t even vote for a measure to allow Dalits into Hindu temples. Ambedkar realized Dalits would never have a voice in Gandhi’s party, the Indian National Congress.
The Indian Nation Congress was, in fact, revolutionary in their civil disobedience campaigns against the British Government. However, they were not radical in they wanted to change the power dynamics in India. Ambedkar wanted a radical party. Only a radical party can secure Dalit rights and a future for India.
The day after the Poona Pact was signed, Gandhi held a public meeting to explain his plan to help people suffering from untouchability. He pledges to start an organization later that month. It was called the All-India Anti-Untouchability League. He then changed the name to The Servants of the Untouchables Society. Finally, he settled on Harijan Sevak Sangh or Sangh for short.
One of the first actions of Sangh was to refer to those that suffer from untouchability as Harijan, which roughly meant “children of G-d.” He did not consult any Dalits when deciding on the name because most Dalits found it offensive. At least being called untouchable is a correct assessment of what they were suffering. Harijan covers the problem providing absolution for Hindus. Also, changing the name did nothing to reduce social stigma because everyone knew that Harijan means untouchable. Finally, it entreats a feeling of paternalism. No matter how old a person was, they would be seen as CHILDREN. It is surprising a person the understands the importance of labels such as Gandhi would make such an oversight.
Even if one excluded the horrible rebranding of people’s social conditions, the group was ineffective. The Sangh believed that only persuasion should be used to get orthodox Hindus to move away from untouchability. Therefore the group funded separate facilities for Dalits in places they were not allowed access to public facilities. By promoting separate facilities, they added to Dalit’s stigma.
Ambedkar challenged Gandhi to use civil disobedience as he did to fight British Imperialism. The reason Gandhi would not use direct action against Hindu’s is 91% of the support for the Indian National Congress came from Hindus. A move against Hindus to support untouchable would be suicide. If Gandhi was not willing to risk his political future to help Dalits, he is no better than the orthodox Hindus that oppress Dalits. The only real difference is that Gandhi claims to be sympathetic to the Dalit cause.
There is a long discussion on the prohibition on Dalit temple entrance. Ambedkar explains how insulting it is to allow animals entrance into Hindu Temples, but not Dalits. The few instances in which Hindus abolished the prohibition involved Dalit populations large enough and educated enough to create a political backlash for Hindus. Ultimately, if a Dalit accepted Hinduism, he accepted his own inferiority. Hinduism must purge the caste system if it expects Dalits to keep the faith.
A Warning To Untouchables
In the last essay, Ambedkar warns Dalits to separate from mainstream Hindu society. Their focus should be on education to dispel the lies the elite tell about Dalit inferiority and increasing political power. Dalits should feel no shame in increasing political power when attempting to combat elite Hindus that currently are unopposed. Dalit’s political power is their ability to strike. Strategic striking can secure Dalit political power.
Many people will say that religion could cause a moral revival that will end all forms of injustice. Ambedkar explains how religion was never designed to bring peace between those of different cultures. It was designed to bring peace to those in the same culture. Even within a faith such as Christianity, there is still conflict between blacks and whites in America. Hinduism is even worse because it is fundamentally non-egalitarian.
Others say reason will bring about the end of oppression because oppression is inherently irrational. However, in practice, most will not change their beliefs or position if it means they lose the advantage. The elite want to maintain their hold on resources and the idea that they have more because they are unique. Being special could mean they are better at the competition of life, or they are genetically / spiritually superior.
It is also impossible to build allies with the privileged class. They will never be more than benevolent despots. Again they have a vested interest in material advantage. There is no real motivator for them to sacrifice for the downtrodden.
Building a class-based struggle is also not realistic. Even within the Proletariat, there is a wealth and privilege stratification. A poor Caste Hindu would never give up his retaliative advantage over a Dalit. A true class-based alliance is not feasible. The relatively privileged poor will always be reformers. The destitute class will be revolutionaries.
Ultimately, Dalits could only depend on political representation from themselves. That is why Dalits need separate settlements and a separate electorate.
This book is a compilation of lectures given to a Canadian radio audience in 1967. These speeches focus on the future of the Civil Rights movement as it becomes part of the more expansive humanitarian movement.
Impasse in Race Relations
He starts the lecture by explaining the role Canada played in the liberation struggle. Canada was the last stop on the Underground Railroad. In the fugitives, slaves coded songs; it was symbolized by the word “heaven or north star.”
He then moved on to a discussion of the Civil Rights Movement and broke the movement down into two phases. The first was the unified resistance against the legal institution of Jim Crow. Once Jim Crow ended, many whites felt the struggle was over. The relative place of black people improved. The whites that were satisfied saw no need for equality between the races.
The second phase of the Civil Rights Movement is now underway. The focus now is not on law, but building a moral revolution. Also, many repressed feelings are surfacing. The first is the prejudice of whites; now that there are more interactions with other races. The second is the repressed rage of many blacks.
The repressed rage manifested itself in riots in the North. Many whites saw these riots as evidence that black people were fundamentally not able to handle freedom. Many blacks saw the riots as the first stages of an armed rebellion to take over the government.
