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.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora