In this 1960 interview with Meet the Press, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. discusses his views on nonviolent protests, business owners refusing service to citizens, and marriage.
In his first appearance on Meet the Press, Dr. King was interviewed by Frank Van Der Linden of the Nashville Banner; May Craig of the Portland (Maine) Press Herald, Anthony Lewis of the New York Times, and Lawrence E. Spivak, a regular member of the Meet the Press panel. The discussion was moderated by Ned Brooks.
Spivak, quoting former president Harry Truman, questions the effectiveness of Dr. King’s sit-in strikes, while King defends the method of non-violent resistance. Dr. King says:
“If the nonviolent resisters continue to follow the way of nonviolence they eventually get over to the hearts and souls of the former oppressors, and I think it eventually brings about that redemption that we dream of.”
Lewis brings up the tension the movement has caused in the South, and asks Dr. King what part he thinks the federal government should play in the situation. Dr. King’s response:
“I think the federal government has the responsibility of protecting our citizens of this nation as they protest against unjust, the injustices which they face.”
Reading the interview in 2015, connections can clearly be drawn between the Black Civil Rights movement and the LGBT Civil Rights movement of this time. Dr. King speaks of business owners being able to deny service to citizens based on the color of their skin, just as same-sex oriented refusal of service cases pop up over the past few years.
Craig: Well, Dr. King, there have been court decisions saying that a storekeeper can select his customers. Are you saying that the end justifies the means and you’re apparently breaking local laws, hoping for a better conclusion?
King: Well, I would say, first, that the Supreme Court has not rendered a decision at this point. It is true that there have been other decisions. But I think on the basis of the 1954 decision if the Supreme Court follows what it set forth in 1954, it would have to uphold the law in this area, that segregation is wrong even in lunch counters and public places because that decision said in substance that segregation generates a feeling of inferiority within the segregated and, thereby, it breaches the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Now, I’m sure that if we follow this through in this area the same thing will follow. On the other hand, if you’re saying are we breaking laws because we feel that the end justifies the means, we feel that there are moral laws in the universe just as valid and as basic as man-made laws, and whenever a man-made law is in conflict with what we consider the law of God, or the moral law of the universe, then we feel that we have a moral obligation to protest. And this is in our American tradition all the way from the Boston Tea Party on down. We have praised individuals in America who stood up with creative initiative to revolt against an unjust system. So that this is all we’re doing. In our institutions we give the Boston Tea Party as an example of the initiative of Americans, and I think this is an example of the initiative and the great creative move of the young people of our nation.
The topic of marriage is also discussed, described as “racial intermarriage.”
Van Der Linden: You say that marriage is an individual matter. Now, is it correct to say that you don’t oppose racial intermarriage?
King: Well, I would certainly say, properly speaking, individuals marry and not races. And therefore, I cannot, I would not at all say that the laws prohibiting individuals of different races to marry, because this is an individual matter. It is not a matter of a group marrying another group but an individual marrying an individual.
Van Der Linden goes on to question Dr. King about the racial composition of his church in Atlanta. After Dr. King’s response, saying there are no white members of his church, the interview concludes with:
Van Der Linden: Well sir, you said integration is the law of the land, and it’s morally right, whereas segregation is morally wrong, and the president should do something about it. Do you mean the president should issue an order that the schools and the churches and the stores should all be integrated?
King: I think it is one of the tragedies of our nation, one of the shameful tragedies, that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hours, in Christian America. I definitely think the Christian church should be integrated, and any church that stands against integration and that has a segregated body is standing against the spirit and the teachings of Jesus Christ, and it fails to be a true witness. But this is something that the Church will have to do itself. I don’t think church integration will come through legal processes. I might say that my church is not a segregating church. It’s segregated but not segregating. It would welcome white members.
A PDF with the full interview transcript can be downloaded here.