One of the things that I have long admired and tried to emulate about Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. is his care to respond non-violently to those who attacked him, at to teach his followers to do the same. He was not passive in the face of evil, but his goal was always to convert those who treated him evilly, not to respond in kind, and not to try to destroy them as they had tried to destroy him.
I thought it would be appropriate, in celebration of the Martin Luther King holiday, to offer the advice King gave at the end of the Montgomery bus boycott for thought and meditation.
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white bus rider. Within days, the black community in Montgomery decided to organize a boycott of the city buses, to protest the discriminatory treatment of black bus riders. Initially intended to last only a few days, the boycott lasted over a year, until the Supreme Court ruled that segregation on buses was unconstitutional, and integrated bus service began on December 20, 1956.
During the boycott, the White Citizens’ Council firebombed Martin Luther King’s house, the house of Ralph Abernathy, another civil rights leader, and four black Baptist churches. Speaking to the crowd of hundreds that had gathered after the bombing of his home, King said,
If you have weapons, take them home; if you do not have them, please do not seek to get them. We cannot solve this problem through retaliatory violence. We must meet violence with nonviolence. Remember the words of Jesus: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries: “Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.” This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love. Remember, if I am stopped, this movement will not stop, because God is with the movement. Go home with this glowing faith and this radiant assurance.
For organizing the boycott, King was indicted, arrested, and sentenced to spend 386 days in jail. He ended up spending approximately two weeks in jail before he was released when white leaders realized that their tactics had backfired, gaining national attention for the boycott and enormous sympathy for King’s cause.
When the Supreme Court finally ruled that bus segregation was unconstitutional, King and other boycott organizers issued the following guidance to riders to avoid raising tension on the newly integrated buses:
This is a historic week because segregation on buses has now been declared unconstitutional. Within a few days the Supreme Court Mandate will reach Montgomery and you will be re-boarding integrated buses. This places upon us all a tremendous responsibility of maintaining, in face of what could be some unpleasantness, a calm and loving dignity befitting good citizens and members of our Race. If there is violence in word or deed it must not be our people who commit it.
For your help and convenience the following suggestions are made. Will you read, study and memorize them so that our non-violent determination may not be endangered. First, some general suggestions:
- Not all white people are opposed to integrated buses. Accept goodwill on the part of many.
- The whole bus is now for the use of all people. Take a vacant seat.
- Pray for guidance and commit yourself to complete non-violence in word and action as you enter the bus.
- Demonstrate the calm dignity of our Montgomery people in your actions.
- In all things observe ordinary rules of courtesy and good behavior.
- Remember that this is not a victory for Negroes alone, but for all Montgomery and the South. Do not boast! Do not brag!
- Be quiet but friendly; proud, but not arrogant; joyous, but not boisterous.
- Be loving enough to absorb evil and understanding enough to turn an enemy into a friend.
Now for some specific suggestions:
- The bus driver is in charge of the bus and has been instructed to obey the law. Assume that he will cooperate in helping you occupy any vacant seat.
- Do not deliberately sit by a white person, unless there is no other seat.
- In sitting down by a person, white or colored, say “May I” or “Pardon me” as you sit. This is common courtesy.
- If cursed, do not curse back. If pushed, do not push back. If struck, do not strike back, but evidence love and goodwill at all times.
- In case of an incident, talk as little as possible, and always in a quiet tone. Do not get up from your seat! Report all serious incidents to the bus driver.
- For the first few days try to get on the bus with a friend in whose non-violence you have confidence. You can uphold one another by a glance or a prayer.
- If another person is being molested, do not arise to go to his defense, but pray for the oppressor and use moral and spiritual forces to carry on the struggle for justice.
- According to your own ability and personality, do not be afraid to experiment with new and creative techniques for achieving reconciliation and social change.
- If you feel you cannot take it, walk for another week or two. We have confidence in our people. God Bless You All.
The Montgomery Improvement Association
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., President
Rev. W. J. Powell, Secretary.
Is this, also, meant to be an encouragement for the way the LGBT community is to be integrated within American society as well as within the Church?
BTW – a great post to read and think about. Thanks.