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How MLK became an angry black man
April 16th, 2013
12:40 PM ET

How MLK became an angry black man

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) - By the time Clarence Jones reached him, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was in bad shape.

He was unshaven, dirty and dejected. King had spent several days alone in solitary confinement with no mattress in a filthy dark jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama.

"Take this out of here," King whispered as he grabbed Jones' belt and stuffed bawled-up newspapers and toilet tissue down his pants.

Jones, King's lawyer, wondered if King was starting to lose it. He didn't pay attention to what King had given him - it was just a mish-mash of words and arrows scribbled on bits of paper.

"Not until five days later did I actually read a mimeographed copy of the letter," says Jones. "To be honest with you, I was more worried about bail money, not what he had written."

Millions of people have since read what Jones first ignored. As the nation commemorates the 50th anniversary of King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail" on Tuesday, the document has become an American epistle. It's considered a classic defense of civil disobedience.

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But those who see King's letter as just a tract on nonviolent resistance make the same mistake King's lawyer made: They miss what's special about something that's right in front of their eyes, some King scholars say.

The letter is one of the most intimate snapshots of a King most people don't know: An angry black man who once hated white people and, according to one scholar, was more dangerous than Malcolm X, a man King admired.

"Before everything else, (the letter) is a black man's cry of pain, anger and defiance," says Jonathan Rieder, author of the just-released "Gospel of Freedom," which looks at the "furious truth teller" revealed in King's classic letter.

King's blackness - his fierce racial pride, his distinctively black Christian faith and his belief that most whites were "unconscious racists" - is on full display in his letter, scholars say. The anger that drove King's letter would become more prominent in the speeches King gave until, literally, his last hours, Rieder says.

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soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Sylvie

    Where on earth do you see MLK being angry? I've got some 89 pages. Nothing shows about being angry
    But I know who was angry ..... Hoover from FBI

    August 9, 2013 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Randy

    Inspirational... MLK faced adveristy that most of us could only imagine. Intelligence, Faith, foresight, etc, helped him persevere.

    June 14, 2013 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
  3. Bree

    How the heck does ANY of us become angry?!? Not feeling respected would be a given. I became angry at the grocery bagger for putting my raw chicken on top of the eggs. Hmm...maybe I should write an article about how I became an "Angry Grocery Shopper."

    June 4, 2013 at 1:01 am | Report abuse |
  4. thatruth

    lol...Even if he was an angry black man at that time, he had every right. Though all whites are not the same, it would have taken a very strong person not to have hated white people in that era...

    May 25, 2013 at 7:32 am | Report abuse |
    • rudy phoot

      As if much has changed... I guess its all in prospective.

      June 1, 2013 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
      • Not Surpised

        "prospective" is that ebonics?

        June 2, 2013 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
    • BasilT

      You're right- I'm about 2 seconds from offin some cr^&&kers now in 2013 so if Iwas around back in the 60's I'd be the FBI's most wanted...MLK and others like him are the real heroes....

      July 2, 2013 at 2:09 am | Report abuse |
  5. bernardsmalls

    What would Dr. King say about this...?
    Haters will hate, affirm: "I love all humanity regardless of ethnicity, race or religion."
    Bernard Smalls, Author of I AM A MINORITY MILLIONAIRE

    May 23, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Marcus C.

    Wow what a load of crap. This author really knows nothing nor does he attempt to correct himself. I wonder if the author was to sit in a dirty jail cell for whom knows how many days, would he feel the same about the people who put him there? This is how far CNN will go to get people to read this crap. Thanks for reminding me again why there is no real news, because it's all a ploy to grab ratings.

    May 20, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  7. James Antionette Morgan

    what idiocy CNN but what do you expect from the Home Network of RedCoat Morgan Time for a change people time for a change Not Obama Change but real change that you can see not read on ingornat networks owned by JPMorgan Chase etc

    May 1, 2013 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jorge

    Wow, from where I sit reading this revisionist article it's deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would have put it, in the Deep South. Knowing that CNN is quartered in Atlanta I'm not surprised that the author does not acknowledge that a man's works are not measured by his mistakes or the erred views he may have espoused along the way, but by the the value and depth of their end results. But alas, thus it goes in the South still, white's contempt for blacks, black's contempt for whites and the contempt of both for everybody else, or as the saying goes in Deep Dixie, "It ain't what you know, it's who you know." (This from someone who lived in Augusta for eight loooong years).

    April 22, 2013 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Big Shiz

    MLK was killed by J Edgar Hoover and CNN wants to call him a angry black man. It's about time our government admitted to the wrong doings of the past.

    April 17, 2013 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • AniyunweahCherokee

      Our govt? Ha no. your govt maybe.

      April 18, 2013 at 4:41 am | Report abuse |
      • BasilT

        No- your govt Chief...you got your casinos and $$$$$$ so "you" inherited the govt playa...

        July 2, 2013 at 2:11 am | Report abuse |
  10. Tom Smith

    This headline is very offensive and disrespectful. The author is garbage and so is CNN for putting this crap up. Put up some real news

    April 16, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |