What Would King Do?

Martin Luther King press conference

Marion S. Trikosko

Martin Luther King press conference, 1964.

With Dr. Martin Luther King jr’s birthday approaching on January 15th and black history month following soon after, I find it appropriate to set my mind on Dr. King's life's work and philosophies. I admonish you to do the same. WHAT WOULD KING DO? Mimicking the Christian catch phrase "What Would Jesus Do?" I often wonder how Dr. King would approach today's societal challenges. If you could only read one of Dr. King’s books I'd recommend his book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? This book will give you indepth insight to King philosophy. This book could easily serve as the community or political leaders guide to success.

Dr. King was a social activist for civil and human rights. Not only did King’s activism press the nations leaders of that time to implement key legislation that would legally secure civil rights for all Americans, he also gave us social tactical strategies to petition the government for the redress of grievances. The latter I believe being much more substantial in the long run. Legislation can be amended or completely overturned based upon the political climate. We have seen recent proof of this in 2013 as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 signed into effect by President Lyndon B. Johnson, which King fought so long for, being dismantled. 

King’s tactics and strategies on the other hand will serve to be effective to pressure a republic style government using democracy, such as the United States, into confronting head on civil and human rights issues for years to come. This is why I believe as important it is to remember Dr. King for the change he was able to create for humanity, it's equally as important to remember and be familiar with the intricate details of how he strategized to organize and create the global changes our community prospers from and takes for granted today. Studying these details will serve community leaders immeasurable benefit as we look to advocate for we the people on modern day social challenges. 

The following quotes are from Dr. Martin Luther King jr’s famous letter from a Birmingham Alabama jail cell dated April 16th 1963:

  • “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.”
  • “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”
  • “The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.”

In preparation for direct action, whereby King and scores of protesters would present their very bodies as a means of laying their case before the conscience of the local and national community, King the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) and the protestors had to be mindful of the difficulties involved. They decided to undertake the process of  self-purification. They engaged in as series workshops on nonviolence, where they constantly asked themselves: “Are we able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” This was their preparation for a nonviolent struggle. This is a fundamental aspect of Martin Luther King Jr.'s concept of active resistance/civil disobedience. The practice is deeply spiritual and philosophical and it is not simply ideological. This is an important distinction as it differentiates this type of action from other forms of ideological or revolutionary behavior. From the King Center in Atlanta, here are the fundamental tenets of Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence described in his first book, Stride Toward Freedom. The six principles include:

  1. PRINCIPLE ONE: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. It is active nonviolent resistance to evil. It is aggressive spiritually, mentally and emotionally.
  2. PRINCIPLE TWO: Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding. The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation. The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the Beloved Community.
  3. PRINCIPLE THREE: Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people. Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims and are not evil people. The nonviolent resister seeks to defeat evil not people.
  4. PRINCIPLE FOUR: Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform. Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation. Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities.
  5. PRINCIPLE FIVE: Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate. Nonviolence resists violence of the spirit as well as the body. Nonviolent love is spontaneous, unmotivated, unselfish and creative.
  6. PRINCIPLE SIX: Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice. The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win. Nonviolence believes that God is a God of justice.


The Six Steps for Nonviolent Social Change are based on Dr. King's nonviolent campaigns and teachings that emphasize love in action. Dr. King's philosophy of nonviolence, as reviewed in the Six Principles of Nonviolence (mentioned earlier in the quotation from Dr. King’s famous letter), guides these steps for social and interpersonal change.

  1. INFORMATION GATHERING:To understand and articulate an issue, problem or injustice facing a person, community, or institution you must do research. You must investigate and gather all vital information from all sides of the argument or issue so as to increase your understanding of the problem. You must become an expert on your opponent's position. 
  2. EDUCATION:It is essential to inform others, including your opposition, about your issue. This minimizes misunderstandings and gains you support and sympathy. 
  3. PERSONAL COMMITMENT:Daily check and affirm your faith in the philosophy and methods of nonviolence. Eliminate hidden motives and prepare yourself to accept suffering, if necessary, in your work for justice.
  4. DISCUSSION/NEGOTIATION:Using grace, humor and intelligence, confront the other party with a list of injustices and a plan for addressing and resolving these injustices. Look for what is positive in every action and statement the opposition makes. Do not seek to humiliate the opponent but to call forth the good in the opponent. 
  5. DIRECT ACTION: These are actions taken when the opponent is unwilling to enter into, or remain in, discussion/negotiation. These actions impose a "creative tension" into the conflict, supplying moral pressure on your opponent to work with you in resolving the injustice. 
  6. RECONCILIATION:Nonviolence seeks friendship and understanding with the opponent. Nonviolence does not seek to defeat the opponent. Nonviolence is directed against evil systems, forces, oppressive policies, unjust acts, but not against persons. Through reasoned compromise, both sides resolve the injustice with a plan of action. Each act of reconciliation is one step closer to the 'Beloved Community.'

In conclusion, I hope to eradicate apathy and infuse your conscience with ambition towards activism with another profound quote from Dr. King:

“Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

Peace and Love…A more perfect union of “We the People.” 

  1. King jr, M.L (1964). Why We Can’t Wait. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
  2. The King Center (2014). Six principles of nonviolence. Retrieved from http://www.thekingcenter.org/king-philosophy
  3. The King Center (2014). Six steps of nonviolent social change. Retrieved from http://www.thekingcenter.org/king-philosophy
  4. Wilson, M. (Unknown). Annotated letter from Birmingham jail. Retrieved from https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/annotated-letter-birmingham-jail#fn8
  5. King jr, M.L. (1958). Stride toward freedom: The Montgomery story. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers.

Jonathan D. Logan is the Vice President of the Cambria Heights Civic Association and a member of Queens Community Board 13. 

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