As a young man, Harcourt “Harky” Klinefelter became involved in the US’s civil rights movement of the 1960s. He was at the right place at the right time—the Selma March of 1965—to become the soundman for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This meant that Harky was there to record King’s sermons and historic speeches that Harky then prepared for re-broadcasting. After King’s assassination in 1968, Harky worked as minister to the street people and in 1972 he moved to Europe, where he is working to spread King’s message about meeting discrimination, poverty, and violence with nonviolent action, and to be a negotiator and trainer for peace in war-torn countries. Along with his memories of working closely with King are some of Harky’s philosophical and theological insights, an account of his teaching and training career, his ministry, his peace activities, and a life lived out from the faith that overcomes.
Harcourt Klinefelter, accomplished Christian peacemaker, is a civil and human rights activist, minister, educator/trainer, lecturer, and consultant in the US and Europe. For more than fifty years he has pursued the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with whom he worked closely.
With a master’s degree from Yale University, he is ordained in the United Church of Christ and Mennonite Church and he facilitates outstanding courses on conflict resolution for church representatives, hippies, personnel, and residents in psychiatric and refugee institutions. Rev. Klinefelter is married and has three children and three grandchildren.
Interview with Harcourt
In what way is this book important and is it primarily a book for historians?
The many anecdotes make it clear that this book is not meant only for extraordinary individuals, but for everyone who dares to make controversial decisions in daily life. There are suspenseful moments, for instance in Sarajevo during the war. There are deep insights and inspired thoughts and humor. However its historical importance should not be underestimated. Many photos and articles make it attractive.
What was your relationship to Dr. King?
I had the privilege of working with Dr. Martin Luther King in the last two years of his life. I knew him as my employer, my minister and friend. As Assistant Director of Public Relations for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) my responsibilities included making the rcordings of Dr. King’s speeches and sermons and then sending them to the media and making them of suitable length for radio programs.
How did you get to meet Dr. King
I had followed Dr. King on TV when I was a teenager and I always wanted to meet him.
In my dormitory in Yale Divinity School, in Connecticut was a member of King’s Church, Homer McCall, who took met to my first Civil Rights Rally. It was so crowded so we had to stand back stage. When Dr. King came in he walked right by the mayor and other important people and went strait to Homer and said,” How are you doing in your study in Greek?” I was deeply impressed that he was more interested in a member of his church than the mayor of a large city.
What kind of person was Dr. King like?
For me his personal life was just as impressive as his public life. He had a real interest in individuals and not only for the masses. He treated the garbage collector in the same way as the mayor.
Dr. King was a person, that saw you, not just for what you are, but what you can be and inspired you do reach it. He really lived what he preached.
When did you decide to join the movement and what motivated you to do that?
In March 1965 Dr. King began the campaign for voting rights in Selma, Alabama. I went there after ” Bloody Sunday” and before the big march to Montgomery started.
Reverend James Reeb, a white minister from Boston, came to Selma. He was clubbed in the head by some racists and died two day later. In a memorial service for him organized by Yale University, a minister who had just returned from Selma said, “There has been a crucifixion in Selma; we need people for a social resurrection.” I knew is it my turn to go and I went and took two others with me..
After the march you interviewed some of the marchers who went the whole way. What was the most impressive narrative?
A girl aged about nineteen or twenty,told of her experiences in inspiring words. She was so brave; despite her blisters she continued the whole way. She said: “They only hurt when I stop.” . . .
“I’m not afraid. I mean, one day I must die. I would rather die for something good than for nothing. I think this is a good reason for dying.”
What is the most important aspect of the legacy of Dr. King?
In the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech (1964) King said. “Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”
Is Dr. King relevant in todays world?
Dr. King told us: “We have a power that is mightier than the atomic bomb. A bomb can only destroy. Only love can change an enemy into a friend”.
For me, nonviolence means treating everyone as an integral part of the Cosmos
When Dr. king was killed did you give up all hope?
No! However, I want say some words concerning the theological meaning of his death. Martin Luther King believed in life after death. So as he it put it in such a beautiful way, “Death is not a dead end street. It is just a bend in the road that we can’t see through.” He believed also that undeserved suffering was redemptive. This was a conviction that prevailed in the Movement that however strong an evil might seem, God’s power was even greater.
You can kill the Dreamer, but you can’t kill the Dream!
Is there anything else you would like to say in conclusion?
We can not all be Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but we can all be Rosa Parks.
