The full video and text (thank you PBS), plus video excerpts of our favorite bits. And everything the world knows about Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, and Abraham Lincoln.
Honorable Members of Congress,
I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”. I would like to think that the reason for this is that I too am a son of this great continent, from which we have all received so much and toward which we share a common responsibility.
Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility. Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always best based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.
Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.
Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people of the United States. Here, together with their representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and –one step at a time – to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society. They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which offer a helping hand to those most in need.
I would also like to enter into dialogue with the many elderly persons who are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience, and who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer work, to share their stories and their insights. I know that many of them are retired, but still active; they keep working to build up this land. I also want to dialogue with all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations, who are not led astray by facile proposals, and who face difficult situations, often as a result of immaturity on the part of many adults. I wish to dialogue with all of you, and I would like to do so through the historical memory of your people.
My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans. The complexities of history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women, for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and self-sacrifice – some at the cost of their lives – to build a better future. They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people. A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity. These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves.I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that “this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom”. Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.
All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world today.
Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms.
Good vs Evil is evil
But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.
Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.
Listen up, Atheists
In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.
Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776).
If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.
Here too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his “dream” of full civil and political rights for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of “dreams”. Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.
In case you forgot
In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present.
Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.
Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.
….. um ….
Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12). This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.
Left and Right, to Life, stand up
Reps & Dems agree, then disagree, but it’s a start.
The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development. This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.
In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.
How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.
It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (ibid., 3). “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (ibid., 14).
In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (ibid., 231) and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (ibid., 139). “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology” (ibid., 112); “to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power” (ibid., 78); and to put technology “at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.
A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: “I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.
From this perspective of dialogue, I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).
Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.
Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.
Four representatives of the American people.
I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.
In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.
A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.
In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.
God bless America!
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Dorothy Day on Wikipedia
Day in 1916 (age 19)
|Born||(1897-11-08)November 8, 1897
Brooklyn, New York,
|Died||November 29, 1980(1980-11-29) (aged 83)
New York, New York,
|Cause of death||Myocardial infarction|
|Resting place||Cemetery of the Resurrection
Staten Island, New York,
|Education||University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign|
|Known for||co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement|
|Title||Servant of God|
|Spouse(s)||Berkeley Tobey, Forster Batterham (common-law)|
|Children||Tamar Hennessy (1926-2008), daughter of Batterham|
|Parent(s)||John and Grace (née Satterlee) Day|
|Relatives||Brothers Donald, Sam, and John; sister Della|
Dorothy Day, Obl.S.B. (November 8, 1897 – November 29, 1980) was an American journalist, social activist, and Catholic convert. Day initially lived a bohemian lifestyle before gaining fame as a social activist after her conversion. She later became a key figure in the Catholic Worker Movement and earned a national reputation as a political radical, perhaps the most famous radical in American Catholic Church history.
Day's conversion is described in her autobiography, The Long Loneliness. Day was also an active journalist and described her social activism in her writings. In 1917 she was imprisoned as a member of suffragist Alice Paul's nonviolent Silent Sentinels. In the 1930s, Day worked closely with fellow activist Peter Maurin to establish the Catholic Worker Movement, a pacifist movement that combines direct aid for the poor and homeless with nonviolent direct action on their behalf. She practiced civil disobedience, which led to additional arrests in 1955, 1957, and in 1973 at the age of seventy-five.As part of the Catholic Worker Movement, Day co-founded the Catholic Worker newspaper in 1933, and served as its editor from 1933 until her death in 1980. In this newspaper, Day advocated the Catholic economic theory of distributism, which she considered a third way between capitalism and socialism. Dorothy Day's life is an inspiration for the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI used her conversion story as an example of how to "journey towards faith... in a secularized environment." Pope Francis included her in a short list of exemplary Americans, together with Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thomas Merton, in his address before the United States Congress. The Church has opened the cause for Day's possible canonization, which was accepted by the Holy See for investigation. Due to this, the Church refers to her with the title of Servant of God.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Death
- 3 Legacy
- 4 Beliefs
- 5 Cause for sainthood
- 6 Posthumous recognition
- 7 Works
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Dorothy Day was born on November 8, 1897, in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. She was born into a family described by one biographer as "solid, patriotic, and middle class". Her father, John Day, was a Tennessee native of Irish heritage, while her mother, Grace Satterlee, a native of upstate New York, was of English ancestry. Her parents were married in an Episcopal church in Greenwich Village. She had three brothers and a sister. In 1904, her father, who was a sports writer devoted to horse racing, took a position with a newspaper in San Francisco. The family lived in Oakland, California, until the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 destroyed the newspaper's facilities and her father lost his job. From the spontaneous response to the earthquake's devastation, the self-sacrifice of neighbors in a time of crisis, Day drew a lesson about individual action and Christian community. The family relocated to Chicago.
Day's parents were nominal Christians who rarely attended church. As a young child, she showed a marked religious streak, reading the Bible frequently. When she was ten she started to attend an Episcopal church, after its rector convinced her mother to let Day's brothers join the church choir. She was taken with the liturgy and its music. She studied the catechism and was baptized and confirmed in that church.
Day was an avid reader in her teens, particularly fond of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. She worked from one book to another, noting Jack London's mention of Herbert Spencer in Martin Eden, and then from Spencer to Darwin and Huxley. She learned about anarchy and extreme poverty from Peter Kropotkin, who promoted a belief in cooperation in contrast to Darwin's competition for survival. She also enjoyed Russian literature in university, especially Dostoesvky, Tolstoy, and Gorky. Day read a lot of socially conscious work, which gave her a background for her future; it helped bolster her support for and involvement in social activism.
In 1914, Day attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on a scholarship. She was a reluctant scholar. Her reading was chiefly in a Christian radical social direction. She avoided campus social life and supported herself rather than rely on money from her father, buying all her clothing and shoes from discount stores. She left the university after two years and moved to New York City.
She settled on the Lower East Side and worked on the staff of several Socialist publications, including The Liberator, The Masses, and The Call. She "smilingly explained to impatient socialists that she was 'a pacifist even in the class war.'" Years later, Day described how she was pulled in different directions: "I was only eighteen, so I wavered between my allegiance to Socialism, Syndicalism (the I.W.W.'s) and Anarchism. When I read Tolstoy I was an Anarchist. My allegiance to The Call kept me a Socialist, although a left-wing one, and my Americanism inclined me to the I.W.W. movement."
She celebrated the February Revolution in Russia in 1917, the overthrow of the monarchy and establishment of a reformist government. In November 1917, she was arrested for picketing at the White House on behalf of women's suffrage as part of a campaign called the Silent Sentinels organized by Alice Paul and the National Women's Party. Sentenced to 30 days in jail, she served 15 days before being released, ten of them on a hunger strike.
She spent several months in Greenwich Village, where she became close to Eugene O'Neill, whom she later credited with having produced "an intensification of the religious sense that was in me". She had a love affair of several years with Mike Gold, a radical writer who later became a prominent Communist. She maintained friendships with such prominent American Communists as Anna Louise Strong, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who became the head of the Communist Party USA.
Initially Day lived a bohemian life. In February 1921, after ending an unhappy love affair with Lionel Moise and having an abortion, she married Berkeley Tobey in a civil ceremony. She spent a year with him in Europe removed from politics, focusing on art and literature, and writing a semi-autobiographical novel, The Eleventh Virgin (1924), based on her affair with Moise. In its "Epilogue", she tried to draw lessons about the status of women from her experience: "I thought I was a free and emancipated young woman and found out I wasn't at all ... [F]reedom is just a modernity gown, a new trapping that we women affect to capture the man we want." She later called it a "very bad book". The sale of the movie rights to the novel gave her $2,500, and she bought a beach cottage as a writing retreat in Staten Island, New York. Soon she found a new lover, Forster Batterham, an activist and biologist, who joined her there on weekends. She lived there from 1925 to 1929, entertaining friends and enjoying a romantic relationship that foundered when she took passionately to motherhood and religion.
Day, who had thought herself sterile following her abortion, was elated to find she was pregnant in mid-1925, while Batterham dreaded fatherhood. While she visited her mother in Florida and separated from Batterham for several months, she intensified her exploration of Catholicism. When she returned to Staten Island, Batterham found her increasing devotion, attendance at Mass, and religious reading incomprehensible. Soon after the birth of their daughter Tamar Teresa, on March 4, 1926, Day encountered a local Catholic Religious Sister, Sister Aloysia, S.C., and with her help educated herself in the Catholic faith and had her baby baptized in July 1927. Batterham refused to attend the ceremony, and his relationship with Day became increasingly unbearable, as her desire for marriage in the Church confronted his antipathy to organized religion, Catholicism most of all. After one last fight in late December, Day refused to allow him to return. On December 28 she had herself baptized with Sister Aloysia as her godparent.
In the summer of 1929, to put the situation with Batterham behind her, Day accepted a job writing film dialogue for Pathé Motion Pictures and moved to Los Angeles with Tamar. A few months later, following the 1929 stock market crash, her contract was not renewed. She returned to New York via a sojourn in Mexico and a family visit in Florida. Day supported herself as a journalist, writing a gardening column for the local paper, the Staten Island Advance and features articles and book reviews for several Catholic publications, like Commonweal.
It was during one of her assignments for The Commonweal in Washington, D.C. when she decided to take a greater role in social activism and Catholicism. During the hunger strikes in D.C. in December 1932, she noted that she was filled with pride watching the marchers, but she couldn't do much with her conversion. She writes in her autobiography: "I could write, I could protest, to arouse the conscience, but where was the Catholic leadership in the gathering of bands of men and women together, for the actual works of mercy that the comrades had always made part of their technique in reaching the workers?" Later, she visited the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in northeast D.C. to offer a prayer to find a way to use her gifts and talents to help her fellow workers and the poor.
The Catholic Worker Movement
In 1932, Day met Peter Maurin, the man she always credited as the founder of the movement with which she is identified. Maurin, a French immigrant and something of a vagabond, had entered the Brothers of the Christian Schools in his native France, before emigrating, first to Canada, then to the United States. Despite his lack of formal education, Maurin was a man of deep intellect and decidedly strong views. He had a vision of social justice and its connection with the poor which was partly inspired by St. Francis of Assisi. He had a vision of action based on a sharing of ideas and subsequent action by the poor themselves. Maurin was deeply versed in the writings of the Church Fathers and the papal documents on social matters that had been issued by Pope Leo XIII and his successors. Maurin provided Day with the grounding in Catholic theology of the need for social action they both felt. Years later Day described how Maurin also broadened her knowledge by bringing "a digest of the writings of Kropotkin one day, calling my attention especially to Fields, Factories, and Workshops. Day observed: "I was familiar with Kropotkin only through his Memoirs of a Revolutionist, which had originally run serially in the Atlantic Monthly. She wrote: "Oh, far day of American freedom, when Karl Marx could write for the morning Tribune in New York, and Kropotkin could not only be published in the Atlantic, but be received as a guest into the homes of New England Unitarians, and in Jane Addams' Hull House in Chicago!" The French models and literature Maurin drew to Day's attention are of particular interest. 
The Catholic Worker movement started when the first issue of the Catholic Worker appeared on May 1, 1933, priced at one cent, and published continuously since then. It was aimed at those suffering the most in the depths of the Great Depression, "those who think there is no hope for the future", and announced to them that "the Catholic Church has a social program...there are men of God who are working not only for their spiritual but for their material welfare." It accepted no advertising and did not pay its staff. Publication of the first issue was supported in part by a $1 donation from Sister Peter Claver, for whom a Catholic Worker house was later named.
Like many newspapers of the day, including those for which Day had been writing, it was an unapologetic example of advocacy journalism. It provided coverage of strikes, explored working conditions, especially of women and blacks, and explicated papal teaching on social issues. Its viewpoint was partisan and stories were designed to move its readers to take action locally, for example, by patronizing laundries recommended by the Laundry Workers' Union. Its advocacy of federal child labor laws put it at odds with the American Church hierarchy from its first issue, but Day censored some of Maurin's attacks on the Church hierarchy and tried to have a collection of the paper's issues presented to Pope Pius XI in 1935.
The paper's principal competitor both in distribution and ideology was the Communist Daily Worker. Day opposed its atheism, its advocacy of "class hatred" and violent revolution, and its opposition to private property. The first issue of the Catholic Worker asked: "Is it not possible to be radical and not atheist?" and celebrated its distribution in Union Square on May Day as a direct challenge to the Communists. Day defended government relief programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps that the Communists ridiculed. The Daily Worker responded by mocking the Catholic Worker for its charity work and for expressing sympathy for landlords when calling evictions morally wrong. In this fight, the Church hierarchy backed Day's movement and Commonweal, a Catholic journal that expressed a wide range of viewpoints, said that Day's background positioned her well for her mission: "There are few laymen in this country who are so completely conversant with Communist propaganda and its exponents."
Over several decades, the Catholic Worker attracted such writers and editors as Michael Harrington, Ammon Hennacy, Thomas Merton, and Daniel Berrigan. From the publishing enterprise came a "house of hospitality", a shelter that provided food and clothing to the poor of the Lower East Side and then a series of farms for communal living. The movement quickly spread to other cities in the United States and to Canada and the United Kingdom. More than 30 independent but affiliated Catholic Worker communities had been founded by 1941.
Beginning in 1935, the Catholic Worker began publishing articles that articulated a rigorous and uncompromising pacifist position, breaking with the traditional Catholic doctrine of just war theory. The next year, the two sides that fought the Spanish Civil War roughly approximated two of Day's allegiances, with the Church allied with Franco fighting radicals of many stripes, the Catholic and the worker at war with one another. Day refused to follow the Catholic hierarchy in support of Franco against the Republican forces, which were atheist and anticlerical in spirit, led by anarchists and Communists. She acknowledged the martyrdom of priests and nuns in Spain and said she expected the age of revolution she was living in to require more martyrs:
We must prepare now for martyrdom–otherwise we will not be ready. Who of us if he were attacked now would not react quickly and humanly against such attack? Would we love our brother who strikes us? Of all at The Catholic Worker how many would not instinctively defend himself with any forceful means in his power? We must prepare. We must prepare now. There must be a disarmament of the heart.
In 1938, she published an account of the transformation of her political activism into religiously motivated activism in From Union Square to Rome. She recounted her life story selectively, without providing the details of her early years of "grievous mortal sin" when her life was "pathetic little and mean". She presented it as an answer to Communist relatives and friends who have asked: "How could you become a Catholic?":
What I want to bring out in this book is a succession of events that led me to His feet, glimpses of Him that I received through many years which made me feel the vital need of Him and of religion. I will try to trace for you the steps by which I came to accept the faith that I believe was always in my heart.
The Cardinal's Literature Committee of the New York Archdiocese recommended it to Catholic readers.
In the early 1940s she affiliated with the Benedictines, professing as an oblate of St. Procopius Abbey in 1955. This gave her a spiritual practice and connection that sustained her throughout the rest of her life. She was briefly a postulant in the Fraternity of Jesus Caritas, which was inspired by the example of Charles de Foucauld. Day felt unwelcome there and disagreed with how meetings were run. When she withdrew as a candidate for the Fraternity, she wrote to a friend: "I just wanted to let you know that I feel even closer to it all, tho it is not possible for me to be a recognized 'Little Sister,' or formally a part of it".
Day reaffirmed her pacifism following the U.S. declaration of war in 1941 and urged noncooperation in a speech that day: "We must make a start. We must renounce war as an instrument of policy. . . . Even as I speak to you I may be guilty of what some men call treason. But we must reject war. . . . You young men should refuse to take up arms. Young women tear down the patriotic posters. And all of you—young and old—put away your flags." Her January 1942 column was headlined "We Continue Our Christian Pacifist Stand". She wrote:
We are still pacifists. Our manifesto is the Sermon on the Mount, which means that we will try to be peacemakers. Speaking for many of our conscientious objectors, we will not participate in armed warfare or in making munitions, or by buying government bonds to prosecute the war, or in urging others to these efforts.
But neither will we be carping in our criticism. We love our country and we love our President. We have been the only country in the world where men of all nations have taken refuge from oppression. We recognize that while in the order of intention we have tried to stand for peace, for love of our brother, in the order of execution we have failed as Americans in living up to our principles.
The circulation of the Catholic Worker, following its losses during the Spanish Civil War, had risen to 75,000, but now plummeted again. The closing of many of the movement's houses around the country, as staff left to join the war effort, showed that Day's pacifism had limited appeal even within the Catholic Worker community.
On January 13, 1949, unions representing workers at cemeteries managed by the Archdiocese of New York went on strike. After several weeks, Cardinal Francis Spellman used lay brothers from the local Maryknoll seminary and then diocesan seminarians under his own supervision to break the strike by digging graves. He called the union action "Communist-inspired". Employees of the Catholic Worker joined the strikers' picket line, and Day wrote Spellman, telling him he was "misinformed" about the workers and their demands, defending their right to unionize and their "dignity as men", which she deemed far more important than any dispute about wages. She begged him to take the first steps to resolve the dispute: "Go to them, conciliate them. It is easier for the great to give in than the poor." Spellman stood fast until the strike ended on March 11 when the union members accepted the Archdiocese's original offer of a 48-hour 6-day work week. Day wrote in the Catholic Worker in April: "A Cardinal, ill-advised, exercised so overwhelming a show of force against the union of poor working men. There is a temptation of the devil to that most awful of all wars, the war between the clergy and the laity." Years later she explained her stance vis-à-vis Spellman: "[H]e is our chief priest and confessor; he is our spiritual leader–of all of us who live here in New York. But he is not our ruler." On March 3, 1951, the Archdiocese ordered Day to cease publication or remove the word Catholic from the name of her publication. She replied with a respectful letter that asserted as much right to publish the Catholic Worker as the Catholic War Veterans had to their name and their own opinions independent of those of the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese took no action, and later Day speculated that perhaps church officials did not want members of the Catholic Worker movement holding prayer vigils for him to relent: "We were ready to go to St. Patrick's, fill up the Church, stand outside it in prayerful meditation. We were ready to take advantage of America's freedoms so that we could say what we thought and do what we believed to be the right thing to do."
