Before I started my job with the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project at Stanford I knew a few things about Dr. King. I knew he was a civil rights leader. I knew he gave the “I Have A Dream” speech and could quote those familiar lines about his four children and “free at last.” I knew he was assassinated for his beliefs. I knew what most of us know. He was a good man. He was a good speaker and he did good things.
I didn’t know that his handwriting makes Egyptian hieroglyphics seem easy to read. I didn’t know that he pronounced “buoyancy” as “booyancy.” I didn’t know he was less than five feet seven inches tall.
I also didn’t know that his pacifism stretched beyond the American civil rights struggle and into international questions of war and peace. As a woman who still struggles to reconcile the world’s suffering with her own pacifism, I find Dr. King’s dedication to nonviolence strengthening and comforting like an old quilt I can pull around myself when people say my idea is idealistic and unattainable. In a world where dictators gas their own citizens and try to exterminate entire ethnicities for their own delusional ends I question my belief that all war is wrong. Sometimes it just seems that to deny that war might seem occasionally necessary is selfish and naive. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know what to do about Iraq or North Korea. Or even the discrimination and injustice that leaves people sleeping in San Francisco doorways each night. I just don’t know.
But I believe that we have to, as Dr. King said in his 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech, find “new ways to speak for peace” because if we don’t “we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality and strength without sight.” I believe that we either find these new ways to speak or perish in the violence and oppression we seek to end. I do not have the answers but I do believe with Dr. King that love is the way.
With a Perspective, I’m Andrea Cumbo Dowdy.