Romanticism in the Civil Rights Movement

Stride Toward Freedom by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a civil rights era memoir detailing the importance of love in revolution, and the necessity to revolt non-violently and with understanding towards others that are in different cages than your own. King sites Thoreau, Hegel, Gandhi, and Niebuhr in regards to non-violence and its role in social revolution. King infers from them that love, rather than hate, is fundamental in the activism required to make an oppressor come to understand their own immorality in a way that forces change and a collapse in the foundation of a flawed belief system. To exist as the oppressor requires any justification that one can procure, and to be approached by the oppressed and see the ideal self is to have enslaved something that you love, and that loves you.

The oppression of the familiar cannot exist in a morally conscious society. Moreover, such injustice cannot exist in a society of such egocentricity–as men and women in general, perceive those who do not love as we do, and who do not have the same rituals as we do, as savage. When; however, a man whose identity is benign to the majority shares the same dark history, same god, same holidays, same air, culture etc. society may dismantle its own belief system that the less involved of people may not have known was flawed. A nation must dispatch its own institutions because it consciously desires salvation in the eyes of its internal depiction of a higher power, whether it is God or human ego. Borrowing philosophy from Hegel, King says “becoming bitter or indulging in hate campaigns… would do nothing but intensify the hate in the universe” (King, 1417). King believes that it is easy for African-Americans to hate white Americans, but because they are forced into this living situation that is so radically different from the living situation and social constructs that had existed earlier in these men and women’s lifetimes, King contemplates that his “white brothers” have a tainted perception of the situation that needed to be rectified with compassion (King, 1865). He wanted love before respect, which left pride out of the situation. To demand respect without a prerequisite of love is a cold concept used by fear mongers who rebel with no true desire to improve upon the situation, but rather reverse the roles. Those who revolt in hopes of privilege rather than equality are destined to fail as they bring nothing new to the table, but fear in their social superiors.

Furthermore, hatred is never considered as a recourse upon failure by King. Dr. King wholeheartedly believed that the white people who oppressed both black people and “poor white(s)” respectively, are fundamentally misguided and need to see the compassion of the oppressed to receive any form of redemption (King, 95). If there were to be violence, the slaughter had to be unanimously on the side of the victim, and with care not to bruise the knuckles of their despots. Violence “seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding,” and that is rejected by the ego of the oppressor (King, 1396). The oppressor must be defeated by his own logic, and there are inconsistencies in the oppression wrought on some kind, that deviate from the self-defined morality of the ruling that allowed for the oppression of another. To revolt is to question what you know is right, as something that you know is wrong isn’t a question, but rather a responsibility to resolve.

Stride Toward Freedom is a “romantic,” glorifying text because of King’s optimism about the inevitability of change. King romanticizes absolutes, and denies that there may be change by men divided. “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice” (King, 612). He implies that it is not enough to not kill each other, but there must be such an equality that altercations unaffiliated with race may be treated as such by all, with equal justice for all. Furthermore, King relies on Christian ideals without falling prey to begging for divine providence, but rather using the holy text to inspire a kinship between his people that produced heroic and Romantic properties from every man and woman. It is no secret that the idea of a Judeo-Christian God is prevalent in King’s life, but he does not obsess over predestination. Instead, King insists that it is a responsibility for individuals to “suffer and sacrifice for their freedom and dignity” (King, 801). It realizes a hybridization of philosophy, by removing the pessimism from the teachings of Nietzsche and applying them to a social revolution in which a common morality can be achieved through religion and then fought for with a firm unified stance. He does not by any means agree with Nietzsche’s ideas of the pursuit of power, instead he is vocal about his desire to imitate Gandhi and Gandhi’s teachings of societal compassion. It was essentially the teachings of Jesus, but not confined to a single person or relationship. It was King’s belief in a “metaphysical basis for the dignity and worth of all human personality” (King, 1368).

As a literary work, Stride Toward Freedom reflects the labor of a hardworking people with a common desire to overcome hardship with rational and compassionate thinking. It is the product of a movement that was in large part inspired by Romantic contemporaries in the social and physical revolutions of the Nineteenth century; it is King reflecting on an effective and peaceful revolution that succeeded even in the face of an opposition that was unwavering in their injustices. It highlights the power of suffering as a tool to persuade, and implies that to suffer intentionally to demonstrate a preference of temporary pain compared to permanent injustice is a rational response to the evils of oppression. King’s book is factual in the eyes of a Romantic that humans are born to feel, and so it is insightful of King to imply that suffering is God’s intention for he made it so that man could suffer. King’s philosophy leaves behind not only a better American society, but a place in which a more compassionate rendition of Christianity is instilled into the minds and households of millions of Americans.