Martin Luther King

During his prior visit to campus in 1961, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave an interview to WJBC reporter Don Newberg.

Page 5

I’d like to take just a minute to say something about the philosophy of nonviolence because in our struggle this has been the most important undergirding philosophy.  And I still believe that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and human dignity.  This method has a way of disarming the opponent.  It exposes his moral defenses, it weakens his morale.  And at the same time it works on his conscience and he just doesn’t know how to handle it.  If he doesn’t beat you wonderful.  If he beats you, you develop the quiet courage of accepting blows without retaliating.  If he doesn’t put you in jail, wonderful.  Nobody with any sense loves to go to jail.  But if he puts you in jail, you go in that jail and transform it from a dungeon of shame to a haven of freedom and human dignity.  Even if he tries to kill you, you develop the inner conviction that there are some things so dear, some things so eternally true, some things so precious that they are worth dying for.  And if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, in a sense he is not fit to live.  And the nonviolent discipline says that there is power in this approach, precisely because it disarms the opponent and exposes his moral defenses.  It also says that it is possible to work for moral ends through moral means.  One of the great debates of history has been over the whole question of ends and means, and there have been always, there have been those that argue that the end justifies the means.  This is where nonviolence would break within a system.  It argues that the end justifies the means recognizing that the end is pre-existent in the means.  The means represent the ideal in making and the end in process.  And in the long run of history, destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.  And along with this is the growing realization that it is possible to take a stand against an unjust evil system without developing hatred and bitterness toward the perpetrators of that unjust and evil system.  And so when nonviolence is true in its most genuine respect to its basic precepts, the love ethic has a place and a central place.  Now I always have to stop and explain what I mean when I talk about love and this movement and in the nonviolent context because people raise a question all the time.  What do you mean when you say love those who are oppressing you and love those who are exploiting you and those who are violently seeking to destroy you? 

"If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, in a sense he is not fit to live.  And the nonviolent discipline says that there is power in this approach, precisely because it disarms the opponent and exposes his moral defenses."

And certainly when I talk about love at this point I am not talking about emotional bosh.  I am not talking about some sentimental or even some affectionate emotion.  I am talking about something much deeper.  It would be nonsense to urge oppressed people to love their violent oppressors in an affectionate sense.  Fortunately the Greek language comes to our aid at this point.  There are three words in the Greek language for love.  There is the word eros.  Eros is a sort of aesthetic love.  Plato used to talk bout it a great deal in his dialogues, the yearning of the soul for the realm of the divine.  It has come to us to be a sort of romantic love, and so in this sense we all know about eros.  We have read about it in all of the beauties of literature.  We’ve experienced it in the sense that Edgar Allen Poe was talking about eros when he talked about his beautiful Annabelle Lee with the love surrounded by the halo of eternity.  It a sense Shakespeare was talking about eros when he said love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, bends with the remover to remove it is an ever fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken.  It is a star to every wondering bark.  You know I can remember that because I used to quote it to my wife when we were courting.  That’s eros.  Then the Greek language talks about philia, which is another level of love.  It is a kind of intimate affection between personal friends.  On this level you love because you are loved.  You love the people that you like.  This is friendship.  And then the Greek language comes out with another word; it is the word agape.  Now agape is more than romantic love.  Agape is more than friendship.  Now agape is understanding creative redemptive goodwill for all men.  It is an overflowing love, which seeks nothing in return.  Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart.  And when one rises to love on this level, he is able to love the person who does the evil deed, while hating the deed that the person does.  And he is able to love those persons that he even finds it difficult to like for he begins to look beneath the surface and he discovers that that individual who may be brutal toward him and who may be prejudiced was taught that way—was a child of his culture.  At times his school taught him that way.  At times his church taught him that way.  At times his family taught him that way.  And the thing to do is to change the structure and the evil system, so that he can grow and develop as a mature individual devoid of prejudice.  And this is the kind of understanding goodwill that the nonviolent resister can follow if he is true to the love ethic.  And so he can rise to the point of being able to look into the face of his most violent opponent and say in substance, do to us what you will and we will still love you.  We will match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering.  We will meet your physical force with soul force.  And do to us what you will, and we will still love you.  We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.  And so throw us in jail, and as difficult as that is, we will still love you.  Bomb our homes and threaten our children and as difficult as it is, we will still love you.  Send your hooded perpetrators and violence into our communities at the midnight hours and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half-dead and we will still love you.  But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer.  And one day we will win our freedom but we will not only win freedom for ourselves.  We will so appeal to your heart and your conscience, that we will win you in the process.  And our victory will be a double victory.  This is the meaning of the nonviolent creed.  This is the meaning of the nonviolent ethic.

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