Civil Rights & Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nonviolence after Gandhi: The Death of Martin Luther King Jr.

by Bayard Rustin

Rustin poster courtesy American Friends Service Committee; afsc.org

Editor’s Preface: Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) was one of the leading proponents of nonviolence in the U. S. civil rights era. He wrote this article just weeks after the assassination of Dr. King on 4 April 1968. For acknowledgments and further information about Rustin please consult the editor’s note at the end. JG

The murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has thrust a lance into the soul of America. The pain is most shattering to the Negro people. We have lost a valiant son, a symbol of hope and an eloquent spirit that inspired masses of people. Such a man does not appear often in the history of social struggle. When his presence signifies that greatness can inhabit a black skin, those who must deny this possibility stop at nothing to remove it. Dr. King now joins a long list of victims of desperate hate in the service of insupportable lies, myths, and stereotypes.

For me, the death of Dr. King brings deep personal grief. I had known and worked with him since the early days of the Montgomery bus protest in 1955, through the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Prayer Pilgrimage in 1957, the youth marches for integrated schools in 1958 and 1959 and the massive March on Washington in 1963.

Though his senior by 20 years, I came to admire the depth of his faith in nonviolence, in the ultimate vindication of the democratic process and in the redeeming efficacy of social commitment and action. And underlying this faith was a quiet courage grounded in the belief that the triumph of justice, however long delayed, was inevitable. Like so many others, I watched his spirit take hold in the country, arousing long-slumbering consciences and giving shape to a new social movement. With that movement came new hopes, aspirations, and expectations. The stakes grew higher. At such a time, so great a loss can barely be sustained by the Negro people. But the tragedy and shame of April fourth darkens the entire nation as it teeters on the brink of crisis. And let no one mistake the signs: our country is in deadly serious trouble. This needs to be said because one of the ironies of life in an advanced industrialized society is that many people can go about their daily business without being directly affected by the ominous rumblings at the bottom of the system.

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How to Start a Nonviolent Direct Action Group to Make MLK Proud

by George Lakey

Martin Luther King poster courtesy fabiusmaximus.com

Some people feel inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. to do service projects. But the U.S. civil rights movement that he led was not about days of service; it was about days of confrontational action. Think about the hundreds of action groups that sprang up in the North as well as the South, many winning campaigns against racial discrimination. They mobilized and radicalized people; that movement gave me my first experience of civil disobedience.

Some of those early groups, of course, flourished, and some fell apart quickly. Since then we’ve learned a lot about how to start action groups in a way that increases their chance to thrive, wage a campaign, learn from it and grow, often through trial and error.

The steps for beginning a group are not really as simple as a food recipe, but I’ll take the risk of writing this in a recipe-kind-of-way. Remember that every situation is always unique. You’ll need to think with friends through each step, adapting to your circumstances.

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Martin Luther King’s Lessons on Negotiation

by Brandon Jacobsen

African American children attacked by police in Birmingham, AL; May 3, 1963; courtesy wagingnonviolence.org

The anti-Trump resistance movement has been effective in its nascent stage, utilizing public protests to signal opposition to the president’s plans. In taking to the streets, airports and congressional town hall meetings, the resistance has had a decisive impact on blocking the discriminatory travel ban on individuals from Muslim-majority countries, and on rendering the first iteration of the Republican health care replacement plan dead in the water.

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Why the Moral Argument for Nonviolence Matters

by Kazu Haga

South African student presenting flowers to police; courtesy gettyimages.com

“Bernard? Oh yeah, he’s great. He was always the principles guy.” That was what an old Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organizer told me when I mentioned that I had been trained by Bernard Lafayette, co-author of the Kingian Nonviolence curriculum and a legend of the civil rights era. “I was always a strategies guy,” this elder went on to tell me. “I believed in nonviolence as an effective strategy, but Bernard was always talking about nonviolence as a principle.”

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Nonviolence Work in Education: The Center for Nonviolence & Peace Studies Interview with Kay Bueno de Mesquita

by Paul J. Plumitallo

Dust wrapper art courtesy amazon.com

Paul J. Plumitallo: I was wondering what violence means to you? Can violence be more than physical? Is language ever violent? There have been some disagreements about what violence actually means in my class.

Kay Bueno de Mesquita: I believe that violence is more than physical. It can be internal as well as external: violence of the spirit, a range from psychological to emotional from mild to severe. The damaging words that someone can say can have a longer lasting harmful effect than physical violence.

Plumitallo: Do you consider yourself to be nonviolent? How does one apply nonviolent principles to their daily life? We often discuss how difficult nonviolence is in our society because we are so exposed to violence.

Bueno de Mesquita: It’s true that being nonviolent in all aspects of life can be difficult. In his first principle of nonviolence Martin Luther King Jr. states that,  “Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.” [Please see the text of all Six Principles at the end of the interview.] Dr. King also said, “I’m not nonviolent some of the time, I’m nonviolent all of the time.” I strive to be nonviolent in every aspect of my life including thinking kind thoughts about myself, and others; being compassionate and empathetic to all people. I’m not always successful. But I try. I try to be mindful each day and “wake up each morning with a prayer and a smile.”

