Faith of A Mustard Seed

Barbara Woods Washington

Barbara Woods-Washington

I have long believed in the literary genre of the “Autobiography”.  I like most the idea of a person ‘telling their own story’ as opposed to the “Biography” where someone else tells your life story.  Your motive; your objectives in your life are far more clearly defined by you.  Who do YOU SAY THAT you are?!  My collection of autobiographies have most informed me of the hearts of men.

From The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. again, in his own words is a Chapter entitled “The Violence of Desperate Men”.  It opens by saying: “Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil.  The greatest way to do that is through love.  I believe firmly that love is a transforming power that can lift a whole community to new horizons of fair play, good will, and Justice.”

Embedded in this Chapter is the subject – ‘The inspiration of Mahatma Ghandhi’.  King here says:  “From the beginning a basic philosophy guided the movement.  This guiding principle has since been referred to variously as nonviolent resistance, noncooperation, and passive resistance.  But in the first days of the protest none of these expressions was mentioned; the phrase most often heard was “Christian love.”  It was the sermon on the Mount, rather than a doctrine of passive resistance, that initially inspired the Negroes of Montgomery to dignified social action.  It was Jesus of Nazareth that stirred the Negroes to protest with the creative weapon of love.

As the days unfolded, however, the inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi began to exert its influence.  I had come to see early that the Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to the Negro in his struggle for freedom.  About a week after the protest started, a white woman who understood and sympathized with the Negroes’ efforts wrote a letter to the editor of the “Montgomery Advertiser” comparing the bus protest with the Gandhian movement in India.  Miss Juliette Morgan, sensitive and frail, did not long survive the rejection and condemnation of the white community, but long before she died in the summer of 1957 the name of Mahatma Gandhi was well known in Montgomery.  People who had never heard of the little brown saint of India were now saying his name with an air of familiarity.  Nonviolent resistance had emerged as the technique of the movement, while love stood as the regulating ideal.  In other words, Christ furnished the spirit and motivation while Gandhi furnished the method.

People responded to this philosophy with amazing ardor.  To be sure, there were some who were slow to concur.  Occasionally members of the executive board would say to me in private that we needed a more militant approach.  They looked upon nonviolence as weak and compromising. Others felt that at least a modicum of violence would convince the white people that the Negroes meant business and were not afraid.  A member of my church came to me one day and solemnly suggested that it would be to our advantage to “kill off” eight or 10 white people.  “This is the only language these white folks will understand,” he said.  “If we fail to do this they will think we are afraid.  We must show them we’re not afraid any longer.”  Besides, he thought, if a few white persons were killed the federal government would inevitably intervene and this, he was certain, would benefit us.

Still others felt that they could be nonviolent only if they were not attacked personally.  They would say: “If nobody bothers me, I will bother nobody.  If nobody hits me, I will hit nobody.  But if I am hit I will hit back.”  They thus drew a more line between aggressive and retaliatory violence. But in spite of these honest disagreements, the vast majority were willing to try the experiment.

In a real sense, Montgomery’s Negroes showed themselves willing to grapple with a new approach to the crisis in race relations.  It is probably true that most of them did not believe in nonviolence as a philosophy of life, but because of their confidence in their leaders and because nonviolence was presented to them as a simple expression of Christianity in action, they were willing to use it as a technique.  Admittedly, nonviolence in the truest sense is not a strategy that one uses simply because it is expedient at the moment; nonviolence is ultimately a way of life that men live by because of the sheer morality of its claim. But even granting this the willingness to use nonviolence as a technique is a step forward. For he who goes this far is more likely to adopt nonviolence later as a way of life.”