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Extremist for Love: Martin Luther King Jr., Man of Ideas and Nonviolent Social Action.

Extremist for Love: Martin Luther King Jr., Man of Ideas and Nonviolent Social Action



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ISBN: 978-1-4514-7020-8

Rufus Burrow Jr. performs yeoman work in deepening and enriching our understanding of Martin Luther King, Jr., in his book, An Extremist for Love: Man of Ideas and Nonviolent Social Action. He appropriately roots King's theory and practice in the indomitable spirit of his ancestry and parentage. Burrow demonstrates that a proper apprehension of King's adult life necessitates thorough knowledge about his heritage and the black church tradition.

Once that groundwork is laid, Burrow launches into an exposition of the major intellectual resources with which King resonated and from which King extrapolated for the remainder of his life. Essential to this analysis is the practical Christianity of the theologian of the social gospel, Walter Rauschenbusch, and the political realism of the neo-orthodox theological ethicist, Reinhold Niebuhr. Burrow elucidates the power and poignancy of these figures without sacrificing King's own critical reflection over their praxis.

Crucial to a fuller appreciation of King is an understanding of his first senior pastorate and the predecessor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in whose shadow he initially stood, namely Vernon Johns. Often, historians have been dismissive of Johns' idiosyncratic and eccentric ways. Burrow shines light on ways in which King benefitted from the bold brilliance of Johns' social consciousness and activism, for the congregation had already experienced a style of prophetic witness in Johns that King would soon evince. Burrow gives Johns his just desserts and positions him as a bona fide mentor of King.

Burrow also proceeds to give women their due as he exposes the sexism and male chauvinism in the classic Civil Rights Movement. King was not exempt from this misogyny, but the author differentiates King from the other clerical and civic leaders as Burrow focuses on the Montgomery Bus Boycott. King often praised the work of women in the movement and relied on the leadership of women in his nonviolent crusade--from Rosa Parks, Jo Ann Robinson, and Ella Baker, to Dora McDonald, Marian Wright (Edelman), and Coretta Scott King. Burrow does an excellent job of elucidating the complexity of King's sexism without minimizing its inevitable deleteriousness.

A study of King's ethic of love would certainly be incomplete without a discourse on Mahatma Gandhi's influence on the subject. Burrow delves into the evolution of King's reference to Gandhi throughout the thirteen-year period of his public life. Although he was quite familiar with Gandhi's lifework, he did not employ this knowledge at the onset of the Montgomery boycott. Burrow cuts through a lot of the scholarly rhetoric about Gandhian influence on King and pinpoints when Gandhi's ideas of the force of nonviolence took hold. As Burrow fleshes out King's real pilgrimage to nonviolence, he is able to explicate the core of King's proactive love.

In the final analysis, Burrow seeks to portray King as a work in progress that was truncated by assassination. Because of that broken trajectory, King could not complete the journey towards real cross-cultural coalition building. The author recommends finding ways to align or ally with others in order to strengthen the resolve to and effectiveness of effecting positive social change. He does an impressive job of encouraging the solidification of heretofore-fragile alliances in the struggle for dignity, equity, and peace.

Burrow does the painstaking work of delineating where King was at certain points in his life, without coming across as plodding, laborious, or tedious. Instead, he interweaves fabrics of King's heritage, thought, and action to create a tapestry of his ontological subject with such biographical accuracy and critical thoroughness that we enter into a fuller understanding of the real man scarcely found elsewhere. The poignancy and profundity of King's praxis that Burrow articulates augment the reader's ability to reach a new appreciation of King with matchless depth and insightfulness. It is a must-read for any student of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.!

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Author:Blackwell, Michael D.
Publication:The Western Journal of Black Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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