#TBT Gandhi and King on the “Arduous Beautiful Struggle”: Lessons in Going Forward

#TBT - Dr. Mary Elizabeth King and Rev. James M. Lawson Jr.

On the evening of Oct. 10, 2019, Rev. James M. Lawson Jr. took the stage in the Satellite Student Union where he talked about his journey discovering Gandhi and his principles of non-violence and working with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to build the civil rights movement in the United States. Through Gandhi’s philosophy, Lawson found that he did not have to become an “alternate racist to resist the ills and criminalization of racism.” Lawson went on to describe Gandhi’s methods as the “science of social change” which when used correctly affect lasting political, economic, spiritual and moral change in societies without fail.

With increasing passion, Lawson made the case that western civilization as we know it was born in violent conquest. During the exploration of the 15th century, heavily armed ships were sent to discover distant lands and claim them for their kings and queens.  

“That western exploitation was not, as we are taught in the United States, all good or all wonderful for the shape and forming of the world, or the shape and forming of the human race” said Lawson. “It brought with it the dirty notion that the best, most superior civilization is the European civilization. It brought the dirty notion that Christianity is the only valuable true religion in the world and you must be Christian. It brought the demand that your cultures must… submit to our culture from the European area.”

That violent conquest and continued assumption of superiority, Lawson argues, is the cause of many of the world’s problems today.

“ISIS did not make this world as it is. We made ISIS,” exclaimed Lawson. He went on to say, “Gandhi, as the father of non-violence, represents the necessity of the world to choose a new paradigm.”

Following Lawson, Dr. Mary Elizabeth King, Director of the James Lawson Institute and Fellow at the University of Oxford, presented examples of the practicality of nonviolent resistance and described the underlying structure which maximizes the effectiveness and solidifies the future of the movement. She got her start in the Civil Rights movement while running communications for activist Julian Bond. It was there she discovered that communication is at the center of the nonviolent philosophy.

“Everything we do in nonviolent resistance is communications,” said King. “It’s communication of the claim and demands, the grievances, the oppressions, what needs to be altered.”

As the Civil Rights movement progressed, and under the pressure of a resistant society, King described laying the foundations of alternative institutions, which ran parallel to existing racist institutions which were not meeting the needs of African Americans. 

The evening ended with King and Lawson answering questions from students and the audience — many of which focused on the mechanics of how to implement their philosophies in the modern world with modern technology.


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The College of Arts and Humanities provides a diverse student population with the communication skills, humanistic values and cultural awareness that form the foundation of scholarship. The college offers intellectual and artistic programs that engage students and faculty and the community in collaboration, dialog and discovery. These programs help preserve, illuminate and nourish the arts and humanities for the campus and for the wider community.

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