January 21, 2013

"My First Contact with the Theory of Nonviolent Resistance"

Reading The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. this month has helped me to appreciate this holiday more than I have in the past. It has been fascinating discovering the early intellectual influences on King's moral vigor. As a fifteen year old, on September 20, 1944 King began his freshman year at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia where he would receive a bachelor of arts degree in sociology on June 8, 1948. It was there King was introduced to Henry David Thoreau and his profoundly impacting essay "On Civil Disobedience".

Here, in this courageous New Englander's refusal to pay his taxes and his choice of jail rather than support a war that would spread slavery's territory into Mexico, I made my first contact with the theory of nonviolent resistance. Fascinated by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system, I was so deeply moved that I reread the work several times.

I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.

I am perturbed by the question of what this means today, to not cooperate with evil. And yet wherever the answers lead I find inspiration in this man's life. Today we celebrate his 84th birthday.

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