The autobiography, well and thoughtfully told, of a girl with a conventional upstate New York background whose concern for her neighbors, especially the unfortunate, carried her into the women's suffrage movement, socialism, the I.W.W., communism and finally into the Church of Rome, where she became a co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement.
On June 15, 1955, Day joined a group of pacifists in refusing to participate in civil defense drills scheduled that day. Some of them challenged the constitutionality of the law under which they were charged, but Day and six others took the position that their refusal was not a legal dispute but one of philosophy. Day said she was doing "public penance" for the United States' first use of an atom bomb. They pleaded guilty on September 28, 1955, but the judge refused to send them to jail saying "I'm not making any martyrs." She did the same in each of the next five years. In 1958, instead of taking shelter she joined a group picketing the offices of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. After some years, sentences were suspended, but once she served 30 days in jail.
In 1960, she praised Fidel Castro's "promise of social justice". She said: "Far better to revolt violently than to do nothing about the poor destitute." Several months later, Day traveled to Cuba and reported her experiences in a four-part series in the Catholic Worker. In the first of these, she wrote: "I am most of all interested in the religious life of the people and so must not be on the side of a regime that favors the extirpation of religion. On the other hand, when that regime is bending all its efforts to make a good life for the people, a naturally good life (on which grace can build) one cannot help but be in favor of the measures taken."
Day hoped that the Second Vatican Council would endorse nonviolence as a fundamental tenet of Catholic life and denounce nuclear arms, both their use in warfare and the "idea of arms being used as deterrents, to establish a balance of terror". She lobbied bishops in Rome and joined with other women in a ten-day fast. She was pleased when the Council in Gaudium et spes (1965), its statement on "the Church in the Modern World", said that nuclear warfare was incompatible with traditional Catholic just war theory: "Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation."
Day's account of the Catholic Worker movement, Loaves and Fishes, was published in 1963.
Despite her anti-establishment sympathies, Day's judgment of the 60s counterculture was nuanced. She enjoyed it when Abbie Hoffman told her she was the original hippie, accepting it as a form of tribute to her detachment from materialism. At the same time she disapproved of many who called themselves hippies. She described some she encountered in 1969 in Minnesota: "They are marrying young–17 and 18, and taking to the woods up by the Canadian border and building houses for themselves–becoming pioneers again." But she recognized in them the self-indulgence of middle-class affluence, people who had "not known suffering" and lived without principles. She imagined how soldiers returning from Vietnam would want to kill them, but thought what the "flower-people" deserved was "prayer and penance". Day struggled as a leader with influence but without direct authority over the Catholic Worker houses, even the Tivoli Catholic Worker Farm that she visited regularly. She recorded her frustration in her diary: "I have no power to control smoking of pot, for instance, or sexual promiscuity, or solitary sins."
In 1966, Spellman visited U.S. troops in Vietnam at Christmas, where he was reported as saying: "This war in Vietnam is ... a war for civilization." Day authored a response in the January 1967 issue of the Catholic Worker that avoided direct criticism but cataloged all the war zones Spellman had visited over the years: "It is not just Vietnam, it is South Africa, it is Nigeria, the Congo, Indonesia, all of Latin America." Visiting was "a brave thing to do", she wrote, and asked: "But oh, God, what are all these Americans doing all over the world so far from our own shores?"
In 1970, at the height of American participation in the Vietnam War, she described Ho Chi Minh as "a man of vision, as a patriot, a rebel against foreign invaders" while telling a story of a holiday gathering with relatives where one needs "to find points of agreement and concordance, if possible, rather than the painful differences, religious and political."
Despite suffering from poor health, Day visited India, where she met Mother Teresa and saw her work. In 1971, Day visited Poland, the Soviet Union, Hungary, and Romania as part of a group of peace activists,with the financial support of Corliss Lamont, whom she described as a "'pinko' millionaire who lived modestly and helped the Communist Party USA."  She met with three members of the Writers' Union and defended Alexander Solzhenitsyn against charges that he had betrayed his country. Day informed her readers that:
Solzhenitsin lives in poverty and has been expelled from the Writers Union and cannot be published in his own country. He is harassed continually, and recently his small cottage in the country has been vandalized and papers destroyed, and a friend of his who went to bring some of his papers to him was seized and beaten. The letter Solzhenitsin wrote protesting this was widely printed in the west, and I was happy to see as a result a letter of apology by the authorities in Moscow, saying that it was the local police who had acted so violently.
Day visited the Kremlin, and she reported: "I was moved to see the names of the Americans, Ruthenberg and Bill Haywood, on the Kremlin Wall in Roman letters, and the name of Jack Reed (with whom I worked on the old Masses), in Cyrillac characters in a flower-covered grave". Ruthenberg was C. E. Ruthenberg, founder of the Communist Party USA. Bill Haywood was a key figure in the IWW. Jack Reed was the journalist better known as John Reed, author of Ten Days That Shook the World.
In 1972, the Jesuit magazine America marked her 75th birthday by devoting an entire issue to Day and the Catholic Worker movement. The editors wrote: "By now, if one had to choose a single individual to symbolize the best in the aspiration and action of the American Catholic community during the last forty years, that one person would certainly be Dorothy Day."
Day had supported the work of Cesar Chavez in organizing California farm laborers from the beginning of his campaign in the mid-1960s. She admired him for being motivated by religious inspiration and committed to nonviolence. In the summer of 1973, she joined Cesar Chavez in his campaign for farm laborers in the fields of California. She was arrested with other protesters for defying an injunction against picketing and spent ten days in jail.
In 1974, Boston's Paulist Center Community named her the first recipient of their Isaac Hecker Award, given to a person or group "committed to building a more just and peaceful world".
Day made her last public appearance at the Eucharistic Congress held on August 6, 1976, in Philadelphia at a service honoring the U.S. Armed Forces on the Bicentennial of the United States. She spoke about reconciliation and penance, and castigated the organizers for failing to recognize that for peace activists August 6 is the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, an inappropriate day to honor the military.
Day suffered a heart attack and died on November 29, 1980, at Maryhouse on East 3rd Street in Manhattan. Cardinal Terence Cooke greeted her funeral procession at the Church of the Nativity, the local parish church. Day was buried in the Cemetery of the Resurrection on Staten Island just a few blocks from the beachside cottage where she first became interested in Catholicism. Her gravestone is inscribed with the words Deo Gratias. Day's daughter Tamar, the mother of nine children, was with her mother when she died, and she and her father joined the funeral procession and attended a later memorial Mass the cardinal celebrated at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Day and Batterham had remained lifelong friends.
Day's papers are housed at Marquette University along with many records of the Catholic Worker movement. The Catholic Worker had a circulation of more than 100,000 for some years and reported a circulation of under 30,000 in 2013.
In May 1983, a pastoral letter issued by the U.S.Conference of Catholic Bishops, "The Challenge of Peace", noted her role in establishing non-violence as a Catholic principle: "the nonviolent witness of such figures as Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King has had profound impact upon the life of the Church in the United States."
Charity and poverty
Day struggled to write about poverty most of her life. She admired America's efforts to take responsibility through the government, but ultimately felt that charitable works were personal decisions that needed the warmth of an individual.
Day also denounced sins against the poor. She said that "depriving the laborer" was a deadly sin, using similar language to the Epistle of James in the Bible. She also said that advertising men were sinners ("woe to that generation") because they made the poor "willing to sell [their] liberty and honor" to satisfy "paltry desires."
All men are brothers
In the Catholic Worker in May 1951, Day wrote that Marx, Lenin, and Mao Tse-Tung "were animated by the love of brother and this we must believe though their ends meant the seizure of power, and the building of mighty armies, the compulsion of concentration camps, the forced labor and torture and killing of tens of thousands, even millions." She used them as examples because she insisted that the belief that "all men are brothers" required the Catholic to find the humanity in everyone without exception. She explained that she understood the jarring impact of such an assertion:
Peter Maurin was constantly restating our position, and finding authorities from all faiths, and races, all authorities. He used to embarrass us sometimes by dragging in Marshall Petain and Fr. Coughlin and citing something good they had said, even when we were combating the point of view they were representing. Just as we shock people by quoting Marx, Lenin, Mao-Tse-Tung, or Ramakrishna to restate the case for our common humanity, the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God.
In 1970, Day emulated Maurin when she wrote:
the two words [anarchist-pacifist] should go together, especially at this time when more and more people, even priests, are turning to violence, and are finding their heroes in Camillo Torres among the priests, and Che Guevara among laymen. The attraction is strong, because both men literally laid down their lives for their brothers. "Greater love hath no man than this."
"Let me say, at the risk of seeming ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love." Che Guevara wrote this, and he is quoted by Chicano youth in El Grito Del Norte.
Sympathy with anarchists
Day encountered anarchism while studying in university. She read The Bomb by Frank Harris, a fictionalized biography of one of the Haymarket anarchists. She discussed anarchy and extreme poverty with Peter Kropotkin. After moving to New York, Day studied the anarchism of Emma Goldman and attended the Anarchists Ball at Webster Hall.
Day was saddened by the executions of the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927. She wrote that when they died, "All the nation mourned." As a Catholic, she felt a sense of solidarity with them, specifically "the very sense of solidarity which made me gradually understand the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ whereby we are all members of one another."
Discussing the term anarchism, she wrote: "We ourselves have never hesitated to use the word. Some prefer personalism. But Peter Maurin came to me with Kropotkin in one pocket and St. Francis in the other!"
Day explained that anarchists accepted her as someone who shared the values of their movement "[b]ecause I have been behind bars in police stations, houses of detention, jails and prison farms, ... eleven times, and have refused to pay Federal income taxes and have never voted", but were puzzled by what they saw as her "Faith in the monolithic, authoritarian Church". She reversed the viewpoint and ignored their professions of atheism. She wrote: "I in turn, can see Christ in them even though they deny Him, because they are giving themselves to working for a better social order for the wretched of the earth."
Sympathy with Communists
In the first years of the Catholic Worker, Day provided a clear statement of how her individualism contrasted with Communism:
We believe in widespread private property, the de-proletarianizing of our American people. We believe in the individual owning the means of production, the land and his tools. We are opposed to the "finance capitalism" so justly criticized and condemned by Karl Marx but we believe there can be a Christian capitalism as there can be a Christian Communism.
She also stated: "To labor is to pray -- that is the central point of the Christian doctrine of work. Hence, it is that while both Communism and Christianity are moved by 'compassion for the multitude,' the object of communism is to make the poor richer but the object of Christianity is to make the rich poor and the poor holy."
In November 1949, in the course of explaining why she had protested the recent denial of bail to several Communists, she wrote: "[L]et it be remembered that I speak as an ex-Communist and one who has not testified before Congressional Committees, nor written works on the Communist conspiracy. I can say with warmth that I loved the [communist] people I worked with and learned much from them. They helped me to find God in His poor, in His abandoned ones, as I had not found Him in Christian churches." She identified points on which she agreed with the Communists: "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" and the "withering away of the State." Others she added with qualifications: "the communal aspect of property as stressed by the early Christians". And she identified differences: "we disagree over and over again with the means chosen to reach their ends". She agreed that "Class war is a fact and one does not need to advocate it", but posed the question of how to respond:
The Communists point to it as forced upon them, and say that when it comes they will take part in it, and in their plans they want to prepare the ground, and win as many as possible to their point of view and for their side. And where will we be on that day? ...
[W]e will inevitably be forced to be on their side, physically speaking. But when it comes to activity, we will be pacifists, I hope and pray, non-violent resisters of aggression, from whomever it comes, resisters to repression, coercion, from whatever side it comes, and our activity will be the works of mercy. Our arms will be the love of God and our brother.
In regard to Fidel Castro's Cuba, she wrote in July 1961: "We are on the side of the revolution. We believe there must be new concepts of property, which is proper to man, and that the new concept is not so new. There is a Christian communism and a Christian capitalism.... We believe in farming communes and cooperatives and will be happy to see how they work out in Cuba.... God bless Castro and all those who are seeing Christ in the poor. God bless all those who are seeking the brotherhood of man because in loving their brothers they love God even though they deny Him." It was only in December 1961 that Castro, who had repeatedly repudiated Communism in the past, openly declared that his movement was not simply Socialist, but Communist.
Catholic Church property
Bill Kauffman of The American Conservative wrote of Day: "The Little Way. That is what we seek. That—contrary to the ethic of personal parking spaces, of the dollar-sign god—is the American way. Dorothy Day kept to that little way, and that is why we honor her. She understood that if small is not always beautiful, at least it is always human."
Day's belief in smallness also applied to the property of others, including the Catholic Church, as when she wrote: "Fortunately, the Papal States were wrested from the Church in the last century, but there is still the problem of investment of papal funds. It is always a cheering thought to me that if we have good will and are still unable to find remedies for the economic abuses of our time, in our family, our parish, and the mighty church as a whole, God will take matters in hand and do the job for us. When I saw the Garibaldi mountains in British Columbia . . . I said a prayer for his soul and blessed him for being the instrument of so mighty a work of God. May God use us!"
Jesuit priest Daniel Lyons "called Day 'an apostle of pious oversimplification.' He said that the Catholic Worker 'often distorted beyond recognition' the position of the Popes".
Day wrote in one of her memoirs: "I had a conversation with John Spivak, the Communist writer, a few years ago, and he said to me, "How can you believe? How can you believe in the Immaculate Conception, in the Virgin birth, in the Resurrection?" I could only say that I believe in the Roman Catholic Church and all she teaches. I have accepted Her authority with my whole heart. At the same time I want to point out to you that we are taught to pray for final perseverance. We are taught that faith is a gift, and sometimes I wonder why some have it and some do not. I feel my own unworthiness and can never be grateful enough to God for His gift of faith."
In response to press coverage in 1964 of an ongoing dispute between Cardinal James McIntyre of Los Angeles and some of his priests, who criticized him for a lack of leadership on civil rights, Day authored an essay on the laity's responsibility to act independently of the church hierarchy. When the Catholic Worker during World War II, she wrote, took a pacifist stance, "Bishop McIntyre merely commented ... 'We never studied these things much in the seminary' ... adding doubtfully, 'There is the necessity of course to inform one's conscience.' " For that attitude, Day added, "our shepherds are to be reproached, that they have not fed their sheep these strong meats ... capable of overcoming all obstacles in their advance to that kind of society where it easier to be good." She instructed her readers: "Let Catholics form their associations, hold their meetings in their own homes, or in a hired hall, or any place else. Nothing should stop them. Let the controversy come out into the open in this way."
In September 1963, Day discussed pre-marital sex in her column, warning against those who portrayed it as a form of freedom: "The wisdom of the flesh is treacherous indeed." She described herself as "a woman who must think in terms of the family, the need of the child to have both mother and father, who believes strongly that the home is the unit of society" and wrote that:
When sex is treated lightly, as a means of pleasure ... it takes on the quality of the demonic, and to descend into this blackness is to have a foretaste of hell... There is no such thing as seeing how far one can go without being caught, or how far one can go without committing mortal sin.
In 1968, Day wrote again about sex—this time in her diary—in response to the criticisms of Stanley Vishnewski (and other coworkers at the Tivoli farm) that she had "no power" over marijuana smoking "or sexual promiscuity, or solitary sins." The situation continued to remain a problem, as Day also documented in her diary:
For some weeks now my problem is this: What to do about the open immorality (and of course I mean sexual morality) in our midst. It is like the last times—there is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed. But when things become a matter for open discussion, what about example set, that most powerful of all teachers. We have with us now a beautiful woman with children whose husband has taken up with a seventeen-year-old, is divorcing her and starting on a new marriage. She comes to us as to a refuge where by working for others in our community of fifty or more, she can forget once in a while her human misery. . . .
We have one young one, drunken, promiscuous, pretty as a picture, college educated, mischievous, able to talk her way out of any situation—so far. She comes to us when she is drunk and beaten and hungry and cold and when she is taken in, she is liable to crawl into the bed of any man on the place. We do not know how many she has slept with on the farm. What to do? What to do?
Cause for sainthood
A proposal for Day's canonization was put forth publicly by the Claretian Missionaries in 1983. At the request of Cardinal John J. O'Connor, head of the diocese in which she lived, in March 2000 Pope John Paul II granted the Archdiocese of New York permission to open her cause, allowing her to be called a "Servant of God" in the eyes of the Catholic Church. As canon law requires, the Archdiocese of New York submitted this cause for the endorsement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which it received in November 2012. Some members of the Catholic Worker Movement objected to the canonization process as a contradiction of Day's own values and concerns.
Pope Benedict XVI, on February 13, 2013, in the closing days of his papacy, cited Day as an example of conversion. He quoted from her writings and said: "The journey towards faith in such a secularized environment was particularly difficult, but Grace acts nonetheless."
- An independent film about Dorothy Day called Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story was produced in 1996. Day was portrayed by Moira Kelly, and Peter Maurin was portrayed by Martin Sheen.
- A full-length documentary about Day, Dorothy Day: Don't Call Me a Saint, premiered in 2005. It was shown at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival.
- Day's diaries and letters were edited by Robert Ellsberg and published by Marquette University Press in 2008 and 2010, respectively.
- In 1992, Day received the Courage of Conscience Award from the Peace Abbey.
- In 2001, Day was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.
- Dormitories at Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois, University of Scranton in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Loyola University Maryland are named in her honor, as is the campus ministry at Xavier University.
- A professorship at St. John's University School of Law is named in her honor.
- At Marquette University, a dormitory floor bearing Day's name has been reserved for those drawn to social justice issues.
- The Office of Service and Justice at Fordham University bears her name, at both of the university's campuses.
