As I stated last week, this year we are going to do a lot of book discussions, summaries and reviews if possible. We really must. We must make a conscious effort to whip up the reading spirit of the country. The ignorance on our social media timelines is frightening. And as Goethe established: “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action”. The ignorance we spew on our national feed is no more an abstract noun but a concrete one. We must highlight reading and literacy in national discussions. In America, presidents speak to the whole nation and quote fictional characters from books. It is very fascinating.
That said, this week we are discussing the Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. – one of the solid autobiographies written in the world. It is a refreshing read, and I exhort every young person to try and grab a copy and read it. It is a path to greatness. After all, that is what reading does. My brother Abdul Rahman Odoi – a young man bubbling with an indescribable degree of passion – gives us a great summary after finishing his read a few days ago. Enjoy.
Abdul Rahman Odoi
A hundred pages of King’s autobiography, impeccably edited by Clayborne Carson, hinges on a tidal wave of racial slurs and the difficulty of negro existence in the Black community of Montgomery, capital city of the U.S. state of Alabama.
The narration took the form of his early days as a child and the parental support he had had from his religious parents followed by his college life, which was intertwined with his ultimate love for God and subsequently becoming a Reverend. But swiftly, the reader is put to mirror the rapacious segregation white supremacist at the time were priding themselves with.
King Jr. was only eight years when he got slapped by a white woman who couldn’t say anything better than that the little boy had stepped on her foot. A ‘negro’ dared not retaliate in such an instance because a white person was involved. In Atlanta, negro kids could not go to a common park alone or be enrolled in a so-called white school. Swimming, too, was out. He couldn’t go to some of the stores downtown to get hamburgers or coffee.
The racialism didn’t stop. He would grow later in life to the realisation that the negro had been submerged into a deep, dirty drainage of ‘nothingness by white supremacists. They, through a series of waged protests as a black community, came together and formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). And lo, King was elected to head the movement to establish the negro’s ‘somebodiness’ in Montgomery.
White supremacists had created a segregation system to demean the Black people. They believed that negros deserves the rear seat of public transport. The negro is worthless, black and backward; hence, even in a bus they ought to be at the rear. A negro mustn’t sit on the empty front seats in a bus, even when white persons aren’t onboard. They should stand while the bus moves about half-filled.
The first move of (MIA) was to wrestle the strict segregation system. They led a Montgomery bus boycott. These agitations had taken turns and started simmering when King Jr. was illegally arrested for over-speeding, although his car was moving at a normal speed. The Black community didn’t rest on that bad news. They had come to realise that ‘Black lives matter’. Ralph Abernathy, King’s confidant, was the first to arrive at the jail and was prepared to pay a cash bond for King’s release, because he couldn’t afford to wait and see his friend the next day as suggested by the jailer. They (negros) thronged the City Jail of Montgomery, and the result was Luther King Jr.’s release.
In order to discourage the MIA, Luther’s home was bombed. But his wife, Correta Scott – who was very instrumental with selfless sacrifices in the course of the movement – and baby, Yoki, weren’t injured. Thank God.
There were other tactics like divide, conquer and rule employed by the white supremacist to sow seeds of hostility among members of MIA. Also, various accusations were levelled against King Jr. One of such was the rumour that he had purchased a brand new Cadillac for himself and a Buick station-wagon for Correta. Regardless, their fight for ‘somebodiness’ continued unabated.
On December 20, 1956, the bus integration order reached Montgomery – they had won the litigation, with the Supreme Court ruling that bus segregation must die and be buried. Even though Luther King Jr. captured those moments as ‘Our faith seems vindicated’, the white supremacists refused to relent in their myopic, hollow and lame racial haughtiness, in their quest to prove to the negros that they are a people, for sure, born into ‘nothingness’. They (whites) deserved to reign over them (negros), not otherwise.
For instance, a white elderly man who came on board a bus that serviced the white residential section – the very day the court order of integration was passed, was peeved so much that he stood up in the bus though he was told there were empty seats at the rear. He arrogantly declared: “I would rather die and go to hell than sit behind a nigger”.
There’s also an account of a white woman who took a seat by a negro, and when she had noticed her neighbour was negro she jumped up and angrily said: “I wonder what these niggers will do next?”
One negro woman was also slapped by a white man after she had alighted, but she refused to retaliate. The victim remarked that: “I could have broken that little fellow’s neck all by myself, but I left the mass-meeting last night determined to do what Reverend King asked”.
Her reference to Reverend Luther King Jr. was the pivotal principle he had built the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) on. And that was ‘non-violent resistance’, which originated from Mahatma Gandhi’s technique, his mentor. So, they (negros) never fought back, as in giving reprisal to whichever form they were attacked; instead, they organised a crowd, using the sword of their intellects,and their tongues’ dagger to demand equal rights and bury the unbridled white civil disobedience.
The Montgomery bus boycott meant a lot to the Black community in Alabama. In 1958, a year after Luther King Jr. had graced Ghana’s Independence celebration with Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, he outdoored a book capturing the gory moments leading to the bus boycott and subsequent protests etc., and titled it ‘Stride Toward Freedom’.
During the 1910s and beyond, reading from King’s autobiography, one will carefully realise that the white supremacists wished that the negro should keep quiet for them to put mud in their mouths. If they farted, the negro was supposed to enjoy its smell. Their urine had to be a sweet tonic for the negro. Their sweat, the negro should bath himself with it. And, the negro should be their camel, carrying loads of useless bigotry and imperialism.
But unluckily for them, Martin Luther King Sr. and Alberta Williams King had birthed Martin Luther King Jr. – who held the maxim that: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things which matter””
Abdul Rahman Odoi