'Tragic'

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Here's a fairly remarkable quote cited in David Blight's forthcoming book American Oracle, in which Martin Luther King addresses President Kennedy during the Civil War centennial:


The struggle for freedom, Mr. President, of which the Civil War is but a bloody chapter continues throughout our land today. The courage and heroism of Negro citizens at Montgomery, Litle Rock, New Orleans, Prince Edward County and Jackson Mississippi is only a further effort to affirm the democratic heritage so painfully won, in part, upon the grassy battlefields of Antietam, Lookout Mountain and Gettysburg.

...of which the Civil War is but a bloody chapter.

That's exactly what I'm talking about. King refuses to see the War in isolation, decontextualized or even singular particularly singular. It is a chapter in a long saga which he argues extends up through the Civil Rights movement.

I would argue that it also extends backward, indeed all the way back to the 1660s when Virginia first began coding white supremacy into law. From then forward a War unfolded of which  "the Civil War is but a bloody chapter."

As a sidenote, it's interesting to see King drawing a connection between the nonviolent activities of his allies and the obviously violent activities of the Union Army. I haven't read enough about King and War. I don't even know if he was a pacifist. 

Forgive me for harping on this. For obvious reasons it's all I'm thinking about. It will all be over soon. 

MORE: Blight talks up his new book. I've read the intro and the chapter on Robert Penn Warren. I can't wait to get to the Baldwin chapter. I think he'd disagree with me on much of what I've said about tragedy--but not because the War could have been avoided. I think Blight sees history, itself, as tragic.

At any rate I'll know soon enough. I'm supposed to talk with him for the magazine piece this week. 

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. More

Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

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