Her decision not to give up her seat for a white person was the motivation for Martin Luther King to organize the first protest march. Without Rosa Parks, we would never have heard of Martin Luther King.
Without Martin Luther King, I would not have dedicated my life to spreading his message, and would this book not have been written.
A small deed of nonviolence can have great consequences and change the world for the better.
“The heart of real nonviolence is the belief that each person is an indispensable part of the cosmos, and that the strongest power in the universe is love”.
An Excerpt from The Life of Peace Apostle Harcourt Klinefelter: Globalizing the Dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
You are about to begin reading the life’s story of Harcourt (usually called “Harky”) Klinefelter. This biography is not written because this person is so interesting and important, but because his ideas are. Harky hopes that as many people as possible, especially the young, will learn of his experiences with nonviolent actions. Harky’s story clearly indicates how life looks for a person consequently trying to practice the ideal of nonviolence, driven by his passion to globalize the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Nonviolence forms the theme of this book. . . .
All of life’s aspects are described in the diverse chapters. The story is written so that it is clear what Harky’s motivation, methods and ideals are. It is not without reason that he is called an Apostle of Peace in the title of the book. This apostle of peace explains, in words and deeds, the importance of nonviolence and repeatedly is capable of inspiring the people with whom he comes in contact. The many anecdotes make it clear that this ideal is not meant only for extraordinary individuals, but for everyone who dares to make controversial decisions in daily life.
Anyone who reads how Harky attacks discrimination, poverty, war and environmental problems must feel that he is being addressed personally.
We read about the American society as it was when Harky grew up.
An unusual path leads to the university and to Harky’s calling. We discover what motivates Harky to go to Selma to join the civil rights movement of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., how he supports hippies as Reverend Harky and how he protests against the Vietnam war. . .
We follow him to the Netherlands where the love of his life comes from. Together they have three children. We see how he, as a father, struggles with competing desires and goals.
Partly because of the peace courses that Harky gave to adults in the Dutch Adult Education Center Overcinge (Volkshogeschool), a trained group of Dutch people demonstrated against atomic weapons and atomic energy, and Harky was there.
We see Harky as a minister, as a conflict mediator and trainer in war torn former Yugoslavia in the nineties. Around the year 2000 he became more and more active as speaker, writer and trainer, climaxing in the renewed work in conflict areas, presently with the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). His life shows that he remains a press agent and a man of peace in all circumstances.
Here and there in the book are short explanations of the theory and techniques of nonviolent actions in varying situations. . .
Harcourt Klinefelter is a dreamer. He dreams not only of global peace and justice as did his great example, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but demonstrates that nonviolence works. His dream of a book about his life has become reality as you hold this book in your hands. He dreams on, dreams of readers who, inspired through his example, will bring nonviolent actions into practice and so help to realize a world of righteousness.
Praise for The Life of Peace Apostle Harcourt Klinefelter: Globalizing the Dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“This inspiring book tells the remarkable story of Rev. Harky Klinefelter, one of the world’s leading nonviolent educators, who also served as a courageous and dedicated staff member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, working closely with my father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The Life of Peace Apostle Harcourt Klinefelter: Globalizing the Dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. provides an important contribution to the history of the movement, an invaluable resource for learning about the civil rights movement from an insider perspective and for exploring creative ways to build diverse nonviolent movements for social and economic justice in the future.”
—Martin Luther King III
“Rev. Harcourt Klinefelter is a legend. He’s one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met. I could have listened to his stories for hours . . . and now, thanks to this book, we actually can. It’s true that our best sermon is our life. And the life of Harky Klinefelter is among the best sermons I’ve ever heard.”
—Shane Claiborne, author and activist
“Nonviolence liberates, if you work with others! The convincing proof of this reality is found in real life of real communities in real conflicts. And it is best witnessed in biographies of individuals, whose faith provided the calling, the courage, and the spiritual resources to walk such a way of life. Rev. Harcourt Klinefelter is a most telling and encouraging example.”
—Fernando Enns, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
“Harcourt Klinefelter has spent a lifetime dedicated to teaching and following in daily life Christ’s call to nonviolence, justice, and reconciliation. His years of serving with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. give him a unique perspective on one of the most significant nonviolent struggles for social justice witnessed in human history. Since that time, he has been faithfully implementing the teachings of Dr. King—as grounded in the teachings of Jesus Christ—in his role as a minister and strong advocate for nonviolence in confronting injustice and the precipitous march to war.”
—Richard Blackburn, Executive Director, Lombard Mennonite Peace Center, Illinois