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From Richard Bartlett Gregg

Author: 
Gregg, Richard Bartlett
Date: 
May 20, 1956
Location: 
Chester, N.Y.
Genre: 
Letter
Topic: 
Montgomery Bus Boycott
Nonviolence

Details

Rev. M. L. King, Jr.
530-C South Union St.
Montgomery 8, Ala.

Dear Mr. King:

Your good letter of May 1st was forwarded from Jamaica, Vt. to me here where I will be for the rest of the summer. I am glad to learn that “The Power of Nonviolence” is being useful to you.

If you do not mind I would like to pass on to you a few ideas I would like to incorporate in that book if I were to make a revised edition of it. Possibly some of these ideas might also be helpful.

Buddha once said something that is very profound and true and also so neatly and pithily stated. (Please pardon the way my typewriter stutters in the middle of each line.) He said that anger is like spitting against the wind;—it always comes back on the person who feels and expresses it. That is true, I think, of all the divisive emotions such as resentment, suspicion, mistrust, pride, [strikeout illegible] fear, etc. In your present situation at Montgomery it holds true of most of the white people, and would also apply to any negroes whose discipline might fail. The spiritual realm is a realm of unity, and whoever puts up a barrier to that unity inevitably suffers himself whether he causes suffering on others or not. If the members of your Association can come to realize that truth {of Buddha’s) deeply and steadily, it will help them and the whole situation immensely, I think.

If in the course of the many private and public discussions of the validity of your non-violent actions, anyone asserts that it is undemocratic, you can answer that democracy rests on the principle of consent of the governed. There is no doctrine that the consent can be registered only by voting ballots. Lack of consent Voting is only one way by which consent or refusal of consent can be registered. The refusal to consent to injustice or deceit can be registered by non-violent resistance. And that kind of refusal is effective in many situations where voting is impossible or too slow.

Though I pray that your people may adhere faithfully to the principle and practise of non-violent resistence despite cv every kind of provocation or delay, no matter how long, nevertheless if there should be a failure of discipline and some Negroes under extreme provocation or in despair after at the length of time it may take to change the hearts of the local white population, should break out into violence, do not despair. Accept whatever penalties may come, and then later reform your ranks, develop constructive action among your people as Gandhi did, action which will restore their self-respect and self-confidence, as the village sanitaion and hand spinning did under Indian conditions, preach the principle of non-violence again, and after some years of such renewed discipline, try it again. You will remember that Gandhi did this. In the struggle of 1921 violence broke out at Chauri-Chaura; he suspended the movement, and did not make another big attempt until 1930.1 But in the interime he carried out a few local satyagrahas on limited grounds. And when he was put in jail with all the other Congress leaders in 1931, he bided his time until when the World War came the British Government had to have Indian cooperation and released the Congress leaders, yet another non-violent movement was begun which finally brought freedom. No failures could daunt Gandhi; let them not daunt you. Keep at it over a long period of years if necessary. Your eventual success will cleanse all of American political and social and economic life. You are doing something big enough to call for all your energy and devotion and endurance. The whole world will be grateful to you. May God give you strength.

This situation clarifies and explains, I think, the meaning of two of the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth;” and Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake”.2 For my sake means, I think, for the sake of spiritual principles. Non-violence and justice are spiritual principles. If you, being persecuted, stick to non-violent resistence for the sake of justice, the conscience of mankind all over the world will be touched and cleansed, and you will be blessed (I believe the Greek word of the New Testament could also be translated as “happy”) for thus helping your brothers of all races. The deep and strong pride of the white man is his greatest moral weakness. He is too weak to get rid of it himself. Perhaps he can get rid of it only after he realizes that he was too weak and had to have the help of Negroes to get it out of himself. The spiritual realm is where there is neither superioirty nor inferiority, only equality before God. I hope that Gandhi can help us all to attain that realm.

Remember, many many repetitions of little gentle stimuli will call forth the smothered spirit of God in you opponents, make it grow, until it takes charge of them and alters their very being.

You have my best wishes always.

Yours sincerely,
[signed]
Richard B. Gregg

1. On 5 February 1922 at Chauri Chaura in the state of Gorakhpur, Indian police violently disrupted a Gandhian noncooperation march; the protesters proceeded to set fire to the town hall and attacked the police trying to escape. Twenty-two people died. Discouraged that his followers had not adhered to nonviolent principles, Gandhi began a fast and halted all direct action, focusing instead on the “constructive programme.” See The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 22 (New Delhi: Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, 1958), pp. 377-378, 416, 420.

2. Matthew 5:5 and 5:11.

Source: 

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