Revisiting my father’s Nobel acceptance speech, 50 years later

BY Bernice A. King

“I accept this award on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice.”

Fifty years ago, on December 10, 1964, my father, Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke these words on a stage in Oslo, Norway as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent philosophy and strategy.

Five days ago, as this nation and world were reeling from a grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer who choked Eric Garner on a Staten Island street until he was gasping for breath, many were outraged and “moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger.” They did so, and are continuing to do so, in hopes of establishing “a reign of freedom and a rule of justice.”

A half-century later, my father’s words are still powerful, still relevant. Justice, racial equality, and the Beloved Community that he often described are still, to paraphrase Victor Hugo, ideas whose time has come. In fact, their time is long overdue.

This begs the question, “Why have we not made more progress towards the manifestation of global justice, racial equality, and the Beloved Community within this great world house that we inhabit?” Simple: We have not fully embraced the answer that my father shared in his Nobel acceptance speech, in which he stated “Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time… nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation.”

Nonviolence… not passive, but powerful. Nonviolence… not just to mend, but to make for social transformation. Nonviolence… an antidote for what ails the global community and a lifestyle for humanity to aspire to and embrace.

Like my father, I believe that nonviolence is the antidote to what he called “the triple evils of racism, poverty and militarism.” These three evils were consuming our hopes for community in 1964, and, fifty years later, we remain divided because of their festering effects. The challenge remains. We are still in danger of non-existence because of our lack of determined, nonviolent attention to these triple evils.

“Sooner or later” said my father in Oslo, “all of the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method, which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

As this quote from his Nobel acceptance speech conveys, my father considered nonviolence to be a transformative way to live together in peace and prevent our self-destruction. He also deemed nonviolence the love-centered method for addressing human conflict. Nonviolence is therefore pro-active and re-active. It is a revolutionary map for navigating our behavior, thoughts and words, even between nations.

Imagine if nonviolence permeated our faith and families, our entertainment and our education systems. Consider all of the possibilities for positive global progress if we utilized nonviolence as the central value of our culture, encompassing our law enforcement and labor practices, which currently include people in numerous nations working for inhumane wages in unhealthy conditions. As you imagine and consider, think about this: It starts with you. It starts with me.

These notions often seem lofty because we desire that someone other than ourselves initiate the change and we find ourselves awaiting a leader. However, what is required now for us to spread Nonviolence across the globe is the individual faith and refusal to accept man’s current condition as permanent. My father embodied and expressed this faith and refusal in his Nobel acceptance speech.

He stated, “I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.”

We must rediscover our faith in the future and join with one another to ensure that Nonviolence is the prevalent choice for government, law enforcement, the non-profit sector, business, education, media, entertainment, arts, and for the global citizenry. It starts with you. It starts with me. Then, together, we can build the Beloved Community within our great World House.

Let’s not be discouraged by the violence and tragedies in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland and elsewhere. Let’s not be disheartened by the tides of fear and violence. And let’s not get distracted from the challenge — and the vision — Martin Luther King, Jr, presented to our nation and world a half century ago today: “There is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up.”

It is time for humanity to reset our spiritual compass from self-centeredness to other-centeredness. Let’s accept the challenge to make the Beloved Community a reality, for we still have a choice between nonviolent co-existence or violent co-annihilation. Now is the time to choose Nonviolence 365.

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Source: Huffington Post

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