WRI/IISG Project

The Birth of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference


Editor’s Preface: Following upon the victory of the Montgomery bus boycott (December, 1956), the nonviolence organizer Bayard Rustin had the idea of convening a meeting of black leaders in order to create an organization that would carry on the nonviolent struggle for civil rights. This 1957 SCLC brochure, reproduced here as a pdf file, and our most recent discovery in the War Resisters’ International archive, is a vivid reminder of how central a role Gandhian nonviolence played in the US civil rights movement. Indeed, one of the major contributions of both SCLC, and Martin Luther King, Jr., was to synthesize Gandhian nonviolent civil resistance (satyagraha) with Christian nonviolence, as the quote below extracted from the brochure illustrates. This essential synthesis not only permeates the brochure, but also is the main theme of Martin Luther King’s ground breaking spiritual classic, Stride Toward Freedom (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958). JG

Poster courtesy scholarblogs.emory.edu

The basic tenets of Hebraic-Christian tradition coupled with the Gandhian concept of satyagraha,
or truth force, is at the heart of SCLC’s philosophy.
Christian nonviolence actively resists evil in any form
.”  SCLC

On January 10, 1957, more than 100 Southern leaders gathered in Atlanta, Georgia, to share and discuss their mutual problems of the Southern struggle. By unanimous agreement, the body voted to form a permanent organization that would serve as a coordinating agency for local protest centers that were utilizing the technique and philosophy of nonviolence in creative protest. Two months later, close on the heels of the successful Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott, SCLC came into being in New Orleans, Louisiana. Martin Luther King, Jr., was elected president.

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An Invasion of California: A Radio Play on the Theme of Nonviolent Resistance

by Richard Moses

Image courtesy radionomy.com

Editor’s Preface: This 1970 radio play is our most recent discovery from the War Resisters’ International archive. The notations on the manuscript credit the 1960s Methodist publication Motive Magazine, a highly regarded literary journal. Moses seems to have written for it, and they may have had a hand in producing the play, but we have not found any evidence that they published it. An Invasion bears obvious comparisons with the popular, Peter Sellers film The Mouse that Roared, released in 1959. Richard Moses was a Quaker and on the Board of Friends Journal. Please see the link to the pdf of the original and the reference note, at the end. JG

ANNOUNCER: (More or less ad lib) In just a few minutes, ladies and gentlemen we shall be going on the air. When I raise my hand, may we have absolute silence? (Looks at watch; raises hand) This is the American Broadcasting System bringing over its regular network, short wave stations and affiliated foreign stations, a speech by the President of the United States. With the attack on Hawaii yesterday and the impending invasion of the West Coast by the armed forces of Stonia, the President has cancelled all scheduled appointments to bring this message to the people. The President will be introduced by Mrs. Joan Alden, chairman of the White House Nonviolent Strategy Board. Mrs. Alden…

ALDEN: The hour for testing is at hand. Twenty years ago our nation decided that the thousands of years in which violence had failed to establish peace or justice was a costly experiment best ended. We have been prepared through schools, and churches, newspapers and radio for defense through nonviolence. We have tested ourselves domestically in areas of race relations, industrial problems and the like. The entire people have committed themselves and are ready to die in the faith that all men are brothers.

As you know, the American government has attempted unsuccessfully to arbitrate the differences between the countries of Pan Costia and Stonia concerning freedom of the Pacific seas. When two years ago, war broke out between these countries, we immediately stopped all exports to them with the exception of food, medical supplies, and other non-war materials. This meant, among other things, termination of a trade agreement to supply Stonia with 60 billion gallons of crude oil annually. The decision, strongly protested by the Stonian Ambassador, was reached upon the advice of our Congressional Peace and Economics Committees.

Read the pdf of the complete article here: An Invasion of California

Reference: IISG/WRI Archive Box 398: Folder 3. We are grateful to WRI/London and their director Christine Schweitzer for their cooperation in our WRI project.

How We Defeated Compulsory Air Raid Drills in New York City

by Ammon Hennacy

Cartoon by Art Young, The Masses, 1917 and in Hennacy’s autobiography; courtesy wikipedia.org

Editor’s Preface: In the mid-1950s New York City was in the grips of a civil defense hysteria over fears of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Mandatory civil defense drills were instituted, wherein at the sounding of the alarm New Yorkers had immediately to rush to one of the designated shelters, such as a nearby subway station. Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker were among the first to refuse to comply and among the first to be arrested. Ammon Hennacy (1893-1970) was a Christian anarchist and pacifist and a great friend of Dorothy Day. He later founded the Joe Hill House of Hospitality in Salt Lake City, Utah. Those who knew Hennacy often commented on his wry sense of humor, readily seen in what follows. This unpublished article was found in the War Resisters’ International archive, which we are researching. Please consult the notes at the end for further information about Ammon, links, and acknowledgments. JG

