Nonviolence: Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a man of faith. Throughout the Civil Rights movement during the 1960s, Dr. King held onto his faith to attain justice for the American society. Every aspect of racism looked like an injustice that would never change; moreover, it looked as if good would not be able to triumph over evil. However, Dr. King brought hope to a society of hopeless individuals. Martin Luther King, Jr. impacted American History during the Civil Rights movement through his philosophy of nonviolence.

During the 1960s the civil rights campaign attained two important pieces of legislation: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. (Martin) King’s Philosophy and practice of nonviolent action resulted in receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace. (Martin) He taught and practiced nonviolent action which can be derived from 6 important points:

1) “First, it must be emphasized that nonviolent resistance is not a method for cowards; it does resist.” (King, 1958) King’s points were derived from the philosophy of Gandhi; they both believed that there is always another alternative to violent action. King taught that “no individual or group need ever submit to any wrong, or need they use violence to right the wrong; there is the way of nonviolent resistance.” (King, 1958) King taught that “passive resistance” was the right choice in action because although the individual being persecuted may not be physically aggressive toward the persecutor, the individual’s mind and emotions would always be active, and constantly seeking to persuade the persecutor. The individual would be choosing to be active spiritually. (King, 1958)

2) “A second basic fact that characterizes nonviolence is that it does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding.” (King, 1958) King advocated techniques of non-cooperation or boycotts, and stressed that the nonviolent resister should realize that these actions were not the complete goal. The complete goal would be to “awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent.” “The end is redemption and reconciliation.” (King, 1958) King believed that the result of nonviolence would be a community united in brotherhood, whereas the result of violence would be bitterness. (King, 1958)

3) “A third characteristic of this method is that the attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who happen to be doing the evil.” (King, 1958) King explained that the goal was to defeat evil and not individuals. King went on to explain that “Tension is not between races.” King taught that tension was between justice and injustice. (King, 1958) King had a passionate heart toward all individuals and truly practiced this philosophy. He did not agree with individuals choices to practice injustice; however, he also did not retaliate and persecute those individuals practicing injustices. This next quote lists different types of injustices toward Black Americans, but King continually expressed that he would not choose to retaliate with hate, but with love toward persecutors.

“We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. But be assured that we’ll never wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.” (King, 1984, 58-59)

4) “A fourth point that characterizes nonviolent resistance is a willingness to accept suffering without retaliation, to accept blows from the opponent without striking back.” (King, 1958) King expressed to nonviolent resisters that they needed to accept violence if necessary, but to not retaliate and inflict the same violence. (King, 1958) King also stated that if going to jail was necessary, then the nonviolent resister should, yet again, not retaliate with violence. King encouraged nonviolence resistors who suffered persecution to reject retaliation and press on to attain freedom and justice. (King, 1991, 9) This next quote demonstrates what violent action is and the only thing that can be resulted when society inflicts and retaliates with violence. “Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind.”(King, 1984, 59)

5) “A fifth point concerning nonviolent resistance is that it avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit.” (King, 1958) King explained that a nonviolent resister must not retaliate with physical violence, or retaliate by being overwhelmed with hate. King realized that the American Society was flourishing in racist acts and hate. However, King also believed that those who inflict pain also have the potential to inflict good. (King, 1991, 71) He explained that he did not expect nonviolent resisters to express “sentimental or affectionate emotion” towards their persecutors, but to love in a way of “redemptive good will,” which could result in those who practice injustice realizing their wrongs. (King, 1958) King defined the three types of love taken from the Greek New Testament. The first of which was “Eros,” meaning romantic love. The second type of love was “Philia,” which is when an individual loves in return because they are loved. The third type of love King referred to was “Agape,” which simply meant to love without expecting anything in return. King stated that, “When we speak of loving those who oppose us, we refer to neither Eros” nor Philia. (King, 1958) King explained that the type of love that should be used in nonviolent action is “Agape.” King explained that this world is a brotherhood, and every person is a part of that brotherhood, and when individuals harm one another they are only harming themselves. “For example, white men often refuse federal aid to education in order to avoid giving the Negro his rights; but because all men are brothers they cannot deny Negro children without harming their own. They end all efforts to the contrary, by hurting themselves.” (King, 1958)

6) “A sixth basic fact about nonviolent resistance is that it is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice.” (King, 1958) King explained that nonviolent resistors have faith in achieving justice for the future. Whether or not they believe in “a personal God,” nonviolent resistors “believe in the existence of some creative force that works for universal wholeness.” (King, 1958)

Martin Luther King, Jr. taught and practiced his philosophy of nonviolence. He was an encouraging Civil Rights Leader, and one of the greatest Civil Rights Leaders the United States and the world has ever seen. He was passionate about what he believed, and no matter what the cost, he fought for racial justice until the day he died on April 4, 1968. Martin Luther King, Jr. impacted American History during the Civil Rights Movement, and will forever live in the memories of those he helped, as well as the hearts that were changed from practicing unjust acts. His legacy will linger and stay alive as society can still apply his teachings to everyday life.

King, Martin Luther. Pilgrimage to Nonviolence. Excerpted from “Stride Toward Freedom”, 1958
Colman McCarthy of the Center for Teaching Peace. (accessed 11, Feb. 2006)

King, Martin Luther. A Testament of Hope. The Essential Writings and Teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991

King, Martin Luther. The words of Martin Luther King, Jr. Selected by Coretta Scott King. New York: Newmarket Press, 1984

Martin, Anne. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Philosophy of Nonviolence to Change the Status Quo. (accessed 11, Feb. 2006)