A day for nonviolence

Freedom Summer.jpg

MLK Day commemorates more than the man. Visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Listen to some of this music. (Download "Something to Think About" here.) Then read Taylor Branch, from a speech just published in The Nation:
[June 21, 1964] was the first night of Freedom Summer in Mississippi. College students from all over the United States, who had been training in nonviolence, went to Mississippi, where black people were not permitted to vote. That night, three of them were kidnapped by the Klan--Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman. A bunch of Klansmen took them on the side of the road and were preparing to kill them. A Klansman pulled out a gun and put a pistol to Schwerner's chest and said, "Are you the nigger-lovin' Jew?" And Schwerner said, "Sir, I know just how you feel." And those were his last words before the Klansman shot him.

The Klansmen couldn't forget those words. Almost a month later, two of them in widely separate incidents confessed to FBI agents the events of that night, and both of them said those were Schwerner's last words, and both times the agent said, "Are you sure? That's a very unlikely thing for somebody to say." And they both said, "Yes, I'll never forget that."

It had an enormous effect on the agents. And they asked people in the movement: Is this something that someone would say? And, of course, the people in the movement said, Yes, that's what nonviolent training is about. One is the discipline not to resist, not to strike back, and the other--"Sir, I know just how you feel"-- is the discipline to try to make a human connection with somebody, even the person that's about to kill you.

The heart of nonviolence is to discipline yourself and have faith in the other guy. Mickey Schwerner epitomized it. This was an evanescent moment because nonviolence began to dissolve even within the movement, but that's another story.

Here's Branch on Martin Luther King, a year ago. I keep quoting Branch here in part because the historian is among the few writers to emphasize King's actual, stated politics, rather than what we'd like to use from what he said to support our own positions. I'd love to see Branch debate Michael Neumann, just the kind of moral philosopher to keep him (and the rest of us) honest. Branch speaks on Monday, MLK Day, at the Ross School of Business in Michigan.

Robert Moses, one of the great leaders from Freedom Summer (and an educator who created a new way of teaching algebra based on Movement principles), speaks at DePaul University in Chicago Monday morning.

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