Yesterday was my birthday.
Saturday, January 15 was Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, which we now celebrate today as a federal holiday. I’d like to honor Dr. King and share with you some of his more personal observations and advice on how to have a better life.
From September, 1957 to December, 1958, Dr. Martin Luther King wrote a monthly column for Ebony Magazine entitled “Advice for Living.” Readers would ask questions and Dr. King would respond. Today, I’d like to share with you some of his advice.
First, Dr. King on pre-marital sex:
Question: I was raised in a Christian environment. My father placed great stress on premarital virginity. I am 29. Of late, I have begun to doubt the validity of his teaching…Is he right?
MLK: I think you should hold firm to the principle of premarital virginity. The problems created by premarital sex relationships are far greater than the problems created by premarital virginity. The suspicion, fears, and guilt feelings generated by premarital sex relations are contributing factors to the present breakdown of the family. Real men still respect purity and virginity with women. If a man breaks a relationship with you because you would not allow him to participate in the sexual act, you can be assured that he did not love you from the beginning.
Dr. King on parenting:
Question: Young parents nowadays cater to every whim and wish of their children. I was in a home the other day where a 3 year old child read the riot act to his mother. The mother took it with a sheepish smile. This, I am told, is permissiveness. It seems to me that what modern children need is a large dose of parental permissiveness applied to their backsides. Do you agree?
MLK: It is quite true that many modern parents go too far in allowing their children to express themselves with hardly a modicum of discipline. Many parents justify this by arguing that the children must have freedom. But freedom can very easily run wild if not tempered with discipline and responsibility. This almost “lunatic fringe” of modern child care has been responsible for most strange and fantastic methods of child rearing in many American homes. The child is permitted to almost terrorize the home for fear of having its individuality repressed. Somewhere along the way every child must be trained into the obligations of cooperative living. He must be made aware that he is a member of a group and that group life implies duties and restraints. Social life is possible only if there exists a balance between liberty and discipline. The child must realize that there are rules of the game which he did not make and that he cannot break with impunity. In order to get all of these things over to the child, it is often necessary to subject the child to disciplinary measures.
Dr. King on romantic love:
Question: I am in love with a young woman who is obviously unsuitable for me. On the other hand, I know another girl who wants to marry. I think the latter girl would be perfect for me, but I don’t love her. We have the same background, the same tastes and we enjoy the same things. Should I marry her? Isn’t romantic love, which is at best transitory, a slippery thing to bet your future on?
MLK: I would not say that romantic love is merely transitory. Romantic love, at its best, is an enduring love which grows with the years. I do agree, however, that it is quite risky to base a marriage purely on so-called romantic love without taking other basic factors into account. For it may be possible that what we feel as real romantic love is at bottom a passing fantasy or a temporary infatuation with no real substance. Many marriages have broken up for this very reason. Persons marry on the basis of a temporary emotional feeling, and when the slightest conflict arises, the marriage breaks up because it is not planted on a solid foundation. I think it would be far better for you to at least pursue the relationship with the young lady who has the same background and similar interests as you have. If you continue to associate with her, it is altogether probable that you will grow to love her. At least with a similar background and similar interests, you have something basic and solid to build on. In the case of the first young lady that you mentioned, you may simply have a feeling that may pass away with the wind.
Dr. King on staying married despite extra-marital affairs:
Question: My husband is having an affair with a woman in our housing project. He promised to stop, but he is still seeing her. We have children and I don’t believe in divorce, but I cannot and will not share him. What must I do?
MLK: Your unwillingness to share your husband is perfectly natural and normal. No person wants to share his or her mate with another. But your problem is a very delicate one, and needs to be handled with wisdom and patience. First I would suggest that you attempt to get your husband to go with you to talk with your clergyman or a marriage counselor. I am sure that they could be helpful in solving your problem. In the meantime, since the other person is so near you might study her and see what she does for your husband that you might not be doing. Do you spend too much time with the children and the house and not pay attention to him? Are you careful with your grooming? Do you nag? Do you make him feel important…like somebody? This process of introspection might help you to hit upon the things that are responsible for your husband’s other affair. Certainly, I would not suggest a divorce at this point. I strongly would urge you to exhaust every possible resource in your power and seek to rectify the situation before making any drastic changes.
Dr. King on interracial marriage:
Question: I’m in love with a white man whom I’ve known for two years. We met at the company where we work. I want to marry him, although both of our parents object. I know that he loves me, too. Should we go ahead and get married anyway?
MLK: The decision as to whether you should marry a white man whom you have known for two years is a decision that you and your friend must make together. Properly speaking, races do not marry, individuals marry. There is nothing morally wrong with an interracial marriage. There are many other things, however, that must be taken under consideration in any interracial marriage. The traditions of our society have been so set and crystallized that many social obstacles stand in the way of persons involved in an interracial marriage. If persons entering such a marriage are thoroughly aware of these obstacles and feel that they have the power and stability to stand up amid them, then there is no reason why these persons should not be married. Studies reveal that interracial couples who have come together with a thorough understanding of conditions that exist, have married and lived together very happily.
Dr. Alveda King, Dr. Martin Luther King’s niece, a civil rights advocate not only for minorities, but also for the rights of the unborn, has said that her uncle was a social conservative who believed in family, personal responsibility, marriage and sexual abstinence for the young.
Martin Luther King’s lifelong support for Planned Parenthood has always bothered me and always will, but I would like to celebrate the man who encouraged so many of us to dream of a better world.