Martin Luther King Jr. speaks to a packed crowd at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1964, urging them to continue their demonstrations. Photo: Bettmann/corbis
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Hegel and Martin Luther King

In his 1956 address to the First Annual Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change, King appealed to the thought of Heraclitus and of Hegel to reassure his followers that the rumblings of discontent from Asia, the uprisings in Africa, the nationalistic longings of Egypt, the roaring cannons in Hungary, and the racial tensions in America did not represent retrogression and tragic meaninglessness but rather the necessary pains that accompany the birth of anything new:

Long ago the Greek philosopher Heraclitus argued that justice emerges from the strife of opposites, and Hegel, in modern philosophy, preached a doctrine of growth through struggle. It is both historically and biologically true that there can be no birth and growth without birth and growing pains. Whenever there is the emergence of the new, we confront the recalcitrance of the old. So the tensions which we witness in the world today are indicative of the fact that a new world order is being born and an old order is passing away.

Martin Luther King, Jr

King found in Hegel an additional confirmation of the value of community and the futility of any attempt by any individual or group to dominate another. Professor Peter Bertocci recalled how King in the seminar on Hegel “almost took over the class” in his enthusiasm for Hegel’s insight that the master is dependent on the slave for his consciousness of himself as master. Hegel had perceived that just when the master achieves lordship, he achieves a dependent consciousness and finds his truth to be “the unessential consciousness” (The Phenomenology of Mind, rev. ed., trans. J. Baillie [New York: The Macmillan Company, 1955], pp. 236-37). Joseph Barndt emphasized that James Baldwin reaffirmed the message of President Lincoln that when the black man is emancipated, the white man will discover that he is the one who has been set free.



Ansbro, J. J. (1984) Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Making of a Mind. Orbis Books

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