By John Blake, CNN
(CNN)– Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was writing an advice column in 1958 for Ebony magazine when he received an unusual letter.
“I am a boy,” an anonymous writer told King. “But I feel about boys the way I ought to feel about girls. I don't want my parents to know about me. What can I do?”
In calm, pastoral tones, King told the boy that his problem wasn’t uncommon, but required “careful attention.”
“The type of feeling that you have toward boys is probably not an innate tendency, but something that has been culturally acquired,” King wrote. “You are already on the right road toward a solution, since you honestly recognize the problem and have a desire to solve it.”
We know what King thought about race, poverty and war. But what was his attitude toward gay people, and if he was alive today would he see the gay rights movement as another stage of the civil rights movement?
That’s not the type of question most people will consider on this Monday as the nation celebrates King’s national holiday. Yet the debate over King’s stance toward gay rights has long divided his family and followers. That debate is poised to go public again because of the upcoming release of two potentially explosive books, one of which examines King’s close relationship with an openly gay civil rights leader, Bayard Rustin.
The author of both books says King’s stance on gay rights is unclear because the Ebony advice column may be the only public exchange on record where he touches on the morality of homosexuality.
Yet King would have been a champion of gay rights today because of his view of Christianity, says Michael Long, author of, “I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters,” who shared the story of King’s Ebony letter.
“Dr. King never publicly welcomed gays at the front gate of his beloved community. But he did leave behind a key for them - his belief that each person is sacred, free and equal to all to others,” says Long, also author of the upcoming “Keeping it straight? Martin Luther King, Jr., Homosexuality, and Gay Rights.”
Did King’s dream include gay people?
One person close to King, though, would disagree.
Rev. Bernice King led a march to her father’s graveside in 2005 while calling for a constitutional ban on gay marriage. She was joined by Bishop Eddie Long, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Church in Georgia, where she served as an elder at the time. Long, who recently settled out of court with four young men who filed lawsuits claiming he coerced them into sexual relationships, publicly condemned homosexuality.
King did not answer an interview request, but she has spoken publicly about her views.
During a speech at a church meeting in New Zealand, she said her father “did not take a bullet for same-sex marriage.”
Yet her mother, Coretta Scott King, was a vocal supporter of gay rights. One of her closest aides was gay. She also invoked her husband’s dream.
Ravi Perry, a political science professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, said King’s widow once said in a public speech that everyone who believed in her husband’s dream should “make room at the table of brother and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”
There is no private or public record of King condemning gay people, Perry says. Even the FBI’s surveillance of King’s private phone conversations didn’t turn up any moment where King disparaged gay people, she says.
“If Dr. King were anti-gay, there would likely be a sermon, a speech, a recording of some kind indicating such,” she says. “And knowing how closely his phones were tapped; surely there would be a record of such statements.”
Those who say King did not condemn gays and would have supported gay rights today point to King’s theology.
Though King was a Christian minister, he didn’t embrace a literal reading of the Bible that condemns homosexuality, some historians say. King’s vision of the Beloved Community – his biblical-rooted vision of humanity transcending its racial and religious differences – expanded people’s rights, not restricted them, they say.
Rev. C.T. Vivian, who worked with King at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, says King would have championed gay rights today.
“Martin was a theologian,” Vivian says. “Martin starts with the fact that God loves everybody, and all men and all women were created by God. He based his whole philosophy on God’s love for all people.”
King’s relationship with ‘Brother Bayard’
Those who say King would have championed gay rights also point to King’s treatment of one of the movement’s most important leaders, Bayard Rustin.
Rustin was an openly gay civil rights leader who is widely credited with organizing the 1963 March on Washington. He was an organizational genius, the man who insisted that King speak last on the program, giving his “I Have a Dream” speech the resonance it would not have had otherwise, says Jerald Podair, author of “Bayard Rustin: American Dreamer.”
“He was the kind of guy who could tell you how many portable toilets you needed for 250,000 people in a demonstration," Podair says. “He was a details guy. King needed him for that march.”
But Rustin could do more than arrange a demonstration. He was also a formidable thinker and debater. He was born to a 15-year-old single mother and never graduated from college.
The movement was led by intellectual heavyweights like King, but even among them, Rustin stood out, Podair says. He read everything and was a visionary. One aide to President Lyndon Johnson described him as one of the five smartest men in America, says Podair, a history professor at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.
“People who heard him speak were transfixed,” Podair says.
Rustin became one of the movement’s most eloquent defenders of its nonviolent philosophy, says Saladin Ambar, a political scientist at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.
“He was one of the few individuals not afraid to debate with Malcolm X in public,” Ambar says. “Rustin more than held his own and really challenged Malcolm to push his thinking.”