- Saint Peter's College of Jersey City, New Jersey, named its Political Science Office the Dorothy Day House.
- Broadway Housing Communities, a supportive housing project in New York City, opened the Dorothy Day Apartment Building at 583 Riverside Drive in 2003.
- On September 24, 2015 Pope Francis became the first pope to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress. Day was one of four Americans mentioned by the Pope in his speech to the joint session that included Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thomas Merton. He said of Day: "Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints."
- DC Comics character Leslie Thompkins is, according to her creator Denny O'Neil, based on Day.
- Indie rock band, The Chairman Dances, included a song for Day and Peter Maurin on their 2016 album, Time Without Measure. The song premiered on PopMatters on July 22, 2016.
- Dorothy Day (1924) The Eleventh Virgin, semi-autobiographical novel; Albert and Charles Boni; reissued Cottager 2011
- Dorothy Day (1938) From Union Square to Rome, Silver Spring, MD: Preservation of the Faith Press
- Dorothy Day (1939) House of Hospitality, From Union Square to Rome, New York, NY: Sheed and Ward; reprinted 2015 by Our Sunday Visitor
- Dorothy Day (1948) On Pilgrimage, diaries; reprinted 1999 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
- Dorothy Day (1952) The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day, New York, NY: Harper and Brothers
- Dorothy Day (1963) Loaves and Fishes: The Inspiring Story of the Catholic Worker Movement, New York, NY: Harper and Row; reprinted 1997 by Orbis Books
- Dorothy Day (1979) Therese: A Life of Therese of Lisieux, Templegate Publishing
- Dorothy Day, ed. Phyllis Zagano (2002) Dorothy Day: In My Own Words
- Dorothy Day, ed. Patrick Jordan (2002), Dorothy Day: Writings from Commonweal [1929-1973], Liturgical Press
- Dorothy Day, ed. Robert Ellsberg (2005) Dorothy Day, Selected Writings
- Dorothy Day, ed. Robert Ellsberg, (2008) The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day
- Dorothy Day, ed. Robert Ellsberg, (2010) All the Way to Heaven: The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day
- List of peace activists
- Ammon Hennacy
- Catherine Doherty
- Christian anarchism
- Christian pacifism
- Christian socialism
- Catholic social teaching
- Christian democracy
- Christian politics
- Committee of Catholics to Fight Anti-Semitism
- Daniel Berrigan
- Philip Berrigan
- Elie (2003), p. 43
- Elie (2003), p. 433
- Cannon, Virginia (November 30, 2012). "Day by Day; A Saint for the Occupy Era?". The New Yorker. Retrieved September 30, 2015.
- Pope Benedict XVI (February 13, 2013). "General Audience, 13 February 2013". Vatican. Retrieved September 30, 2015.
- Elie (2003), pp. 236-237
- Elie (2003), pp. 279
- "G.K. Chesterton and Dorothy Day on Economics:Neither Socialism nor Capitalism (Distributism)". cjd.org. Retrieved October 2, 2015.
- "The ChesterBelloc Mandate: Dorothy Day and Distributism". Retrieved October 2, 2015.
- Pope Francis (September 24, 2015). "Visit to the Joint Session of the United States Congress". Vatican. Retrieved September 30, 2015.
- Coles, Robert (1987). Dorothy Day: A Radical Devotion. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
- Miller, William D. (1982). Dorothy Day: A Biography. NY: Harper & Row. pp. 1–7.
- Miller, William D. (1982). Dorothy Day: A Biography. NY: Harper & Row. pp. 9–10, 13–4.
- Forest, Jim (2011). All is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. pp. 14–5.
- Miller, William D. (1982). Dorothy Day: A Biography. NY: Harper & Row. pp. 27–8.
- Day, Dorothy (1981). The Long Loneliness: the autobiography of Dorothy Day. San Francisco: Harper & Row. p. 43.
- Coles (1987), p. 2.
- "Dorothy Day dead at 83". The Bulletin. November 29, 1980. p. 61.
- Cornell, Tom. "A Brief Introduction to the Catholic Worker Movement". catholicworker.org. Retrieved February 21, 2009.
- Vance, Laurence (December 4, 2006) Bill Kauffman: American Anarchist, LewRockwell.com
- Forest, Jim (2011). All is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. p. 30.
- Day, Dorothy. "Chapter 6 - New York". From Union Square to Rome. Dorothy Day Collection. Retrieved January 27, 2014.
- Forest, Jim (2011). All is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. pp. 32–3.
- "Suffrage Pickets Freed from Prison". New York Times. November 28, 1917. Retrieved January 26, 2014.
- "Cat-and-Mouse Remedy for Hunger-Striking". New York Times. November 29, 1917. Retrieved January 26, 2014.
- Forest, Jim (2011). All is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. pp. 44–7.
- Whitman, Alden (November 30, 1980). "Dorothy Day, Outspoken Catholic Activist, Dies at 83". New York Times. Retrieved January 28, 2014.
- Forest, Jim (2011). All is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. pp. 56–7. Tobey later founded the Literary Guild.
- Forest, Jim (2011). All is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. p. 65.
- Forest, Jim (2011). All is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. pp. 65–6.
- Forest, Jim (2011). All is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. p. 67ff.
- Day, Dorothy (May 1978). "On Pilgrimage". The Catholic Worker: 2.
- Forest, Jim (2011). All is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. pp. 74–86. Her baptism was conditional, because she had already been baptized in the Episcopal Church.
- A Russian neighbor's sister had named her daughter Tamar, and Day was impressed by St. Teresa of Avila, whose biography she had recently read. Miller, William D. (1982). Dorothy Day: A Biography. NY: Harper & Row. p. 184.
- Forest, Jim (2011). All is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. pp. 90–95.
- Patrick Jordan, ed., Dorothy Day: Writings from Commonweal [1929-1973] (Liturgical Press, 2002), 1-55
- Day, Dorothy (1981). The Long Loneliness: the autobiography of Dorothy Day. San Francisco: Harper & Row. pp. 165–166.
- Loaves and Fishes, 1983 reprint, pp. 13-14.
- Atkins, Robert (May 1, 2013). "Dorothy Day's social Catholicism: the formative French influences". International journal for the Study of the Christian Church. 13 (2): 96–110. ISSN 1474-225X. doi:10.1080/1474225X.2013.780400.
- Sheila Webb, "Dorothy Day and the Early Years of the Catholic Worker: Social Action through the Pages of the Press", in U.S. Catholic Historian, Vol. 21, No. 3, Summer, 2003, 71-80, JSTOR, accessed January 30, 2014
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Dorothy Day remains, at the dawn of the new millennium, the radical conscience of American Catholicism.
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Can you hear crying out against you the wages which you kept back from the labourers mowing your fields? The cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord Sabaoth.
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Thomas Merton on Wikipedia
|Father Thomas Merton|
|Born||(1915-01-31)January 31, 1915
Prades, Pyrénées-Orientales, France
|Died||December 10, 1968(1968-12-10) (aged 53)
|Residence||Abbey of Gethsemani,
Kentucky, United States
|Occupation||Trappist monk, author|
|Known for||The Seven Storey Mountain (1948)|
|Father Louis, O.C.S.O.|
|Ordination||May 26, 1949|
|Part of a series on|
Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O. (January 31, 1915 – December 10, 1968) was an American Catholic writer, theologian and mystic. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, he was a poet, social activist, and student of comparative religion. In 1949, he was ordained to the priesthood and given the name Father Louis.
Merton wrote more than 70 books, mostly on spirituality, social justice and a quiet pacifism, as well as scores of essays and reviews. Among Merton's most enduring works is his bestselling autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain (1948), which sent scores of World War II veterans, students, and even teenagers flocking to monasteries across the US, and was also featured in National Review's list of the 100 best non-fiction books of the century. Merton was a keen proponent of interfaith understanding. He pioneered dialogue with prominent Asian spiritual figures, including the Dalai Lama, the Japanese writer D.T. Suzuki, the Thai Buddhist monk Buddhadasa, and the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, and authored books on Zen Buddhism and Taoism. In the years since his death, Merton has been the subject of several biographies.
- 1 Biography
- 2 College
- 3 Franciscans
- 4 Monastic life
- 5 Personal life and death
- 6 Spirituality beyond Catholicism
- 7 Legacy
- 8 In popular culture
- 9 Selected bibliography
- 10 See also
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
Thomas Merton was born in Prades, Pyrénées-Orientales, France, on January 31, 1915, to Owen Merton, a New Zealand painter active in Europe and the United States, and Ruth Jenkins, an American Quaker and artist. He was baptized in the Church of England, in accordance with his father's wishes. Merton's father was often absent during his son's upbringing.
During World War I, in August 1915, the Merton family left France for the United States. They settled first with Ruth's parents on Long Island, New York, and then near them in Douglaston, New York. In 1917, the family moved into an old house in Flushing, New York, where Merton's brother, John Paul, was born on November 2, 1918. The family was considering returning to France when Ruth was diagnosed with stomach cancer, from which she died on October 21, 1921, in Bellevue Hospital. Merton was six years old.
In 1922, Owen Merton and Thomas traveled briefly to Bermuda, where Owen fell in love with the American novelist Evelyn Scott, a married woman. Still grieving for his mother, Thomas never quite warmed to Scott.
Happy to get away from Scott, Thomas returned to Douglaston in 1923 to live with his mother's family and his brother. Owen Merton, Scott, and her husband sailed to Europe and traveled through France, Italy, England and Algeria. During the winter of 1924, while in Algeria, Owen Merton became ill and was thought to be near death. The news of his father's illness weighed heavily on Thomas Merton. The prospect of losing his sole surviving parent filled him with anxiety.
By March 1925, Owen Merton was well enough to organize a show of his paintings at the Leicester Galleries in London. He then returned to New York and took Thomas to live with him in Saint-Antonin, France. Thomas returned to France with mixed feelings, as he had lived with his grandparents for the last two years and had become attached to them. During their travels, Merton's father and Scott had discussed marriage on occasion. After the trip to New York, Owen Merton realized that Thomas would not be reconciled to Scott and broke off his relationship with her.
In 1926, when Merton was eleven, his father enrolled him in a boys' boarding school in Montauban, the Lycée Ingres. The stay brought up feelings of loneliness and depression for Merton, as he felt deserted by his father. During his initial months of schooling, Merton begged his father to remove him. As time passed, however, he gradually became more comfortable with his surroundings there. He made friends with a circle of young and aspiring writers at the Lycée and came to write two novels.
Sundays at the Lycée offered a nearby Catholic Mass, but Merton never attended, instead often taking an early train home. A Protestant preacher would come to teach on Sunday at the Lycée for those who did not attend Mass, but Merton took little interest. During the Christmas breaks of 1926 and 1927, he spent his time with friends of his father in Murat, a small town in the Auvergne. He admired the devout Catholic couple, whom he saw as good and decent people, but religion only once came up as a topic between them. Merton expressed his belief that all religions "lead to God, only in different ways, and every man should go according to his own conscience, and settle things according to his own private way of looking at things." He wanted them to argue with him, but they did not. As he came to understand later, they realized that his attitude "implied a fundamental and utter lack of faith, and a dependence on my own lights, and attachment to my own opinion"; furthermore, since "I did not believe in anything,... anything I might say I believed would be only empty talk."
Meanwhile, Merton's father was traveling and painting and attending an exhibition of his work in London, but in the summer of 1928 he took Merton out of the Lycée Ingres, informing him that they were headed together to England.
Merton and his father moved to the home of Owen's aunt and uncle in Ealing, West London. Merton was soon enrolled in Ripley Court Preparatory School, another boarding school, this one in Surrey. Merton enjoyed his studies there and benefited from a greater sense of community than had existed at the lycée. On Sundays, all students attended services at the local Anglican church. Merton began routinely praying, but discontinued the practice after leaving the school.
During his holidays, Merton stayed at his great-aunt and uncle's home, where occasionally his father would visit. During the Easter vacation, 1929, Merton and Owen went to Canterbury. Merton enjoyed the countryside around Canterbury, taking long walks there. When the holiday ended, Owen returned to France, and Merton to Ripley. Towards the end of that year, Merton learned that his father was ill and living in Ealing. Merton went to see him and together they left for Scotland, where a friend had offered his house for Owen to recover in. Shortly after, Owen was taken to London to the North Middlesex Hospital. Merton soon learned his father had a brain tumor. He took the news badly, but later, when he visited Owen in hospital, the latter seemed to be recovering. This helped ease some of Merton's anxiety.
In 1930, Merton was sent to Oakham School, a boarding school in Rutland, England. At the end of the first year, his grandparents and John Paul visited him. His grandfather discussed his finances, telling him he would be provided for if Owen died. Merton and the family spent most of that summer visiting the hospital to see his father, who was so ill he could no longer speak. This caused Merton much pain. On January 16, 1931, just as the term at Oakham had restarted, Owen died. Tom Bennett, Owen Merton's physician and former classmate in New Zealand, became Merton's legal guardian. He allowed Merton to use his unoccupied house in London during the holidays. That year, Merton visited Rome and Florence for a week and also saw his grandparents in New York. Upon his return to Oakham, Merton became joint editor of the school magazine, the Oakhamian.
At this period in his life, Merton was an agnostic. In 1932, on a walking tour in Germany, he developed an infection under a toenail. He ignored it, and it developed into a case of blood poisoning so severe that at one point he thought he was going to die. But "the thought of God, the thought of prayer did not even enter my mind, either that day, or all the rest of the time that I was ill, or that whole year. Or if the thought did come to me, it was only as an occasion for its denial and rejection." His declared "creed" was "I believe in nothing."
In September he learned he had passed the entrance exam for Clare College, Cambridge. On his 18th birthday, and tasting new freedom, he went off on his own. He stopped off in Paris, Marseilles, then walked to Hyères, where he ran out of money and wired Bennett for more. Scoldingly, Bennett granted his request, which may have shown Merton he cared. Merton then walked to Saint Tropez, where he took a train to Genoa and then another to Florence. From Florence he left for Rome, a trip that in some ways changed the course of his life.
Two days after arriving in Rome in February 1933, Merton moved out of his hotel and found a small pensione with views of the Palazzo Barberini and San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, two magnificent pieces of architecture rich with history. In The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton remarks:
I had been in Rome before, on an Easter vacation from school, for about a week. I had seen the Forum and the Colosseum and the Vatican museum and St. Peter's. But I had not really seen Rome. This time, I started out again, with the misconception common to Anglo-Saxons, that the real Rome is the Rome of the ugly ruins, the hills and the slums of the city.
Merton began going to the churches, not quite knowing why he felt so drawn to them. He did not participate in Mass but simply observed and appreciated them. One day, he happened upon a church near the Roman Forum, called Santi Cosma e Damiano. In the apse of the church, he saw a great mosaic of Jesus Christ coming in judgment in a dark blue sky and was transfixed. Merton had a hard time leaving the place, though he was unsure why. Merton had officially found the Rome he said he didn't see on his first visit: Byzantine Christian Rome.
From this point on in his trip he set about visiting the various churches and basilicas in Rome, such as the Lateran Baptistery, Santa Costanza, the Basilica di San Clemente, Santa Prassede and Santa Pudenziana (to name a few). He purchased a Vulgate (Latin Bible), reading the entire New Testament. One night in his pensione, Merton had the sense that Owen was in the room with him for a few moments. This mystical experience led him to see the emptiness he felt in his life, and he said that for the first time in his life he really prayed, asking God to deliver him from his darkness. The Seven Storey Mountain also describes a visit to Tre Fontane, a Trappist monastery in Rome. While visiting the church there, he was at ease, yet when entering the monastery he was overtaken with anxiety. That afternoon while alone he remarked to himself, "I should like to become a Trappist monk." He would eventually become a Trappist, and although they are known for silence, Merton was always very vocal and expressive about his beliefs, especially in his writings.
United States 1933
Merton took a boat from Italy to the United States to visit his grandparents in Douglaston for the summer, before entering Clare College. Initially he retained some of the spirit he had had in Rome, continuing to read his Latin Bible. He wanted to find a church to attend, but had still not quite quelled his antipathy towards Catholicism. He went to Zion Episcopal Church in Douglaston, but was irritated by the services there, so he went to Flushing, New York, and attended a Quaker Meeting. Merton appreciated the silence of the atmosphere but did not feel at home with the group. By mid-summer, he had lost nearly all the interest in organized religion that he had found in Rome. At the end of the summer he returned to England.
In October 1933, Merton entered Clare College as an undergraduate. Merton, now 18, seems to have viewed Clare College as the end-all answer to his life without meaning. In The Seven Storey Mountain, the brief chapter on Cambridge paints a fairly dark, negative picture of his life there but is short on detail.
Some of Merton's Oakham schoolmates, who had gone up to Cambridge at the same time, recalled that Merton drifted away and became isolated there. He started drinking excessively, hanging out in the local pubs (public houses, the rough equivalent of a bar in other countries) rather than studying. He was also very free with his sexuality during this period, some friends going so far as to call him a womanizer. He also spent freely—far too freely in Bennett's opinion—and he was summoned for the first of what was to be a series of stern lectures in his guardian's London consulting rooms. Although details are sketchy—they appear to have been excised from a franker first draft of the autobiography by the Trappist censors—most of Merton's biographers agree that he fathered a child with one of the women he encountered at Cambridge and there was some kind of legal action pending that was settled discreetly by Bennett. By any account, this child has never been identified.
By this time Bennett had had enough and, in a meeting in April, Merton and his guardian appear to have struck a deal: Merton would return to the States and Bennett would not tell Merton's grandparents about his indiscretions. In May Merton left Cambridge after completing his exams.
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In January 1935, Merton enrolled as a sophomore at Columbia University in Manhattan. He lived with the Jenkins family in Douglaston and took a train to the Columbia campus each day. Merton's years at Columbia matured him, and it is here that he discovered Catholicism in a real sense. These years were also a time in his life where he realized others were more accepting of him as an individual. In short, at 21 he was an equal among his peers. At that time he established a close and long-lasting friendship with the proto-minimalist painter Ad Reinhardt.
