What are your thoughts on nonviolence?

Patricia Anderson:
I still to this very day believe that non-violence solved much more than any type of violence ever did. Visions of defensless people being herded like cattle by the police, being treated inhumanely, being beaten with night sticks and not fighting back, had a far greater impact than breaking out windows and setting fire to buildings has in anyone's mind.

Bruce Hartford:
Back in the day, civil rights workers were divided into two different camps on the question of non-violence — "philosophical" and "tactical." For those who were philosphically non-violent, non-violence was their way of life in all aspects at all times in all ways personal and public. Dr. King and John Lewis are two of the best known examplars of philosphical non-violence.

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.

Gabe Kaimowitz:
I am not and have not been a believer in non-violence. However, the most impressive person to me personally was John O'Neal, a founder of the Free Southern Theatre. He insisted in 1964 that we return to see whether anything had happened to a carload of whites who had gone off the road in a rainstorm. He was committed to non-violence. I considered it a miracle that the only thing that happened is that we were thanked for our assistance and told they could manage.

Joan Mandle:
Non-violence was also an important tactic. It brought the sympathy of millions of Americans who were watching what was happening in the South. That was necessary for the legislation to be passed and change to occur. Violence breeds more violence. The courage and commitment of non-violent activists — instead of alienating the American people — brought them around as sympathetic allies — the pre-requisite to all significant change.

Wazir (Willie) Peacock:
Non-violence was a philosophy, a way of life. Over the years, I have found that it actually works. But in the 60s we hadn't been schooled in real non-violence, real satyigraha. Passive resistance. We hadn't been schooled in that. Only people like Jim Lawson, and people like that who really had the philosophy down, who really believed in it as a way of life.

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.

Dick Reavis:
Black people could not have won a shooting war; therefore, nonviolence was a necessary strategy.

Jimmy Rogers:
I like non-violence as a tactic at a demonstration, but I don't consider myself to be non-violent. In a situation where I was by myself I would try to defend myself with every ounce of whatever it is that I have. But if you tried to achieve political change with violence, you don't have the resources available to deal with it on that level.

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.

Jean Wiley:
Non-violence is kind of a hard question for me. I was always very ambivalent about it. Even today when I read Martin's "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and other pieces it strikes me as pathological where he talks about turning the other cheek and "We will love you anyway." It's one thing to be non-violent because you have to, but I had never heard of any Black person anywhere who had anything even approaching love for white people. That was a totally foreign concept. Love. Now it's one thing to like, it's one thing to work with, but this "I will love you while you're whipping and brutalizing me" — it really does sound pathological to me. I was aware of that when it was happening, when he was saying it, and so was everybody else around me.

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.

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