Civil Disobedience and the Civil Rights Movement

If you’ve read recent posts from this blog, you know I’ve been using the journal I started when I was a Senior at Scattergood Friends School to share what was going on at a particularly significant and chaotic time in my life, and for the country.  That was in 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War.  Yesterday’s post was the conclusion of the long, difficult process of coming to my decision to commit an act of civil disobedience, and become a draft resister.

The other significant influences on my life that I hadn’t mentioned, since they weren’t written in my journal then, were related to the civil rights struggle that was going on at the same time, including the eloquent speeches by, and example of Martin Luther King, Jr.  In 1963, for example, Martin Luther King, Jr, wrote his Letter from Birmingham Jail about nonviolent resistance.

The key to the success of any nonviolent campaign, besides inspiration and commitment, is training.  It is a sad commentary that our country devotes so much effort and billions of dollars to training our armed forces, but to work for peace and justice, we have to do our training ourselves.  The success of the civil rights movement hinged on the incredible organization and training of thousands in the techniques of nonviolent civil disobedience and direct action by John Lewis and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and many others.

There was the inspiration of the willingness of so many to risk their lives, and the tragic deaths of  James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner and others.

The courage of the parents of, and the high school, middle school and elementary students who marched in Birmingham in 1963 with over 1,000 of them filling the jails after being brutally attacked by dogs and with fire hoses.

Although there were consequences for both of them for doing so, Martin Luther King, Jr, and Mohammad Ali were among those who spoke out about the connections between the civil rights and the anti-war movements.


Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Washington, DC

Mohammad Ali was an inspiration to me. He chose to be a draft resister, too:
“It is in the light of my consciousness as a Muslim minister and my own personal convictions that I take my stand in rejecting the call to be inducted. I do so with the full realization of its implications. I have searched my conscience.”
“Under no conditions do we take part in war and take the lives of other humans.”
“Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong…they never called me nigger.”

At Mohammad Ali’s memorial service Rabbi Michael Lerner, who was also arrested for protesting the Vietnam War, gave an incredible speech honoring him and his moral integrity.  He said, “the way to honor Mohammad Ali is to be Mohammad Ali today!


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