Rustin was a special assistant to King and once headed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. During the planning of the March on Washington, King resisted calls to jettison Rustin because he was gay, Podair says.
King, though, didn’t speak out on behalf of gay rights because he was doing all he could to hold the movement together, historians say.
He had to constantly fend off rumors that the movement was infiltrated by communists. He was also criticized for expanding the movement to take on poverty and oppose the Vietnam War.
“The movement superseded any discussion of gay rights,” Ambar says. “King was dedicated to the cause at hand.”
With all that was going on, King couldn’t afford to wage a public campaign defending Rustin’s homosexuality, says Vivian, a SCLC colleague of King’s.
“Any employee that would employ a gay person at the time who was outwardly gay would have problems,” Vivian says. “I don’t care if you were the president of the Untied Sates, you would have trouble doing that.”
After the 1963 March on Washington, Rustin remained as King’s adviser. The two, however, drifted apart when King became more radical during the last three years of his life, says Adair, Rustin’s biographer.
When Rustin died in 1987, he was starting to receive attention from gay and lesbian activists who linked civil rights with gay rights, Podair says.
Rustin was a late convert to their cause.
“He never put it [homosexuality] front and center,” Podair says. “He never politicized it until the end of his life. He didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.”
It’s no longer unusual today for gay and lesbian activists to draw parallels between their struggles and King’s legacy. Vivian, King’s SCLC colleague, says the comparison is apt.
“There was a time when black people were afraid to be themselves among white people,” he says. “You had to fit a stereotype in order to be accepted. They’re going through the same thing but now they feel better about themselves.”
Vivian says the movement shouldn’t be limited to race.
“As we were freeing up black people, we’re freeing up the whole society.”
Long, author of the upcoming books on King and Rustin, says King’s vision transcended his personal limitations. Maybe he could have said more to that anonymous boy who wrote him at Ebony. But he did leave him a key to the Beloved Community– even if he didn’t realize it at the time, Long says.
Now, Long says, it’s up to those who claim King today to use that key.
“A turn of that key and a gentle push on the gate, swinging it wide open so everyone can enter into the Beloved Community,” he says. “That’s the best way to advance the legacy of Martin Luther King.”
I am pretty sure that if MLK were gay he would be here today and there would have been no James Earl Ray. Oy vey!
Glad to know that gays and blacks are held as the same thing now...
Except gays work for a living.
yes, human beings
I can just see the radical right types salivating.... ooooh a chance to attack MLK and gays in the same topic....what fun
IM SURE MOST OF CNNS STAFF IS GAY TOO...BUNCH OF FILTHY ANIMALS
This person suffers from low self esteem issues.
you backwards good ole boy types are the problem and the filthy ones, thank god the world is evolving you idiots away
Your sister wife is callin yous fur supper. Road kill agin!
Back to your trailer.
Go watch some nascar.
GAYS ARE THE REASON THIS COUNTRY IS IN THE TOILET,I HOPE THEY ALL DIE OF AIDS
Gays are not the reason this country is in the toilet. If you axe me, I will tell you who the culprits are.
80% of people in American claim to be christian if the country is in the toilet you only have yourselves to blame. Grow up idiot.
what are you afraid of????
@Emcee Ice Cold –
You want him to axe you?? That sounds painful, surely you mean "ask" not "axe"
Oh bubba !!!! look in the mirror and your own family to understand why America is in the "toilet" !!! poor little twit !!
Funny, I thought the reason America's in the toilet is people who say 'axe' instead of 'ask'
Congrats on finding an available computer at the library. Actually, it's amazing you were able to find the library. You know, that buildin' wit all the books innit?
bubba: you shore got a purty mouth....
King stood for civil rights, and the civil rights movement represents all forms of civil rights. I am dissapointed in CNN for publishing this article.
You can't handle the truth.
The "Civil Rights Movement" of today is dramatically different from that of 44 years ago.
If someone who died 44 years ago loved Coke-A-Cola, it is not reasonable to think that he would also love New Coke or Diet Coke, or any of the variants that have come out since.
universal civil rights for all
Oh, I agree. But what me may disagree on what, specifically, those "rights" are.
I AM ANTI GAY,DOES THAT MAKE ME A HERO TOO??
no it makes you full of fear and ignorant
what does your boyfriend think about your opinion?
Well now I find this to me an interesting question: Thank's to a small minded bigot named James Earl Ray humanity has been robbed of an answer to that question. Just as we will never know if JFK would have followed through on his plans to withdraw troops from Viet Nam or how Abe Lincoln would have handled reconstruction after the Civil War. You see, assassination leaves a big hole in history. The more important question is not what Dr. King would have said or done. The question is what are you going to do to honor his memory? Fight to open up our society for everyone, or fight to close it off?