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Glenn Smiley: Nonviolent Role Model

by Ken Butigan

Ralph Abernathy, Martin Luther King, Smiley and unidentified woman, 1956 Bus Boycott; courtesy wagingnonviolence.org

During a visit years ago to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, I spent a lot of time at an exhibit where you could track the heredity of rock bands. Monitors displayed a family tree detailing what groups had influenced which bands. You could trace how particular acts had inherited, adapted or transformed genres, styles and musical innovations. For example, the Rolling Stones, to the best of my foggy recollection, were influenced by Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, and Buddy Holly, as well as by Roy Orbison and the Kingston Trio. If even one of those ancestors was out of the mix, the Stones might have sounded very different — or maybe wouldn’t have formed in the first place.

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How Nonviolence Works

by Glenn Smiley

Glenn Smiley riding on a bus with Martin Luther King, Jr., 1956; courtesy wagingnonviolence.org

Editor’s Preface: Rev. Glenn E. Smiley (1910-1993) had made a thorough study of Gandhian nonviolence (satyagraha) while serving as a Methodist minister in Los Angeles. He later worked for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and was national field secretary for the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). During World War II he went to prison for conscientious objection, but he is best remembered for his work with Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Please also see the note at the end for further information, acknowledgments, and links. JG

From the beginning of humankind’s time on the earth, for about 250,000 years, conflicts between individuals and groups have been settled on the basis of force, domination, or submission. In time, the use of force became more or less institutionalized, and continues to this day in many places.

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Making Our Country a Better Country: The Fellowship of Reconciliation Interview with James Lawson

by Diane Lefer

Poster art courtesy fabiusmaximus.com

Editor’s Preface: Martin Luther King, Jr. called James Lawson “the world’s leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence.”  To Congressman John Lewis, he is “the architect of the nonviolence movement.” Jesse Jackson calls him simply “the Teacher.”  According to author David Halberstam, in his study of the Civil Rights Movement, The Children he was as responsible for sowing the seeds of change in the South as any single person, except perhaps Martin Luther King. This is the third in our series of interviews with Rev. Lawson. Please see the note at the end for further information, and acknowledgments. JG

Diane Lefer: You’ve said we have sufficient activism in this country to have a better country than we have. What are we getting wrong?

James Lawson: Activism has not been appropriating and practicing enough the Gandhian science of social change. What Gandhi called nonviolence or satyagraha – soul force – is both a way of life and a scientific, methodological approach to human disorder. It is as old as the human race and can be found in the oral and written history of the human family from way back. Then Gandhi began to put together the steps you need to take to create change. He is the father of nonviolent social change in the same way that Albert Einstein is the father of 20th-century physics – not the inventor, but the person who pulled it together.

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John Lewis and the Spirit of Selma

by Terry Messman

John Lewis at Nashville sit-in, book cover of March: Book One, courtesy topshelfcomix.com

Editor’s Preface: John Robert Lewis (b. 1940) is the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th congressional district, and the dean of the Georgia congressional delegation. His district also includes the northern three-quarters of Atlanta. His Wikipedia page is a reliable starting point for information about his nonviolent civil rights activities and his political career. JG

It has now been 50 years since “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama, when John Lewis and Hosea Williams led some 600 civil rights marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965. The demonstrators attempted to march peacefully from Selma to Montgomery in support of voting rights, but state and local police viciously attacked the nonviolent procession, brutally beating them with whips and clubs, firing tear gas and charging the defenseless marchers on horseback. Hundreds of people suffered bloody beatings and some were clubbed nearly to death.

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Aspects of Nonviolence in American Culture

by Mulford Q. Sibley

Edward Hicks, “William Penn’s Peace Treaty with the Indians”; courtesy en.wikipedia.org

Editor’s Preface: Mulford Sibley wrote this article in the early 1960s as his contribution to the scarce anthology Gandhi: His Relevance for our Times, edited by G. Ramachandran and T. K. Mahadevan, New Delhi: Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1962. Please see the Editor’s Note at the end for further information about Sibley, and acknowledgments. JG

American culture, it is sometimes said, has been peculiarly violent, both in outlook and in practice. It has exalted physical force, praised rough action, and placed in the forefront such cynical statements as “Fear God and keep your powder dry.” One of America’s leading Presidents Theodore Roosevelt is well known for his advice to “speak softly but carry a big stick.” (1) Violence has been associated with the frontier spirit, the Westward movement treatment of the American Indian, the rise of business corporations, and the development of labor organizations. Violent crimes are more numerous proportionately than in most other nations of the world; and the police, by contrast with those in Britain, are heavily armed. Popular culture, moreover, if we are to take radio, television, cinema, and pulp magazines as indicators, exults in violence.

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“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi