FRIENDS JOURNAL July 26, 1958
Non violence and Racial Justice
By MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
IT is impossible to look out into the wide arena of American life without noticing a real crisis in race relations. This crisis has been precipitated, on the one hand, by the determined resistance of reactionary elements in the South to the Supreme Court's decision outlawing segregation in the public schools.
This resistance has often risen to ominous proportions. Many states have risen up in open defiance. The legislative halls of the South ring loud with such words as "interposition" and "nullification." The Ku Klux Klan is on the march again and that other so-called Respectable White Citizens' Councils. Both of these organizations have as their basic aim to defeat and stand in the way of the implementation of the Supreme Court's decision on desegregation. They are determined to preserve segregation at any cost. So all of these forces have conjoined to make for massive resistance.
But interestingly enough, the crisis has been precipitated, on the other hand, by radical change in the Negro's evaluation of himself. There would be no crisis in race relations if the Negro continued to think of himself in inferior terms and patiently accepted injustice and exploitation. But it is at this very point that the change has come.
Something happened to the Negro. Circumstances made it possible and necessary for him to travel more; with the coming of the automobile, the upheavals of two world wars, and a great depression, his rural plantation background gradually gave way to urban industrial life. His cultural life was gradually rising through the steady decline of crippling illiteracy. And even his economic life was rising through the growth of industry and other influences. Negro masses all over began to re-evaluate themselves, and the Negro came to feel that he was somebody. His religion revealed to him that God loves all of His children and that all men are made in His image. And so he came to see that the important thing about a man is not his specificity but his fundamentum, not the texture of his hair or the color of his skin but the texture and quality of his soul.
Since the struggle for freedom and human dignity will continue, the question is this: How will the struggle for racial justice be waged? What are the forces that will be at work?
What is the method that will be used? What will the oppressed peoples of the world do in this struggle to achieve racial justice?
There are several answers to this question, but I would like to deal with only two. One is that the oppressed peoples of the earth can resort to the all-too-prevalent method of physical violence and corroding hatred. We all know this method; we're familiar with it. It is something of the inseparable twin of Western materialism. It has even become the hallmark of its Grandeur.
Now I cannot say that violence never wins any victories; it occasionally wins victories. Nations often receive their independence through the use of violence. But violence only achieves temporary victory; it never can achieve ultimate peace. It creates many more social problems than it solves. And violence ends up defeating itself. Therefore it is my firm conviction that if the Negro succumbs to the temptation of using violence in his struggle for justice, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness. And our chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.
The other method that is open to oppressed people as they struggle for racial justice is the method of nonviolent resistance, made famous in our generation by Mohandas K. Gandhi of
who used it effectively to free his people from political domination, the
economic exploitation, and humiliation inflicted upon them by India .
There are several things we can say about this method. First, it is not a method of cowardice, of
stagnant passivity; it does resist. The nonviolent resister is just as opposed
to the evil that he is resisting as the violent resister. Britain
He resists evil, but he resists it without violence. This method is strongly active. It is true that it is passive in the sense that the nonviolent resister is never physically aggressive toward the opponent, but the mind is always active, constantly seeking to persuade the opponent that he is wrong.
This method does not seek to defeat and humiliate the opponent but to win his friendship and understanding. Occasionally, the nonviolent resister will engage in boycotts and
noncooperation. But noncooperation and boycotts are not ends within themselves; they are merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor and to awaken his dozing conscience. The end is redemption; the end is reconciliation. And so the aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is bitterness. The method of nonviolence is directed at the forces of evil rather than at the individuals caught in the forces of evil. The nonviolent resister seeks to defeat evil systems rather than individuals who are victimized by the evil systems.
The nonviolent resister accepts suffering without retaliation. He willingly accepts suffering. The nonviolent resister realizes that unearned suffering is redemptive; he is willing to receive violence, but he never goes out as a perpetrator of violence. He comes to see that suffering does something to the sufferer as well as the inflictor of the suffering.
Somehow the Negro must come to the point that he can say to his white brothers who would use violence to prevent integration, "We will match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. We will not hate you, but we cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws. Do to us what you may, and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and spit upon our children, and we will still love you.
Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities after hours, and take us out on some wayside road, and beat us and leave us half dead, and we will still love you. Go all over the nation with your propaganda and make it appear that we are not fit morally or culturally or otherwise for integration, and we will still love you. But we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom, and we will not only win freedom for ourselves. We will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process, and therefore our victory will be a double victory."
That is another basic thing about nonviolent resistance. The nonviolent resister not only avoids external physical violence, but he avoids internal violence of spirit. He not only refuses to shoot his opponent, but he refuses to hate him. The oppressed people of the world must not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter or indulging in hate campaigns. We must somehow come to see that this leads us only deeper and deeper into the mire; to return hate for hate does nothing but intensify the existence of hate and evil in the universe.
So somehow people in this universe must have sense enough and morality enough to return love for hate.
Now when I speak of love, I am not talking about some sentimental affectionate emotion.
