by Rev. John Dear, S.J.
To mark Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, I’ve been reflecting on the principles of nonviolence that he learned during the historic yearlong bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala.
After Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus, broke the segregation law and was arrested on Dec. 1, 1955, the African-American leadership in Montgomery famously chose young Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to lead their campaign.
He was an unknown quantity. Certainly no one expected him to emerge as a Moses-like tower of strength. No one imagined he would invoke Gandhi’s method of nonviolent resistance in Christian language as the basis for the boycott. But from day one, he was a force to be reckoned with.
With the help of Bayard Rustin and Glenn Smiley of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Dr. King articulated a methodology of nonviolence that still rings true. It’s an ethic of nonviolent resistance that’s also a strategy of hope, which can help us today in the thousands of Montgomery-like movements around the world, including the Occupy movements and the ongoing Arab Spring movements.