Miriam Sellers responds to Henry Richardson's Lecture

Miriam Sellers

First year student Miriam Sellers (in the purple) is a student in the J-Term course AFST/HIST 185 "Free at Last: The Global Anti-Apartheid Movement" with Professor Lauren Kientz Anderson. She was one of the readers of the "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" earlier in the day on January 20, 2014 and then attended Henry Richardson's lecture, "From Birmingham's Jail to beyond the Riverside Church: Martin Luther King's Global Authority," that evening.

In response to the lecture, she wrote the following: 

What I learned

Dr. Richardson’s lecture made me consider the greater global context of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. I had initially viewed this movement as an isolated struggle but I realized the interconnectedness of the Civil Rights Movement with the international struggle for human rights. King also viewed the Civil Rights Movement as part of the greater international struggle for freedom. He likewise considered there to be a relationship between the U.S. movement and African decolonization efforts. 

King not only fought for civil rights in the United States but he also demonstrated international awareness and a commitment to other global struggles. He participated in the Ghana independence celebration and met with prominent leaders. He supported struggles around the world. For instance, he called for sanctions against the South African government and supported Cold War freedom movements. King even participated in demonstrations against the Vietnam War. His efforts were not confined to the Civil Rights Movement but included a wide array of struggles for freedom and equality around the world.

As Dr. Richardson emphasized, King strongly believed in nonviolence, peace, and the power of love. His views on nonviolence were influenced by Gandhi’s example in India. King advocated nonviolence as the answer to ending oppression and considered it to be “a powerful moral force for transformation” (Richardson). He even promoted the use of nonviolence in international affairs, such as the Vietnam War. Peace was important to King and he met with peace activists and promoted international peace. Finally, as Dr. Richardson reminded us, King believed in the unity of love. For him it was important to love everyone, both friends and enemies.

Dr. Richardson provided numerous examples of the legacy of King’s ideas living on after his death. There were references to his ideas in recent court cases. The nonviolent policies of Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young reflected King’s belief in the power of nonviolence. Even demonstrations against the Iraq War were based on the notion of an unjust war, which was widely preached by King. The actions and ideas of Martin Luther King Jr. are still influential today.

What I think

Overall I enjoyed Dr. Richardson’s lecture and learned a great deal about King’s ideas. I fully agree with King’s global approach to thinking, as Dr. Richardson emphasized. The Civil Rights Movement was not a unique struggle, although it can sometimes be erroneously viewed that way. Around the same time people around the world, such as in South Africa, endured oppressive situations like black people in America. I would agree with King’s belief in the interrelatedness of all communities.

King strongly advocated against violence at all costs and I disagree with part of his view. Before this class I may have agreed fully with King but in learning about the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa I believe that sometimes the only way to make progress is to respond to violence with violence. As seen in South Africa, nonviolent efforts were crushed by government violence. To remain passive on the part of anti-apartheid supporters would have resulted in little success. The part of King’s idea with which I disagree is his view that nonviolence was the only way to foster solutions. I think it is necessary to assess each situation individually. In the Civil Rights Movement nonviolence was a better option but in South Africa efforts at nonviolent resistance did little to end apartheid.

What I want to know more about

This lecture brought up some interesting ideas that I would like to explore further. Dr. Richardson discussed some of the struggles throughout the world that happened around the same time as the Civil Rights Movement. I would like to know more about these struggles, specifically the decolonization efforts in Africa and the Cold War freedom movements, as referenced by Dr. Richardson. What were some of the similarities between these worldwide struggles? Also, I would be interested to know King’s view on the violent resistance that occurred in South Africa, specifically by the MK. Did King condemn this use of violence? Could he understand the MK’s position?