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In Martin Luther King, Jr.¹s selection, Nonviolent Resistance which first appeared in 1958 as a part of his book Stride Towards Freedom, he describes the processes people follow as they confront their situation. There are three ways he explained how oppressed people can deal with their situation. The different processes that are opened to the oppressed people are acquiescence, violence, and nonviolent resistance. Martin Luther King, Jr. does not approve the first two processes because they are both immoral and impractical.
He absolutely detests the process of acquiescence because it means that the Negroes are giving in to the whites unjust system. He stated that the Negroes must earn the respect of the white people. But how can the Negroes win the respect of the whites when they are being cowards? They must stand up for their rights and must not accept that they don¹t have freedom to become citizens of the United States of America. The Negroes are Americans and the Constitution¹s Bill of Rights applies to every single American.
The Negroes did know that the system was corrupted, but why did they accept to adjust themselves to their oppression? I don¹t know. By accepting to conform their oppression they are giving up their basic rights that our four fathers gave them. They need to stand up for their rights until they reach their goal.
As an example, women weren¹t allowed to vote prior to 1920. The women citizens of America wanted to vote and they had the right to vote. They fought and fought for the freedom to vote. On August 18, 1920, a bill was passed by Congress that gave women the right to vote which became the 19th Amendment. After 40 years of fighting they eventually achieved their goal, the right to vote, and won respect. The American women never gave up fighting against the corrupted system.
The point of this example is that you can¹t sit down and accept your oppression because it just may be the easier way. You have to fight the system in order to achieve your goal and you¹ll eventually get it.
The second way oppressed people deal with their situation is to resort to violence. Martin Luther King, Jr. disliked this process also because it is impractical and it doesn¹t work. By resorting to violence you don¹t achieve peace and/or brotherhood, but create more social and racial problems. It builds a social barrier between the two races. Negroes cannot win the respect of their oppressors by using violence. History is full of examples.
A good example of this process is the Rodney King controversy that brought and created the L.A. riots. All because of the trial against the police officers, chaos exploded in Los Angeles. When the riots began, the two races built a social barrier immediately which resulted in violence and hatred. It created a war between blacks and whites. It made the two races hate each other even more than before this riot, but it lasted only for a short while. The violence may have brought a victory for the blacks but it did not create neither permanent peace or did it solve any social and racial problems. Instead it may have created more problems.
The example of the L.A. riots and examples throughout history shows that violence achieves nothing more than hatred and more complicated problems. Using violence as a way to achieve racial justice is immoral and impractical because it cannot and will not win the respect of the oppressors. It will just create bitterness and a social barrier between the two races. One of Martin Luther King, Jr.¹s quotes from this selection best states that ³the old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind.² If the oppressed result to violence, it¹ll bring ³an endless reign of meaningless chaos² and their children will have to pay the price.
The third way that is opened to the oppressed people is nonviolent resistance. Martin Luther King, Jr. really favors this choice of method because it is the right and moral way to achieve freedom and peace. Nonviolent resistance is a combination of acquiescence and violence which will enable an individual or group that will need submit to any wrong. It is a way to loosen the tension between justice and injustice and end racial or any other form of oppression.
Martin Luther King, Jr. stated that the oppressed people must organize themselves into a militant and nonviolent mass movement in order to achieve the goal of integration. The oppressed must convince the oppressors that all he seeks is justice, for both himself and the oppressors. The way of nonviolence means a willingness to suffer and sacrifice. It¹s the ultimate form of persuasion through words or acts, even death to free us all from injustice.
This quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.,³I have a dream that one day...that the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice,² says it all.
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As a theologian, Martin Luther King reﬂected often on his understanding of nonviolence. He described his own ‘‘pilgrimage to nonviolence’’ in his ﬁrst book, Stride Toward Freedom, and in subsequent books and articles. ‘‘True paciﬁsm,’’ or ‘‘nonviolent resistance,’’ King wrote, is ‘‘a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love’’ (King, Stride, 80). Both ‘‘morally and practically’’ committed to nonviolence, King believed that ‘‘the Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom’’ (King, Stride, 79; Papers 5:422).