I'm talking about something much deeper. In the Greek language there are three words for love. The Greek, for instance, talks about Eros, a sort of aesthetic love. Plato talks about it a great deal in his dialogues, a yearning of the soul for the realm of the divine. It has come to us as romantic love. Therefore we know about Eros. We have lived with Eros.
And the Greek language talks about philia, which is also a type of love we have experienced. It is an intimate affection between personal friends; it's a reciprocal love. On this level we love because we are loved; we love people because we like them, we have things in common. And so we all experience this type of love.
Then the Greek language comes out with another word for love; it calls it agape, creative, understanding, redemptive good will for all men. It is a spontaneous love which seeks nothing in return; it's an overflowing love. Theologians would say that it is the love of God working in the lives of men. When we rise to love on this level, we love men not because we like them, not because their ways appeal to us; we love them because God loves them. We come to the point that we love the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed the person does. And I believe that this is what Jesus meant when
He said, "Love your enemies."
The nonviolent resister has faith in the future. He somehow believes that the universe is on the side of justice. So he goes about his way, struggling for man's humanity to man, struggling for justice, for the triumph of love, because of this faith in the future and this assurance that he has cosmic companionship as he struggles.
Call it what you may, whether it is Being Itself, with Paul Tillich, or the Principle of Concretion with Whitehead, or whether it is a Process of Integration with Wieman, or whether it is a sort of impersonal Brahman with Hinduism, or whether it is a personal God with boundless power and infinite love, there is something in this universe that works in every moment to bring the disconnected aspects of reality into a harmonious whole. There is a power that seeks to bring low prodigious hilltops of evil and pull down gigantic mountings of injustice, and this is the faith, this is the hope that can keep us going amid the tension and the darkness of any moment of social transition. We come to see that the dark of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. This is the faith and the hope that will keep us going.
The nonviolent resister sees within the universe something at the core and the heartbeat of the moral cosmos that makes for togetherness. There is something in this universe which justifies James Russell Lowell in saying,
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne.
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.
So down in
we can walk and never get weary, because we know there is a great camp meeting
in the promised land of freedom and justice. Montgomery, Alabama
The problem of race is certainly the chief moral dilemma of our nation. We are faced now with the tremendous responsibility of solving this problem before it is too late. The state of the world today does not permit us the luxury of an anemic democracy, and the clock of destiny is ticking out. We must solve this problem before it is too late. We must go out once more and urge all men of good will to get to work, urge all the agencies of our nation, the federal government, white liberals of the North, white moderates of the South, organized labor, the church and all religious bodies, and the Negro himself.
And all these agencies must come together to work hard now to bring about the fulfillment of the dream of our democracy. Social progress does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes only through persistent work and the tireless efforts of dedicated individuals. Without this persistent work time it becomes the ally of the insurgent and primitive forces of irrational emotionalism and social stagnation.
I think of the great work that has been done by the Society of Friends. It gives all of us who struggle for justice new hope, and I simply say to you this evening: continue in that struggle, continue with that same determination, and continue with that same faith in the future.
Modern psychology has a word that is used probably more than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word "maladjusted."
All of us are desirous of living the well-adjusted life. I know I am, and we must be concerned about living a well adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities.
But I say to you, as I come to my close, that there are certain things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted, and I call upon you to be maladjusted to all of these things.
I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to the viciousness of mob rule. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions which take necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence.
I call upon you to be maladjusted to each of these things. It may be that the salvation of our world lies in the hands of the maladjusted. So let us be maladjusted. As maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day could cry out in words that echo across the generations, "Let judgment run down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."
As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who had the vision to see that this nation could not exist half slave and half free.
As maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery could cry out in words lifted to cosmic proportions, "All men are created equal, [and]...are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, [and]... among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
As maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth, who could look at the men of his generation and cry out, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you."
Through such maladjustment we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate of man's inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice. This is what stands ahead. We've made progress, and it is great progress that we must make if we are to fulfill the dreams of our democracy, the dreams of Christianity, the dreams of the great religions of the world.
I close by quoting the words of an old Negro slave preacher who didn't have his grammar quite right. But he uttered words with profound meaning. The words were in the form of a prayer: "Lord, we ain't what we want to be, we ain't what we ought to be, we ain't what we gonna' to be, but thank God, we ain't what we was." And so tonight I say, "We ain't what we ought to be, but thank God we ain't what we was."
And let us continue, my friends, going on and on toward that great city where all men will live together as brothers in respected dignity and worth of all human personality. This will be a great day, a day, figuratively speaking, when the "morning stars will sing together, and the sons of God will shout for joy.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., is President of the
, Improvement Association. His moving address as given here is
somewhat cut. In some of the passages deleted from the first part he spoke of
the 50,000 Negro citizens of Montgomery who had ultimately found it "more
honorable to walk in dignity than ride in humiliation," summarized the
history of the Negro in America from 1619 through the nineteenth century, and
linked the struggle of the American Negro to attain human dignity with the
revolt of oppressed peoples all over the world, particularly in Asia and