News

    King Holiday Honors Global Tradition of Non-Violence

    Monday, January 15, is a national holiday in the United States honoring the birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   He led the non-violent struggle in the 1950s and 1960s to promote civil rights and end racial segregation in America, until his murder in April 1968.

    Today, Dr. King is hailed as a true American hero with whom almost all Americans are familiar. What many may not realize is that Dr. King's non-violent methods were largely inspired by a man who lived a continent and a generation away. He was Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi,  the statesman and sage who helped colonial India win independence from Britain in 1948.

    Gandhi's own beginnings as a world leader occurred in what was an otherwise unremarkable experience for colonials. In 1893, as a young Indian lawyer in South Africa, Gandhi was ejected from the first class train seat he had paid for, and told to sit among the other non-whites in the third class compartment. It was a moment that would profoundly affect the world.

    "It was the first time in his life that he had faced race prejudice," says David Cortright, president of the Fourth Freedom Forum and the author of Gandhi and Beyond.  "He was very upset, very angry. But as he thought about it, he realized that he had to fight this," says Cortright. But Gandhi did not believe in violence. "[He] recognized, early on, the self-defeating nature of violence, and how violence begets violence and there is a cycle of action and reaction and whenever we strike a blow the other person will strike back."

    Gandhi set out to obtain justice for his fellow Indians outside that vicious cycle, through Satyagraha, a concept which roughly translates as "love force," or "the weight of truth." It is a simple, yet highly sophisticated method of non-violent political action. When, as a young man, King was exposed to Gandhi's teachings on Satyagraha, he was electrified by its potential to help the struggle for civil rights in America.

    The two men shared important similarities. Like Gandhi, who was a Hindu, Dr. Martin Luther King, a Christian minister, based his political activism on his religion. Just as Gandhi's Hinduism teaches that all human beings, even one's enemies or oppressors, are an expression of the Divine, with no less value than oneself, Reverend King and his followers were inspired by Jesus' command to "turn the other cheek" when your enemy strikes you, to pray for him, suffer for him, and ultimately, to forgive him.

    "Dr. King used to say that 'we will match his ability to inflict suffering by our ability to suffer,'" says Andrew Young, the first African American ambassador to the United Nations, and one of King's closest friends and lieutenants. He spoke with VOA immediately after watching "Dare Not Walk Alone,"  a film documentary about the civil rights movement that includes footage from a non-violent demonstration he led in 1964 in Saint Augustine, Florida in which Young was badly beaten.

    "There was a picture of a young woman with a broken nose. And she looks upon that beating as a mark of physical courage, as I do, that you were willing to confront evil and risk your life and not back down." After pausing for a moment to reflect, he continued, "The willingness to suffer for what you believe in is one of the highest virtues."

    Gandhi and King keenly understood that the moral dignity of non-violent demonstrations as conveyed through the media could powerfully affect public opinion. Indeed, news photographs of police beating unarmed demonstrators, and crowds spitting on and taunting disciplined young people spread sympathy and support for both the Indian Independence movement and the civil rights movement.

    Economic pressure through boycotts was another way that Dr. King's methods echoed those of Gandhi. "Every day we challenged the philosophy of racism in a way that stopped economic enterprise, at least temporarily," Andrew Young says, recalling the 90 days of demonstrations and boycotts against segregated department stores in downtown Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.

    Young says they never "hit anybody, never cussed anybody out." But the boycott was effective. "The business community came to us after 100 days and said 'Look, this has got to stop because you are putting us out of business!'"

    Young emphasizes a truth that may surprise those who mistakenly associate non-violence with passivity: "You are the aggressor in nonviolence in that you are defining the issue. You are starting the confrontation." 

    Gandhi and King's methods have inspired political movements around the world. One thinks of the non-violent Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the national reconciliation efforts in post-Apartheid South Africa, and the Dalai Lama's efforts on behalf of Tibetans.

    Robert Barnett, a professor of Contemporary Tibetan Studies at New York's Columbia University, notes that the Dalai Lama paid explicit tribute to Gandhi and his nonviolent methods when he accepted his 1989 Nobel Peace Prize.  "And he has talked quite a lot about wanting to understand why the Chinese people felt the way they did when China took over, and going from there to say, 'We need to negotiate with these people and not to use violence against them.'"

    Barnett adds that the Tibetan leader's approach has yet to succeed. "But the Dalai Lama's view is that this does take a long, long time and we need to be patient."

    The universality of what Gandhi called "the force of truth and love" is why Andrew Young says Martin Luther King Day should not be regarded as only an African American holiday.

    "Martin Luther King happened to be an Afro-American. But he advocated and successfully changed America and he never really lashed out in anger against anyone," Young says. The message there, he notes, is that "we ought to be celebrating and studying nonviolence as a continuing option for the growth and development of human civilization. Love!"

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora