Letter from a Lovelorn Pre-Radical: Looking Forward and Backward at Martin Luther King Jr.
In July 1952, 23-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. made the following statement: “So today capitalism has outlived its usefulness. It has brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes.”1 He did not say these words from the pulpit nor during one of the many political speeches he gave during his lifetime. He did not write them for a newspaper editorial nor any document produced for public consumption, such as his 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” But he did write them in a letter. It was a private letter to Coretta Scott, whom he had started dating earlier that year. The King, who wrote this letter, had just finished his first year of graduate school at Boston University and he was serving as the associate pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He was not yet Dr. King. He was not yet the public, political figure whose status and popularity in the dominant American collective memory is equal to, if not greater than, the nation’s most exalted presidents. Tracing King’s popularity from its lows to its present highs reveals that the transformation of King’s status in US history and in the nation’s collective memory is startling.
KeywordsPublic Life Collective Memory Private Sphere Public Realm Private Realm
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