Open it up for all except mother nature's little mistakes. They just ain't right.
MLK: The plagiarizer
MLK: The philanderer
What a great man he was.
Exactly right man
pretty funny, a guy obviously attracted to the black culture hates blacks... wow that's funny
Enough with the gay agendas already! Who cares what MLK may have allegedly thought about the matter. All of this is pure speculation since nobody can ask him for themselves what he thinks of the matter. And the article only makes mention of a short letter that appears to show that he is opposed to the gay lifestyle. I'm sure he loved the gays. But as a God fearing man he had to reconcile his conscience with what the Word of God says about such practices. The Bible is very clear on the matter of LGBT. God does not change. It is man who changes and always tries to justify his actions to negate what God has already revealed.
On George Washington's Birthday, CNN will run this headline: "What Would George Washington Think About Gay Rights?" etc. ad infinitum ad nauseum
"The Bible is very clear on the matter of LGBT. God does not change."
The bible supports slavery so that shouldn't have changed then huh? You sir are an idiot.
@Duh, Where in the Bible does it "support" slavery, or where does it say that slavery is a good thing?
God doesn't change? So that must be why so many Christians are so fond of reminding all of us that some things that were in the old testament were "revised" for the New Testament, right? I mean, if God doesn't change then there wouldn't have been a reason for a new testament to begin with.
Visitor, we know exactly what Washington thought of gays. He hired General von Steuben because he (and the US Army) needed his military talents, and Washington didn't care if von Steuben was gay. Lucky for us, von Steuben turned the war around and we won.
and you don't eat shellfish, allow women to have short hair, have multiple wives, own slaves, yadda yadda if we did all the stuff YOUR book calls for ..... ah why bother ya can't argue with stooooopid
The Bible tells how to treat YOUR slaves. Read it sometime.
So you still can't tell me where?
Obviously, you haven't read much of the Bible. There are many selections.
– Exodus 21:20-21 “If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property” [God]
– Deuteronomy 15:16-17 “But if your servant says to you, "I do not want to leave you," because he loves you and your family and is well off with you, then take an awl and push it through his ear lobe into the door, and he will become your servant for life. Do the same for your maidservant.”
"Duh", if you don't know the Bible, don't try to invoke it in your argument. The "slavery" referred to in the Bible is a very different thing than what we mean when we speak of slavery today. The Bible no where condones it, nor condemns it. I will leave it to you to educate yourself on Biblical interpretation
@Observer, I know where these references are. I wanted to see if you did too, and if you would use them to interpret them the way that you did.
@ND Murff, Well said.
@indievoter – see if he would interpret them the way he did? Let me guess...you have a more magical interpretation.
"Duh", if you don't know the Bible, don't try to invoke it in your argument. The "slavery" referred to in the Bible is a very different thing than what we mean when we speak of slavery today. The Bible no where condones it, nor condemns it. I will leave it to you to educate yourself on Biblical interpretation”
However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)
If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for only six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom. If he was single when he became your slave and then married afterward, only he will go free in the seventh year. But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife will be freed with him. If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave, and they had sons or daughters, then the man will be free in the seventh year, but his wife and children will still belong to his master. But the slave may plainly declare, 'I love my master, my wife, and my children. I would rather not go free.' If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will belong to his master forever. (Exodus 21:2-6 NLT)
When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again. But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners, since he is the one who broke the contract with her. And if the slave girl's owner arranges for her to marry his son, he may no longer treat her as a slave girl, but he must treat her as his daughter. If he himself marries her and then takes another wife, he may not reduce her food or clothing or fail to sleep with her as his wife. If he fails in any of these three ways, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment. (Exodus 21:7-11 NLT)
When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property. (Exodus 21:20-21 NAB)
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. (Ephesians 6:5 NLT)
Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed. If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts. Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them. (1 Timothy 6:1-2 NLT)
The servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it. "But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly. Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given." (Luke 12:47-48 NLT)
You are incorrect about the type of slavery.
You're confusing indentured servitude with slavery – indentured servitude in OT days was only for fellow hebrews.
"f thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing."
– Exodus 21:2
Non-Hebrews were nothing more than chattel.
"Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever."
– Leviticus 25:44
Awfully pompous claiming to know what god wants
^ http://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-slavery.html. To whoever "Duh" is: sorry that you got hurt by the church, haven't made the effort to look into things for yourself, were misinformed, or just tend to have a negative view on things. Shalom.
What did he think about immigration reform? Socialized medicine? Closing post offices? Why single out gays and ask unanswerable questions on a day that should be celebrated instead of one darkened by such trash. Shame on you CNN.
