The power of nonviolence

rush-johnSome 55 years ago, the struggle for civil rights for African-Americans began in earnest in Montgomery, Ala., when Rosa Parks sat in a bus seat and refused to give up her seat to a white person.

Parks was arrested and the African-American community began a boycott of the city bus system. They organized carpools and they walked. They endured the elements in the worst weather to prove the transportation company needed their business more than they needed the buses.

They didn’t throw rocks or shoot anyone; they just did what they needed to do to prove their point. Eventually, they won a Supreme Court decision saying they were free to sit where they pleased on buses.

Later, an integrated group of people boarded buses to cross the Deep South and use the bus terminals. In Anniston, Ala., one of the two buses was met by a mob that threw rocks at the bus and slashed its tires. The bus managed to get out of town, but six miles outside of town, the mob caught up and firebombed the bus and attempted to keep the passengers inside.

In Birmingham, Ala., “Bull” Conner, the director of public safety had a mob ready and waiting to greet the second bus. Again, people were beaten.

But national news cameras were there to capture the mayhem. When not one of the Freedom Riders fought back, the nation’s sympathy turned to the Civil Rights warriors. Images of brutal beatings and bloodied faces horrified viewers.

These were among the first images I recall vividly of the Civil Rights Movement. Among the others were the marchers over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., being attacked by police as they attempted a peaceful march to Montgomery in 1965. I have walked that bridge on a Civil Rights tour alongside African-Americans. It was sacred ground. I felt the courage of those people who risked their lives for equality.

Andrew Young, one of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, said later that several people wanted to go home and get their guns to retaliate, but they realized before taking that action that it would only cause the movement to fail.

They attempted the walk again two weeks later with Martin Luther King Jr. at the head of the column and walked the more than 50 miles to Montgomery under the protection of the National Guard.

I remember seeing marchers attacked by dogs and by powerful water cannons, causing them to skitter down the street like trash or cower against buildings as the water beat against them with the power of a battering ram.

And I remember the outrage of so many Americans who saw the powerful abusing unarmed, nonviolent people. The violent overlords looked evil, as does Rush Limbaugh today.

The fight was a battle for dignity and respect, and one who possesses dignity does not stoop to the level of the ignorant when seeking respect.

King’s work made possible today’s inauguration of Barack Obama. Although there still is racism, it is dying out with the people who fought against civil rights. Nonviolence won.

Martin Luther King was inspired by Gandhi and Christ when he decided to lead a nonviolent movement. Nonviolent civil disobedience moves nations in the right direction. It is the only way to achieve real and lasting peace.

Violence begets violence and love begets love. It is time for society to learn that lesson.

 

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