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Daily Newscasts

MLK and the Real Power of Non-violence

January 17, 2011

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The holiday marking the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., comes at a poignant moment this year, as the nation reels from the killings in Tucson. An associate of King's at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Ga., says that for King, a posture of non-violence did not mean passivity or weakness.

The Rev. Ron English, Charleston, W.Va., describes what King told a biographer about feeling overwhelmed after he received a threatening phone call during the Montgomery bus boycott that began in 1955.

"He broke down over a cup of coffee in his kitchen, and he was able to pray out loud. It had him to feel as though what was at his back was something stronger than what was against him."

Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has defended her use on a website of what look like rifle sights targeting specific congressional districts during the last election.

English, a retired Baptist minister, points out that what King called for is lacking today: a balance between interpersonal compassion and firmness on issues.

"What we have seen is that kind of imbalance where the vitriolic ways of attacking an enemy have left little room for compromise or for tenderness."

English recalls that King believed in a religious notion of redemption that also applied to political life: the idea that people could change and you should keep room for compassion because of that.

"Redemptive suffering has a way of bringing about new awareness. We often go through a period of confusion. But then confusion can lead us to a place of seeing things differently."

In the wake of the killings in Arizona, some have contended that violent political rhetoric is protected by the First Amendment, saying words do not necessarily lead to acts.

Weekend events throughout the state wrap up today. In Kansas City, the annual "Motorcade for Hunger" departs at 10 a.m. from the Mount Zion Baptist Church parking lot, Fifth St. and Richmond Ave. It is scheduled to arrive at the Jack Reardon Civic Center, Fifth St. and Minnesota Ave., by 11 a.m., followed by the city's mass celebration.

Heather Claybrook, Public News Service - MO