Merton began an 18th-century English literature course during the spring semester taught by Mark Van Doren, a professor with whom he maintained a friendship until death. Van Doren did not teach his students in any traditional sense; instead he engaged them, sharing his love of literature. Merton was also interested in Communism at Columbia, where he briefly joined the Young Communist League; however, the first meeting he attended failed to interest him further, and he never went back.
During summer break, John Paul returned home from Gettysburg Academy in Pennsylvania. The two brothers spent their summer breaks bonding with each other, claiming later to have seen every movie produced between 1934 and 1937. When the fall semester arrived, John Paul left to enroll at Cornell University while Tom returned to Columbia. He began working for two school papers, a humor magazine called the Jester and the Columbia Review. Also on the Jester's staff were the poet Robert Lax and the journalist Ed Rice. Lax and Merton became best friends and kept up a lively correspondence until Merton's death; Rice later founded the Catholic magazine Jubilee, to which Merton frequently contributed essays. Merton also became a member of Alpha Delta Phi that semester and joined the Philolexian Society, the campus literary and debate group.
In October 1935, in protest of Italy's invasion of Ethiopia, Merton joined a picket of the Casa Italiana. The Casa Italiana, established in 1926, was conceived of by Columbia and the Italian government as a "university within a university". Merton also joined the local peace movement, having taken "the Oxford Pledge" to not support any government in any war they might undertake.
In 1936, Merton's grandfather, Samuel Jenkins, died. Merton and his grandfather had grown rather close through the years, and Merton immediately left school for home upon receiving the news. He states that, without thinking, he went to the room where his grandfather's body was and knelt down to pray over him.
In February 1937, Merton read a book that opened his mind to Catholicism. It was titled The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy by Étienne Gilson, and inside he encountered an explanation of God that he found both logical and pragmatic. Tom purchased this book because he was taking a class on medieval French literature, not seeing the nihil obstat in the book denoting its Catholic origin. This work was pivotal, paving the way for more encounters with Catholicism. Another author Merton began reading at this time was Aldous Huxley, whose book Ends and Means introduced Merton to mysticism. In August of the same year, Tom's grandmother, Bonnemaman, died.
In January 1938, Merton graduated from Columbia with a B.A. in English. After graduation he continued at Columbia, doing graduate work in English. In June, a friend, Seymour Freedgood, arranged a meeting with Mahanambrata Brahmachari, a Hindu monk in New York visiting from the University of Chicago. Merton was very impressed by the man, seeing that he was profoundly centered in God, and expected him to recommend his beliefs and religion to them in some manner. Instead, Brahmachari recommended that they reconnect with their own spiritual roots and traditions. He suggested Merton read The Confessions of Augustine and The Imitation of Christ. Although Merton was surprised to hear the monk recommending Catholic books, he read them both. He also started to pray again regularly.
For the next few months Merton began to consider Catholicism as something to explore again. Finally, in August 1938, he decided he wanted to attend Mass and went to Corpus Christi Church located near to the Columbia campus on West 121st Street in Morningside Heights. Mass was foreign to him, but he listened attentively. Following this experience, Merton's reading list became more and more geared toward Catholicism. While doing his graduate work, he was writing his thesis on William Blake, whose spiritual symbolism he was coming to appreciate in new ways.
One evening in September, Merton was reading a book about Gerard Manley Hopkins' conversion to Catholicism and how he became a priest. Suddenly, he could not shake this sense that he, too, should follow such a path. He grabbed his coat and headed quickly over to the Corpus Christi Church rectory, where he met with a Fr. George Barry Ford, expressing his desire to become Catholic. The next few weeks Merton started catechism, learning the basics of his new faith. On November 16, 1938, Thomas Merton underwent the rite of baptism once again at Corpus Christi Church and received Holy Communion. On February 22, 1939, Merton received his M.A. in English from Columbia University. Merton decided he would pursue his Ph.D. at Columbia and moved from Douglaston to Greenwich Village.
In January 1939, Merton had heard good things from friends of his about a part-time teacher on campus named Daniel Walsh, so he decided to take a course on Thomas Aquinas with Walsh. Through Walsh, Merton was introduced to Jacques Maritain at a lecture on Catholic Action, which took place at a Catholic Book Club meeting the following March. Merton and Walsh developed a lifelong friendship, and it was Walsh who convinced Merton that Thomism was not for him. On May 25, 1939, Merton received Confirmation at Corpus Christi, and took the confirmation name James.
In October 1939, Merton invited friends back to sleep over at his place following a long night out at a jazz club. Over breakfast, Merton told them of his desire to become a priest. Soon after this epiphany, Merton visited Fr. Ford at Corpus Christi to share his feeling. Ford agreed with Merton, but added that he felt Merton was suited for the priesthood of the diocesan priest and advised against joining an order.
Soon after, Merton met with his teacher Dan Walsh, whom he trusted to advise him on the matter. Walsh disagreed with Ford's assessment that Merton was suited to a secular calling. Instead, he felt Merton was spiritually and intellectually more suited for a priestly vocation in a specific order. They began to discuss the Jesuits, Cistercians and Franciscans. Merton had appreciated what he had read of Saint Francis of Assisi; as a result, he felt that might be the direction in which he was being called.
Walsh set up a meeting with a Fr. Edmund Murphy, a friend at the monastery of St. Francis of Assisi on 31st Street. The interview went well and Merton was given an application, as well as Fr. Murphy's personal invitation to become a Franciscan friar. However, he noted that Merton would not be able to enter the novitiate until August 1940 because that was the only month in which they accepted new novices. Merton was very excited, yet disappointed that it would be another year before he would fulfill his calling.
By 1940 Merton began to have doubts about whether he was fit to be a Franciscan. He felt he had never truly been upfront about his past with Fr. Murphy or Dan Walsh. It is possible some of this may have concerned his time at Cambridge, though he is never specific in The Seven Storey Mountain about precisely what he felt he was hiding. Merton arranged to see Fr. Murphy and tell him of his past troubles. Fr. Murphy was understanding during the meeting, but told Tom he ought to return the next day once he had time to consider this new information. That next day Fr. Murphy delivered Merton devastating news. He no longer felt Merton was suitable material for a Franciscan vocation as a friar, and even said that the August novitiate was now full. Fr. Murphy seemed uninterested in helping Merton's cause any further, and Merton believed at once that his calling was finished.
St. Bonaventure University
In early August 1940, the month he would have entered the Franciscan novitiate, Merton went to Olean, New York, to stay with friends, including Robert Lax and Ed Rice, at a cottage where they had vacationed the summer before. This was a tough time for Merton, and he wanted to be in the company of friends. Merton now needed a job. In the vicinity was St. Bonaventure University, a Franciscan university he had learned about through Bob Lax a year before. The day after arriving in Olean, Merton went to St. Bonaventure for an interview with then-president Fr. Thomas Plassman. Fortuitously, there was an opening in the English department and Merton was hired on the spot. Merton chose St. Bonaventure because he still harbored a desire to be a friar; he decided that he could at least live among them even if he could not be one of them. St. Bonaventure University holds an important repository of Merton materials.
In September 1940, Merton moved into a dormitory on campus. (His old room in Devereux Hall has a sign above the door to this effect.) While Merton's stay at Bonaventure would prove brief, the time was pivotal for him. While teaching there, his spiritual life blossomed as he went deeper and deeper into his prayer life. He all but gave up drinking, quit smoking, stopped going to movies and became more selective in his reading. In his own way he was undergoing a kind of lay renunciation of worldly pleasures. In April 1941, Merton went to a retreat he had booked for Holy Week at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky. At once he felt a pull to the place, and he could feel his spirits rise during his stay.
Returning to St. Bonaventure with Gethsemani on his mind, Merton returned to teaching. In May 1941 he had an occasion where he used his old Vulgate, purchased in Italy back in 1933, as a kind of oracle. The idea was that he would randomly select a page and blindly point his finger somewhere, seeing if it would render him some sort of sign. On his second try Merton laid his finger on a section of The Gospel of Luke which stated, "Behold, thou shalt be silent." Immediately Merton thought of the Cistercians. Although he was still unsure of his qualifications for a religious vocation, Merton felt he was being drawn more and more to a specific calling.
In August 1941, Merton attended a talk at the school given by Catherine de Hueck. Hueck had founded the Friendship House in Toronto and its sister house in Harlem, which Merton visited. Appreciative of the mission of Hueck and Friendship House, which was racial harmony and charity, he decided to volunteer there for two weeks. Merton was amazed at how little he had learned of New York during his studies at Columbia. Harlem was such a different place, full of poverty and prostitution. Merton felt especially troubled by the situation of children being raised in the environment there. Friendship House had a profound impact on Merton, and he would speak of it often in his later writing.
In November 1941, Hueck asked if Merton would consider becoming a full-time member of Friendship House, to which Merton responded cordially yet noncommittally. He still felt unfit to serve Christ, and even hinted at such in a letter to Hueck that same month, in which he implied he was not good enough for her organization. In early December Merton let Hueck know that he would definitely not be joining Friendship House, explaining his persistent attraction to the priesthood.
On December 10, 1941, Thomas Merton arrived at the Abbey of Gethsemani and spent three days at the monastery guest house, waiting for acceptance into the Order. The novice master would come to interview Merton, gauging his sincerity and qualifications. In the interim, Merton was put to work polishing floors and scrubbing dishes. On December 13 he was accepted into the monastery as a postulant by Dom Frederic Dunne, Gethsemani's Father Abbot since 1935. Merton's first few days did not go smoothly. He had a severe cold from his stay in the guest house, where he sat in front of an open window to prove his sincerity. But Merton devoted himself entirely to adjusting to the austerity, enjoying the change of lifestyle. During his initial weeks at Gethsemani, Merton studied the complicated Cistercian sign language and daily work and worship routine.
In March 1942, during the first Sunday of Lent, Merton was accepted as a novice monk at the monastery. In June, he received a letter from his brother John Paul stating he was soon to leave for war and would be coming to Gethsemani to visit Merton before leaving. On July 17 John Paul arrived in Gethsemani and the two brothers did some catching up. John Paul expressed his desire to become Catholic, and by July 26 was baptized at a church in nearby New Haven, Kentucky, leaving the following day. This would be the last time the two saw each other. John Paul died on April 17, 1943 when his plane's engines failed over the English Channel. A poem by Merton to John Paul appears in The Seven Storey Mountain.
Merton kept journals throughout his stay at Gethsemani. Initially he had felt writing to be at odds with his vocation, worried it would foster a tendency to individuality. Fortunately his superior, Father Abbot Dom Frederic, saw that Merton had both a gifted intellect and talent for writing. In 1943 Merton was tasked to translate religious texts and write biographies on the saints for the monastery. Merton approached his new writing assignment with the same fervor and zeal he displayed in the farmyard.
On March 19, 1944, Merton made his temporary profession of vows and was given the white cowl, black scapular and leather belt. In November 1944 a manuscript Merton had given to friend Robert Lax the previous year was published by James Laughlin at New Directions: a book of poetry titled Thirty Poems. Merton had mixed feelings about the publishing of this work, but Dom Frederic remained resolute over Merton continuing his writing. In 1946 New Directions published another poetry collection by Merton, A Man in the Divided Sea, which, combined with Thirty Poems, attracted some recognition for him. The same year Merton's manuscript for The Seven Storey Mountain was accepted by Harcourt Brace & Company for publication. The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton's autobiography, was written during two-hour intervals in the monastery scriptorium as a personal project.
By 1947 Merton was more comfortable in his role as a writer. On March 19 he took his solemn vows, a commitment to live out his life at the monastery. He also began corresponding with a Carthusian at St. Hugh's Charterhouse in England. Merton had harbored an appreciation for the Carthusian Order since coming to Gethsemani in 1941, and would later come to consider leaving the Cistercians for that Order. On July 4 the Catholic journal Commonweal published an essay by Merton titled Poetry and the Contemplative Life.
In 1948 The Seven Storey Mountain was published to critical acclaim, with fan mail to Merton reaching new heights. Merton also published several works for the monastery that year, which were: Guide to Cistercian Life, Cistercian Contemplatives, Figures for an Apocalypse, and The Spirit of Simplicity. That year Saint Mary's College (Indiana) also published a booklet by Merton, What Is Contemplation? Merton published as well that year a biography, Exile Ends in Glory: The Life of a Trappistine, Mother M. Berchmans, O.C.S.O. Merton's abbot, Dom Frederic Dunne, died on August 3, 1948 while riding on a train to Georgia. Dunne's passing was painful for Merton, who had come to look on the abbot as a father figure and spiritual mentor. On August 15 the monastic community elected Dom James Fox, a former U.S. Navy officer, as their new abbot. In October Merton discussed with him his ongoing attraction to the Carthusian and Camaldolese Orders and their eremitical way of life, to which Fox responded by assuring Merton that he belonged at Gethsemani. Fox permitted Merton to continue his writing, Merton now having gained substantial recognition outside the monastery. On December 21 Merton was ordained as a subdeacon. From 1948 on, Merton identified as an anarchist.
On January 5, 1949, Merton took a train to Louisville and applied for American citizenship. Published that year were Seeds of Contemplation, The Tears of Blind Lions, The Waters of Siloe, and the British edition of The Seven Storey Mountain under the title Elected Silence. On March 19 Merton became a deacon in the Order, and on May 26 (Ascension Thursday) he was ordained a priest, saying his first Mass the following day. In June the monastery celebrated its centenary, for which Merton authored the book Gethsemani Magnificat in commemoration. In November Merton started teaching mystical theology to novices at Gethsemani, a duty he greatly enjoyed. By this time Merton was a huge success outside the monastery, The Seven Storey Mountain having sold over 150,000 copies. In subsequent years Merton would author many other books, amassing a wide readership. He would revise Seeds of Contemplation several times, viewing his early edition as error-prone and immature. A person's place in society, views on social activism, and various approaches toward contemplative prayer and living became constant themes in his writings.
In December a fellow monk allowed Merton to take the monastery jeep out on the property for a drive. Merton, having never learned to drive, wound up hitting some trees and running through ditches, flipping the jeep halfway over in the middle of the road. He never used the jeep again.
During his long years at Gethsemani, Merton changed from the passionately inward-looking young monk of The Seven Storey Mountain to a more contemplative writer and poet. Merton became well known for his dialogues with other faiths and his non-violent stand during the race riots and Vietnam War of the 1960s.
By the 1960s, he had arrived at a broadly human viewpoint, one deeply concerned about the world and issues like peace, racial tolerance, and social equality. He had developed a personal radicalism which had political implications but was not based on ideology, rooted above all in non-violence. He regarded his viewpoint as based on "simplicity" and expressed it as a Christian sensibility. His New Seeds of Contemplation was published in 1962. In a letter to Nicaraguan Catholic priest, liberation theologian and politician Ernesto Cardenal (who entered Gethsemani but left in 1959 to study theology in Mexico), Merton wrote: "The world is full of great criminals with enormous power, and they are in a death struggle with each other. It is a huge gang battle, using well-meaning lawyers and policemen and clergymen as their front, controlling papers, means of communication, and enrolling everybody in their armies."
Merton finally achieved the solitude he had long desired while living in a hermitage on the monastery grounds in 1965. Over the years he had occasional battles with some of his abbots about not being allowed out of the monastery despite his international reputation and voluminous correspondence with many well-known figures of the day.
At the end of 1968, the new abbot, the Reverend Flavian Burns, allowed him the freedom to undertake a tour of Asia, during which he met the Dalai Lama in India on three occasions, and also the Tibetan Buddhist Dzogchen master, Chatral Rinpoche, followed by a solitary retreat near Darjeeling, India. In Darjeeling, he befriended Tsewang Yishey Pemba, a prominent member of the Tibetan community. Then, in what was to be his final letter, he noted, "In my contacts with these new friends, I also feel a consolation in my own faith in Christ and in his dwelling presence. I hope and believe he may be present in the hearts of all of us."
Personal life and death
According to The Seven Storey Mountain, the youthful Merton loved jazz, but by the time he began his first teaching job he had forsaken all but peaceful music. Later in life, whenever he was permitted to leave Gethsemani for medical or monastic reasons, he would catch what live jazz he could, mainly in Louisville or New York.
In April 1966, Merton underwent a surgical procedure to treat debilitating back pain. While recuperating in a Louisville hospital, he fell in love with Margie Smith, a student nurse assigned to his care whom he referred to in his personal diary as "M." He wrote poems to her and reflected on the relationship in "A Midsummer Diary for M." Merton struggled to maintain his vows while being deeply in love. He never consummated the relationship, which had a sexual component.[note 1]
On December 10, 1968, Merton was in Bangkok, Thailand, attending an interfaith conference between Catholic and non-Christian monks. While stepping out of his bath, he was accidentally electrocuted by an electric fan. His associate, Dom Jean Leclercq, OSB, states: "In all probability the death of Thomas Merton was due in part to heart failure, in part to an electric shock." Another priest attending the conference, Rembert Weakland, anointed Merton.
He died 27 years to the day after his entrance into the Abbey of Gethsemani in 1941. His body was flown back to the United States on board a U.S. military aircraft returning from Vietnam. He is buried at the Trappist Monastery, Gethsemani Abbey in Bardstown, Kentucky.
Spirituality beyond Catholicism
Merton was first exposed to and became interested in Eastern religions when he read Aldous Huxley's Ends and Means in 1937, the year before his conversion to Catholicism. Throughout his life, he studied Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sufism in addition to his academic and monastic studies.
While Merton was not interested in what these traditions had to offer as doctrines and institutions, he was deeply interested in what each said of the depth of human experience. This is not to say that Merton believed that these religions did not have valuable rituals or practices for him and other Christians, but that, doctrinally, Merton was so committed to Christianity and he felt that practitioners of other faiths were so committed to their own doctrines that any discussion of doctrine would be useless for all involved.
He believed that for the most part, Christianity had forsaken its mystical tradition in favor of Cartesian emphasis on "the reification of concepts, idolization of the reflexive consciousness, flight from being into verbalism, mathematics, and rationalization." Eastern traditions, for Merton, were mostly untainted by this type of thinking and thus had much to offer in terms of how to think of and understand oneself.
Merton was perhaps most interested in—and, of all of the Eastern traditions, wrote the most about—Zen. Having studied the Desert Fathers and other Christian mystics as part of his monastic vocation, Merton had a deep understanding of what it was those men sought and experienced in their seeking. He found many parallels between the language of these Christian mystics and the language of Zen philosophy.
In 1959, Merton began a dialogue with D.T. Suzuki which was published in Merton's Zen and the Birds of Appetite as "Wisdom in Emptiness". This dialogue began with the completion of Merton's The Wisdom of the Desert. Merton sent a copy to Suzuki with the hope that he would comment on Merton's view that the Desert Fathers and the early Zen masters had similar experiences. Nearly ten years later, when Zen and the Birds of Appetite was published, Merton wrote in his postface that "any attempt to handle Zen in theological language is bound to miss the point", calling his final statements "an example of how not to approach Zen." Merton struggled to reconcile the Western and Christian impulse to catalog and put into words every experience with the ideas of Christian apophatic theology and the unspeakable nature of the Zen experience.
In keeping with Merton's idea that non-Christian faiths had much to offer Christianity in terms of experience and perspective and little or nothing in terms of doctrine, Merton distinguished between Zen Buddhism, an expression of history and culture, and Zen. What Merton meant by Zen Buddhism was the religion that began in China and spread to Japan as well as the rituals and institutions that accompanied it. By Zen, Merton meant something not bound by culture, religion or belief. In this capacity, Merton was influenced by the book Zen Catholicism. With this idea in mind, Merton's later writings about Zen may be understood to be coming more and more from within an evolving and broadening tradition of Zen which is not particularly Buddhist but informed by Merton's monastic training within the Christian tradition.
American Indian spirituality
Merton also explored American Indian spirituality. He wrote a series of articles on American Indian history and spirituality for The Catholic Worker, The Center Magazine, Theoria to Theory, and Unicorn Journal. He explored themes such as American Indian fasting and missionary work.
Merton's influence has grown since his death and he is widely recognized as an important 20th-century Catholic mystic and thinker. Interest in his work contributed to a rise in spiritual exploration beginning in the 1960s and 1970s in the United States. Merton's letters and diaries reveal the intensity with which their author focused on social justice issues, including the civil rights movement and proliferation of nuclear arms. He had prohibited their publication for 25 years after his death. Publication raised new interest in Merton's life.
In recognition of Merton's close association with Bellarmine University, the university established an official repository for Merton's archives at the Thomas Merton Center on the Bellarmine campus in Louisville, Kentucky.
An annual lecture in his name is given at his alma mater, Columbia University.
The campus ministry building at St. Bonaventure University, the school where Merton taught English briefly between graduating from Columbia University with his M.A. in English and entering the Trappist Order, is named after him. St. Bonaventure University also holds an important repository of Merton materials worldwide.
Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School in downtown Toronto, Canada, which was formerly named St. Joseph's Commercial and was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph, is named in part after him.
Some of Merton's manuscripts that include correspondence with his superiors are located in the library of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia.
Merton was one of four Americans mentioned by Pope Francis in his speech to a joint meeting of the United States Congress on September 24, 2015. Francis said, "Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions."
In popular culture
Merton appears as a character in the film Quiz Show, played by actor Adam Kilgour. The film is based on the true story of Charles Van Doren who was the son of one of Merton's most beloved professors at Columbia, Mark Van Doren. Merton is seen visiting the van Doren family during the Thanksgiving holiday and chatting with them over dinner.
The play Glory of the World celebrates the life of Thomas Merton. The play is written by Charles Mee. Roy Cockrum, a former monk who won the Powerball lottery in 2014, helped finance the production of the play in New York. Prior to New York the play was being shown in Louisville, Kentucky.
- This issue is discussed in detail in Shaw, Mark (2009). Beneath The Mask of Holiness. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-230-61653-4. In Learning to Love, Merton's diary entries discuss his various meetings with Smith, and in several cases he expressly denies sexual consummation, e.g. p. 52. However, on Saturday, June 11, 1966, Merton arranged to 'borrow' the Louisville office of his psychologist, Dr. James Wygal, to get together with Smith, see p. 81. The diary entry for that day notes that they had a bottle of champagne. A parenthetical with dots at that point in the narrative indicates that further details regarding this meeting were not published in Learning to Love. In the June 14 entry, Merton notes that he had found out the night before that a brother at the abbey had overheard one of his phone conversations with Smith and had reported it to Dom James, Abbot of Gethsemani. Merton wondered in his diary which phone conversation had been monitored, saying that a conversation he had on Sunday morning, i.e., the morning following the meeting with Smith at Wygal's office, would be "the worst!!", see p. 82. The June 14 diary entry also describes Merton's discussions with Abbot James in this regard, and Merton's intent to follow the Abbot's instruction to end his romantic relationship with M. Roughly a month later, in his entry for July 12, 1966, Merton says regarding Smith, "Yet there is no question I love her deeply ... I keep remembering her body, her nakedness, the day at Wygal's, and it haunts me ... I could have been enslaved to the need for her body after all. It is a good thing I called it off [i.e., a proposed visit by Smith to Gethsemani to speak with Merton there following their break-up, which Merton called off]." See p. 94. Learning to Love reveals that Merton remained in contact with Marge after his July 12, 1966 entry (p.94) and after he recommitted himself to his vows (p. 110). He saw her again on July 16, 1966, and wrote: "She says she thinks of me all the time (as I do of her) and her only fear is that being apart and not having news of each other, we may gradually cease to believe that we are loved, that the other's love for us goes on and is real. As I kissed her she kept saying, 'I am happy, I am at peace now.' And so was I" (p. 97). Despite good intentions, he continued to contact her by phone when he left the monastery grounds. For example, he wrote on January 18, 1967 that "last week" he and two friends "drank some beer under the loblollies at the lake--should not have gone to Bardstown and Willett's in the evening. Conscience stricken for this the next day. Called M. from filling station outside Bardstown. Both glad" (p. 186).
- Reichardt, Mary R. (2004). Encyclopedia of Catholic Literature, Volume 2. Greenwood Press. p. 450. ISBN 0-313-32803-X.
- Thomas Merton Collection - Thomas Merton Center, Bellarmine University.
- "Chronology of Merton's life" - Thomas Merton Center, Bellarmine University.
- "FICTION: 1949 BESTSELLERS: Non Fiction". TIME. December 19, 1949. Retrieved May 25, 2010.
- "Religion: The Mountain". TIME. April 11, 1949.
- National Review's list of the 100 best non-fiction books of the century National Review website
- Seven Storey Mountain pp. 3–5.
- Seven Storey Mountain p. 6.
- Seven Storey Mountain, pp. 7–9.
- Seven Storey Mountain pp. 15–18.
- Seven Storey Mountain, pp. 20–22.
- Seven Storey Mountain, pp. 30–31.
- Seven Storey Mountain, pp. 31–41.
- Cooper, David (2008). Thomas Merton's Art of Denial: The Evolution of a Radical Humanist. University of Georgia Press. pp. 81–82.
- Seven Storey Mountain pp. 57–58.
- Seven Storey Mountain pp. 63–64.
- Cunningham, Lawrence (1999). Thomas Merton and the Monastic Vision. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 5.
- Seven Storey Mountain p. 108.
- Seven Storey Mountain p. 107.
- Seven Storey Mountain p. 114.
- Elie, Paul (2003). The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 41–42. ISBN 9780374529215.
- Niebuhr, Gustav (November 1, 1999). "Mahanambrata Brahmachari Is Dead at 95". New York Times. Retrieved May 25, 2010.
- Thomas Merton's paradise journey: writings on contemplation, By William Henry Shannon, Thomas Merton, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000 p. 278.
- Pennington, M. Basil (2005). Thomas Merton: I have seen what I was looking for : selected spiritual writings. New City Press. p. 12. ISBN 1-56548-225-5.
- Labrie, R. (2001). Thomas Merton and the Inclusive Imagination. University of Missouri Press. p. 207. ISBN 978-0-8262-6279-0. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
- Letter, November 17, 1962, quoted in Monica Furlong's Merton: a Biography p. 263.
- "A Man of Many Firsts". KUENSEL. December 11, 2011. Retrieved December 12, 2011.
- Merton, Thomas (February 1975). The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton. New Directions. ISBN 0-8112-0570-3.
- "Religion: Mystic's Last Journey". TIME. August 6, 1973. Retrieved May 25, 2010.
- "Book on monk Thomas Merton's love affair stirs debate". USA Today. December 23, 2009. Retrieved December 16, 2012.
- "Religion: The Death of Two Extraordinary Christians". TIME. December 20, 1968. pp. 3, 4. Retrieved May 25, 2010.
- "Monastic Interreligious Dialogue - Final Memories of Thomas Merton". December 12, 2008. Archived from the original on December 12, 2008. CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
- Weakland, Rembert (2009). A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 166.
- "Monks of Abbey of Gethsemani: Thomas Merton (profile)". Abbey of Gethsemani.
- Solitary Explorer: Thomas Merton's Transforming Journey p.100.
- "Lighthouse Trails Research Project - Exposing the New Spirituality".
- Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander p. 285.
- Solitary Explorer: Thomas Merton's Transforming Journey p. 105.
- Zen and the Birds of Appetite p. 139.
- Solitary Explorer: Thomas Merton's Transforming Journey p. 106.
- Solitary Explorer: Thomas Merton's Transforming Journey p. 112.
- Merton, Thomas (1976). Ishi Means Man. Unicorn Press.
- Merton, Thomas (1976). Ishi Means Man. Unicorn Press. p. 17.
- Merton, Thomas (1976). Ishi Means Man. Unicorn Press. p. 37.
- Robert Giroux (October 11, 1998). "Thomas Merton's Durable Mountain". New York Times.
- "Address of the Holy Father". The Vatican. September 24, 2015. Retrieved September 24, 2015.
- Polynesia, Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and. "Lectionary and Worship / Resources / Home - Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia".
- Lunden, Jeff (January 16, 2016). "'Glory Of The World' Is More Wacky Birthday Party Than Traditional Play". NPR.org.
- 2017 - Merton, Thomas and Paul M. Pearson. Beholding Paradise: The Photographs of Thomas Merton. Paulist Press.
- 2014 - Shaw, Jeffrey M. Illusions of Freedom: Thomas Merton and Jacques Ellul on Technology and the Human Condition. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock. ISBN 978-1625640581.
- 2008 – Graham, Terry, The Strange Subject - Thomas Merton's Views on Sufism at the Wayback Machine (archived June 20, 2010), 2008, SUFI: a journal of Sufism, Issue 30.
- 2007 – Deignan, Kathleen, A Book of Hours: At Prayer With Thomas Merton (2007), Sorin Books, ISBN 1-933495-05-7.
- 2006 – Weis, Monica, Paul M. Pearson, Kathleen P. Deignan, Beyond the Shadow and the Disguise: Three Essays on Thomas Merton (2006), The Thomas Merton Society of Great Britain and Ireland, ISBN 0-9551571-1-0.
- 2003 – Merton, Thomas, Kathleen Deignan Ed., John Giuliani, Thomas Berry, When The Trees Say Nothing (2003), Sorin Books, ISBN 1-893732-60-6.
- 2002 – Shannon, William H., Christine M. Bochen, Patrick F. O'Connell The Thomas Merton Encyclopedia (2002), Orbis Books, ISBN 1-57075-426-8.
- 1997 – Merton, Thomas, "Learning to Love", The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume Six 1966-1967(1997), ISBN 0-06-065485-6. (see notes for page numbers)
- 1992 – Shannon, William H., Silent Lamp: The Thomas Merton Story (1992), The Crossroad Publishing Company, ISBN 0-8245-1281-2, biography.
- 1991 – Forest, Jim, Living With Wisdom: A Life of Thomas Merton (revised edition) (2008), Orbis Books, ISBN 978-1-57075-754-9, illustrated biography.
- 1984 – Mott, Michael, The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton (1984), Harvest Books 1993: ISBN 0-15-680681-9, authorized biography.
- 1978 – Merton, Thomas, The Seven Storey Mountain (1978), A Harvest/HBJ Book, ISBN 0-15-680679-7. (see notes for page numbers)
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- Works by or about Thomas Merton in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- No Man Is an Island, By Thomas Merton, Shambhala Publications, 2005, originally Published 1955
- Thomas Merton at DMOZ
- Thomas Merton at Find a Grave
- Thomas Merton on IMDb
- Thomas Merton Archives at St. Bonaventure University
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Martin Luther King on Wikipedia
|Martin Luther King Jr.|
King in 1964
|1st President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference|
|Preceded by||Inaugural holder|
|Succeeded by||Ralph Abernathy|
|Born||Michael King Jr.
(1929-01-15)January 15, 1929
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
|Died||April 4, 1968(1968-04-04) (aged 39)
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
|Cause of death||Assassination|
|Spouse(s)||Coretta Scott (m. 1953–68)|
|Known for||Civil Rights Movement, Peace movement|
|Monuments||Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial|
|This article is part of a series about
Martin Luther King Jr.
Death and memorial
Martin Luther King Jr. (born Michael King Jr., January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using the tactics of nonviolence and civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs and inspired by the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi.
King became a civil rights activist early in his career. He led the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, serving as its first president. With the SCLC, King led an unsuccessful 1962 struggle against segregation in Albany, Georgia, and helped organize the 1963 nonviolent protests in Birmingham, Alabama. King also helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
On October 14, 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. In 1965, he helped to organize the Selma to Montgomery marches, and the following year he and SCLC took the movement north to Chicago to work on segregated housing. In the final years of his life, King expanded his focus to include opposition towards poverty and the Vietnam War, alienating many of his liberal allies with a 1967 speech titled "Beyond Vietnam".
In 1968, King was planning a national occupation of Washington, D.C., to be called the Poor People's Campaign, when he was assassinated by James Earl Ray on April 4 in Memphis, Tennessee. King's death was followed by riots in many U.S. cities. Ray, who fled the country, was arrested two months later at London Heathrow Airport. Ray was sentenced to 99 years in prison for King's murder, and died in 1998 from hepatitis while serving his sentence.
King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in numerous cities and states beginning in 1971, and as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986. Hundreds of streets in the U.S. have been renamed in his honor, and a county in Washington State was also renamed for him. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was dedicated in 2011.
- 1 Early life and education
- 2 Montgomery bus boycott, 1955
- 3 Southern Christian Leadership Conference
- 4 March on Washington, 1963
- 5 Selma voting rights movement and "Bloody Sunday", 1965
- 6 Chicago open housing movement, 1966
- 7 Opposition to the Vietnam War
- 8 Poor People's Campaign, 1968
- 9 Assassination and aftermath
- 10 Legacy
- 11 Ideas, influences, and political stances
- 12 FBI and King's personal life
- 13 Awards and recognition
- 14 Works
- 15 See also
- 16 References
- 17 External links
Early life and education
King was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. (1899–1984) and Alberta Williams King (1904–1974). King's legal name at birth was Michael King, and his father was also born Michael King, but the elder King changed his and his son's names following a 1934 trip to Germany to attend the Fifth Baptist World Alliance Congress in Berlin. It was during this time he chose to be called Martin Luther King in honor of the German reformer Martin Luther.[unreliable source?] King's parents were both African-American, and he also had Irish ancestry through his paternal great-grandfather.
King was a middle child, between an older sister, Willie Christine King, and a younger brother, Alfred Daniel Williams King. King sang with his church choir at the 1939 Atlanta premiere of the movie Gone with the Wind. King liked singing and music. His mother was an accomplished organist and choir leader, and she took him to various churches to sing. He received attention for singing "I Want to Be More and More Like Jesus." King later became a member of the junior choir in his church.
King said that his father regularly whipped him until he was fifteen; a neighbor reported hearing the elder King telling his son "he would make something of him even if he had to beat him to death." King saw his father's proud and fearless protests against segregation, such as King Sr. refusing to listen to a traffic policeman after being referred to as "boy," or stalking out of a store with his son when being told by a shoe clerk that they would have to "move to the rear" of the store to be served.
When King was a child, he befriended a white boy whose father owned a business near his family's home. When the boys were six, they started school: King had to attend a school for African Americans and the other boy went to one for whites (public schools were among the facilities segregated by state law). King lost his friend because the child's father no longer wanted the boys to play together.
King suffered from depression throughout much of his life. In his adolescent years, he initially felt resentment against whites due to the "racial humiliation" that he, his family, and his neighbors often had to endure in the segregated South. At the age of 12, shortly after his maternal grandmother died, King blamed himself and jumped out of a second-story window, but survived.
King was skeptical of many of Christianity's claims. At the age of 13, he denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus during Sunday school. From this point, he stated, "doubts began to spring forth unrelentingly." However, he later concluded that the Bible has "many profound truths which one cannot escape" and decided to enter the seminary.
Growing up in Atlanta, King attended Booker T. Washington High School. He became known for his public speaking ability and was part of the school's debate team. King became the youngest assistant manager of a newspaper delivery station for the Atlanta Journal in 1942 when he was 13. During his junior year, he won first prize in an oratorical contest sponsored by the Negro Elks Club in Dublin, Georgia. Returning home to Atlanta by bus, he and his teacher were ordered by the driver to stand so that white passengers could sit down. King initially refused, but complied after his teacher told him that he would be breaking the law if he did not submit. King said that during this incident, he was "the angriest I have ever been in my life." A precocious student, he skipped both the ninth and the twelfth grades of high school.
During King's junior year in high school, Morehouse College, a respected historically black college, announced that it would accept any high school juniors who could pass its entrance exam. At that time, many students had abandoned further studies to enlist in World War II. Due to this, Morehouse was eager to fill its classrooms. At the age of 15, King passed the exam and entered Morehouse. The summer before his last year at Morehouse, in 1947, the 18-year-old King chose to enter the ministry. He had concluded that the church offered the most assuring way to answer "an inner urge to serve humanity." King's "inner urge" had begun developing, and he made peace with the Baptist Church, as he believed he would be a "rational" minister with sermons that were "a respectful force for ideas, even social protest."
In 1948, he graduated from Morehouse with a B.A. in sociology and enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, from which he graduated with a B.Div. degree in 1951. King's father fully supported his decision to continue his education.
While attending Crozer, King was joined by Walter McCall, a former classmate at Morehouse. At Crozer, King was elected president of the student body. The African-American students of Crozer for the most part conducted their social activity on Edwards Street. King became fond of the street because a classmate had an aunt who prepared collard greens for them, which they both relished.
King once reproved another student for keeping beer in his room, saying they had shared responsibility as African Americans to bear "the burdens of the Negro race." For a time, he was interested in Walter Rauschenbusch's "social gospel." In his third year at Morehouse, King became romantically involved with the white daughter of an immigrant German woman who worked as a cook in the cafeteria. The daughter had been involved with a professor prior to her relationship with King. King planned to marry her, but friends advised against it, saying that an interracial marriage would provoke animosity from both blacks and whites, potentially damaging his chances of ever pastoring a church in the South. King tearfully told a friend that he could not endure his mother's pain over the marriage and broke the relationship off six months later. He continued to have lingering feelings toward the women he left; one friend was quoted as saying, "He never recovered."
King married Coretta Scott on June 18, 1953, on the lawn of her parents' house in her hometown of Heiberger, Alabama; he was 24 and she was 26. They became the parents of four children: Yolanda King (b. 1955, d. 2007), Martin Luther King III (b. 1957), Dexter Scott King (b. 1961), and Bernice King (b. 1963). During their marriage, King limited Coretta's role in the Civil Rights Movement, expecting her to be a housewife and mother.
King began doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University and received his Ph.D. on June 5, 1955, with a dissertation on A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman. While pursuing doctoral studies, King worked as an assistant minister at Boston's historic Twelfth Baptist Church with Rev. William Hunter Hester. Hester was an old friend of King's father, and was an important influence on King.
Decades later, an academic inquiry in October 1991 concluded that portions of his dissertation had been plagiarized and he had acted improperly. However, "[d]espite its finding, the committee said that 'no thought should be given to the revocation of Dr. King's doctoral degree,' an action that the panel said would serve no purpose." The committee also found that the dissertation still "makes an intelligent contribution to scholarship." A letter is now attached to the copy of King's dissertation held in the university library, noting that numerous passages were included without the appropriate quotations and citations of sources.
Montgomery bus boycott, 1955
In March 1955, Claudette Colvin, a black fifteen-year-old pregnant schoolgirl in Montgomery, refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in compliance with Jim Crow laws, which were local regulations in the Southern United States that enforced racial segregation. King was on the committee from the Birmingham African-American community that looked into the case; because Colvin was pregnant and unmarried, E. D. Nixon and Clifford Durr decided to wait for a better case to pursue.
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus. The Montgomery bus boycott, urged and planned by Nixon and led by King, soon followed. The boycott lasted for 385 days, and the situation became so tense that King's house was bombed. King was arrested during this campaign, which concluded with a United States District Court ruling in Browder v. Gayle that ended racial segregation on all Montgomery public buses. King's role in the bus boycott transformed him into a national figure and the best-known spokesman of the civil rights movement.
Southern Christian Leadership Conference
In 1957, King, Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, Joseph Lowery, and other civil rights activists founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The group was created to harness the moral authority and organizing power of black churches to conduct nonviolent protests in the service of civil rights reform. One of the group's inspirations was the crusades of evangelist Billy Graham, who befriended King after he attended a Graham crusade in New York City in 1957. King led the SCLC until his death. The SCLC's 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom was the first time King addressed a national audience. Other civil rights leaders involved in the SCLC with King included: James Bevel, Allen Johnson, Curtis W. Harris, Walter E. Fauntroy, C. T. Vivian, Andrew Young, The Freedom Singers, Charles Evers, Cleveland Robinson, Randolph Blackwell, Annie Bell Robinson Devine, Charles Kenzie Steele, Alfred Daniel Williams King, Benjamin Hooks, Aaron Henry and Bayard Rustin.
On September 20, 1958, while signing copies of his book Stride Toward Freedom in Blumstein's department store in Harlem, King narrowly escaped death when Izola Curry, a mentally ill black woman who believed he was conspiring against her with communists, stabbed him in the chest with a letter opener. After emergency surgery by Aubre de Lambert Maynard, Emil Naclerio and John W. V. Cordice, King was hospitalized for several weeks, while Curry was found mentally incompetent to stand trial. In 1959, he published a short book called The Measure of A Man, which contained his sermons "What is Man?" and "The Dimensions of a Complete Life." The sermons argued for man's need for God's love and criticized the racial injustices of Western civilization.
Harry Wachtel—who joined King's legal advisor Clarence B. Jones in defending four ministers of the SCLC in a libel suit over a newspaper advertisement (New York Times Co. v. Sullivan)—founded a tax-exempt fund to cover the expenses of the suit and to assist the nonviolent civil rights movement through a more effective means of fundraising. This organization was named the "Gandhi Society for Human Rights." King served as honorary president for the group. Displeased with the pace of President Kennedy's addressing the issue of segregation, King and the Gandhi Society produced a document in 1962 calling on the President to follow in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln and use an Executive Order to deliver a blow for Civil Rights as a kind of Second Emancipation Proclamation. Kennedy did not execute the order.
The FBI, under written directive from Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, began tapping King's telephone in the fall of 1963. Concerned that allegations of communists in the SCLC, if made public, would derail the administration's civil rights initiatives, Kennedy warned King to discontinue these associations, and later felt compelled to issue the written directive authorizing the FBI to wiretap King and other SCLC leaders. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover feared the Civil Rights movement and investigated the allegations of communist infiltration. When no evidence emerged to support this, the FBI used the incidental details caught on tape over the next five years in attempts to force King out of his leadership position, in the COINTELPRO program.
King believed that organized, nonviolent protest against the system of southern segregation known as Jim Crow laws would lead to extensive media coverage of the struggle for black equality and voting rights. Journalistic accounts and televised footage of the daily deprivation and indignities suffered by southern blacks, and of segregationist violence and harassment of civil rights workers and marchers, produced a wave of sympathetic public opinion that convinced the majority of Americans that the Civil Rights Movement was the most important issue in American politics in the early 1960s.
King organized and led marches for blacks' right to vote, desegregation, labor rights and other basic civil rights. Most of these rights were successfully enacted into the law of the United States with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
King and the SCLC put into practice many of the principles of the Christian Left and applied the tactics of nonviolent protest with great success by strategically choosing the method of protest and the places in which protests were carried out. There were often dramatic stand-offs with segregationist authorities, who sometimes turned violent.
Throughout his participation in the civil rights movement, King was criticized by many groups. This included opposition by more militant blacks such as Nation of Islam member Malcolm X. Stokely Carmichael was a separatist and disagreed with King's plea for racial integration because he considered it an insult to a uniquely African-American culture. Omali Yeshitela urged Africans to remember the history of violent European colonization and how power was not secured by Europeans through integration, but by violence and force.
The Albany Movement was a desegregation coalition formed in Albany, Georgia, in November 1961. In December, King and the SCLC became involved. The movement mobilized thousands of citizens for a broad-front nonviolent attack on every aspect of segregation within the city and attracted nationwide attention. When King first visited on December 15, 1961, he "had planned to stay a day or so and return home after giving counsel." The following day he was swept up in a mass arrest of peaceful demonstrators, and he declined bail until the city made concessions. According to King, "that agreement was dishonored and violated by the city" after he left town.
King returned in July 1962, and was sentenced to forty-five days in jail or a $178 fine. He chose jail. Three days into his sentence, Police Chief Laurie Pritchett discreetly arranged for King's fine to be paid and ordered his release. "We had witnessed persons being kicked off lunch counter stools ... ejected from churches ... and thrown into jail ... But for the first time, we witnessed being kicked out of jail." It was later acknowledged by the King Center that Billy Graham was the one who bailed King out of jail during this time.
After nearly a year of intense activism with few tangible results, the movement began to deteriorate. King requested a halt to all demonstrations and a "Day of Penance" to promote nonviolence and maintain the moral high ground. Divisions within the black community and the canny, low-key response by local government defeated efforts. Though the Albany effort proved a key lesson in tactics for King and the national civil rights movement, the national media was highly critical of King's role in the defeat, and the SCLC's lack of results contributed to a growing gulf between the organization and the more radical SNCC. After Albany, King sought to choose engagements for the SCLC in which he could control the circumstances, rather than entering into pre-existing situations.
In April 1963, the SCLC began a campaign against racial segregation and economic injustice in Birmingham, Alabama. The campaign used nonviolent but intentionally confrontational tactics, developed in part by Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker. Black people in Birmingham, organizing with the SCLC, occupied public spaces with marches and sit-ins, openly violating laws that they considered unjust.
King's intent was to provoke mass arrests and "create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation." However, the campaign's early volunteers did not succeed in shutting down the city, or in drawing media attention to the police's actions. Over the concerns of an uncertain King, SCLC strategist James Bevel changed the course of the campaign by recruiting children and young adults to join in the demonstrations. Newsweek called this strategy a Children's Crusade.
During the protests, the Birmingham Police Department, led by Eugene "Bull" Connor, used high-pressure water jets and police dogs against protesters, including children. Footage of the police response was broadcast on national television news and dominated the nation's attention, shocking many white Americans and consolidating black Americans behind the movement. Not all of the demonstrators were peaceful, despite the avowed intentions of the SCLC. In some cases, bystanders attacked the police, who responded with force. King and the SCLC were criticized for putting children in harm's way. But the campaign was a success: Connor lost his job, the "Jim Crow" signs came down, and public places became more open to blacks. King's reputation improved immensely.
King was arrested and jailed early in the campaign—his 13th arrest out of 29. From his cell, he composed the now-famous Letter from Birmingham Jail which responds to calls on the movement to pursue legal channels for social change. King argues that the crisis of racism is too urgent, and the current system too entrenched: "We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed." He points out that the Boston Tea Party, a celebrated act of rebellion in the American colonies, was illegal civil disobedience, and that, conversely, "everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was 'legal'." King also expresses his frustration with white moderates and clergymen too timid to oppose an unjust system:
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistic-ally believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season."
St. Augustine, Florida
In March 1964, King and the SCLC joined forces with Robert Hayling's then-controversial movement in St. Augustine, Florida. Hayling's group had been affiliated with the NAACP but was forced out of the organization for advocating armed self-defense alongside nonviolent tactics. However, the pacifist SCLC accepted them. King and the SCLC worked to bring white Northern activists to St. Augustine, including a delegation of rabbis and the 72-year-old mother of the governor of Massachusetts, all of whom were arrested. During June, the movement marched nightly through the city, "often facing counter demonstrations by the Klan, and provoking violence that garnered national media attention." Hundreds of the marchers were arrested and jailed. During the course of this movement, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed.
In December 1964, King and the SCLC joined forces with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Selma, Alabama, where the SNCC had been working on voter registration for several months. A local judge issued an injunction that barred any gathering of 3 or more people affiliated with the SNCC, SCLC, DCVL, or any of 41 named civil rights leaders. This injunction temporarily halted civil rights activity until King defied it by speaking at Brown Chapel on January 2, 1965.
New York City
On February 6, 1964, King delivered the inaugural speech of a lecture series initiated at the New School called "The American Race Crisis." No audio record of his speech has been found, but in August 2013, almost 50 years later, the school discovered an audiotape with 15 minutes of a question-and-answer session that followed King's address. In these remarks, King referred to a conversation he had recently had with Jawaharlal Nehru in which he compared the sad condition of many African Americans to that of India's untouchables.
March on Washington, 1963
King, representing the SCLC, was among the leaders of the "Big Six" civil rights organizations who were instrumental in the organization of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which took place on August 28, 1963. The other leaders and organizations comprising the Big Six were Roy Wilkins from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Whitney Young, National Urban League; A. Philip Randolph, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; John Lewis, SNCC; and James L. Farmer Jr., of the Congress of Racial Equality.
The primary logistical and strategic organizer was King's colleague Bayard Rustin. For King, this role was another which courted controversy, since he was one of the key figures who acceded to the wishes of United States President John F. Kennedy in changing the focus of the march. Kennedy initially opposed the march outright, because he was concerned it would negatively impact the drive for passage of civil rights legislation. However, the organizers were firm that the march would proceed. With the march going forward, the Kennedys decided it was important to work to ensure its success. President Kennedy was concerned the turnout would be less than 100,000. Therefore, he enlisted the aid of additional church leaders and the UAW union to help mobilize demonstrators for the cause.
The march originally was conceived as an event to dramatize the desperate condition of blacks in the southern U.S. and an opportunity to place organizers' concerns and grievances squarely before the seat of power in the nation's capital. Organizers intended to denounce the federal government for its failure to safeguard the civil rights and physical safety of civil rights workers and blacks. However, the group acquiesced to presidential pressure and influence, and the event ultimately took on a far less strident tone. As a result, some civil rights activists felt it presented an inaccurate, sanitized pageant of racial harmony; Malcolm X called it the "Farce on Washington", and the Nation of Islam forbade its members from attending the march.
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The march did, however, make specific demands: an end to racial segregation in public schools; meaningful civil rights legislation, including a law prohibiting racial discrimination in employment; protection of civil rights workers from police brutality; a $2 minimum wage for all workers; and self-government for Washington, D.C., then governed by congressional committee. Despite tensions, the march was a resounding success. More than a quarter of a million people of diverse ethnicities attended the event, sprawling from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial onto the National Mall and around the reflecting pool. At the time, it was the largest gathering of protesters in Washington, D.C.'s history.
King delivered a 17-minute speech, later known as "I Have a Dream." In the speech's most famous passage—in which he departed from his prepared text, possibly at the prompting of Mahalia Jackson, who shouted behind him, "Tell them about the dream!"—King said:
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
"I Have a Dream" came to be regarded as one of the finest speeches in the history of American oratory. The March, and especially King's speech, helped put civil rights at the top of the agenda of reformers in the United States and facilitated passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The original typewritten copy of the speech, including King's handwritten notes on it, was discovered in 1984 to be in the hands of George Raveling, the first African-American basketball coach of the University of Iowa. In 1963, Raveling, then 26, was standing near the podium, and immediately after the oration, impulsively asked King if he could have his copy of the speech. He got it.
Selma voting rights movement and "Bloody Sunday", 1965
Acting on James Bevel's call for a march from Selma to Montgomery, King, Bevel, and the SCLC, in partial collaboration with SNCC, attempted to organize the march to the state's capital. The first attempt to march on March 7, 1965, was aborted because of mob and police violence against the demonstrators. This day has become known as Bloody Sunday and was a major turning point in the effort to gain public support for the Civil Rights Movement. It was the clearest demonstration up to that time of the dramatic potential of King's nonviolence strategy. King, however, was not present.
King met with officials in the Lyndon B. Johnson Administration on March 5 in order to request an injunction against any prosecution of the demonstrators. He did not attend the march due to church duties, but he later wrote, "If I had any idea that the state troopers would use the kind of brutality they did, I would have felt compelled to give up my church duties altogether to lead the line." Footage of police brutality against the protesters was broadcast extensively and aroused national public outrage.
King next attempted to organize a march for March 9. The SCLC petitioned for an injunction in federal court against the State of Alabama; this was denied and the judge issued an order blocking the march until after a hearing. Nonetheless, King led marchers on March 9 to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, then held a short prayer session before turning the marchers around and asking them to disperse so as not to violate the court order. The unexpected ending of this second march aroused the surprise and anger of many within the local movement. The march finally went ahead fully on March 25, 1965. At the conclusion of the march on the steps of the state capitol, King delivered a speech that became known as "How Long, Not Long." In it, King stated that equal rights for African Americans could not be far away, "because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."[a]
Chicago open housing movement, 1966
In 1966, after several successes in the south, King, Bevel, and others in the civil rights organizations tried to spread the movement to the North, with Chicago as their first destination. King and Ralph Abernathy, both from the middle class, moved into a building at 1550 S. Hamlin Avenue, in the slums of North Lawndale on Chicago's West Side, as an educational experience and to demonstrate their support and empathy for the poor.
The SCLC formed a coalition with CCCO, Coordinating Council of Community Organizations, an organization founded by Albert Raby, and the combined organizations' efforts were fostered under the aegis of the Chicago Freedom Movement. During that spring, several white couple/black couple tests of real estate offices uncovered racial steering: discriminatory processing of housing requests by couples who were exact matches in income, background, number of children, and other attributes. Several larger marches were planned and executed: in Bogan, Belmont Cragin, Jefferson Park, Evergreen Park (a suburb southwest of Chicago), Gage Park, Marquette Park, and others.
Abernathy later wrote that the movement received a worse reception in Chicago than in the South. Marches, especially the one through Marquette Park on August 5, 1966, were met by thrown bottles and screaming throngs. Rioting seemed very possible. King's beliefs militated against his staging a violent event, and he negotiated an agreement with Mayor Richard J. Daley to cancel a march in order to avoid the violence that he feared would result. King was hit by a brick during one march but continued to lead marches in the face of personal danger.
