Photo: “Demonstration of nonviolent self-defense,” by Herbert Randall, 1964
Provided by the McCain Library and Archives, University of Southern Mississippi
Reprinted with permission of Herbert Randall
READINGS IN NONVIOLENCE
“I have found that life persists in the midst of destruction and, therefore, there must be a higher law than that of destruction. Only under that law would a well-ordered society be intelligible and life worth living. And if that is the law of life, we have to work it out in daily life. Whenever there are jars, wherever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love...that does not mean that all my difficulties are solved. I have found, however, that his law of love has answered as the law of destruction has never done.”
“Nonviolence is a weapon of the strong...”
“Practically speaking there will be probably no greater loss in men than if forcible resistance was offered; there will be no expenditure in armaments and fortifications. The nonviolent training received by the people will add inconceivably to their moral height. Such men and women will have shown personal bravery of a type far superior to that shown in armed warfare. In each case the bravery consists in dying, not in killing. Lastly, there is no such thing as defeat in nonviolent resistance. That such a thing has not happened before is no answer to my speculation. I have drawn no impossible picture. History is replete with instances of individual nonviolence of the type I have mentioned. There is no warrant for saying or thinking that a group of men and women cannot by sufficient training act nonviolently as a group or nation. Indeed the sum total of the experience of mankind is that men somehow or other live on. From which fact I infer that it is the law of love that rules mankind. Had violence, hate, ruled us, we should have become extinct long ago. And yet the tragedy of it is that the so called civilized men and nations conduct themselves as if the basis of society was violence. It gives me ineffable joy to make experiments proving that love is the supreme and only law of life. Much evidence to the contrary cannot shake my faith. Even the mixed nonviolence of India has supported it. But if it is not enough to convince an unbeliever, it is enough to incline a friendly critic to view it with favor.”
From “My Faith in Nonviolence”, 1930, and “The Future”, 1940
Martin Luther King
518 words, excerpted from different writings.
Awaiting permission of the King Estate to reprint.
“On May 4 of this year I left Washington, D.C., with twelve other persons on a risky journey into the South. Seven of us were Negro and six were white. Riding in two regularly scheduled buses, one Greyhound and the other Trailways, traveling beneath overcast skies, our little band—the original Freedom Riders—was filled with expectations of storms almost certain to come before the journey was ended.
“Now, six months later, as all the world knows, the fire gutted shell of one bus lies in an Alabama junk yard, and some of the people who almost died with it are still suffering prolonged illnesses.
“A dozen Freedom Riders nearly gave up their lives under the fierce hammering of fists, clubs and iron pipes in the hands of hysterical mobs. Many of the victims will carry permanent scars. . . . More than 350 men and women have been jailed in half a dozen states for doing what the Supreme Court of the United States had already said they had a right to do. The ICC has now issued an historic ruling in behalf of interstate bus integration which may indeed mean that the suffering of the past six months has not been in vain.
“Jail at best is neither a romantic nor a pleasant place, and Mississippi jails are no exception. The first twenty-seven Freedom Riders to arrive in Jackson saw the inside of two different jails and two different prisons—Jackson City Jail, Hinds County Jail, Hinds County Prison Farm, State Pen at Parchman. . . .
“Mississippians, born into segregation, are human too. The Freedom Riders’ aim is not only to stop the practice of segregation, but somehow to reach the common humanity of our fellow men and bring it to the surface where they can act on it themselves. This is a basic motive behind the Freedom Rides, and nonviolence is the key to its realization.
“There is a new spirit among Negroes in Jackson. People are learning that in a nonviolence war like ours, as in any other war, there must be suffering. Jobs will be lost, mortgages will be foreclosed, loans will be denied, persons will be hurt, and some may die. This new spirit was expressed well by one Freedom Rider in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. The guards threatened repeatedly, as a reprisal for our insistence upon dignity, to take away our mattresses. ‘Come and get my mattress,’ he shouted. ‘I will keep my soul.’”
