Podcast • January 26, 2008

MLK Jr. after 40 years: a Fraternal Memoir

Michael Haynes is my touchstone of the abiding power and fascination and the profound earthly-heavenly mystery around Martin Luther King Jr. In 1951 Haynes and King broke in together as apprentice preachers at the historic ...

Michael Haynes is my touchstone of the abiding power and fascination and the profound earthly-heavenly mystery around Martin Luther King Jr. In 1951 Haynes and King broke in together as apprentice preachers at the historic Twelfth Baptist Church in Boston, and they stayed in close touch until King’s assassination 40 years ago, come April 4. Haynes is greatly under-cited in the King biographies, it seems to me. In our conversation Haynes makes a lively, loving witness on Martin, the young Ph.D. student, asking: “Where are the girls that would set my heart on fire,” until the church secretary introduced him to Coretta Scott at the New England Conservatory. But Haynes was also intimately connected with the man who knew, at the end, that his days — maybe his hours — were numbered, and who embraced his destiny in defiance of “longevity,” in submission to God’s will, with an open willingness to lay down his life to cure a cancer on American life. “The highest and deepest and best of the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ had permeated this man,” Haynes says.

When these two young public theologians met, King, at 22, was the designated heir of an Atlanta church dynasty, just entering doctoral studies at Boston University. Haynes, the son of Barbadian immigrants and the brother of “Charlie Parker’s favorite drummer,” Roy Haynes, was a year and a half older than King and still in seminary. In 1951 he was the minister to youth at Boston’s oldest, most established black church, with Beacon Hill roots back to 1805. Big-league baseball had just been integrated but the black-rights movement was embryonic when Haynes first encountered King, and I’ve often wondered where this pre-civil rights generation got their defining assurance that things could change, things must change. They found it in each other.

He had grown up, Haynes remembers, with a “burning awareness that a cancer was eating at America. I think for any black, North or South — realizing there were strictures, there were limitations, that we’re still being kept out and separated — there was something grossly wrong with that separation, and these walls, these barriers needed to be broken down. I think a lot of young leaders, probably including myself, were waiting for God to appoint a Moses. The time was just right, and Martin was that man who was going to lead us to a promised land… It’s tragic when a body has a cancer and doesn’t know it… Dr. King made that diagnosis very clear to America.”

In 1953 King invited Haynes to join him in ministry and struggle in Montgomery, Alabama, but Haynes stayed in Boston, to win election to the Massachusetts Legislature and to pastor the Twelfth Baptist Church for more than 40 years.

Rev. Michael E. Haynes

Rev. Michael E. Haynes

For almost half that span, I have been his blessed and grateful parishioner. I make an inadequate note in this conversation that on the enflamed subject of religion in American life these days, the amazing grace of African-American church life is a vastly underrated treasure. The Haynes example at Twelfth Baptist is a Christianity that is Scriptural but not literal; faith-based but never fantastical; community-rooted and bathed in black history and black culture but never provincial or tribal; socially activist but not partisan, much less ideological; moral but not moralistic. Barack Obama in his King Day speech showed himself as an apt child of the church and its preaching tradition. Typical of Haynes’ delicate balances is the line he quotes to me here: “God forbid we should get so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good.” But on the subject of Dr. King, the special joy of listening to Haynes comes in hearing not balance but the seamless fusion of their spiritual and political imaginations — of radical Christ-centeredness and the nth degree of tough-minded love and courage.

March 24, 2006

Black Men in Crisis

The reason why the girls do better is that, because they’re with the same sex parent, they have their mothers as role-models. … They grow up seeing a woman who is a very, very capable ...

million man marchThe reason why the girls do better is that, because they’re with the same sex parent, they have their mothers as role-models. … They grow up seeing a woman who is a very, very capable person. They boys say, ‘where’s the model of manhood?’ He finds it on the street.

Orlando Patterson on Open Source

In February the Washington Post’s Lonnae O’Neal Parker appeared on our feminism after Betty Friedan show to talk about how the “Mommy Wars” (deciding whether to pursue a career or opt out of the workforce to be a stay-at-home mom) just didn’t apply to black women in the same way that it might for many white women. It didn’t apply because black women have a completely different history of employment, property ownership rights, and educational opportunities. It didn’t apply because working black women must often help support family members who aren’t employed. But most interestingly, she said, because an estimated 40% of black boys born this year will someday end up in prison, it didn’t apply because staying home to raise healthy, well-educated, well-adjusted black men was an accomplishment in itself.

It’s a shocking figure, no? But is it more shocking than it should be, given we know how bad black men have it in America? Shouldn’t it be less shocking for precisely the same reason?

Starting last September we embarked on a weekly series about race and class in America. After a winter hiatus we’re resurrecting the series, and we want to start by talking about the specific and very scary plight of black men. We were inspired in part by this New York Times article which quotes a slate of new books and studies that all ask roughly the same set of questions: we know it’s bad, but how bad is it? And why? Why is it that more than half of all black men still do not finish high school? Or that incarceration rates are seven times higher for black men than they are for white? Why, even with the boom-town economic expansion of the 1990s, were black men basically left behind? And in the decade since the Million Man March challenged black men to take control of their own lives and empower themselves for change, has anything gotten better, or has it gotten worse? And how do you get around the uncomfortable meta-point, the famous line from W.E.B. DuBois: How does it feel to be a problem?

Ronald Mincy

Professor of Social Policy and Social Work Practice, Columbia University

Editor, Black Males Left Behind

Orlando Patterson

John Cowles Professor of Sociology, Harvard University

Author of recent New York Times op-ed, “A Poverty of the Mind”

Thanks DAM for this suggestion.

Christopher Rabb

Blogger, Afro-Netizen


Update, 3/27/06, 7:13pm

We asked our friend at the blog Angry Black Bitch (who has one of our all time favorite blog slogans: “Practicing the Fine Art of Bitchitude”) for her take on tonight’s topic. Here’s what we got:

Too often past research has neglected the impact of poverty, oppression and neglect on a person’s mental health. Personally, many of the black men in my world are clearly depressed and frustrated. Sometimes, this depression predetermines a situation. I have one friend who can talk himself out of taking a chance in 24 hours through a manic exploration of The Man, his boot and how it is forever planted on his neck.

Having said that, a lack of expectations within the black community is also a factor. We absolve bad behavior and have few, if any, consequences for mistakes. To be honest, we have moved to a level where words like ‘mistake’, ‘wrong’ and ‘poorly thought out’ simply don’t come into play.

I am anxious and concerned for my brothers. I long to come up with the quick answer, the motivational statement and the solution to what is clearly a crisis.

Internalized racism – the embracing of racist notions of our culture, low expectations and a slave mentality towards ambition.

Misogyny – the embracing of outdated roles of women, the blaming of black female empowerment for the current dysfunction in black families and the insulting disregard of black female achievement in the same time of the great black male crisis is rampant in some…not all…of these studies.


And then we have the brothers, the crisis, the unclear goals and the overwhelming apathy of our patient.

And, to reference Brother Martin Luther King, Where do we go from here?

Angry Black Bitch, in an email to Open Source, 3/27/06