Absoutely agree. Mother Natures little mistakes like press time. They haven't yet accepted the fact that they are defects, and therefore constantly struggle for whatever attention they can get. Bums were made for stuff to EXIT. A poo-defiled package and a strap on faux package just ain't right. Please make them go away or just shut up.
Exactly, what the heck is going on?
Much of King's early strategic momentum came about due to Bayard Rustin's sage advisement. MLK knew his friend and right hand counsel Rustin was gay and didn't care. Yet, King completely abandoned Rustin, kicking him out of the King inner circle when the black civil rights powerhouses circled the wagons forced King to turn his back on Rustin just before the March on Washington, which Rustin helped organize. King apologized to Rustin but the personal relationship was never the same, understandably. Pretty sure King would be ashamed of his greedy, layabout kids, too.
Part of the editorial process for CNN is to ask of every potential news item, "Is there a gay angle we can play up here?" After awhile it's so obvious, it's laughable. CNN is a Gay Spam site masquerading as news.
It's not just gays that comment. They let ignorant bigots respond too.
Observer: are you peeking out from your closet? If so, accept your defect and go away please.
I am glad to see that people are finally beginning to compare the struggle that Blacks (Afro-Americans) in this country have experienced in the past, with the struggle that gays are still experiencing in this country. Does the same bigotry and hate that gays experience not stems from the same "political party" and "blood-lines" that bigotry towards Blacks stem from? By this I am referring to the Conservative/Republican party... The party today who's Conservative views oppose equal rights for all (presently against Gay Marriage or Civil Unions) is the same party who was against equal rights for Blacks.
Shouldn't we all stand together? Blacks alongside gays, alongside Hispanics, alongside the poor and the middleclass??? Shouldn't we all band together in a common cause- to be recognized and accepted, for equal rights for all members of our society??? Shouldn't the 99% be the voice of this country- as opposed to the oppressive 1%??? I think we should all band together- pushing for a common cause, and making America the true beacon of what a Modern society looks like! The populous (99%) over the minority (1%).
Blacks have gotten their rights, women have gotten their rights.... It is not time for the LGBT Community to finally achieve their rights! We bleed like everyone else, love like everyone else, and are literally just like every other member of this society, and we deserve our rights. Everyone who opposes gay rights need to reflect on why they are opposed to gay marriage and gay rights, and if the reason is because "the Bible" (which I am a Believer and follower of Christ)- then you need to reevaluate the reasons you are opposed to gay rights. "The Bible" is a generic and age-old arguement used against gays, and it has been handed down from generation to generation. THINK ABOUT IT!
... and I meant... "NOW IS THE TIME for the LGBT Community to finally achieve their rights"... Sorry for the typo and not doing a quick spell check! :-s Love, peace, and blessings to all of you! :D
And the bigotry against people who uphold the Bible as an excellent book to serve as a guide for their lives. It is the source of commands such as love your neighbors and enemies as yourself.
Benji, you make me want to just hurl. Go outside and catch some reality.
"We know what Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. thought about race, but what about gay right?"
There is no such thing as "gay rights", just like there is no such thing as "straight rights". There are only individual rights, and they belong to people who are gay just as much as they belong to any individual.
So very well put. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s proposition about individual rights apply to me, a white Christian male, just as much as any other individual. Thank you Dr. King.
W W MLK D?
mlk would sleep with dozens of white women while a minister and while married and not be called a hypocrite because of his skin color.
There's goes CNN again, pushing the gay agenda. Is this really newsworthy?
Of course it's relevant. gay gay gay. Everyone is gay.
Yeah, why can't CNN be regressive?
Stories on gays give a platform for ignorant bigots, too.
Agenda? You mean, to finally get you to admit you're not as straight as you think you are?
Wow, there are a lot of mother natures little mistakes here today. Please accept your defect and go to your closet. MLK would take a shower if he saw the drivel you misfits propagate.
What would Geroge Washington have thought about nationalized health care? What would Lincoln have thought about NASA?
Gee, This is fun...
What would the founding fathers thought about slavery–whoops! Not so much fun if you take it seriously.
Gay rights are human rights. Period.
What would Jesus think about Jersey Shore? Scott, I see what you mean. This IS fun...
What would Sarah Palin have thought about............ oops. You have to have a brain before you can think.
Aren't you funnae! You can't see a connection between civil rights struggles in one decade and similar struggles in another? Well, don't try too hard, hon.
No wonder the USA is slipping quickly in so many key areas. They can't even accept their own kind (including their gay population)! 'Christian nation' indeed...
If you think Christians are non-accepting of gays, try Islam. Yikes!
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.