In the spring of 1955 I saw in the paper that according to a new law there would be an air raid drill on June 15th and all were supposed to take part or suffer a penalty of up to a year in jail and a $500 fine. I phoned Dorothy Day, editor of the Catholic Worker and said we must get ready to disobey this bad law, for “a bad law is no better than any other bad thing.” She suggested that I contact other pacifists, so I phoned Ralph De Gia of the War Resisters League. We got in touch with leaders of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the American Friends Service Committee, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, so when the time came we had 28 at the City Hall Park, and I spoke on television about our coming civil disobedience.

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Loyalty Under Fire: The WRI’s Covert WWII Efforts

by Gertjan Cobelens

“Free Prisoners” poster art courtesy www.wri-irg.org

In the first article of the first postwar issue of The War Resister, the journal of the War Resisters’ International, Herbert Runham Brown offers us a look into what might be described as the WRI’s covert operations [see previous posting below].  In his “Buchenwald and Dachau” (1), Runham Brown not only provides a deeper insight into what the WRI considered to be its role in the world, he also highlights some instances of personal courage in the best Gandhian tradition and sheds new light on the fact that, right from the start, the WRI harbored no illusions about the nature of the Nazi regime. And finally, in passing, his article also challenges the discredited reputation of a Dutch Quaker.

From its inception, WRI has never limited itself merely to an intellectual opposition to war. Equally important was their role as what might be termed a “trade union” for war resisters in general and conscientious objectors in particular. Much of the day-to-day activities were focused on providing legal and moral support to conscientious objectors and on putting moral and legal pressure on governments to release convicted war resisters or reduce their sentences. What is much less known, and what is mostly lacking from Devi Prasad’s otherwise comprehensive study, War is a Crime Against Humanity: The Story of the War Resisters’ International (2) is the story of WRI’s “covert operations” and the lengths to which it went to secure the safety of its members. Runham Brown’s article bears witness to this side of WRI’s concerns, as do the 150 or so files in the WRI archiveon the refugees whom the WRI helped to escape Nazi Germany, (3) and as well the War Resisters’ International “Pool Scheme”, a system set up in conjunction with the British Home Office to maximize the number of refugees the WRI helped flee Germany.

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Buchenwald and Dachau

by H. Runham Brown

Dachau Memorial Sculpture by Nandor Glid; courtesy commons.wikimedia.org

Editor’s Preface: It was only in the aftermath of World War II that War Resisters’ International could begin to tell the story of its wartime clandestine operations to free conscientious objectors imprisoned in Germany or German occupied territories. They wasted no time. The official German surrender came on 7 May 1945, and this article appeared in the summer of 1945 in the WRI official publication. Please see the pdf file for the full article, and the notes at the end for further information. JG

When after the last war the French Government deported their War Resisters to French Guiana (Devil’s Island) it took the War Resisters’ International seven years to trace and bring some of them home. But it was more than seven years before we could tell that tragic story of Devil’s  Island. Now it is twelve years since our German and Austrian comrades began to find their way into Buchenwald and Dachau Concentration Camps. At last the story can be told.

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Letter to Bayard Rustin

by Narayan Desai

Demonstrators protesting peacefully, Harlem, July 1964; photo courtesy newyorknatives.com

Editor’s Preface: The background for this letter is the Harlem riots of July 1964. A fifteen-year old black youth, James Powell was shot three times by a white police officer, the second bullet killing him. Powell was standing at the time in the midst of a group of friends. There were at least a dozen witnesses; his death sparked six consecutive nights of rioting, spreading that summer to several other cities such as Philadelphia and Chicago. At the time of writing the letter Desai was acting secretary of Shanti Sena, which he’d helped to found, and Bayard Rustin was one of the most eminent leaders of the U.S. nonviolence movement. The letter is dated, 6 August 1964, when the riots were still raging, and was sent from Mandal Rajghat, the Shanti Sena headquarters in Varanasi, India. Please see the Reference and Editor’s notes at the end for further information and acknowledgments.  JG

My Dear Bayard,

I have just read with great interest reports about the Harlem riots in Newsweek and Peace News. The Newsweek report gives more information while the Peace News article poses certain problems. Before giving my comments on the problems posed in Peace News, let me express my heartfelt congratulations for the part that you and James Farmer played during these incidents. You must have received many letters of congratulations for the Washington March as it was an obvious success. But a peace worker alone knows how greatly he needs to be congratulated for an effort where he has not achieved such clear-cut results. I really think you have done a great job at Harlem.

