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Advice for Living with Martin Luther King Jr. and Julia Putnam

Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a column for Ebony magazine from 1957-1958 called "Advice for Living." You can read all of them at The Martin Luther King, Jr Research and Education Institute.

Julia Putnam is one of the co-founders of the James and Grace Lee Boggs School.


ZAK: I didn't learn this until the other day, but Martin Luther King Jr. Was an advice columnist for Ebony magazine. Starting in 1957 he wrote monthly answering reader's questions. He was still in his late twenties at the time. I hope that today you're thinking about King or reading about him, maybe listening to his speeches. But right now I want to share some advice from him because this is an advice show. I'm going to read you a question from an Ebony reader and then reading King's answer is my friend..

JULIA: My name is Julia Putnam. I'm a lifelong Detroiter and I am one of the co-founders of the James and Grace Lee Boggs School.

ZAK: Did you know that Martin Luther King was an advice columnist?

JULIA: I did not know that.

ZAK: So he was asked to start it in 1957 and so I was just thinking about the historical context and reading about it. 1956, he spends, uh, on the Montgomery Bus Boycott. And then in early '57, he co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. And then he's like, yeah, I'll write a column for you Ebony. Like he's taking on a lot.

JULIA: Well that makes sense. Right. There was a lot to do.

ZAK: Yeah. And he's in his late twenties at the time.

JULIA: That's really interesting.

ZAK: So he wrote it only for, I think like he did 15 issues, 15 monthly issues because he was stabbed and almost killed in '58. And his doctor's like, uh, Martin, maybe you should like, you know, relinquish some of your commitments.

JULIA: Yeah, do less.

ZAK: So this is from Martin Luther King Jr's advice column that he wrote in Ebony magazine. And this question and answer that we're going to go over is from that first issue. Is love really the solution to the race problem? Are there not times when a man must stand up and fight fire with fire? I will grant that love, as Jesus lived it, is the ultimate ideal. But it seems to me preachers ought to be honest and tell folks if they live by the turn-the-other-cheek doctrine, the sharp boys out here in this cold world will strip them and boil them in oil. Why don’t you preachers admit that love, in the highest sense of the word, is impractical in the world of today?

JULIA: King writes...I am convinced that love is the most durable power in the world. It is not an expression of impractical idealism; but of practical realism. Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, love is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. To return hate for hate does nothing but intensify the existence of evil in the universe. Someone must have sense enough and religion enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil, and this can only be done through love. Moreover, love is creative and redemptive. Love builds up and unites; hate tears down and destroys. The aftermath of the “fight fire with fire” method which you suggest is bitterness and chaos; the aftermath of the love method is reconciliation and the creation of the beloved community. Physical force can repress, restrain, coerce, destroy, but it cannot create and organize anything permanent; only love can do that. Yes love—which means understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill, even for one’s enemies—is the solution to the race problem. Often love is crucified and buried in a grave, but in the long run it rises up and redeems even that which crucifies it.

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