In observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, here are some thoughts from Christopher Phelps, a history professor at Ohio State:
King’s sermons from 1948 to 1963 . . . remind us of King’s immersion in the black Baptist church and of the wide range of theological sources and social criticism he drew upon. For King, Christianity was the social gospel. His outlook was astonishingly radical, especially for the McCarthy era. In a college paper entitled “Will Capitalism Survive?” King held that “capitalism has seen its best days in America, and not only in America, but in the entire world.” He concluded a 1953 sermon by asking his congregation to decide “whom ye shall serve, the god of money or the eternal God of the universe.” He opposed communism as materialistic, but argued that only an end to colonialism, imperialism, and racism, an egalitarian program of social equality, fellowship, and love, could serve as its alternative.
Down riot-torn streets, he continued his quest for audacious social transformation by means of creative tension, compassion, love, inclusion, and humility. . . . The aspirations he left unfulfilled — especially for social equality and economic justice — may yet supply the legacy for a renewed American hope.
Given the disparities chronicled in Dalton Conley’s Being Black, Living in the Red, King’s agenda appears more timely than ever.
UPDATE: I just saw this post by Jon Hanson; very interesting take on King’s legacy.