But the majority of civil rights workers were tactically non-violent. For us, non-violence was a strategy and tactic that we used becuase we wanted to win. Non-violent direct action demonstrations were the most effective tools we had. But outside of demonstrations, in our personal lives, in our travels, we would use either non-violence or self-defense as we thought appropriate to the circumstances.
Our enemies wanted us to use violence, they did all they could to provoke us to violence because they were organized, equipped, and experienced in suppressing violence and they wanted to shift the public debate from their racism and segregation to our violence. The lessons were very clear to both sides when we used non-violent tactics we won, when we allowed them to provoke us into violence they won. Non-violence was our weapon, not our creed, and in the long run it proved a far more powerful weapon than their guns and dogs and clubs.
I remember during the Selma campaign we were face to face against the armed troopers and possemen hour after hour, day after day. We used to sing "We love every body, we love state troopers, we love George Wallace" at them. But of course, most of us really did not love them. Militant activists came down from the North to support the Selma Movement vowing "I ain't going to sing no We Shall Overcome. I don't love no crackers!" But within an hour you could find those same militants in the front line singing "I love Sheriff Clark, I love city cops," right to their face because they could see how it drove the enemy crazy, how they gripped their clubs and whips and guns and tried everything they could to provoke us.
We used it as a tactic, and it was the best thing to do because we sure couldn't outgun them and if we'd have walked out to march with guns, that would have been good as they wanted since they would have justification to just shoot us right down. That would have been the end of the movement. So non-violence as a tactic was good, it would have been even better if we had been more disciples of it because we would have lasted longer. We would have done more. We would have gone places and into areas that we're just now getting to. I think that's what should be used now. I think that worldwide where they're having conflicts, I think that's what should be used. Non-violence. Weapons, war, it hasn't solved anything. I really believe in it.
The week before Father John Daniels was murdered in 1965, we were down in Fort Deposit, Alabama getting ready to demonstrate at a restaurant that wouldn't allow Black people in they had to go to the back window in order to be served. The FBI tried to talk us out of the demonstration, but there the young people there weren't gonna back down. But there were some who said, "Well, we're not gonna go down there and get assaulted and not react." And we said that we would appreciate it that if you felt that way, that you not come. Because if you decide to respond in kind, that's an individual thing, and what we wanted was a group response. The overwhelming majority of the people there said that they wanted to keep it non-violent. That's what we did. But when we got downtown, we found white people there with shotguns, pistols, ax handles, pick handles, and all kinds of other things, anything they could get their hands on. I can remember standing in front of this line and the guy stuck a shotgun in my face. It was the longest shotgun I've ever saw in my life. They hauled us off to jail in a garbage truck.
But on the other hand, there was something very noble about it and I liked the nobility of it. When I went to the South I knew something noble was happening there and I had to get down there to see it for myself. Once I get there and I'm really in the midst now of the terror, that's when I really don't understand non-violence. That's when I'm not getting it. So I'm tremendously relieved when I hear I don't recall reading it, but I hear people going back and forth that people are arming. Families are armed. As it turned out, I never met a single Black family in the Deep South that didn't have arms, and the women knew how to use them. That was comforting. I was the only one around who didn't have a clue about a gun. I still don't, by the way.
I would never say that I'm non-violent now, though I would never take a weapon on a demonstration. I can't say it, even though I'm not going to do violence to anybody, I don't intend to do any violence, it still doesn't sit well with me.
While I wasn't altogether with the non-violent part, I was together with the beloved community part. Somehow they weren't the same, as far as I was concerned. So while I might not be philosophically non-violent, I could work toward beloved community. I could do that. I could reach out knowing that another hand was going to be reaching out, too. So I always made that distinction.
Copyright © 2001-2005