King holistically analyzed the riots. The rage black people exhibited in the riots was caused by years of failed policy. Poor policy decisions caused discrimination, slums, unemployment, and poverty. The crimes on Blacks are derivative. Even when Blacks serve in the military, they return home to be treated as second class citizens. To build a more egalitarian society, there needs to be a government focused initiative to end poverty. King explicitly asks for a jobs program and Universal Basic Income.
The riots were also caused by frustration in the inability of the Civil Rights Movement to affect change in the Northern cities. Marches have little effectiveness in bustling cities that are used to large gatherings of people. King admitted the movement must devise new methods that are also non-violent.
When King used the term “The White Man,” he explains he does not mean all white people. Many whites had aided him in the Civil Rights Movement. The term “The White Man” is a shorthand to represent the black man’s adversary. Not only people but policy and value systems.
Conscience and the Vietnam War
This lecture was given after the famed Riverside Church speech in which he first denounced the Vietnam War. He addressed his critics asking why a civil rights activist would get involved in the peace movement. In the speech, King not only explains how the two issues are related, but how one that fights for equality in America can not turn his back on the freedom struggles of people across the globe.
There was three main criticism given by King for the Vietnam War. The first was spending for the war diverts funds away from social programs to aid the poor. The second was the poor do most of the fighting when they don’t even have full democracy at home. Finally, one can not advocate for non-violence in their movement and condone state-sponsored violence.
Ultimately, the USA was on the wrong side of history. King admits the National Liberation Front were no paragons of virtue, but only 25% of their soldiers were communist. Their opposition, the Ngo Dinh Diem government, brutally suppressed dissent. The United Buddhist Church, the largest non-communist political organization, was included in this suppression. The USA is motivated to support moneyed interest and the former colonial powers. The Vietnamese can not trust America while they destroy their country and rip apart families.
No American can sit on the sideline on the issue of Vietnam. We are required as Humanists to protest. The only question is what type of protest. This opposition will be under-girded by a revolution of American values centered around wisdom, justice, and love. Communism is ultimately a judgment on the failure of capitalism to meet people’s needs.
Youth and Social Action
The current generation is the first to live under the threat of nuclear war. This threat made ventures such as the Vietnam War risky with no apparent reward insight. America had lost its purpose, and the youth felt this disillusionment.
There were three groups of young people in Dr. King’s estimation. The first is the conformists. They understand the current system is untenable, but they have not entirely given up on it. The second group is the radicals. They understand the urgency for action to induce systematic change. However, they don’t have an ideology, and they are also not committed to non-violence. The last group is the Hippies. They seek to escape and disengage in society. When they participate in protests, it is a form of escape, not a catalyst for change. King correctly predicted the group would not last long, and many will move into communes away from the larger society.
Without a larger purpose to society, material growth has become a means to its end. The marriage of Big Business and the government has left many feeling alienated. Alienation is walking death, and it is especially damaging for the young.
Social cohesion will be regained when a new moral mission is undertaken. The hippies can provide their commitment to non-violence. The radicals will bring their urgency for action. Practical problem solving will be provided by the conformists. The new commitment to purpose is desperately needed because we are running out of time.
Non-Violence and Social Change
King begins with an ethical defense of civil disobedience. Most of his critics disagreed with his tactics because he was, ultimately, breaking the law. He uses the metaphor of a fire truck going through red lights. The urgency to put out a fire matters more than obeying traffic law. In the same way, ending segregation was an urgent need and law had to be broken for the greater good.
In the same way, people were attempting to understand Civil Disobedience. They wanted to understand the race riots happening in the North. Many whites saw the riots as proof that Blacks could not assimilate into society, and they were naturally bloodthirsty. Dr. King rebuts this idea with facts.
The riots did cause millions of dollars in property damage, but no white people were killed. Most of the deaths during the riots were blacks shot by the military. The looting and theft were motivated by a need to rebel against a system of oppression and not personal greed. Many of the loiter returned the merchandise after the riot, which proves they only wanted the thrill of taking something they couldn’t otherwise buy.
The rioters were rebelling against a system and not motivated by a blood lust to kill whites. If they wanted to kill whites, they would have killed them. They didn’t fear death or retaliation because they could be killed for looting. The riots were ultimately a warning. If nothing changes systematically, violence could be worse next time.
King also addressed critics that said non-violent direct action would not work in the North because Blacks in the North were more violent and too sophisticated. This idea results from a common stereotype that Blacks in the South are docile and slow. In reality, violent personalities often channel their anger constructively through Civil Disobedience. In fact, during the Chicago campaign members of the street gang Black Stone Rangers march with King and stayed non-violent. The same was true of people that had violent personalities in the South. However, new tactics need to be devised to address social injustice holistically.
The next phase of the Civil Rights Movement will be international. The first stage would require 3000 volunteers into a non-violent army of the poor. They would receive months of training in non-violent direct action to prepare for an occupation of the mall in Washington, DC. Their focus would be to advocate for policies to lower unemployment and increase wages.
