Monday, March 21, 2011

King biographer Taylor Branch laments downfall of non-violence

During a speech in a Baltimore church, historian Taylor Branch, author of an acclaimed three-part biography of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, lamented the disappearance of the non-violence philosphy that King used during the civil rights movement:

"We don't really understand the dividends that nonviolence has paid," he said of the strategy for social change.

"Nonviolence set off a broad and wonderful expanse of freedom. It was not just the gains made for black people," he said. "Later, women's rights advanced out of this movement. So did the rights of gays and the disabled people who had been shunted aside."

He said that King and other civil rights leaders used nonviolence as a valuable and "potent tool" in the 1960s, particularly in Mississippi, during the era of the Freedom Riders and the peaceful protests. "For Martin Luther King, nonviolence was a leadership doctrine," he said.

But by the time of King's death in 1968, it was being discredited by others in the movement as being "old-fashioned" and "pious." He cited Stokely Carmichael and others as deflecting attention away from the nonviolent philosophy as they advanced their own, more strident approaches.

"Stokely Carmichael became more fashionable," said Branch. "Nonviolence became nonrespectable in the New York Review of Books."

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