Noted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. biographer, historian, and UI&U doctoral faculty member Stewart Burns recently gave an interview on Dr. King’s civil rights activism. The Sojourner’s Truth, Toledo, Ohio’s African American newspaper, ran it as a two-part series. Burns reflects on lesser known aspects of Dr. King’s inner struggles and the angst and depression he suffered as he traveled the often solitary road as a civil rights leader. You can read part 1 of the interview here, and part 2 here
Dr. Burns Describes Dr. King
Burns served as editor of the King Papers at Stanford University, and developed a documentary history of the Montgomery bus boycott (made into an HBO feature). Thus, he has unique perspectives on Dr. King’s life. He points out that, as a servant leader, Dr. King acutely felt the suffering of others. He withstood the daily onslaught of criticism for his stands on the Vietnam War and economic inequality.
Burns describes Dr. King’s last years: “For the last four and a half years of his life he was a wounded warrior. It does seem that from a psychological or emotional perspective, it is very often the case that activists or people who are leaders for social change find themselves not only on the edge of society in the sense that they’re really pushing for significant change in the society, but also that their minds and consciousness and spirits are somewhat on the edge of what’s considered normal.”
And yet, Burns says, “King himself was a real role model. He wanted a united movement of people of color and poor whites, which was the idea for the poor people’s campaign, but above all he wanted black people to be united.”
About Dr. Burns
Dr. Burns chairs UI&U’s Ethical & Creative Leadership concentration in the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. program and shares leadership of its Martin Luther King Jr. Studies specialization. He is a highly regarded historian of the civil rights movement, author or editor of eight books, former editor of the King Papers at Stanford University, where he also taught U.S. History before joining Union. He has been a nonviolent activist for most of his life, and for over a quarter century engaged in interracial healing in higher education. Learn more about Dr. Burns and his commitment to connect Dr. King’s legacy to current issues at this link.
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