Violence, violent rhetoric and Dr. King

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we honor today, was the target of violence and violent rhetoric.  In 1956, his home was bombed.  He told of his reaction in Stride Toward Freedom.

kingml.testamentI could not go to sleep. While I lay in that quiet front bedroom, with a distant street lamp throwing a reassuring glow through the curtained window, I began to think of the viciousness of people who would bomb my home. I could feel the anger rising when I realized that my wife and baby could have been killed. I thought about the city commissioners and all the statements that they had made about me and the Negro generally. I was once more on the verge of corroding anger. And once more I caught myself and said: “You must not allow yourself to become bitter.”

I tried to put myself in the place of the police commissioners. I said to myself these are not bad men. They are misguided.

I would not have had the strength to do what Dr. King did.

Advocates of peace and reconciliation are sometimes described as weak and naive.  But after all, it was Dr. King’s nonviolent struggle, not the guns of the Black Panthers, that ended segregation by law in the United States.  It was Dr. King, not Malcolm X, who faced down police and Klansmen, who triumphed over governors and presidents.

Dr. King is the only 20th century American whose birthday is a national holiday.  And it is a true holiday.  We Americans, and not just black Americans, really do honor his memory.  But it is easier to honor him than follow his example.

I took Dr. King’s quotes from Bob Somerby’s The Daily Howler.  Somerby said the reactions of both liberals and conservatives to the Tucson killings show how few of us behave or reason at his level.

Later. Juan Cole on his Informed Comment web site quoted Dr. Martin Luther King in opposition to Robert F. Williams, a black leader who said African Americans should arm themselves and be ready to fight back.

It is axiomatic in social life that the imposition of frustrations leads to two kinds of reactions. One is the development of a wholesome social organization to resist with effective, firm measures any efforts to impede progress. The other is a confused, anger-motivated drive to strike back violently, to inflict damage. Primarily, it seeks to cause injury to retaliate for wrongful suffering. Secondarily, it seeks real progress. It is punitive not radical or constructive.

Still later.  I admire Dr. King, but I am not a pacifist.  I would not give up the right to self-defense, either for myself or for my country.  I think there are times when violence has to be resisted with force, but only after the other, better way is tried.  What I learn from his example is to struggle against resentment and pleasure in hatred within myself.

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