From September 1957 until the end of 1958, Martin Luther King Jr. was both the president of the newly formed Southern Christian Leadership Conference and an advice columnist. For those 16 months, King answered questions from readers of Ebony magazine, the premier lifestyle magazine for African Americans, under the title “Advice for Living.” Predictably, many of the questions have to do with civil rights and race, as King had become a national figure after his involvement in the successful Montgomery bus boycott. Others are religious or spiritual in nature. He’s asked a couple times for his thoughts on nuclear weapons. But there is also more-standard advice-column fare having to do with self-improvement and the management of personal relationships.
Many of his answers to these questions are what you might expect from a deeply learned and committed Christian (while his answer about birth control may surprise you), though quite a few feel rather thoughtless and reveal a latent sexism. To a woman who writes “My husband is one of the pillars of the church. … He is a complete tyrant at home. He seems to hate me and the children, too. What can I do?,” King first says, “I would suggest that you analyze the whole situation and see if there is anything within your personality that arouses this tyrannical response from your husband.” Another woman writes, “My husband is having an affair with a woman in our housing project. He promised to stop, but he is still seeing her. We have children and I don’t believe in divorce, but I cannot and will not share him. What must I do?,” and part of King’s advice reads, “Since the other person is so near you might study her and see what she does for your husband that you might not be doing. Do you spend too much time with the children and the house and not pay attention to him? Are you careful with your grooming? Do you nag? Do you make him feel important. . . like somebody? This process of introspection might help you to hit upon the things that are responsible for your husband’s other affair.” To a woman who was hurt about being the butt of her husband’s jokes, King says, “Sometimes individuals embarrass other individuals in public in an attempt to pay them back for being humiliated in private. Ask yourself whether you are doing anything, even unconsciously, to arouse a resentful attitude on the part of your husband.”