Nonviolent Resistance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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In discussing nonviolent resistance in Stride Toward Freedom, Dr. King identified it as having five basic characteristics.

1. Nonviolent resistance means neither cowardice nor passivity. Nonviolent resisters are not cowards but strong individuals; it takes strength to resist the use of violence. If, however, resisters are nonviolent because of fear or because they do not have the means of violence, they are not practicing true nonviolence. Also, nonviolent resistance is not a “do-nothing method”; it is only passive in that the resister commits no physical aggression against the opponent. “The method is passive physically, but strongly active spiritually. It is not passive nonresistance to evil, it is active nonviolent resistance to evil.”

2. The goal of nonviolent resistance is not to defeat anyone, but to create friendship and understanding. Instead of destroying the opponent, the nonviolent resister tries “to awaken a sense of moral shame… The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of non-violence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.”

3. Nonviolent resistance attacks evil rather than the evildoer. There is a distinction between evil and the person committing the evil. Thus, in fighting racial injustice, the struggle is not between races, but rather between “justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.” Nonviolent resistance seeks “to defeat injustice and not white persons who may be unjust.”

4. Nonviolent resistance involves turning the other cheek, not responding to violence with violence. The nonviolent resister is willing “to accept blows from the opponent without striking back,. . . . to accept violence if necessary, but never to inflict it.” Why? King quoted the Indian leader and foremost advocate of nonviolent resistance, Mahatma Ghandi, who said, “Suffering is infinitely more powerful than the law of the jungle for converting the opponent and opening his ears which are otherwise shut to the voice of reason.”

5. Love is central to nonviolent resistance. The nonviolent resister avoids not only physical violence but also spiritual violence, refusing to hate the opponent. To act otherwise would only increase the hatred in the universe. “Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives.

Summarized from Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, pp. 83-85 (1958).

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Prepared by Deborah Mercer and Edith Beckett of the New Jersey State Library.
Copyright 2003 © by the New Jersey Historical Commission,
New Jersey Department of State.
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Please direct questions and comments to Deborah Mercer.
Updated:Thursday, April 24, 2003