The following is a transcript of Jimmy Tingle's January 20, 2014 reading of The Most Durable Power and The Power of Nonviolence, two speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr., as part of Amalia Pica’s Now, Speak! installation. Jimmy Tingle is a comedian and humorist.
JIMMY TINGLE: Thanks, everybody. Happy Martin Luther King Day. Yes. Wonderful to be here this morning. And thank you very much for asking me to participate. The name of this first speech is "The Most Durable Power," an excerpt from the sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church on the 6th of November, 1956.
Martin Luther King says always be sure you struggle with Christian methods and Christian weapons. Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.
Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.
In your struggle for justice, let your oppressor know that you're not attempting to defeat or humiliate him, or even to pay him back for injustices that he has heaped upon you. Let him know that you are merely seeking justice for him as well as yourself. Let him know that the festering sore of segregation debilitates the white man as well as the Negro. With this attitude, you will be able to keep your struggle on high Christian standards.
Many persons will realize the urgency of seeking to eradicate the evil of segregation. There will be many Negros devote their lives to the cause of freedom. There will be many white persons of goodwill and strong moral sensitivity who dare to take a stand for justice. Honesty impels me to admit to such a stand will require willingness to suffer and sacrifice. So don't despair if you are condemned and persecuted for righteousness' sake.
Whenever you take a stand for truth and justice, you are liable to scorn. Often, you will be called an impractical idealist or a dangerous radical. Sometimes, it might mean going to jail. If such is the case, you must honorably grace the jail with your presence. It might even mean physical death, but if physical death is the price that some must pay to free their children from a permanent life of psychological death, then nothing could be more Christian.
I still believe that standing up for the truth of God is the greatest thing in the world. This is the end of life. The end of life is not to be happy. The end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The end of life is to do the Will of God, come what may.
I still believe that love is the most durable power in the world. Over the centuries, men have sought to discover the highest good. This has been the chief quest of ethical philosophy. This was one of the big questions of Greek philosophy. The epicureans and the stoics sought to answer it. Plato and Aristotle sought to answer it. What is the summum bonum of life?
I think I have discovered the highest good. It is love. The principle stands at the center of the cosmos. As John says, God is love. He who loves is a participant in the being of God. He who hates does not know God. That was from a sermon preached in Montgomery, Alabama on the 6th of November of 1956.
And this is "The Power of Non-violence" from June 4, 1957. From the very beginning, there was a philosophy undergirding the Montgomery boycott. The philosophy of nonviolence resistance. There was always the problem of getting this method over because it didn't make sense to most of the people at the beginning. We had to use our mass meetings to explain nonviolence to a community of people who had never heard of the philosophy and, in many instances, were not sympathetic with it.
We had meetings twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays. And we had an Institute on nonviolence and social change. We had to make it clear that nonviolence resistance is not a method of cowardness. It does resist. It is not the method a stagnant passivity and deadening complacency. The nonviolent resistor is just as opposed to the evil that he is standing against as the violent resistor, but he resists without violence. This method is nonaggressive physically, but strongly aggressive spiritually.
Another thing that we had to get over was that the fact that the nonviolent resistor does not seek to humiliate or defeat the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding. This was always a cry that we had to set before people that our aim is not to defeat the white community, not to humiliate the white community, but to win the friendship of all of the persons who had perpetrated this system in the past.
The end of violence or the aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community. A boycott is never an end in itself. It is merely a means to awaken a sense of change within the oppressor. But the end is reconciliation. The end is redemption.
Then we had to make it clear also that the nonviolent resistance seeks to attack the evil system, rather than the individuals happened to be caught up in the system. And this is why I say from time to time that the struggle in the South is not so much the tension between white people and Negro people. The struggle is rather between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. If there is a victory, it will not be a victory for merely 50,000 Negros. It will be a victory for justice, a victory for goodwill, a victory for democracy.
Another basic thing we had to get over is that nonviolent resistance is also an internal matter. It not only avoids external violence or external physical violence, but also internal violence of spirit. And so at the center of our movement stood the philosophy of love. The attitude that the only way to ultimately change humanity and make for the society that we all long for is to keep love at the center of our lives.
Now people used to ask me from the beginning what do you mean by love? And how is it that you can tell us to love those persons who seek to defeat us and those persons who stand against us? How can you love such persons? And I had to make it clear all along that love in its highest science is not a sort of sentimental thing. It’s not even an affectionate sort of thing.
The Greek language uses three words for love. It talks about "eros." Eros is a sort of an aesthetic love. It has come to us to be a sort of romantic love. And it stands with all of its beauty. But when we speak of loving those who oppose us, we're not talking about Eros.
The Greek language also talks about "philia." And this is a sort of reciprocal love between personal friends. This is a vital, valuable love. But when we talk about loving those who oppose you and those who seek to defeat you, we are not talking about eros or philia.
The Greek language also comes with another word, and it is "agape." Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive, goodwill for all men. Biblical theologians would say it is the love of God working in the minds of men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. And when you come to love in this level, you begin to love men, not because they are likable, not because they are doing things that attract us, but because God loves them. In here we love the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. It’s the type of love that stands at the center of the movement that we are trying to carry on in the southland. Agape.
I am quite aware of the fact that there are persons who firmly believe in nonviolence who do not believe in a personal God. But I think every person who believes in nonviolent resistance believes somehow that the universe, in some form, is on the side of justice. That there is something unfolding in the universe, whether one speaks of it as an unconscious process or one speaks of it as some unmoved mover or whether someone speaks of it as a personal God. There is something in the universe that unfolds for justice.
And so in Montgomery, we felt somehow that as we struggled, we had cosmic companionship. And this was one of the things that kept the people together, the belief that the universe is on the side of justice. God grant that as men and women all over the world struggle against evil systems, they will struggle with love in their hearts, with understanding, goodwill. Agape says, you must go on with wise restraint and calm reasonableness. But you must keep moving.
We have a great opportunity in America to build here a great nation, a nation where all men live as brothers and respect their dignity and worthy of all human personality. We must keep moving towards this goal. I know that some people are saying we must slow up. They're writing letters to the North, and they're appealing to white people of goodwill and to the Negro, saying slow up. You're pushing too fast. They are saying we must adopt a policy of moderation.
Now if moderation means moving on with wise restraint and calm reasonableness, then moderation is a great virtue that all men of goodwill must seek to achieve in this tense period of transition. But if moderation mean slowing up in the move for justice and capitulating to the whims and caprices of the guardians of the deadening status quo, then moderation is a tragic vice which all men of goodwill must condemn.
We must continue to move on, our self-respect is at stake. The prestige of our nation is at stake. Civil rights is an eternal moral issue which may well determine the destiny of our civilization and the ideological struggle with communism. We must keep moving with wise restraint and love and with proper discipline and dignity.
Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more now than any other word. And it is the word maladjusted. Now we should all seek to live a well-adjusted life, in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But there are some things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon you to be maladjusted.
I never intended to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to mob rule. I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic effects of the methods of physical violence and to tragic militarism. I call upon you to be maladjusted to such things. I call upon you to be as maladjusted to such things.
I call upon you to be as maladjusted as Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day, cried out in the words that echo across the generation "let judgment roll down the waters and righteousness like a mighty stream"; as maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who had the vision to see that this nation could not exist half-slave and half-free; as maladjusted as Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery could cry out "all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"; as maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth, who dreamed a dream of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.
God grant that we'll be so maladjusted that we will be able to go out and change our world and change our civilization. And then we will be able to move from the bleak and desolate midnight of man's inhumanity to man to the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.