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Ahimsa and Sarvodaya in the Life of Gandhi

by Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

Editor’s Preface: When Dr, Radhakrishnan wrote this essay in 1962 for the Gandhi National Memorial Fund, New Delhi he was the second President of India and one of India’s foremost contemporary philosophers. A relatively unknown essay, it is another in our series of discoveries from the War Resisters’ International archive. For an archival reference and biographical information about Dr. Radhakrishnan please see the notes at the end. JG

Indian commemorative postage stamp; courtesy librarykvpattom.wordpress.com

Many parts of the world are eagerly and enthusiastically awaiting the centenary of Gandhi [2 October 1969]. We here in India await it too. Though he belonged to the world, he also belongs to our country. As the London Times remarked: “No country other than India, and no religion other than Hinduism could have produced a Gandhi.” So he belongs to us in a very special sense. There are several ways in which he has worked for the country and the world. He was a great nationalist leader. He was a liberator of the enslaved. He taught the doctrine of a love that never fails. He was a moral genius who tried to chasten himself first before trying to exert any kind of influence on others. In all these ways he has helped us.

It is over thirty years ago that I put to Gandhi three questions: (1) What is your religion? (2) How are you led to it? (3) What is its bearing on life? He gave the following brief answers: “I used to say, ‘I believe in God’, now I say, ‘I believe in truth’. ‘God is truth’, that is what I am saying and today I say, ‘Truth is God’. There are people who deny God. There are no people who deny Truth. It is something which even the atheists admit.” Here he was not enunciating any new proposition. He was merely declaring fundamental truths that have come down to us from the environment in which he lived, the environment which nourished him. He took up two things. Speak the truth, do the right thing: truth and right action. He called them ‘Truth and Ahimsa’. These were his principles. Truth is not something we can casually work at. It requires considerable travail of the human spirit to cultivate harmony between the inward and the outward.

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The Institutionalization of Nonviolence

by Beverly Woodward

Nonviolence sculpture by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd; courtesy en.wikipedia.org

Editor’s Preface: This unpublished essay was presented at an international conference of peace researchers and activists (July 1-6, 1975, Noordwijkerhout, Netherlands), and continues our series of rediscoveries from the War Resisters’ International archive. For further notes on the text, the archival reference and a biographical note about Woodward please see the end. JG

The term “nonviolence” has been a controversial one. Over the years many have objected to it on the grounds that it is negative rather than positive in substance and therefore does not hold out a vision of what one is for rather than what one is against. The objection is valid, but it overlooks one benefit obtained by the use of this term. When we speak of nonviolence we highlight the fact that a peaceful world cannot be attained without struggle and resistance. Nonviolence is anti-violence and must be, since violence, unfortunately, is woven into the fabric of our lives. To obtain peace we must resist violence. To resist violence is to resist deeply rooted inclinations, habits, customs, laws, and institutions.

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Nonviolent Peace Training as a Means of Linking Research and Action

by George Lakey

Poster art courtesy wrongkindofgreen.org

Editor’s Preface: This previously unpublished essay was a paper presented at the International Conference of Peace Researchers and Peace Activists (Noordwijkerhout, Netherlands, July 1-6 1975), and is another in our series of important discoveries from the War Resisters’ International archive. Please see the notes at the end for archival information, and for a note about George Lakey.  JG

Training for peace action is a fairly new phenomenon. By training I mean the systematic sharing of skills and knowledge. Activists in former years could learn by apprenticing themselves to experienced leaders, or could pay special attention to those conferences and institutes featuring nonviolent organizers. But there was nowhere they could go to get systematic, long-term training.

The burst of nonviolent action in the nineteen-sixties stimulated people in a number of countries to seek to remedy this. In 1965 the first international conference on training for nonviolent action was held in Perugia, Italy, by War Resisters’ International. Activists came from as far away as India and the U.S. to compare notes on training experience.

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Nonviolent Training in the United States

by Theodore Olson

Poster art courtesy occupysantacruz.org

Editor’s Preface: This unpublished essay was a paper presented at the study conference Training in Nonviolence (Perugia, Italy, 13-20 August 1965) under the joint auspices of War Resisters’ International, and is another in our series of rediscoveries from the WRI archive. Please see the notes at the end for further archival references, a link to a pdf scan of the original, and biographical information about the author. JG

By nonviolent training we mean conscious attempts, in the context of teaching and learning, to impart historical experience, general concepts, technical skills and personal experience in how to act effectively and nonviolently in conflict situations. By “nonviolently” we mean to stress programmatic or active nonviolence, as exemplified by, but not restricted to, social action struggles: for example, Gandhi’s actions in India and that of the peace and civil rights activists in the United States.

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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