Today Madeline opened by asking who are the people who inspired or influenced those who inspire us? She researched three individuals who greatly influenced the thoughts of Martin Luther King. Martin Luther King was an unknown minister to a fairly small congregation until the now famous Montgomery bus boycott of 1955 brought on by Rosa Parks' act of non-violent civil disobedience.
The first influence was Henry David Thoreau who was an early proponent of civil disobedience when he went to jail when he defied the system that supported the Mexican War. (Mexican War was also opposed by Abraham Lincoln... but that is another story.) King said he read and re-read Thoreau's Civil Disobedience and that it was his first introduction to nonviolent resistance. In his "Letter from a Birmingham jail" King wrote "I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty... is in reality expressing the highest respect for law."
The second influence was Howard Thurman, grandson of a slave and a Baptist minister. Thurman had met Mahandas Gandhi in 1935. Thurman was a believer in nonviolent social activism. He wrote "Jesus and the Disinherited" where he argued that Jesus taught the oppressed a faith-based unconditional love that would enable them to endure their oppression. King carried the book with him when he was organizing the Montgomery bus boycott.
The third influence was Gandhi himself. King said nonviolence was a way of catching your opponent off balance. When practiced effectively, it can disarm one's opponent by weakening his moral defences and disturbing his conscience. In Gandhi's philosophy there is the doctrine of Satyagraha or "truth force" or "holding firmly for truth." Gandhi described it like this: "I have also called it love-force or soul-force. In the application of satyagraha, I discovered in the earliest stages that pursuit of truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one’s opponent but that he must be weaned from error by patience and compassion. For what appears to be truth to the one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent, but on oneself."
This invoking of Satyagraha may be happening again this year as groups rise in opposition to the actions of Donald Trump as President. The week of President Trump's inauguration found the nation with several large gatherings of women who are trying to stand together to let the weight of their truth serve as a message to those who would denigrate their worth to the world.