National Edition

Malcolm Gladwell tells of the power of forgiveness

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 5 2013 11:55 p.m. MST

MG: This is a chapter about the civil rights movement, and it's about Birmingham, which may be the pivotal moment in the history of the civil rights movement. It's the fight that turns the tide for King, and in general for those who are fighting for equal rights for African-Americans. It's the story of how you fight a fight if you've got nothing because King had nothing in Birmingham. Things were going terribly for him. And he was up against the most implacable foe that he faced in all of his time in the South. And the answer is when you got nothing, what do you do? You play tricks. You use your wits.

King had this deputy named Wyatt Walker who was one of the cleverest men in the movement, who outwitted not just Bull Connor, a white supremacist leader in Birmingham, Alabama, but also a lot of the news media down there who were covering it.

It's uplifting, it's hilarious, and it's a little bit uncomfortable story. I don't want to give it away. Here's where I say, you're just going to have to read the book. But it comes down to a very, very famous photograph that is not what it seems.

There was a famous black preacher in Birmingham named Fred Shuttlesworth, who we spent a lot of time with my book. He's about 5’ 2”, and about 100 pounds sopping wet, and he is the most indomitable, unshakable force in the civil rights movement. And when people were coming down on Martin Luther King for sending the children in the march against Bull Connor, and Fred Shuttlesworth just shrugged and said, "you use what you've got." And that's a beautiful way of summing up what the underdog does.

The underdog is someone who doesn't have a lot, and that means they have to do things that are a little bit out there. And that's King in Birmingham.

Email: eschulzke@desnews.com

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