Interview with Coretta Scott King


Coretta Scott King:

Martin found himself in the leadership of a movement that was applying a technique that had been applied very successfully in India, the technique of nonviolence. And it was not something that he had, he had thought it through to a large extent, in terms of how nonviolence could be applied, but he had not thought through exactly, I'm sure, how he would do it in a particular situation. He went back and read books on Gandhi and on—I'm sure he must have read, I think he heard him say Thoreau, and the things that he had studied in college, in theological seminary, and also in his studies for his doctoral degree and all of that. But then I think he, his greatest source was from, I think, the Bible, and the teachings of, of Christ. Because as a Christian minister, he felt that his understanding, of course, of nonviolence, was that nonviolence was based on, on a certain principles that were the same principles that, as a Christian, he had embraced. Love, the foundation of the Christian faith is love, and, and of course, truth is another important tenet. And he understood love in the unconditional sense. And he also understood, you know, the, in the life of Christ. He had demonstrated in his own life, I think, an example of nonviolence and, and in terms of his ability to not…to become a part of an unjust system, to cooperate with it, but to also, you know, condemn it, and to, as Christ would, to change it. He said, "I got my motivation from Jesus—my motivation and inspiration from Jesus, and my techniques from Gandhi." And when he was criticized about boycotting, because you would put individuals out of business, the nonviolent philosophy says you don't focus on the individual but on the system. It was the system of segregation that had caused individuals to behave unjustly and so he said, "I'm not trying to put anybody out of business, I'm just trying to put justice in business." And when you, when you understand that—that this is what you really have to do, in order to follow the nonviolent discipline and—which is, if it's followed, it becomes a transforming force, as well, for change. I mean, the actions of the individuals are, are effective, but you do it in a spirit of recon—love and reconciliation. You don't do it in a way that you tried to really hurt the individual personality. Personality is sacred, and he and it's to be respected. But it's the behavior that we wanted to change and that is what he became to, to understand. And I think at that point, then, he felt much better about, you know, about his actions. But when it's raised in the media, when it's raised by individuals, you do have to think about it. And I think he grew in his understanding and his ability to, I think, articulate the meaning of nonviolence and to translate nonviolence into a kind of action program, because that's what Gandhi was able to do.