Martin Luther King Jr celebrated his birthday on the 15th of January and on the 3rd Monday of every January the USA has a federal holiday to mark the great man.
Being nearly 50 years since his assassination, we wonder what Martin Luther King Jr. would have made of the first African-American President and fellow Nobel Peace Laureate? What would he have made of the bombings of people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria and other places? What would we have made of the increasing arms race and military spending, especially spending on nuclear weapons? What would he have made of the Ukraine conflict?
And we equally wonder what contributions he would have made in such forums as the conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons and Climate Change.
There is little doubt that he would readily denounce the economic fiasco we suffer today and the needless deaths of millions of people every year due to poverty. His moral voice would accompany all initiatives for peace and human development. How we miss his presence.
It’s true that one person cannot change the world but a person can be an inspiration, a person can show the way with their example. There are very few such men and women that have made such an impact in the human consciousness and so we take the opportunity in Pressenza to share some quotes by MLK that relate to the subject of nonviolence.
May his example inspire us all to social transformation through the path of personal change and the methodology of nonviolence. Happy Birthday, MLK!
If you have weapons, take them home; if you do not have them, please do not seek to get them. We cannot solve this problem through retaliatory violence. We must meet violence with nonviolence. Remember the words of Jesus: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries: “Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.” This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love. Remember, if I am stopped, this movement will not stop, because God is with the movement. Go home with this glowing faith and this radiant assurance.
King’s words after a bomb was thrown into his house in Alabama, on 30 January 1956, in Stride Toward Freedom (1958)
Today it is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence; it is either nonviolence or nonexistence. It may not be that Mahatma Gandhi is God’s appeal to this age, an age drifting to its doom. And that warning, and that appeal is always in the form of a warning: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” Jesus said it years ago. Whenever men follow that and see that way, new horizons begin to emerge and a new world unfolds. Who today will follow Christ in his way and follow it so much that we’ll be able to do greater things even than he did because we will be able to bring about the peace of the world and mobilize hundreds and thousands of men to follow the way of Christ?
Palm Sunday Sermon on Mohandas K. Gandhi, Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church (22 March 1959)
We must meet hate with love. We must meet physical force with soul force. There is still a voice crying out through the vista of time, saying: “Love your enemies , bless them that curse you , pray for them that despitefully use you.” Then, and only then, can you matriculate into the university of eternal life. That same voice cries out in terms lifted to cosmic proportions: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” And history is replete with the bleached bones of nations that failed to follow this command. We must follow nonviolence and love.
Give Us the Ballot (1957)
We want to rely upon the goodwill of those who oppose us. Indeed, we have brought forward the method of nonviolence to give an example of unilateral goodwill in an effort to evoke it in those who have not yet felt it in their hearts. But we know that if we are not simultaneously organizing our strength we will have no means to move forward. If we do not advance, the crushing burden of centuries of neglect and economic deprivation will destroy our will, our spirits and our hope. In this way, labor’s historic tradition of moving forward to create vital people as consumers and citizens has become our own tradition, and for the same reasons.
Speaking to the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL–CIO) on Dec. 11, 1961
There are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good-will will be maladjusted until the good societies realize — I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to — segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self-defeating effects of physical violence. But in a day when sputniks and explorers are dashing through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war. It is no longer the choice between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence…
“Social Justice and the Emerging New Age” address at the Herman W. Read Fieldhouse, Western Michigan University (18 December 1963)
I shall never forget the grief and bitterness I felt on that terrible September morning when a bomb blew out the lives of those four little, innocent girls sitting in their Sunday-school class in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. I think of how a woman cried out, crunching through broken glass, “My God, we’re not even safe in church!” I think of how that explosion blew the face of Jesus Christ from a stained-glass window. It was symbolic of how sin and evil had blotted out the life of Christ. I can remember thinking that if men were this bestial, was it all worth it? Was there any hope? Was there any way out?… time has healed the wounds — and buoyed me with the inspiration of another moment which I shall never forget: when I saw with my own eyes over 3000 young Negro boys and girls, totally unarmed, leave Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church to march to a prayer meeting — ready to pit nothing but the power of their bodies and souls against Bull Connor’s police dogs, clubs and fire hoses. When they refused Connor’s bellowed order to turn back, he whirled and shouted to his men to turn on the hoses. It was one of the most fantastic events of the Birmingham story that these Negroes, many of them on their knees, stared, unafraid and unmoving, at Connor’s men with the hose nozzles in their hands. Then, slowly the Negroes stood up and advanced, and Connor’s men fell back as though hypnotized, as the Negroes marched on past to hold their prayer meeting. I saw there, I felt there, for the first time, the pride and the power of nonviolence.
Interview in Playboy (January 1965)
I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends.
Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1963)
Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time — the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts… Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.
Nobel Prize acceptance speech (1964)
Nonviolence in the civil rights struggle has meant not relying on arms and weapons of struggle. It has meant noncooperation with customs and laws which are institutional aspects of a regime of discrimination and enslavement. It has meant direct participation of masses in protest, rather than reliance on indirect methods which frequently do not involve masses in action at all.
Nonviolence has also meant that my people in the agonizing struggles of recent years have taken suffering upon themselves instead of inflicting it on others. It has meant, as I said, that we are no longer afraid and cowed. But in some substantial degree it has meant that we do not want to instill fear in others or into the society of which we are a part. The movement does not seek to liberate Negroes at the expense of the humiliation and enslavement of whites. It seeks no victory over anyone. It seeks to liberate American society and to share in the self-liberation of all the people.
In the past ten years unarmed gallant men and women of the United States have given living testimony to the moral power and efficacy of nonviolence. By the thousands, faceless, anonymous, relentless young people, black and white, have temporarily left the ivory towers of learning for the barricades of bias. Their courageous and disciplined activities have come as a refreshing oasis in a desert sweltering with the heat of injustice. They have taken our whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. One day all of America will be proud of their achievements.
The Quest for Peace and Justice (1964)
The battle is in our hands. And we can answer with creative nonviolence the call to higher ground to which the new directions of our struggle summons us. The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one. There are no broad highways that lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions. But we must keep going.
I must admit to you that there are still jail cells waiting for us, and dark and difficult moments. But if we will go on with the faith that nonviolence and its power can transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows, we will be able to change all of these conditions. And so I plead with you this afternoon as we go ahead: remain committed to nonviolence. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.
How Long, Not Long (1965)
Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.
Beyond Vietnam (1967)