Martin Luther King is the most famous figure associated with nonviolence, but is he really as strong in his philosophy of nonviolence as he appears? Shouldn’t you practice what you preach?
As we talked about in class awhile ago, King’s house was once bombed while he was out of town; it was an attempt to kill his wife, Coretta, the person he probably cared most about. How did King respond? He had gunmen surround his house to scare off any other people who may try to attack either him or his family. While he didn’t go out and kill anyone or beat anyone up, is that really nonviolent? Just because you don’t physically injure somebody does not mean you didn’t have the intention of your gunmen shooting at people.
In addition, he endorsed the Black Power ideology, which focused on violence for self-defense; we know this because he joined Stokely Carmichael on the Meredith March Against Fear. How can you endorse Black Power and still be nonviolent? Is that even possible? According to King it must be possible. But in everything we have read, activists as well known as Stokely Carmichael, to random people we have never heard of in “Eyes on the Prize” discuss how important the idea of self-defense is to the Black Power Movement. In association with the Black Power Movement, we need to consider the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense; members of this party were among the first to denounce the War in Vietnam. In his speech denouncing the war on April 4, 1967, King in essence aligned himself with the Black Panthers. It doesn’t seem possible to align with the Black Panthers and truly be nonviolent.
In this same speech, King remarks that he is denouncing the war on the grounds that it is a racist war. His other reason is that the majority of people drafted to fight in this war were those that were living in poverty, since one of the only ways to get out of the draft was to enroll in college. Enrolling in college was, and still is, expensive; the people able to enroll were those that had money, not the ones living in poverty. So in King’s mind, the war was both racist and discriminated against the poorer classes. He does discuss the violence of the war by saying he couldn’t help eliminate violence in the ghettos of America unless he stopped the violence abroad. However, he doesn’t really say that the war is immoral due to the violence it creates; he just doesn’t want the violence on the home front.
All of these factors lead me to question the reality behind King’s so called nonviolent lifestyle. What do you think? Is he nonviolent? I suppose it depends how you define nonviolence. If nonviolence is just not physically hurting people, or if it is being against every instance of violence you come across.