University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Martin Luther King Jr and Nonviolent Resistance
Letter from Birmingham Jail, the letter which Martin Luther King Jr. wrote to his fellow members of clergy while he was imprisoned in 1963, is founded on the idea of nonviolent resistance. His campaign to end injustice was not aggressive, but rather it was defensive of the treatment of the African-American people during that time. The only violence that took place was the offensive cruelty of the “white moderate. ” Martin Luther King Jr. and his supporters were nonviolent in their protests, similar to the nonviolent approach Mahatma Gandhi took when there was oppression in India in 1930.
In March of 1930, Mahatma Gandhi led the Indian people on a satyagraha. This word has connotations of a “force contained in truth and love,” and it essentially means a nonviolent resistance (Erickson 23). The Salt March, in which Gandhi and his followers walked two hundred miles to the coast of India, ending in the town of Dandhi. They then waded into the ocean and collected the salt, and Gandhi encouraged the Indian people to make their own salt against government regulations (Erickson 29).
This act was not violent, but it did resist the unfair laws of Great Britain forbidding the Indians to harvest and sell their own salt. Gandhi’s love for his homeland and his people led to his fighting for their rights. He recognized the truth in the fact that the Indian people should be able to rule their own land, and it was unfair for them to be under the administration of the British government. This concept of satyagraha, a force contained in truth and love, was the spirit of his nonviolent resistance against injustice. Like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. promoted this idea of nonviolent resistance.
His statement, “Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity” clearly states that he was in opposition to the treatment of blacks during that time (Erickson 30). However, his approach to this subject allows us to realize that resistance does not need to take the form of violence. People can get the point across and make changes in the world without resorting to the same inhumane behavior they are fighting to abolish. King describes himself as an extremist, at first being disappointed but then recognizing the merit of this title.
He was an extremist for the right reasons, driven by truth and love as Gandhi was. He then makes the statement, “So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? (Erickson 32)” He is saying that we all must choose what we will fight for, good or evil, justice or injustice. We all have a choice to stand up for what is right, or to sit back and let things happen. Gandhi also taught the principle of ahisma, which is “the refusal to do harm and the duty to do good (Erickson 40). This refusal to do harm is the objection to violence, and choosing a more civilized method of resistance.
Neither Gandhi nor King upheld violence; they did not wish to harm others. Their only desire was to get rid of the evil prejudices and unjust laws that permeated their societies. Their struggle was to do what they could for the benefit of all human beings. They felt compelled by the duty to do good, the obligation to do what so many others would not. This sense of duty drove them on, reminding them what they stood for and why it was so important. This system of nonviolent resistance paid off in the end for both societies.
Mahatma Gandhi’s movement eventually led to the liberation of India from British rule. Martin Luther King Jr. ’s movement led to the end of segregation of blacks and whites in the United States. Their peaceful approaches to their situations were not in vain, and we can learn from them. We must stand up for what is right, not necessarily fighting in a literal sense, but taking into consideration what is the best way to solve the problem. We do not need to resort to violence and aggression to accomplish our goals. We can take the same approach as Gandhi and King, resisting in a nonviolent way.