Martin Luther King, Jr Civil Disobedience

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Like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr read Thoreau’s essay on Civil Disobedience in college, and resonated with its central idea – that people should not obey unjust laws. The son of a Baptist preacher, King himself became a minister, and originally believed that the teachings of Jesus could only be put into practice between individuals. However, when King learned about Gandhi, his stance changed. He said in this regard: “Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force...”

In Gandhi’s teaching, King began to find answers to the question that had vexed him for many years – how one could hope to bring about social reform. He was inspired by Gandhi’s words “Through our pain we will make them see their injustice”, and said of Gandhi’s satyagraha: “I found in the non-violent resistance philosophy of Gandhi... the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”

Contrary to the popular perception, King did not begin the civil rights movement that worked to liberate black communities from the insidious “Jim Crow laws,” that under the guise of a mandate for “separate but equal” treatment in fact delivered brutal oppression of blacks in the Southern region of the United States. From the 1920s, another Baptist minister, Vernon Johns, had used his pulpit to stir up his congregation to fight for justice.

Johns was the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama from 1947 to 1952, and delivered inflammatory sermons with titles such as “It's Safe to Murder Negroes in Montgomery,” and “When the Rapist is White” in response to atrocities conducted in Montgomery, as well as leading protests. His outspoken attitude made many of his parishioners nervous of reprisals, and in 1953 the deacons of the church accepted one of John’s many resignations. A new pastor was brought in: Martin Luther King,...
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