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Taylor Branch on M. L. King Jr.’s Legacy of Nonviolence

Jan 7
6:01 pm
By Menil


Martin Luther King Jr. biographer Taylor Branch makes a timely argument about civil right leader’s true legacy: nonviolence.

It’s in “The Radical Paradox of Martin Luther King’s Devotion to Nonviolence,” by Ron Rosenbaum, in  Smithsonian Magazine, January 2015.

Here’s a short passage:

People still don’t quite believe in nonviolence in the radical way King did, though Branch thinks it’s the most important aspect of his legacy.

“You call nonviolence ‘an orphan,’” I say to him. “What do you mean by that?”

“The force behind the idea of nonviolence was given its most powerful run in the civil rights era. [Which showed] that it could have an effect in the world. But it became passé pretty quickly toward the end of Dr. King’s career.”


“Everybody was jettisoning nonviolence, black and white. White radicals sneered at it. Black Power people sneered at it. ‘Power comes out of the mouth of a gun,’ so on and so forth. And so it became passé pretty quickly even as a matter of intellectual investigation.”

Ironically, Branch says, “The only place I found that studied it in classrooms was in our war colleges, the Naval War College and West Point.”


Read more about King’s thoughts on Gandhians and the relevance of his stance on nonviolence to racially charged violence today in Smithsonian Magazine here.