King stated that he was ﬁrst introduced to the concept of nonviolence when he read Henry David Thoreau’s Essay on Civil Disobedience as a freshman at Morehouse College. Having grown up in Atlanta and witnessed segregation and racism every day, King was ‘‘fascinated by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system’’ (King, Stride, 73).
In 1950, as a student at Crozer Theological Seminary, King heard a talk by Dr. Mordecai Johnson, president of Howard University. Dr. Johnson, who had recently traveled to India, spoke about the life and teachings of Mohandas K. Gandhi. Gandhi, King later wrote, was the ﬁrst person to transform Christian love into a powerful force for social change. Gandhi’s stress on love and nonviolence gave King ‘‘the method for social reform that I had been seeking’’ (King, Stride, 79).
While intellectually committed to nonviolence, King did not experience the power of nonviolent direct action ﬁrst-hand until the start of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. During the boycott, King personally enacted Gandhian principles. With guidance from black paciﬁst Bayard Rustin and Glenn Smiley of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, King eventually decided not to use armed bodyguards despite threats on his life, and reacted to violent experiences, such as the bombing of his home, with compassion. Through the practical experience of leading nonviolent protest, King came to understand how nonviolence could become a way of life, applicable to all situations (King, 83). King called the principle of nonviolent resistance the ‘‘guiding light of our movement. Christ furnished the spirit and motivation while Gandhi furnished the method’’ (Papers 5:423).
King’s notion of nonviolence had six key principles. First, one can resist evil without resorting to violence. Second, nonviolence seeks to win the ‘‘friendship and understanding’’ of the opponent, not to humiliate him (King, Stride, 84). Third, evil itself, not the people committing evil acts, should be opposed. Fourth, those committed to nonviolence must be willing to suffer without retaliation as suffering itself can be redemptive. Fifth, nonviolent resistance avoids ‘‘external physical violence’’ and ‘‘internal violence of spirit’’ as well: ‘‘The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him’’ (King, Stride, 85). The resister should be motivated by love in the sense of the Greek word agape, which means ‘‘understanding,’’ or ‘‘redeeming good will for all men’’ (King, Stride, 86). The sixth principle is that the nonviolent resister must have a ‘‘deep faith in the future,’’ stemming from the conviction that ‘‘the universe is on the side of justice’’ (King, Stride, 88).
During the years after the bus boycott, King grew increasingly committed to nonviolence. An India trip in 1959 helped him connect more intimately with Gandhi’s legacy. King began to advocate nonviolence not just in a national sphere, but internationally as well: ‘‘the potential destructiveness of modern weapons’’ convinced King that ‘‘the choice today is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence’’ (Papers 5:424).
After Black Power advocates such as Stokely Carmichael began to reject nonviolence, King lamented that some African Americans had lost hope, and reafﬁrmed his own commitment to nonviolence: ‘‘Occasionally in life one develops a conviction so precious and meaningful that he will stand on it till the end. This is what I have found in nonviolence’’ (King, Where, 63–64). He wrote in his 1967 book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?:‘‘We maintained the hope while transforming the hate of traditional revolutions into positive nonviolent power. As long as the hope was fulﬁlled there was little questioning of nonviolence. But when the hopes were blasted, when people came to see that in spite of progress their conditions were still insufferable … despair began to set in’’ (King, Where, 45). Arguing that violent revolution was impractical in the context of a multiracial society, he concluded that: ‘‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. The beauty of nonviolence is that in its own way and in its own time it seeks to break the chain reaction of evil’’ (King, Where, 62–63).
King, ‘‘Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,’’ in Papers: 5:419–425.
King, Stride Toward Freedom, 1958.
King, Where Do We Go from Here,1967.