As for the international front, King worked toward reducing military intervention and increasing foreign aid to developing countries. He goes as far as saying 3% of Gross National Product should be going to international aid. Developing countries are poor because of exploitation from the West, not an inability to manage their countries.
He also calls for economic sanctions on countries that aren’t practicing humanitarian values. South Africa was explicitly needed sanction until Apartheid ended. Only a united effort to apply pressure to Capital will lead to conditions of change.
Christmas Sermon on Peace
In this sermon, King explores what it means to have “peace on earth and goodwill toward men.” To him, this phrase was an affirmation of the sacredness of all life. It also is a commitment to love over hate.
To better define love, he goes through the ancient greek classifications of the word. The first definition is “eros,” which is the ascetic romantic love for the divine. The next definition is “philo” which is an intimate love between friends. King wants the audience to practice and understanding of goodwill for all man mimicking the love of G-d, “agape.”
There is also a difference in agape love and liking someone. Liking is superficial and spawned from positive interaction. One can’t love someone that slanders, attacks, and dismisses him. Love understands redemptive goodwill. Not retaliating with physical force, but Gandhi’s “soul force.” The King movement will wear down their enemy with their ability to endure hardships.
In this speech, King says one of his most often misconstrued quotes:
“Toward the end of that afternoon (March on Washington), I tried to talk to the nation about a dream that I had had, and I must confess to you today that not long after talking about that dream I started seeing it turn into a nightmare.”
He then explained how he was frustrated at the continued violence against black people when fighting for freedom, black systemic poverty, and escalation of US interventionism. He ends by doubling down on the original “I Have a Dream Speech” saying he will not lose hope. King never gave up on integrating America. Instead, he expanded his mission to help the poor all over the world.
There are two very misconstrued quotes from King. The first is “My Dream turned into a nightmare” from his 1967 Christmas Eve Sermon broadcast on the Canadian Broadcast Channel. The other is “I have integrated by people into a burning house.” Most use these quotes as proof that toward the end of Dr. King’s life he abandoned integration for black separatism or black militancy. Looking at both of these quotes, more rigorously will help us understand what King meant.
The exact quote from the Christmas Eve Speech was:
“Toward the end of that afternoon (March on Washington), I tried to talk to the nation about a dream that I had had, and I must confess to you today that not long after talking about that dream I started seeing it turn into a nightmare.”
In this speech, he explains his frustration at the amount of violence blacks have encountered in the Civil Rights Movement. But his frustration led him to double down on his philosophy of integration. In the speech, he goes on to say that hope is what keeps people alive, and he would never lose faith in the cause.
The 1967 Christmas Sermon is just one of five Massey Lectures. The Massey series was something the Canadian Broadcast Channel did to showcase significant contemporary thought leaders. If one reviews the entire Dr. King Massey Lecture series in the book Trumpet of Conscience his philosophy on social justice is thoroughly explained. He sees the first stage of the movement as removing the legal basis of segregation. The movement was now in its second phase, world-centric humanitarianism. In this movement, the focus was on empowering all underprivileged people all over the world. He espoused global egalitarianism manifested in his opposition to the Vietnam War.
The second quote on the “burning house” comes from a story told by Harry Belafonte. Here is the quote from The New York Amsterdam News:
According to Belafonte, King responded, “I’ve come upon something that disturbs me deeply. We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know we will win, but I have come to believe that we are integrating into a burning house. I’m afraid that America has lost the moral vision she may have had, and I’m afraid that even as we integrate, we are walking into a place that does not understand that this nation needs to be deeply concerned with the plight of the poor and disenfranchised. Until we commit ourselves to ensuring that the underclass is given justice and opportunity, we will continue to perpetuate the anger and violence that tears the soul of this nation. I fear I am integrating my people into a burning house.”
Belafonte added, “That statement took me aback. It was the last thing I would have expected to hear, considering the nature of our struggle.”
Belafonte said he asked King, “What should we do?” and King replied that we should, “become the firemen.” King said, “Let us not stand by and let the house burn.”
So again, Dr. King did not want to evacuate the house. Instead, he wanted us to be agents of change and harbingers of a new moral code. A full retelling of Belafonte’s story is consistent with what was expressed in the Massey Lectures.
However, the best way to understand if Dr. King gave up on the idea of would-be evaluating his last efforts in organizing. He died while building “The Poor People’s Campaign.” In 1967, King announced a plan to bring thousands of poor people from across the nation to a new March on Washington. Their first meeting in March 1968 had leaders from many trade unions, civil rights organizations, and academia. This effort was a multi-racial, multi-ethnic initiative to fight for class issues. They pushed for an economic bill of rights that included social programs, the elimination of slums, and a full-employment initiative. Nothing in the campaign singled out blacks or abandoned integration.
- The New York Amsterdam News“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: I fear I am Integrating My People Into a Burning House” 01/12/2017 http://amsterdamnews.com/news/2017/jan/12/dr-martin-luther-king-jr-i-fear-i-am-integrating-m/
- Santa Clara University Website: “Harry Belafonte Reflections on Peace” https://legacy.scu.edu/ethics/architects-of-peace/Belafonte/essay.html