“Be loving enough to absorb evil and understanding enough to turn an enemy into a friend.”
Those very powerful words of kindness weren’t spoken, but written as advice sixty-two years ago from Dr. Martin Luther King on a one page typed sheet of paper titled Integrated Bus Suggestions.
Known for his courage, compassion, and unwavering vision of equality, Dr. King’s words have resonated across the globe and like his model Mahatma Gandhi, set the bar for non-violent protest and change that moved the world and changed a nation.
But as well known and repeated as his I Have a Dream Speech given in August of 1963 has been, there are a number of his other speeches and writings that have not been as well recognized, such as this almost forgotten sheet of suggestions written in 1956 that have given some of the most inspiring, moving, and practical advice on how to deal with those who may oppose you and thus could change the world.
The sheet I am writing about was handed out in Montgomery, Alabama to those preparing to ride the newly integrated bus system after a nearly 12 month boycott.
It was in June of that year that a federal district court ruled that bus segregation was unconstitutional and five months later the ruling was upheld by the US Supreme Court. One month later, in December, the Montgomery Improvement Association and Dr. King called an end to the boycott as he stepped on a newly integrated bus four days before Christmas in 1956.
This was a tremendous victory, but one that was met not with joyous parades or gloating media interviews, but with a quiet understanding of how they would handle this victory would be the cornerstone of all civil rights battles to come.
Dr King implored those who had chosen to walk miles to work each day, carpool, marched in protest, and faced threats, and bombings rather than continue to utilize a segregated bus system, to avoid any conflict and to “demonstrate the calm dignity of our Montgomery people in your actions”.
This handout dated December 19, 1956 reminded the victors that the Supreme Court ruling “places a tremendous responsibility of maintaining, in the face of what could be some unpleasantness, a calm and loving dignity befitting good citizens and members of of our Race.” Among the 17 suggestions were:
Pray for guidance and commit yourself to complete non-violence in word and action.
In all things observe ordinary rules of courtesy and good behavior.
Be quiet but friendly: proud, but not arrogant; joyous but not not boisterous. Do not boast. Do not brag.
Amazing advice to a group of people who suffered violence and inequality for so long and who had just won a monumental and historic victory. All his advice in his hand-out could be expressed in just two words…”Be Kind.”
In these tumultuous times we see so many groups, political, religious, nonprofit, and others at odds with each other and attacking each other with voices filled with venom as they scream at one another to be heard above the crowd. We would all be served well as we commemorate Dr. King’s birthday this week to read his simple suggestions and remember what he and so many others gave their lives to and in the face of confrontation, defeat, or victory to simply be kind.