This is the fifth in a series of posts reflecting on the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1967, what would be the last year of his life, Dr. King went to Jamaica for privacy and solitude to write Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community? By the writing of this book he was a seasoned thinker, activist, and living under threats everyday. He’d won the Nobel Peace Prize, lived through Montgomery, Selma, Birmingham, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Detroit. Memphis was still to come.
In this essential book’s final chapter, he reflects upon an image we’re in desperate need of today. He reflects upon the “World House.” “All inhabitants of the globe are now neighbors,” he writes. This sounds obvious to us in 2015, but it was far from obvious in 1967. At that time, he was still receiving criticism, even from those in the Civil Rights Movement, for focusing on international issues. He reached beyond American Civil Rights– where many wanted him to stay. He, of course, would not be so confined.
In this chapter on the “World House,” he reflects on the need for all of us to be “awake,” to make sure we see what is happening in the world, even if it is far beyond our own borders. He insists, every movement for freedom in the world must matter to us. He is convinced that the world is a house, a neighborhood, and that we must learn to live with those who are vastly different. It’s in this chapter where he pens the ominous and hopeful phrase: “Together we must learn to live as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools.” He notes our scientific progress and our moral progress, urging us to link the two. He also speaks to the need to address racism worldwide. He notes the brutal example of South Africa and he remarks, with powerful prescience, that the United States and Britain make the apartheid regime of South Africa possible. He won’t live to see South Africa emerge into freedom, but his analysis of its roots and consequences was exactly correct.
Dr. King’s final chapter in his final book is laden with hope. He notes of poverty: “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it.” He confirms that we have enough resources in the world to feed everyone. While population growth is a challenge, he clearly states that poverty can be erased, if we have the will to do it. The will is our challenge.
In his words, the world has become a “World House,” a place where we all must survive, communicate, accept, challenge, and forgive. We have no choice but to learn about each other so we can live and thrive with each other. An essential part of this challenge he admits, will be to end militarism as we know it. We have done poor work at this. We still live in a dramatically armed world. He recalls President Kennedy’s words that “Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.” He urges support for the United Nations and calls on all nations to sacrifice and plan for peace. He admits that the difficulties are many. But he knows, in the long run, committing to peace is the only way the human race will survive. He presses the middle road between capitalism and a socially aware common good. He notes: The stability of the large world house, which is ours, will involve a revolution of values to accompany the scientific and freedom revolutions engulfing the earth.”
Dr. King challenges us to move from a “thing-oriented society” to a “person-oriented” society. We clearly see the need for this today. As technology far outpaces our moral and spiritual development, we are locked into our phones and games while much of the world goes hungry.
Dr. King’s insights have so much to offer us today. But we have to get beyond the simplistic ideas of an “easy” King, and read the actual words he wrote. He has the insights. We have to learn them.
Photo: Beacon Press, The King Legacy, Foreword by Coretta Scott King, Introduction by Vincent Harding,