'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.

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