When King and his allies returned to the South, they left Jesse Jackson, a seminary student who had previously joined the movement in the South, in charge of their organization. Jackson continued their struggle for civil rights by organizing the Operation Breadbasket movement that targeted chain stores that did not deal fairly with blacks.
Opposition to the Vietnam War
|You may listen to the speech, "Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam", by Martin Luther King here.|
King long opposed American involvement in the Vietnam War, but at first avoided the topic in public speeches in order to avoid the interference with civil rights goals that criticism of President Johnson's policies might have created. However, at the urging of SCLC's former Director of Direct Action and now the head of the Spring Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, James Bevel, King eventually agreed to publicly oppose the war as opposition was growing among the American public. During an April 4, 1967, appearance at the New York City Riverside Church—exactly one year before his death—King delivered a speech titled "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence." He spoke strongly against the U.S.'s role in the war, arguing that the U.S. was in Vietnam "to occupy it as an American colony" and calling the U.S. government "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." He also connected the war with economic injustice, arguing that the country needed serious moral change:
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just."
King also opposed the Vietnam War because it took money and resources that could have been spent on social welfare at home. The United States Congress was spending more and more on the military and less and less on anti-poverty programs at the same time. He summed up this aspect by saying, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." He stated that North Vietnam "did not begin to send in any large number of supplies or men until American forces had arrived in the tens of thousands", and accused the U.S. of having killed a million Vietnamese, "mostly children." King also criticized American opposition to North Vietnam's land reforms.
King's opposition cost him significant support among white allies, including President Johnson, Billy Graham, union leaders and powerful publishers. "The press is being stacked against me", King said, complaining of what he described as a double standard that applauded his nonviolence at home, but deplored it when applied "toward little brown Vietnamese children." Life magazine called the speech "demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi", and The Washington Post declared that King had "diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people."
The "Beyond Vietnam" speech reflected King's evolving political advocacy in his later years, which paralleled the teachings of the progressive Highlander Research and Education Center, with which he was affiliated. King began to speak of the need for fundamental changes in the political and economic life of the nation, and more frequently expressed his opposition to the war and his desire to see a redistribution of resources to correct racial and economic injustice. He guarded his language in public to avoid being linked to communism by his enemies, but in private he sometimes spoke of his support for democratic socialism. In a 1952 letter to Coretta Scott, he said: "I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic ..." In one speech, he stated that "something is wrong with capitalism" and claimed, "There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism." King had read Marx while at Morehouse, but while he rejected "traditional capitalism", he also rejected communism because of its "materialistic interpretation of history" that denied religion, its "ethical relativism", and its "political totalitarianism."
King also stated in "Beyond Vietnam" that "true compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar ... it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring." King quoted a United States official who said that from Vietnam to Latin America, the country was "on the wrong side of a world revolution." King condemned America's "alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America", and said that the U.S. should support "the shirtless and barefoot people" in the Third World rather than suppressing their attempts at revolution.
King's stance on Vietnam encouraged Allard K. Lowenstein, William Sloane Coffin and Norman Thomas, with the support of anti-war Democrats, to attempt to persuade King to run against President Johnson in the 1968 United States presidential election. King contemplated but ultimately decided against the proposal on the grounds that he felt uneasy with politics and considered himself better suited for his morally unambiguous role as an activist.
On April 15, 1967, King participated in and spoke at an anti-war march from New York's Central Park to the United Nations organized by the Spring Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam and initiated by its chairman, James Bevel. At the U.N. King also brought up issues of civil rights and the draft.
I have not urged a mechanical fusion of the civil rights and peace movements. There are people who have come to see the moral imperative of equality, but who cannot yet see the moral imperative of world brotherhood. I would like to see the fervor of the civil-rights movement imbued into the peace movement to instill it with greater strength. And I believe everyone has a duty to be in both the civil-rights and peace movements. But for those who presently choose but one, I would hope they will finally come to see the moral roots common to both.
Seeing an opportunity to unite civil rights activists and anti-war activists, Bevel convinced King to become even more active in the anti-war effort. Despite his growing public opposition towards the Vietnam War, King was also not fond of the hippie culture which developed from the anti-war movement. In his 1967 Massey Lecture, King stated:
The importance of the hippies is not in their unconventional behavior, but in the fact that hundreds of thousands of young people, in turning to a flight from reality, are expressing a profoundly discrediting view on the society they emerge from.
We need to make clear in this political year, to congressmen on both sides of the aisle and to the president of the United States, that we will no longer tolerate, we will no longer vote for men who continue to see the killings of Vietnamese and Americans as the best way of advancing the goals of freedom and self-determination in Southeast Asia.
Poor People's Campaign, 1968
In 1968, King and the SCLC organized the "Poor People's Campaign" to address issues of economic justice. King traveled the country to assemble "a multiracial army of the poor" that would march on Washington to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Capitol until Congress created an "economic bill of rights" for poor Americans.
The campaign was preceded by King's final book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? which laid out his view of how to address social issues and poverty. King quoted from Henry George and George's book, Progress and Poverty, particularly in support of a guaranteed basic income. The campaign culminated in a march on Washington, D.C., demanding economic aid to the poorest communities of the United States.
King and the SCLC called on the government to invest in rebuilding America's cities. He felt that Congress had shown "hostility to the poor" by spending "military funds with alacrity and generosity." He contrasted this with the situation faced by poor Americans, claiming that Congress had merely provided "poverty funds with miserliness." His vision was for change that was more revolutionary than mere reform: he cited systematic flaws of "racism, poverty, militarism and materialism", and argued that "reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced."
The Poor People's Campaign was controversial even within the civil rights movement. Rustin resigned from the march, stating that the goals of the campaign were too broad, that its demands were unrealizable, and that he thought that these campaigns would accelerate the backlash and repression on the poor and the black.
After King's death
The plan to set up a shantytown in Washington, D.C., was carried out soon after the April 4 assassination. Criticism of King's plan was subdued in the wake of his death, and the SCLC received an unprecedented wave of donations for the purpose of carrying it out. The campaign officially began in Memphis, on May 2, at the hotel where King was murdered.
Assassination and aftermath
Final 30 seconds of "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech by Martin Luther King Jr.
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On March 29, 1968, King went to Memphis, Tennessee, in support of the black sanitary public works employees, who were represented by AFSCME Local 1733. The workers had been on strike since March 12 for higher wages and better treatment. In one incident, black street repairmen received pay for two hours when they were sent home because of bad weather, but white employees were paid for the full day.
On April 3, King addressed a rally and delivered his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" address at Mason Temple, the world headquarters of the Church of God in Christ. King's flight to Memphis had been delayed by a bomb threat against his plane. In the close of the last speech of his life, in reference to the bomb threat, King said the following:
And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?
Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
King was booked in Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel (owned by Walter Bailey) in Memphis. Abernathy, who was present at the assassination, testified to the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations that King and his entourage stayed at Room 306 so often that it was known as the "King-Abernathy suite." According to Jesse Jackson, who was present, King's last words on the balcony before his assassination were spoken to musician Ben Branch, who was scheduled to perform that night at an event King was attending: "Ben, make sure you play 'Take My Hand, Precious Lord' in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty."
King was fatally shot by James Earl Ray at 6:01 p.m., April 4, 1968, as he stood on the motel's second-floor balcony. The bullet entered through his right cheek, smashing his jaw, then traveled down his spinal cord before lodging in his shoulder. Abernathy heard the shot from inside the motel room and ran to the balcony to find King on the floor. Jackson stated after the shooting that he cradled King's head as King lay on the balcony, but this account was disputed by other colleagues of King; Jackson later changed his statement to say that he had "reached out" for King.
After emergency chest surgery, King died at St. Joseph's Hospital at 7:05 p.m. According to biographer Taylor Branch, King's autopsy revealed that though only 39 years old, he "had the heart of a 60 year old", which Branch attributed to the stress of 13 years in the Civil Rights Movement.
The assassination led to a nationwide wave of race riots in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Baltimore, Louisville, Kansas City, and dozens of other cities. Presidential candidate Robert F. "Bobby" Kennedy was on his way to Indianapolis for a campaign rally when he was informed of King's death. He gave a short speech to the gathering of supporters informing them of the tragedy and urging them to continue King's ideal of nonviolence. James Farmer Jr., and other civil rights leaders also called for non-violent action, while the more militant Stokely Carmichael called for a more forceful response. The city of Memphis quickly settled the strike on terms favorable to the sanitation workers.
President Lyndon B. Johnson declared April 7 a national day of mourning for the civil rights leader. Vice President Hubert Humphrey attended King's funeral on behalf of the President, as there were fears that Johnson's presence might incite protests and perhaps violence. At his widow's request, King's last sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church was played at the funeral, a recording of his "Drum Major" sermon, given on February 4, 1968. In that sermon, King made a request that at his funeral no mention of his awards and honors be made, but that it be said that he tried to "feed the hungry", "clothe the naked", "be right on the [Vietnam] war question", and "love and serve humanity."
His good friend Mahalia Jackson sang his favorite hymn, "Take My Hand, Precious Lord", at the funeral.
Two months after King's death, escaped convict James Earl Ray was captured at London Heathrow Airport while trying to leave the United Kingdom on a false Canadian passport in the name of Ramon George Sneyd on his way to white-ruled Rhodesia. Ray was quickly extradited to Tennessee and charged with King's murder. He confessed to the assassination on March 10, 1969, though he recanted this confession three days later. On the advice of his attorney Percy Foreman, Ray pleaded guilty to avoid a trial conviction and thus the possibility of receiving the death penalty. He was sentenced to a 99-year prison term. Ray later claimed a man he met in Montreal, Quebec, with the alias "Raoul" was involved and that the assassination was the result of a conspiracy. He spent the remainder of his life attempting, unsuccessfully, to withdraw his guilty plea and secure the trial he never had.
Allegations of conspiracy
Ray's lawyers maintained he was a scapegoat similar to the way that John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald is seen by conspiracy theorists. Supporters of this assertion said that Ray's confession was given under pressure and that he had been threatened with the death penalty. They admitted that Ray was a thief and burglar, but claimed that he had no record of committing violent crimes with a weapon. However, prison records in different U.S. cities have shown that he was incarcerated on numerous occasions for charges of armed robbery. In a 2008 interview with CNN, Jerry Ray, the younger brother of James Earl Ray, claimed that James was smart and was sometimes able to get away with armed robbery. Jerry Ray said that he had assisted his brother on one such robbery. "I never been with nobody as bold as he is," Jerry said. "He just walked in and put that gun on somebody, it was just like it's an everyday thing."
Those suspecting a conspiracy in the assassination point to the two successive ballistics tests which proved that a rifle similar to Ray's Remington Gamemaster had been the murder weapon. Those tests did not implicate Ray's specific rifle. Witnesses near King at the moment of his death said that the shot came from another location. They said that it came from behind thick shrubbery near the boarding house—which had been cut away in the days following the assassination—and not from the boarding house window. However, Ray's fingerprints were found on various objects (a rifle, a pair of binoculars, articles of clothing, a newspaper) that were left in the bathroom where it was determined the gunfire came from. An examination of the rifle containing Ray's fingerprints also determined that at least one shot was fired from the firearm at the time of the assassination.
Two years later, Coretta Scott King, King's widow, along with the rest of King's family, won a wrongful death claim against Loyd Jowers and "other unknown co-conspirators." Jowers claimed to have received $100,000 to arrange King's assassination. The jury of six whites and six blacks found in favor of the King family, finding Jowers to be complicit in a conspiracy against King and that government agencies were party to the assassination. William F. Pepper represented the King family in the trial.
In 2000, the U.S. Department of Justice completed the investigation into Jowers' claims but did not find evidence to support allegations about conspiracy. The investigation report recommended no further investigation unless some new reliable facts are presented. A sister of Jowers admitted that he had fabricated the story so he could make $300,000 from selling the story, and she in turn corroborated his story in order to get some money to pay her income tax.
In 2002, The New York Times reported that a church minister, Rev. Ronald Denton Wilson, claimed his father, Henry Clay Wilson—not James Earl Ray—assassinated King. He stated, "It wasn't a racist thing; he thought Martin Luther King was connected with communism, and he wanted to get him out of the way." Wilson provided no evidence to back up his claims.
King researchers David Garrow and Gerald Posner disagreed with William F. Pepper's claims that the government killed King. In 2003, Pepper published a book about the long investigation and trial, as well as his representation of James Earl Ray in his bid for a trial, laying out the evidence and criticizing other accounts. King's friend and colleague, James Bevel, also disputed the argument that Ray acted alone, stating, "There is no way a ten-cent white boy could develop a plan to kill a million-dollar black man." In 2004, Jesse Jackson stated:
The fact is there were saboteurs to disrupt the march. And within our own organization, we found a very key person who was on the government payroll. So infiltration within, saboteurs from without and the press attacks. ... I will never believe that James Earl Ray had the motive, the money and the mobility to have done it himself. Our government was very involved in setting the stage for and I think the escape route for James Earl Ray.
King's main legacy was to secure progress on civil rights in the U.S. Just days after King's assassination, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Title VIII of the Act, commonly known as the Fair Housing Act, prohibited discrimination in housing and housing-related transactions on the basis of race, religion, or national origin (later expanded to include sex, familial status, and disability). This legislation was seen as a tribute to King's struggle in his final years to combat residential discrimination in the U.S.
Internationally, King's legacy includes influences on the Black Consciousness Movement and Civil Rights Movement in South Africa. King's work was cited by and served as an inspiration for South African leader Albert Lutuli, who fought for racial justice in his country and was later awarded the Nobel Prize. The day following King's assassination, school teacher Jane Elliott conducted her first "Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes" exercise with her class of elementary school students in Riceville, Iowa. Her purpose was to help them understand King's death as it related to racism, something they little understood as they lived in a predominantly white community. King has become a national icon in the history of American liberalism and American progressivism. King also influenced Irish politician and activist John Hume. Hume, the former leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, cited King's legacy as quintessential to the Northern Irish civil rights movement and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, calling him "one of my great heroes of the century."
King's wife, Coretta Scott King, followed in her husband's footsteps and was active in matters of social justice and civil rights until her death in 2006. The same year that Martin Luther King was assassinated, she established the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia, dedicated to preserving his legacy and the work of championing nonviolent conflict resolution and tolerance worldwide. Their son, Dexter King, serves as the center's chairman. Daughter Yolanda King, who died in 2007, was a motivational speaker, author and founder of Higher Ground Productions, an organization specializing in diversity training.
Even within the King family, members disagree about his religious and political views about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. King's widow Coretta said publicly that she believed her husband would have supported gay rights. However, his youngest child, Bernice King, has said publicly that he would have been opposed to gay marriage.
On February 4, 1968, at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, in speaking about how he wished to be remembered after his death, King stated:
I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. And I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Beginning in 1971, cities such as St. Louis, Missouri, and states established annual holidays to honor King. At the White House Rose Garden on November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating a federal holiday to honor King. Observed for the first time on January 20, 1986, it is called Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Following President George H. W. Bush's 1992 proclamation, the holiday is observed on the third Monday of January each year, near the time of King's birthday. On January 17, 2000, for the first time, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was officially observed in all fifty U.S. states. Arizona (1992), New Hampshire (1999) and Utah (2000) were the last three states to recognize the holiday. Utah previously celebrated the holiday at the same time but under the name Human Rights Day.
King is remembered as a martyr by the Episcopal Church in the United States of America with an annual feast day on the anniversary of his death, April 4. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America commemorates King liturgically on the anniversary of his birth, January 15.
UK legacy and The Martin Luther King Peace Committee
In the United Kingdom, The Northumbria and Newcastle Universities Martin Luther King Peace Committee exists to honour King's legacy, as represented by his final visit to the UK to receive an honorary degree from Newcastle University in 1967. The Peace Committee operates out of the chaplaincies of the city's two universities, Northumbria and Newcastle, both of which remain centres for the study of Martin Luther King and the US Civil Rights Movement. Inspired by King's vision, it undertakes a range of activities across the UK as it seeks to "build cultures of peace."
Ideas, influences, and political stances
As a Christian minister, King's main influence was Jesus Christ and the Christian gospels, which he would almost always quote in his religious meetings, speeches at church, and in public discourses. King's faith was strongly based in Jesus' commandment of loving your neighbor as yourself, loving God above all, and loving your enemies, praying for them and blessing them. His nonviolent thought was also based in the injunction to turn the other cheek in the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus' teaching of putting the sword back into its place (Matthew 26:52). In his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, King urged action consistent with what he describes as Jesus' "extremist" love, and also quoted numerous other Christian pacifist authors, which was very usual for him. In another sermon, he stated:
Before I was a civil rights leader, I was a preacher of the Gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment. You know, actually all that I do in civil rights I do because I consider it a part of my ministry. I have no other ambitions in life but to achieve excellence in the Christian ministry. I don't plan to run for any political office. I don't plan to do anything but remain a preacher. And what I'm doing in this struggle, along with many others, grows out of my feeling that the preacher must be concerned about the whole man.
Veteran African-American civil rights activist Bayard Rustin was King's first regular advisor on nonviolence. King was also advised by the white activists Harris Wofford and Glenn Smiley. Rustin and Smiley came from the Christian pacifist tradition, and Wofford and Rustin both studied Gandhi's teachings. Rustin had applied nonviolence with the Journey of Reconciliation campaign in the 1940s, and Wofford had been promoting Gandhism to Southern blacks since the early 1950s. King had initially known little about Gandhi and rarely used the term "nonviolence" during his early years of activism in the early 1950s. King initially believed in and practiced self-defense, even obtaining guns in his household as a means of defense against possible attackers. The pacifists guided King by showing him the alternative of nonviolent resistance, arguing that this would be a better means to accomplish his goals of civil rights than self-defense. King then vowed to no longer personally use arms.