Henry David Thoreau
“Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also in prison. The proper place today, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less desponding spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the state by her own act, as they have already put themselves out by their principles. It is there that the fugitive slave, and the Mexican prisoner on parole, and the Indian come to plead the wrongs of his race, should find them; on that separate but more free and honorable ground, where the state places those who are not with her but against her—the only house in a slave state which a free man can abide with honor.
“If any think that their influence would be lost there, and their voices no longer afflict the ear of the state, that they would not be as an enemy within its walls, they do not know by how much truth is stronger than error, nor how much more eloquently and effectively he can combat injustice who has experienced a little in his own person.
“Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight.
“If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the state will not hesitate which to choose. If a thousand men were not to pay their tax bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the state to commit violence and shed innocent blood.
“This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceful revolution, if any such is possible. If the tax gatherer or any other public officer asks me, as one has done, ‘But what shall I do?’ my answer is, ‘If you really wish to do anything, resign your office.’ When the subject has refused allegiance and the officer has resigned his office, then the revolution is accomplished.
“But even suppose blood should flow. Is there not a sort of blood shed when the conscience is wounded? Through this wound a man’s real manhood and immortality flow out, and he bleeds to an everlasting death. I see this blood flowing now...
“Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterwards. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. It is truly enough said, that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience.
“Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice. A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, aye, against their common sense and consciences, which make it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart. They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. Now, what are they? Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous men in power. . . .
“The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens.
“Others -- as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office holders -- serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God.
“A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it.
“A wise man will only be useful as a man, and will not submit to be ‘clay’ and ‘stop a hole to keep the wind away’ but leave that office to his dust at least:
“I am too high-born to be propertied,
To be secondary at control,
Or useful serving man and instrument
To any sovereign state throughout the world.”
From “Essay On the Duty of Civil Disobedience”
“There is a strong probability that this July and August will constitute another ’summer of discontent.’ The expectations among Negroes in the Black Belt have risen to the point where they cannot be quieted. CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), and the intrepid youngsters of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, are determined to move forward.
“With the high probability of intensified activity in the Black Belt this summer, the President will have to decide what to do. He can stand by and watch Negro protests smashed by the local police, with mass jailings, beatings, and cruelties of various kinds. Or he can take the kind of firm action suggested above (enforce the law), which would simply establish clearly what the Civil War was fought for a hundred years ago, the supremacy of the U.S. Constitution over the entire nation. If he does not act, the Negro community may be pressed by desperation to move beyond the nonviolence which it has maintained so far with amazing self-discipline.
“Thus, in a crucial sense, the future of non-violence as a means for social change rests in the hands of the President of the United States. And the civil rights movement faces the problem of how to convince him of this, both by words and by action. For, if non-violent direct action seems to batter itself to death against the police power of the Deep South, perhaps its most effective use is against the national government. The idea is to persuade the executive branch to use its far greater resources of nonviolent pressure to break down the walls of totalitarian rule in the Black Belt.
“The latest victim* of this terrible age of violence—which crushed the life from four Negro girls in a church basement in Birmingham, and in this century has taken the lives of over fifty million persons in war—is President John F. Kennedy, killed by an assassin’s bullet. To President Johnson will fall the unfinished job of ending the violence and fear of violence which has been part of the everyday life of the Negro interest he Deep South.”
*The latest victim now is Mr. Lewis Allen, Negro freedom fighter, Liberty, Mississippi.
Gandhi: complete text is at www.mkgandhi.org/nonviolence/ faith%20in%20nonviolence.htm
King: several sources for the excerpt, among them “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence.” Complete text is at http://www.forusa.org/nonviolence/30king.html
Thoreau: Complete text is at http://eserver.org/thoreau/civil.html
Zinn: from “Limits of Nonviolence”, FREEDOMWAYS, Winter 1964.
Reprinted with permission of Howard Zinn]
The document is from the
Iris Greenberg / Freedom Summer Collection, 1963-1964
Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division,
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture,
The New York Public Library;
Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations