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From J. Martin England

England, J. Martin
April 29, 1956
Somerville, N.J.
Montgomery Bus Boycott


England, a fellow Baptist minister and graduate of Crozer, praises King’s Gandhian approach and advises him to use nonviolence not “to conquer the opponent’’ but to redeem him.1 Noting that “it is always good to hear from a Crozer alumnus,” King thanked England on 5 June for his “helpful suggestions.”

Rev. Martin Luther King

Dear Mr. King,

During my last year at Crozer Seminary (1933), I had a little to do, together with my good friend Lee Philip of Union Seminary, in opening the seminary to Negro students. I must confess therefore to a little pride as I have followed the reports of your protest movement.

For the clear and obvious Gandhian aspects of your effort I am thankful, and take courage. However, the absence of one vital part of Gandhi’s teaching, as I have read the reports from Montgomery, disturbs me. I hope it means only that the reporters have failed to observe it.

As I understand it, Satyagraha involves not only the refusal to accept violence as a means in one’s own struggle. It also goes so far as to accept responsibility for helping the opponent find release for the violence in his nature. Many who use Gandhi’s name so glibly seem never to have known that he called off a boycott when his followers acted in such a spirit, albeit “non-violent”, as to stimulate violence in their opponents.

Non-violence is such a powerful tool that when its advocates discover its strength they may be tempted to use it for the same ends for which others use violence: to conquer the opponent, rather than redeem him.

Much has been said about love, in the reports of your movement. You must know better than I do how much easier it is to defeat segregationists than to transform them. God grant that you and your associates may have the love that will lead those who now oppose you to cry out, like the Philippian jailer, “Men and brethren, what must we do to be saved?”2

[signed] J. Martin England

1. J. Martin England (1901-1989), born in Seneca, South Carolina, received degrees from Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, and from Crozer Theological Seminary. From 1933 until 1939 and again from 1945 to 1950, England and his wife served as Baptist missionaries in Burma. They also helped found Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia, in 1942, living there for two years. Later, as a staff member of the American Baptist Church’s Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board, England arranged to provide King with a retirement and death benefit policy (Norman J. Kansfield to King Papers Project, 21 September 1992).

2. Acts 16:30.


MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.