In the aftermath of the boycott, King wrote Stride Toward Freedom, which included the chapter Pilgrimage to Nonviolence. King outlined his understanding of nonviolence, which seeks to win an opponent to friendship, rather than to humiliate or defeat him. The chapter draws from an address by Wofford, with Rustin and Stanley Levison also providing guidance and ghostwriting.
King was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and his success with nonviolent activism, and as a theology student, King described Gandhi as being one of the "individuals who greatly reveal the working of the Spirit of God". King had "for a long time ... wanted to take a trip to India." With assistance from Harris Wofford, the American Friends Service Committee, and other supporters, he was able to fund the journey in April 1959. The trip to India affected King, deepening his understanding of nonviolent resistance and his commitment to America's struggle for civil rights. In a radio address made during his final evening in India, King reflected, "Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity."
Bayard Rustin's open homosexuality, support of democratic socialism, and his former ties to the Communist Party USA caused many white and African-American leaders to demand King distance himself from Rustin, which King agreed to do. However, King agreed that Rustin should be one of the main organizers of the 1963 March on Washington.
King's admiration of Gandhi's nonviolence did not diminish in later years. He went so far as to hold up his example when receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, hailing the "successful precedent" of using nonviolence "in a magnificent way by Mohandas K. Gandhi to challenge the might of the British Empire ... He struggled only with the weapons of truth, soul force, non-injury and courage."
Gandhi seemed to have influenced him with certain moral principles, though Gandhi himself had been influenced by The Kingdom of God Is Within You, a nonviolent classic written by Christian anarchist Leo Tolstoy. In turn, both Gandhi and Martin Luther King had read Tolstoy, and King, Gandhi and Tolstoy had been strongly influenced by Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. King quoted Tolstoy's War and Peace in 1959.
Another influence for King's nonviolent method was Henry David Thoreau's essay On Civil Disobedience, which King read in his student days. He was influenced by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system. He also was greatly influenced by the works of Protestant theologians Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich, as well as Walter Rauschenbusch's Christianity and the Social Crisis. King also sometimes used the concept of "agape" (brotherly Christian love). However, after 1960, he ceased employing it in his writings.
Even after renouncing his personal use of guns, King had a complex relationship with the phenomenon of self-defense in the movement. He publicly discouraged it as a widespread practice, but acknowledged that it was sometimes necessary. Throughout his career King was frequently protected by other civil rights activists who carried arms, such as Colonel Stone Johnson, Robert Hayling, and the Deacons for Defense and Justice.
As the leader of the SCLC, King maintained a policy of not publicly endorsing a U.S. political party or candidate: "I feel someone must remain in the position of non-alignment, so that he can look objectively at both parties and be the conscience of both—not the servant or master of either." In a 1958 interview, he expressed his view that neither party was perfect, saying, "I don't think the Republican party is a party full of the almighty God nor is the Democratic party. They both have weaknesses ... And I'm not inextricably bound to either party." King did praise Democratic Senator Paul Douglas of Illinois as being the "greatest of all senators" because of his fierce advocacy for civil rights causes over the years.
King critiqued both parties' performance on promoting racial equality:
Actually, the Negro has been betrayed by both the Republican and the Democratic party. The Democrats have betrayed him by capitulating to the whims and caprices of the Southern Dixiecrats. The Republicans have betrayed him by capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of reactionary right wing northern Republicans. And this coalition of southern Dixiecrats and right wing reactionary northern Republicans defeats every bill and every move towards liberal legislation in the area of civil rights.
Although King never publicly supported a political party or candidate for president, in a letter to a civil rights supporter in October 1956 he said that he was undecided as to whether he would vote for Adlai Stevenson or Dwight Eisenhower, but that "In the past I always voted the Democratic ticket." In his autobiography, King says that in 1960 he privately voted for Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy: "I felt that Kennedy would make the best president. I never came out with an endorsement. My father did, but I never made one." King adds that he likely would have made an exception to his non-endorsement policy for a second Kennedy term, saying "Had President Kennedy lived, I would probably have endorsed him in 1964." In 1964, King urged his supporters "and all people of goodwill" to vote against Republican Senator Barry Goldwater for president, saying that his election "would be a tragedy, and certainly suicidal almost, for the nation and the world." King supported the ideals of democratic socialism, although he was reluctant to speak directly of this support due to the anti-communist sentiment being projected throughout the United States at the time, and the association of socialism with communism. King believed that capitalism could not adequately provide the basic necessities of many American people, particularly the African-American community.
King stated that black Americans, as well as other disadvantaged Americans, should be compensated for historical wrongs. In an interview conducted for Playboy in 1965, he said that granting black Americans only equality could not realistically close the economic gap between them and whites. King said that he did not seek a full restitution of wages lost to slavery, which he believed impossible, but proposed a government compensatory program of $50 billion over ten years to all disadvantaged groups.
He posited that "the money spent would be more than amply justified by the benefits that would accrue to the nation through a spectacular decline in school dropouts, family breakups, crime rates, illegitimacy, swollen relief rolls, rioting and other social evils." He presented this idea as an application of the common law regarding settlement of unpaid labor, but clarified that he felt that the money should not be spent exclusively on blacks. He stated, "It should benefit the disadvantaged of all races."
Recently, the press has been filled with reports of sightings of flying saucers. While we need not give credence to these stories, they allow our imagination to speculate on how visitors from outer space would judge us. I am afraid they would be stupefied at our conduct. They would observe that for death planning we spend billions to create engines and strategies for war. They would also observe that we spend millions to prevent death by disease and other causes. Finally they would observe that we spend paltry sums for population planning, even though its spontaneous growth is an urgent threat to life on our planet. Our visitors from outer space could be forgiven if they reported home that our planet is inhabited by a race of insane men whose future is bleak and uncertain.
There is no human circumstance more tragic than the persisting existence of a harmful condition for which a remedy is readily available. Family planning, to relate population to world resources, is possible, practical and necessary. Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess.
What is lacking is not sufficient knowledge of the solution but universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem and education of the billions who are its victims...
FBI and King's personal life
FBI surveillance and wiretapping
FBI director J. Edgar Hoover personally ordered surveillance of King, with the intent to undermine his power as a civil rights leader. According to the Church Committee, a 1975 investigation by the U.S. Congress, "From December 1963 until his death in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was the target of an intensive campaign by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to 'neutralize' him as an effective civil rights leader."
The Bureau received authorization to proceed with wiretapping from Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in the fall of 1963 and informed President John F. Kennedy, both of whom unsuccessfully tried to persuade King to dissociate himself from Stanley Levison, a New York lawyer who had been involved with Communist Party USA. Although Robert Kennedy only gave written approval for limited wiretapping of King's phones "on a trial basis, for a month or so", Hoover extended the clearance so his men were "unshackled" to look for evidence in any areas of King's life they deemed worthy. The Bureau placed wiretaps on Levison's and King's home and office phones, and bugged King's rooms in hotels as he traveled across the country. In 1967, Hoover listed the SCLC as a black nationalist hate group, with the instructions: "No opportunity should be missed to exploit through counterintelligence techniques the organizational and personal conflicts of the leaderships of the groups ... to insure the targeted group is disrupted, ridiculed, or discredited."
NSA monitoring of King's communications
In a secret operation code-named "Minaret", the National Security Agency (NSA) monitored the communications of leading Americans, including King, who criticized the U.S. war in Vietnam. A review by the NSA itself concluded that Minaret was "disreputable if not outright illegal."
Allegations of communism
For years, Hoover had been suspicious about potential influence of communists in social movements such as labor unions and civil rights. Hoover directed the FBI to track King in 1957, and the SCLC as it was established (it did not have a full-time executive director until 1960). The investigations were largely superficial until 1962, when the FBI learned that one of King's most trusted advisers was New York City lawyer Stanley Levison.
The FBI feared Levison was working as an "agent of influence" over King, in spite of its own reports in 1963 that Levison had left the Party and was no longer associated in business dealings with them. Another King lieutenant, Hunter Pitts O'Dell, was also linked to the Communist Party by sworn testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). However, by 1976 the FBI had acknowledged that it had not obtained any evidence that King himself or the SCLC were actually involved with any communist organizations.
For his part, King adamantly denied having any connections to communism, stating in a 1965 Playboy interview that "there are as many Communists in this freedom movement as there are Eskimos in Florida." He argued that Hoover was "following the path of appeasement of political powers in the South" and that his concern for communist infiltration of the Civil Rights Movement was meant to "aid and abet the salacious claims of southern racists and the extreme right-wing elements." Hoover did not believe King's pledge of innocence and replied by saying that King was "the most notorious liar in the country." After King gave his "I Have A Dream" speech during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, the FBI described King as "the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country." It alleged that he was "knowingly, willingly and regularly cooperating with and taking guidance from communists."
The attempt to prove that King was a communist was related to the feeling of many segregationists that blacks in the South were happy with their lot but had been stirred up by "communists" and "outside agitators." However, the 1950s and '60s Civil Rights Movement arose from activism within the black community dating back to before World War I. King said that "the Negro revolution is a genuine revolution, born from the same womb that produces all massive social upheavals—the womb of intolerable conditions and unendurable situations."
Having concluded that King was dangerous due to communist infiltration, the FBI shifted to attempting to discredit King through revelations regarding his private life. FBI surveillance of King, some of it since made public, attempted to demonstrate that he also engaged in numerous extramarital affairs. Lyndon Johnson once said that King was a "hypocritical preacher."
Ralph Abernathy stated in his 1989 autobiography And the Walls Came Tumbling Down that King had a "weakness for women", although they "all understood and believed in the biblical prohibition against sex outside of marriage. It was just that he had a particularly difficult time with that temptation." In a later interview, Abernathy said that he only wrote the term "womanizing", that he did not specifically say King had extramarital sex and that the infidelities King had were emotional rather than sexual. Abernathy criticized the media for sensationalizing the statements he wrote about King's affairs, such as the allegation that he admitted in his book that King had a sexual affair the night before he was assassinated. In his original wording, Abernathy had claimed he saw King coming out of his room with a lady when he awoke the next morning and later claimed that "he may have been in there discussing and debating and trying to get her to go along with the movement, I don't know."
In his 1986 book Bearing the Cross, David Garrow wrote about a number of extramarital affairs, including one woman King saw almost daily. According to Garrow, "that relationship ... increasingly became the emotional centerpiece of King's life, but it did not eliminate the incidental couplings ... of King's travels." He alleged that King explained his extramarital affairs as "a form of anxiety reduction." Garrow asserted that King's supposed promiscuity caused him "painful and at times overwhelming guilt." King's wife Coretta appeared to have accepted his affairs with equanimity, saying once that "all that other business just doesn't have a place in the very high level relationship we enjoyed." Shortly after Bearing the Cross was released, civil rights author Howell Raines gave the book a positive review but opined that Garrow's allegations about King's sex life were "sensational" and stated that Garrow was "amassing facts rather than analyzing them."
The FBI distributed reports regarding such affairs to the executive branch, friendly reporters, potential coalition partners and funding sources of the SCLC, and King's family. The bureau also sent anonymous letters to King threatening to reveal information if he did not cease his civil rights work. The FBI–King suicide letter sent to King just before he received the Nobel Peace Prize read, in part:
The American public, the church organizations that have been helping—Protestants, Catholics and Jews will know you for what you are—an evil beast. So will others who have backed you. You are done. King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason, it has definite practical significant [sic]). You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy fraudulent self is bared to the nation.
A tape recording of several of King's extramarital liaisons, excerpted from FBI wiretaps, accompanied the letter. King interpreted this package as an attempt to drive him to suicide, although William Sullivan, head of the Domestic Intelligence Division at the time, argued that it may have only been intended to "convince Dr. King to resign from the SCLC." King refused to give in to the FBI's threats.
In 1977, Judge John Lewis Smith Jr. ordered all known copies of the recorded audiotapes and written transcripts resulting from the FBI's electronic surveillance of King between 1963 and 1968 to be held in the National Archives and sealed from public access until 2027.
Police observation during the assassination
A fire station was located across from the Lorraine Motel, next to the boarding house in which James Earl Ray was staying. Police officers were stationed in the fire station to keep King under surveillance. Agents were watching King at the time he was shot. Immediately following the shooting, officers rushed out of the station to the motel. Marrell McCollough, an undercover police officer, was the first person to administer first aid to King. The antagonism between King and the FBI, the lack of an all points bulletin to find the killer, and the police presence nearby led to speculation that the FBI was involved in the assassination.
Awards and recognition
King was awarded at least fifty honorary degrees from colleges and universities. On October 14, 1964, King became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to him for leading nonviolent resistance to racial prejudice in the U.S. In 1965, he was awarded the American Liberties Medallion by the American Jewish Committee for his "exceptional advancement of the principles of human liberty." In his acceptance remarks, King said, "Freedom is one thing. You have it all or you are not free."
In 1957, he was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP. Two years later, he won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for his book Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. In 1966, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America awarded King the Margaret Sanger Award for "his courageous resistance to bigotry and his lifelong dedication to the advancement of social justice and human dignity." Also in 1966, King was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In November 1967 he made a 24-hour trip to the United Kingdom to receive an honorary degree from Newcastle University, being the first African-American to be so honoured by Newcastle. In a moving impromptu acceptance speech, he said
There are three urgent and indeed great problems that we face not only in the United States of America but all over the world today. That is the problem of racism, the problem of poverty and the problem of war.
Martin Luther King Jr. was the conscience of his generation. He gazed upon the great wall of segregation and saw that the power of love could bring it down. From the pain and exhaustion of his fight to fulfill the promises of our founding fathers for our humblest citizens, he wrung his eloquent statement of his dream for America. He made our nation stronger because he made it better. His dream sustains us yet.
King was second in Gallup's List of Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century. In 1963, he was named Time Person of the Year, and in 2000, he was voted sixth in an online "Person of the Century" poll by the same magazine. King placed third in the Greatest American contest conducted by the Discovery Channel and AOL.
Memorials and eponymous places and buildings
There are numerous memorials to King in the United States, including:
- More than 730 cities in the United States have streets named after King.
- King County, Washington, rededicated its name in his honor in 1986 and changed its logo to an image of his face in 2007.
- The city government center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is named in honor of King.
- In 1980, the U.S. Department of the Interior designated King's boyhood home in Atlanta and several nearby buildings the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.
- A bust of Dr. King was added to the "gallery of notables" in the United States Capitol in 1986, portraying him in a "restful, nonspeaking pose."
- The beginning words of King's "I Have a Dream" speech are etched on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, at the place where King stood during that speech. These words from the speech—"five short lines of text carved into the granite on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial"—were etched in 2003, on the 40th anniversary of the march to Washington, by stone carver Andy Del Gallo, after a law was passed by Congress providing authorization for the inscription.
- In 1996, Congress authorized the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, of which King is still a member, to establish a foundation to manage fund raising and design of a national Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. King was the first African American and the fourth non-president honored with his own memorial in the National Mall area. The memorial opened in August 2011 and is administered by the National Park Service. The address of the monument, 1964 Independence Avenue, SW, commemorates the year that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law.
- The Landmark for Peace Memorial in Indianapolis, Indiana
- The Homage to King sculpture in Atlanta, Georgia
- The Dream sculpture in Portland, Oregon
- The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge in Fort Wayne, Indiana
- The National Civil Rights Museum, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, where King died
- Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma, Alabama
- On October 11, 2015, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported a proposed "Freedom Bell" may be installed atop Stone Mountain honoring King and his "I Have a Dream" speech, specifically the line "Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia."
- A bust of Martin Luther King Jr. has been in the collection of the collection of the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery since 1974, and displayed in the White House since 2000; a second cast is in the collection of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Numerous other memorials honor him around the world, including:
- The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Church in Debrecen, Hungary
- The King-Luthuli Transformation Center in Johannesburg, South Africa
- The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Forest in Israel's Southern Galilee region (along with the Coretta Scott King Forest in Biriya Forest, Israel)
- The Martin Luther King Jr. School in Accra, Ghana
- The Gandhi-King Plaza (garden), at the India International Center in New Delhi, India
- In Norfolk, Virginia stands a memorial in honor of King. The 83-foot-high granite obelisk was conceived by former Norfolk Councilman and General District Court Judge Joseph A. Jordan Jr.
Five dollar bill
On April 20, 2016, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced that the $5, $10, and $20 would all undergo redesign prior to 2020. Lew said that while Lincoln would remain on the obverse of the $5 bill, the reverse would be redesigned to depict various historical events that had occurred at the Lincoln Memorial. Among the planned designs are images from King's "I Have a Dream" speech and the 1939 concert by opera singer Marian Anderson.
- Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (1958) ISBN 978-0-06-250490-6
- The Measure of a Man (1959) ISBN 978-0-8006-0877-4
- Strength to Love (1963) ISBN 978-0-8006-9740-2
- Why We Can't Wait (1964) ISBN 978-0-8070-0112-7
- Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967) ISBN 978-0-8070-0571-2
- The Trumpet of Conscience (1968) ISBN 978-0-8070-0170-7
- A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. (1986) ISBN 978-0-06-250931-4
- The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. (1998), ed. Clayborne Carson ISBN 978-0-446-67650-2
- "All Labor Has Dignity" (2011) ed. Michael Honey ISBN 978-0-8070-8600-1
- "Thou, Dear God": Prayers That Open Hearts and Spirits Collection of King's prayers. (2011), ed. Lewis Baldwin ISBN 978-0-8070-8603-2
- MLK: A Celebration in Word and Image Photographed by Bob Adelman, introduced by Charles Johnson ISBN 978-0-8070-0316-9
After Martin Luther King
- Ogletree, Charles J. (2004). All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half Century of Brown v. Board of Education. W W Norton & Co. p. 138. ISBN 0-393-05897-2.
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- "Birmingham USA: Look at Them Run". Newsweek: 27. May 13, 1963.
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- Augustine.com – "Black History: Dr. Robert B. Hayling" ; David J. Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (Harper Collins, 1987) p 316–318
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