|Non-Aggression Procedures to
Address Delivered by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., at the American Baptist Assembly and American Home
Mission Agencies Conference
July 23, 1956, Green Lake, Wis.
oppressed people, all over the world to gain this freedom and this human dignity, so that the struggle of the Negro is a part of this great struggle all over the world. It’
s a struggle on the part of oppressed peoples in general and the Negro in America, in particular. It is not something that will suddenly disappear. Realism impels us
to admit that the struggle will continue until justice becomes a reality.
But the great question, the basic question, in the face of all of this is this question: How will the struggle be waged? How will the oppressed peoples of the world
wage their struggle against the forces of injustice, the forces of oppression? And there are two basic answers to this question. One is to resort to the conventional
methods of violence and hatred. We all know the danger of this method. Violence creates many more problems than it solves. And the oppressed peoples of the
world cannot afford to flirt with retaliatory violence. And there is a voice crying through the vista of time saying, “He who lives by the sword will perish by the
sword.” And history is replete with the bleached bones of nations who refused to listen to the words of Jesus at this point. The method of violence would be both
impractical and immoral. If this method becomes widespread, it will lead to terrible bloodshed, and that aftermath will be a bitterness that will last for generations.
So we must all pray and hope and work that the oppressed peoples of the world will not use the method of violence to stand out against oppression and injustice.
There is another method which can serve as an alternative to the method of violence, and it is a method of nonviolent resistance. This is an important method, a
significant method, and it is a method that I would like to recommend, a method that all of the oppressed peoples of the world must use if justice is to be achieved in
a proper sense. There are several basic things that we can say about this method of nonviolent resistance, this technique of nonviolence, and these things are
basic, these things are important, and understanding this method and this technique in confronting the problems of discrimination and of segregation and standing
out against the forces of injustice. The first thing that can be said about this method is that it is not a method of submission or surrender. And there are those who
would argue that this method leads to stagnant complacency and deadening passivity, and so it is not a proper method to use. But that is not true of the nonviolent
method. The nonviolent resister is just as opposed to the evil that he is protesting against as a violent resister. Now it is true that this method is nonaggressive and
passive in the sense that the nonviolent resister does not use physical aggression against his opponent. But at the same time the mind and the emotions are active,
actively trying to persuade the opponent to change his ways and to convince him that he is mistaken and to lift him to a higher level of existence. This method is
nonaggressive physically, but it is aggressive spiritually. It is passive physically, but it is active mentally and spiritually. So that the first thing about the method of
passive resistance, or the method of nonviolent resistance, is that it is not a method of surrender, or a weapon, or a method of submission, but it is a method that is
very active in seeking to change conditions, and even though it is passive it is still resisting.
There is another basic point about this technique of passive resistance, and it is this: That this method, in this method, the nonviolent resister seeks to lift or rather
to change the opponent, to redeem him. He does not seek to defeat him or to humiliate him. And I think this is very important, that the end is never merely to protest
but the end is reconciliation. And there is never the purpose behind-this method is never to defeat or to humiliate the opponent. Now the method of violence seeks to
humiliate and to defeat the opponents, and therefore it leads to bitterness. The aftermath of the method of violence is bitterness. But the method of nonviolence
seeks not to humiliate and not to defeat the oppressor, but it seeks to win his friendship and his understanding, and thereby and therefore the aftermath of this
method is reconciliation.”
We must come to see, and all of those who struggle against injustice must come to see it, that the tension at bottom is not between races. As I like to say in
Montgomery, the tension in Montgomery is not between seventy thousand white people and fifty thousand Negroes. The tension is at bottom a tension between
justice and injustice. It is a tension between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. And if there is a victory, it will not be a victory merely for fifty thousand
Negroes. If there is a victory for integration in America, it will not be a victory merely for sixteen million Negroes, but it will be a victory for justice, a victory for
goodwill, a victory for democracy. And so the aim must always be to defeat injustice and not to defeat the persons who are involved in it. This method of
nonviolence seeks to win the friendship and the understanding of the opponent, rather than to defeat him or to humiliate him.
Another basic factor in the method of nonviolent resistance is that this method does not seek merely to avoid external physical violence, but it seeks to avoid
internal violence of spirit. And at the center of the method of nonviolence stands the principle of love. Love is always the regulating ideal in the technique, in the
method of nonviolence. This is the point at which the nonviolent resister follows the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, for it is this love ethic that stands at the center of
the Christian faith. And this stands as the regulating ideal for any move or for any struggle to change conditions of society.
Now I realize that to talk about love can be something very sentimental. I realize that it can end up as empty words. It’s very easy to say, “Love your oppressor.” It’s
very easy to say, “Love your enemy.” It’s very easy to say, “Pray for those that despitefully use you.” But it can be empty talk unless we understand the real meaning
of this 1ove. Now we all know, we must be frank enough to admit that you cannot love your enemy or your oppressor like you love your personal friends, or like you
love your wife, or your husband. And I don’t think it means that. That is not the meaning of love at this point.
