Dr. Martin Luther King Debates Non-Violent Protests - 1960

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Since today is Dr. Martin Luther King's Birthday, and since we are also going through an upheaval in our society by way of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the common thread of Non-violent and peaceful protest is just as relevant now as it was over 50 years ago.

In this debate, which featured Dr. Martin Luther King and Southern writer/editor James J. Kilpatrick over the subject of non-violent protest and the recent lunchcounter demonstrations going on throughout the South, you get some idea of just how entrenched the mind-set of segregation was. The prevailing echo of "what is it you people want?" seems as clear today as it was then. The peaceful use of protest was just as baffling to the power structure then as it is now.

Dr. King: “There are those who would argue that these demonstrations are uncon-
stitutional and that they are illegal. They would go on to argue that they have no
respect for law. But I would say that this is absolutely wrong. The individuals en-
gaged in sit-in demonstrations are revealing the highest respect for law. And they
respect law so much that they want to see all laws just and in line with the moral
law of the universe. They’re willing to suffer and sacrifice in order to square local
custom, customs and local laws with the moral law of the universe. And they are
seeking to square these local laws with the federal Constitution and with what is
the just law of the land.
Therefore, I am sure, I am convinced, that they are just and that they are truly
American, that somehow these sit-in demonstrations send us back to the deep wells
of democracy that were dug by the Founding Fathers of our nation in formulat-
ing the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. And so in sitting down,
these students are in reality standing up for the highest and the best in the Amer-
ican tradition. And I think it is justifiable because it isn’t a selfish movement. It
isn’t based on seeking merely rights for Negroes or seeking to secure those things
that would apply only to one minority group, but they’re seeking to save the soul
of America.
Truly, America faces today a rendezvous with destiny, and I think these students,
through their nonviolent, direct, courageous action have met the challenge of this
destiny-packed moment in a very majestic and sublime way.”

Some things don't change. And some change takes a very long time.

Not just a message to be brought out once a year to honor a man and his work, to be looked at and nodded and put back on the shelf. The concepts Dr. King brought are still fresh and new - the peaceful use of protest is overwhelming in its power and that desperately needs to be remembered every one of these coming days.

The Debate between Dr. Martin Luther King and James J. Kilpatrick, as heard on The Nation's Future from November 26, 1960.

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