Interview with Michael Harrington

Why don't we start off with something specifically about Dr. King? What was Dr. King like as a person?


It's very strange to talk about what Dr. King was like. He was, among other things that people might not imagine, a very funny man. I remember one time, ah, going to his house in Atlanta. I was in Atlanta for a conference that he spoke at, and we went over to his house afterwards with Ralph Abernathy and Dr. King and probably Andy Young. I talked later to Yolanda King about it and she said she was the little girl peaking out from behind the door. And it was a lot of fun, a lot of joking, a lot of kidding around, and particularly a lot of kidding around by Dr. King in terms of Abernathy, ah, about Abernathy's driving, about--and so, a very, a very funny man with a very deep laugh. Secondly, something that came to me as a real shock and, ah, I was sitting with Dr. King, it seems to me we--in some setting where we were eating and listening obviously to what he was saying, and suddenly I was struck by the fact this man is a southerner. That is to say that he comes out of the South, that he is not explicable except in terms of the South, that he loves the South. And I think as a northern White, even though I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, but as a northern White in this--in the South in those days I was terrified most of the time I was around the South that somebody would discover that I was carpetbagging in Mississippi and, ah, do something to me. And ah, my attitude towards southern Whites was one of great hostility and I suddenly realized that, that for Dr. King, ah, it was not. Thirdly, ah, something that came out in conversations I had with him, he was a fairly, striked fairly. He was a serious intellectual. He was not simply a man of good values, not simply a man of action. Obviously he was both of those things. But I think particularly because of his theological education he was a very sophisticated man, that he had read widely. And when I talked to him, ah, particularly one series of conversations where we spent a lot of time together, ah, it was in a sense as intellectual to intellectual. Ah, and this was a side of Dr. King that was not always, ah, obvious to the public. They didn't get a chance to see it. I remember the first time I saw him give a speech, ah, which was at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in Washington, D.C. in 1955. And at that point I had not met him. But I remember in his speech he talked about the difference. He was talking about the need for love in the Civil Rights Movement. And he talked about the difference between Eros, Kairos, and Agape. Using a very sophisticated Greek language with ah, contemporary theological meanings. In a mass meeting. And my feeling looking at the people around, particularly at, we had brought up a large number of poor Blacks from the South that we had bussed up to the meeting. They obviously didn't know exactly what he was saying. Eros, Kairos, Agape. And that's not immediately, and he gave some description of it. They were deeply moved. They, they caught his meaning without understanding the specific words. So I would say that he was a very complex person, much more complex than the, than the image of him that you get these days.