The Making of Easier to Obtain than to Maintain
The making of “Easier to Obtain than to Maintain” began in the spring of 2016. I received a call from a friend who asked if I would be interested in writing and publishing a book on the life of Cathelean Steele, the first lady of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
I was intrigued about getting to know the woman behind Dr. Charles Steele, Jr., the Chief Executive Officer and President of SCLC. After all Dr. Steele, had on two occasions in the 21st century resurrected SCLC from the brink of extinction. The woman supporting such a man had to be a fascinating person, worthy of the public’s attention.
We all know that the straw that stirs the drink of any successful man is the woman behind him, giving sage counsel outside the ear shot of the public. The prospect of bringing Mrs. Steele’s story to life excited me. I quickly told my friend that I would be interested in meeting with Mrs. Steele to discuss her ideas for a book on her life. A time for my introductory session with her was set.
Two days before our meeting, my friend called again to say that Mrs. Steele had decided to defer to her husband because she thought he should publish his book before her book. Good wives tend to defer to their husbands in the manner of Mrs. Steele. They push their husbands at all costs, even to the detriment of their own goals and ambitions.
My friend wanted to know if I would be willing to meet with Dr. Steele instead. I must admit that the fact Mrs. Steele wanted to push her husband’s story ahead of her own, made me want to tell her story even more. What manner of woman was this?
I changed my focus; setting my sights on the personage of the man heading up the organization founded by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I began to research his early years growing up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, his years as a high school football player, his childhood friendships with the writer George Curry and the cultural curator James Horton. I learned of his defiant act of civil disobedience as a young adult in Tuscaloosa and his work as a state senator in the Alabama legislature. I studied his ability to build relationships across racial and economic lines. I learned that he was an expert fundraiser.
I began to document how Steele raised $3.5 million in 2005 to build the SCLC International Headquarters two doors down from Dr. King’s old office on Sweet Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia, where Dr. King plotted and planned the destruction of Jim Crow.
I was preparing to present his illustrative story of leaving SCLC after dedicating the new building, to work as an international public policy consultant and of his return a few years later when SCLC was not able to find a steady hand to guide it following the death of Rev. Howard W. Creecy, Jr.
When the day of our initial meeting arrived, I immediately launched into my presentation of the type of biographical book I thought he had in mind. This was not the type of book Dr. Steele wanted to publish. He hastily stopped me in mid sentence.
He began to tell me about a dream he had during a visit to Africa with his friend, the late George Curry. He did not understand the dream. He told his wife about the dream when he returned home, but she was unable to decipher it for him, six months later, he return to Africa, this time he traveled with his wife. The dream recurred. He woke up his wife and related the dream to her.
This time she was by her husband’s side, moments after he awoke from the dream. She was able to unlock the riddle of the dream to him. He had to tell the world about the work SCLC had been quietly doing around the globe, resolving conflicts through the use of Dr. King’s nonviolent philosophy of reconciliation.
As we began to develop a calendar for interviews so that I could gather the material needed for this book, the idea of “Easier to Obtain than to Maintain: The Globalization of Civil Rights” began to take shape.
Before our first interview session, I read every speech and article written by Dr. Steele in the last sixteen years. I discovered that he had been writing and speaking about the globalization of civil rights for quite some time. However, because SCLC was instrumental in achieving civil rights for the American Negro, the public perception was that SCLC’s effectiveness was limited to the United States of America. Even when he boldly proclaimed successes in Dimona, Israel and Berlin, Germany, the headline of Atlanta’s major newspaper questioned whether the global initiatives of SCLC were misguided.
Thus the necessity to present the public with Dr. Steele’s belief that Dr. King’s dream is realized only when civil rights are enjoyed by all God’s people. I am honored to have participated in a small way in focusing Dr. Steele’s work in furtherance of Dr. King’s dream of globalizing civil rights for all.
I collected his best speeches and writings on the subject of globalization of civil rights, augmented with background material on the civil rights struggle in America and wove them together in a singular volume, seamlessly, I hope.
And while I have enjoyed globalizing Dr. King’s dream and Dr. Steele’s work, I can hardly wait until Mrs. Steele calls and gives me the go ahead to begin work on her book.
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist, the author of Paper puzzle and Justice in the Round. He can be contacted at haroldmichaelharvey.com.