'Tragic'

More

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. 

Jump to comments

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.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

'Stop Telling Women to Smile'

An artist's campaign to end sexual harassment on the streets of NYC.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where Time Comes From

The clocks that coordinate your cellphone, GPS, and more

Video

Computer Vision Syndrome and You

Save your eyes. Take breaks.

Video

What Happens in 60 Seconds

Quantifying human activity around the world

Writers

Up
Down

From This Author