The Greek helps us out a great deal. It talks about love in several senses. It talks about eros. And eros is a significant type of love, eros is a sign of aesthetic love.
Plato talks about this love a great deal in his dialogue with Phaedrus. It is, it boils down to a romantic love. It is craving for something, and it has with it a bit of
affection, an affectionate feeling.
And then there is another type of love that we talk about a great deal, it’s a love that we have for personal friends. The Greek talks about it in philia. And it is a type
of love; it stands on the basis of reciprocity. It has with it that mutual taint; it loves because it is loved. But then the Greek comes out with something higher,
something that is strong, something that is more powerful than eros or any other type of love. It talks about agape, and agape is understanding goodwill for all men.
Agape seeks nothing in return. It is a redemptive love. It is a love of God working within men. And so when men move to the point of agape, they love not because
the individuals are so wealthful to them, not because it’s anything they like so much about the individuals, but they love them because God loves them. They love
them because they are wealthful to God, and this is the meaning of agape. It is a love that loves a person that does an evil deed, while hating the deed that the
person does. And this is the type of love that can redeem. It is a transforming love. And this is the type of love that we talk about, and that we are supposed to live
about in this method of nonviolent resistance. It is a love that can change individuals. It can change nations. It can change conditions.
Well I cannot close without mentioning another aspect of the method of nonviolence. Another thing that goes along with this method, a basic belief that goes along
with it. And it is the belief that the universe is on the side of justice. The nonviolent resister has great faith in the future. And there is a belief that, at bottom, justice
will triumph in the universe over all of the forces of injustice. People are frequently asking me and people in Montgomery: How is it that we continue to move on and
continue to walk after seven or eight months? How is it that we continue to burn out our automobile tires and keep going amid all of the tension? Well, my wife
answered the question a few days ago in a matter quite satisfactory to me. One reporter was asking her how it was that she remained so calm in the midst of all of
the pressure of the situation, how she was able to keep moving in the midst of all of the tension and constant flux. And I never will forget her words, “We believe we
are right, and in believing that we are right, we believe that God is with us.” And that is the answer, that is the answer that eventually comes to the aid of the
We have the strange feeling down in Montgomery that in our struggle for justice we have cosmic companionship. And so we can walk and never get weary,
because we believe and know that there is a great camp meeting in the promised land of freedom and justice. And this belief, and this feeling that God is on the side
of truth and justice and love and that they will eventually reign supreme in this universe, this comes down to us from the long tradition of our Christian faith. There is
something that stands at the center of our faith. There is a great epic. There is a great event that stands at the center of our faith which reveals to us that God is on
the side of truth and love and justice. It says to us that Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumph and beat of the
drums of Easter. It says that evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy the palace and Christ the cross, but one day that same Christ will rise up and split
history into A.D. and B.C. so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by his name. There is something in this universe that justifies Carlyle in saying, “No lie can
live forever.” There is something in this universe that justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying, “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” And there is something in
this universe that justifies James Russell Lowell in saying, “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne, yet that scaffold sways a future, and behind
the dim unknown stands God within the shadow keeping watch above his own.” And this is what the method of nonviolent resistance says to the individual
engaged in the struggle. And this is why the nonviolent resister can suffer and not retaliate, because he has this strong faith in the future. This is a method, this is a
technique, and this is a procedure. It is not at all without precedent. A brown man tried it in India. He looked over at the powerful British empire and he noticed all
over vast and intricate military machinery. And in the midst of looking at all of this, something said to him — and he said to himself, “We cannot use this method.”
And so he decided to confront physical force with an even greater force, namely soul force. And this brown man, Mahatma Gandhi, was able to free his people from
the political domination and the economic exploitation inflicted upon them by Britain. And so those four hundred million people stand out today with their freedom
through the method of nonviolent resistance.
And God grant that we will continue to move on all men of goodwill, and all those who are confronted with oppression in this world will move on with this method.
Not with the method of violence, not with the method of retaliatory violence, not with any method that seeks to retaliate, but the method that seeks to redeem. And
whenever we decide to do this, we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man and to the bright and glittering daybreak
of justice and freedom and brotherhood for all people. God bless you.
Now this determination on the part of the Negro to struggle and to struggle, until segregation and discrimination
have passed away, springs from the same longing for human dignity that motivates oppressed peoples all over the
world. This is not only a nation in transition, but this is a world in transition. There are approximately two billion four
hundred million people in this world, and the vast majority of these people live in Asia and Africa. More than one
billion five hundred million of the people of the world live on these two continents — six hundred million in China,
four hundred million in India and Pakistan, two hundred million in Africa, a hundred million in Indonesia, and about
eighty-six million in Japan, and all of these people constitute more than one billion five hundred million of the
people of the world; and over the years most of these people have lived under the pressing yoke of some foreign
power. They have been exploited economically, dominated politically, segregated and humiliated by some other
power, but now they are gradually gaining their freedom. And there is a determination on the part of people,