On the evening of March 15, 1962, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to a packed crowd at the Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. Before the event, The Observer’s Kenneth Bagnell, then assistant to the editor, sat down with the American civil rights leader for a one-on-one conversation. What follows are excerpts from the interview, first published in August of that year.
On segregation in the church:
I’m a Baptist. But I’m not a Southern Baptist. That’s an all-white convention, which has made noble pronouncements about integration being Christian. But sometimes when I encounter my white Baptist brethren in the South, I wonder if they were at the meeting when the pronouncements were made. Honesty impels me to admit that at 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning when we stand to sing In Christ There Is No East or West, we are standing in the most segregated hour in America.
Old man segregation is on his death bed, and the only question is how costly the South will make the funeral. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have made some moves toward integrating, even though some are only token. Only three states, South Carolina, Alabama and the great sovereign state of Mississippi, are still holding out.
On the types of integrationists:
There’s the extreme optimist who thinks things are just about solved; there’s the extreme pessimist who sees no progress; and thirdly, there’s the realist, who agrees with the optimist that we have come a long way, but agrees with the pessimist that we have a long way to go.
I like the term “non-violent resistance” to describe our movement. It’s not “passive resistance,” for that gives the wrong impression. Our resistance is active, not cowardice. But neither is it violent. Non-violent resistance weakens your enemy’s morale; it works on his conscience as he doesn’t know how to deal with it, and he’s frustrated.
We aren’t working for integration so that Negroes will marry the white man. Our basic aim is to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law. But if young people are willing to stand up to some of the inevitable problems that will arise, then they should go ahead and marry. It can be a very creative union. I’ve seen such marriages where the children born didn’t have any major problems because the parents were prepared for it themselves and prepared their children.
I was in Washington and had dinner recently with President and Mrs. Kennedy. Afterward, the president said, “We’d like to show you through the White House.” After a time, we came to the Lincoln room, saw the bed where Lincoln slept and the desk where he wrote. It was in this room he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. So I smiled and said to the president, “I’d like to see you sign a second proclamation in this same room, outlawing segregation everywhere in the U.S.”
On the right to vote:
Negroes sometimes face literacy tests a PhD couldn’t answer. In Mississippi, they have been asked, “How many bubbles in a bar of soap?” When they fail to answer, they can’t vote.
We say to white people who hurt us, “We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. Raid our communities in the dark of night, leave us half dead, and we will still love you. But be ye assured we will wear your defences down, and we will win freedom, and it will be not just for ourselves, but for you as well.”