Peretz on King at Memorial Church

Iartin H. Peretz, Instructor in Social Studies made these remarks at last Tuesday's memorial service for Dr. King.)


FOR THOSE of us who counted Martin Luther King as a friend, the grief of these days comes with a special and immediate intensity. For those qualities of buoyancy and openness of dignity and simplicity, that made so compelling from a public platform, were able to move millions of people to belief, to deed and to courage, were hardly less apparent in private moments than in others.

I have known men and women for whom a single encounter with Dr. King has become a landmark in their lives. Had I met him but once, it would have been so for me. But too much should not be inferred from direct contact. He harbored no secrets from his vast congregation of the hopeless. He did not posture for the masses, and all of us saw him change and knew of his anxieties.

This is not to say, however, that nothing distinguished the public from the private man; clearly and at minimum, he was able to share with his family and only most intimate circle of coworkers almost incredible reservoirs of fortitute for just such tragic moments as these; and little of this strength is ours. His death for them is a station on an inexorable road to redemption; while it leaves us afraid and desolate.


Those of us who simply knew him, whose lives were personally touched by his fire, and who listened to the musical cadence and vaulting poetry of his speech--"I have a dream, the last, free at last, (only last Wednesday) I have been to the mountain top"--and those marched behind him for justice, we are together now, in communion with his spirit.


BUT AS A friend and as a follower, to be faithful to him as I knew him and understood his creed, I must take upon myself the unhappy responsibility or at least the risk, of marring the effusive and superficial, but very official, harmony which has wet-blanketed our country since that day in Memphis not yet a week ago.

Is this too un-Christian, too uncharitable a response to events? One cannot, I suppose, begrudge the powerful their characteristic unction in these circumstances. Indeed, it may remind us again of how different he was from them.

But lest they end up paying empty tribute to the man at no cost save that in the substance of his cause, we now must, as he did, speak truth to power. Do not establish a national holiday on his birthday or issue stamps in his memory, or make any other gestures on this order. These will not even avert the riots we fear. Do not do these, unless you--unless we--are really prepared to act out the content of his life, the explicit politics of his religion.


And so we must say from the very first that non-violence is not law and order, nor is it even stability. It is an order of justice, and not the order of the present. The doctrine of non-violence, suddenly so cherished by men of high office and station who abused Dr. King in life, who were threatened by his methods and callously indifferent to the goals for which he struggled, is not one he would have recognized as his.

Did they not, all of them, to a man, counsel him "Do not hold this march," "Do not demonstrate now?" Did they not all betray him? Martin Luther King believed in non-violence as a strategy and as an end. He was one of those rarest of men in whom values and action, means and purposes are one.

But he was able to distinguish between the violence of the oppressed and the violence of the oppressor. And while he abhorred both, for him, as distinguished from the official preferences, the violence done in uniform against the insurgent wretched had no lesser immoral onus attached to it, but an infinitely greater one.