In the winter of 1958, America’s foremost Black public figure at the time, journeyed to Pasadena, California to address a multicultural , mixed-race crowd of academicians, students and city residents. This was not the fi rst time Martin Luther King, Jr. visited the greater Los Angeles area. However, it was his first time in the city of Pasadena and one of his earliest encounters as an adult in a context that indirectly shaped aspects of his worldview, political theology, and, hence, public freedomfighting conduct. Moreover, King’s multiple visits to Pasadena cast a shadow whereupon he walked under an even greater shadowed path trail-blazed by a host of earlier racial freedom fighters also linked to Pasadena.
By the time King visited Pasadena, many of his ideas were already fi rmly set, due to his historical Black educational experience and classical liberal theological training from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, Crozier Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania and Boston University. King also was infl uenced by Indian reformer Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent resistance. California’s infl uence upon King primarily was the result of two persons who, themselves, were intimately shaped by a California worldview: Howard Thurman and Jackie Robinson.
Thurman mentored King both before and while teaching at Boston University, during King’s senior year of his doctoral studies. Thurman established a church in San Francisco, California before coming to Boston, whereas Jackie Robinson was reared in Pasadena from the time he was a toddler. To Martin Luther King, Jr., Robinson, who went on to break the color barrier in major league baseball, was a forerunner and archetypal pioneer of civil rights. Yet, these early freedomfi ghting pioneers were impacted by an even earlier Pasadena infl uence, most notably that of the radical anti-slavery abolitionist movement linked to John Brown.
King’s message of integration was met with a favorable reception by the time he visited Pasadena. Not surprisingly, particularly in that aspects of his integration philosophy and practice were indirectly informed by a California context. Indirectly influenced by his mentor, Howard Thurman, who, himself, spent nearly a decade presiding over an interfaith, interracial and multicultural fellowship in San Francisco, California, this infl uence on King may have reinforced an even earlier exposure to a California worldview. African American city historian John William Templeton asserts that King spent his preteen childhood summers in San Francisco (see “Would Martin Luther King, Jr. Recognize S. F. Today,” in the San Francisco Chronicle, January 12, 2017).
Jackie Robinson became a champion for racial integration and equality both during and after his major league baseball career. Retiring after the 1955 season, his outspokenness against racial segregation found support with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.) and Martin King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (S.C.L.C.). Robinson’s support for the N.A.A.C.P. and King was unwavering.
King California Worldview ...continued in Part 2
Jamal-Dominique Hopkins is Dean of the Dickerson-Green Theological Seminary and Department of Religion and Associate Professor of Religion at Allen University. He regularly teaches in the area of African American Religious Thought and Biblical Studies. He has lectured at such venues as Princeton Theological Seminary, Boston University, Emory University’s Graduate School of Religion, the Catholic University of America as well as the T.D. Jakes International Pastors and Leadership Conference and PISGAH Conference. Hopkins has also appeared on the Jude 3 and Tru-ID Podcasts and is a regular participant with the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies. He is the Author of “The Shaping and Infl uence of King’s Political Theology and Worldview,” published in the 2018 Telos Journal special edition and Martin Luther King, Jr. Fifty Years On. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.