The Atlantic

Is King All That We Are Allowed to Become?

Americans both black and white often use the civil-rights leader’s memory more to chide black youth than to inspire them.
Source: Fred W. McDarrah / Getty / Thanh Do / The Atlantic

From September 1957 until the end of 1958, Martin Luther King Jr. was both the president of the newly formed Southern Christian Leadership Conference and an advice columnist. For those 16 months, King answered questions from readers of Ebony magazine, the premier lifestyle magazine for African Americans, under the title “Advice for Living.” Predictably, many of the questions have to do with civil rights and race, as King had become a national figure after his involvement in the successful Montgomery bus boycott. Others are religious or spiritual in nature. He’s asked a couple times for his thoughts on nuclear weapons. But there is also more-standard advice-column fare having to do with self-improvement and the management of personal relationships.

Many of his answers to these questions are what you might expect from a deeply learned and committed Christian (while his answer about birth control), though quite a few feel rather thoughtless and reveal a latent sexism. To a woman who writes “My husband is one of the pillars of the church. … He is a complete tyrant at home. He seems to hate me and the children, too. What

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