Martin Luther King, Jr: Fighting for Equal Rights in America

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Vision and Motivation

Although slavery in the United States ended in the late 19th century, institutionalized racism continued to oppress African Americans even decades later. By the mid-20th century, blacks were still forced to use separate public utilities and schools from the superior ones reserved for whites; they suffered routine discrimination in employment and housing, as well as abuse and lynching from some whites, and they were unable to fully exercise their right to vote.

For decades, civil rights activists had been fighting these laws and social customs to secure equality for all Americans. These activists had won some significant victories; among the most notable was the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, which held that state laws requiring black students and white students to attend different schools were unconstitutional.[1] However, these victories could not dismantle the systemic racism that plagued the country. It was in this environment, seeing the possibility of an America where black and white citizens were truly equal, that Martin Luther King, Jr. joined in the fight for civil rights for black Americans.

Goals and Objectives

A Baptist minister by training, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sought to raise the public consciousness of racism, to end racial discrimination and segregation in the United States. While his goal was racial equality, King plotted out a series of smaller objectives that involved local grassroots campaigns for equal rights for African Americans. In 1955, King became involved in his first major civil rights campaign in Montgomery, Alabama, where buses were racially segregated.

It was there that Rosa Parks, an African American woman, refused to vacate her seat in the middle of the bus so that a white man could sit in her place. She was arrested for her civil disobedience.[2]Parks' arrest, a coordinated tactic meant to spark a grassroots movement, succeeded in catalyzing the Montgomery bus boycott. Parks was chosen by King as the face for his campaign because of Parks' good standing with the community, her employment and her marital status. Earlier in 1955, Claudette Colvin, a 15-year old African American girl, had been arrested for the same crime; however, King and his civil rights compatriots did not feel that she would serve as an effective face for their civil rights campaign. Rosa Parks helped contribute to the image that King wanted to show the world, a crucial tactic in his local campaigns.[3]

With Parks in jail as a victim of Montgomery's racism, King was able to develop an effective response to her arrest that involved the entire community. King mobilized Montgomery's African American community to boycott the city's public transportation, demanding equal rights for all citizens on public transportation there. After a year-long boycott, a United States District Court ruling in Browder v. Gayle banned racial segregation on all Montgomery public buses.[4] In many ways, the Montgomery bus boycott kicked off a national struggle to eliminate racial discrimination, with King leading the way.

The success of the Montgomery campaign led Dr. King and fellow African American civil rights activists to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, whose mission was to harness the moral authority and organizing power of black churches to conduct non-violent protests for civil rights reform. With King as its leader, the SCLC's initial focus was to lead localized campaigns of desegregation in Southern cities like Albany, Georgia; Birmingham, Alabama; and St. Augustine, Florida that mirrored the Montgomery campaign. In each of the cities, King and thousands of SCLC activists worked towards specific goals: ending segregation in just one area, such as diners, buses, schools, or shops. Despite the asymmetrically more powerful police and local government officials who had institutionalized policies of segregation for years, King's nonviolent tactics of civic activism forced the issue of segregation onto the national agenda.[5]

By drawing nation-wide attention to segregation, King became a core organizer, one of the "Big Six", of the famous 1963 March on Washington, which demanded political and economic justice for all Americans. It was a public opportunity for King and his cohorts to place their concerns and grievances before the nation's capital, as expressed by King in his renowned "I Have a Dream" speech. The March on Washington not only led to the passage of significant civil rights legislation, but it also allowed King to advocate for other human rights causes like poverty and workers' rights.

Leadership

Born in 1929, King grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, a city plagued by racial segregation. King benefited from both a secular and religious education, receiving a PhD in systematic theology from Boston University in 1955.[6] Shortly after he began his career as a pastor in 1954 at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, the Montgomery civil rights campaign thrust King into the epicenter of the civil rights movement.[7]

After successfully ending the laws that upheld segregation in Montgomery's public transportation system, King sought to create an umbrella organization to tackle the issue of segregation in other communities. In early 1957, King invited more than 60 African American church leaders to a series of meetings to discuss additional desegregation campaigns, out of which came the SCLC. Leading the SCLC until his assassination in 1968, King utilized the national organization to lead local and national campaigns to end systematic racism across the United States.[8]

The SCLC differed from other civil rights groups like the NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), in that it was established as an umbrella organization of affiliated churches and community organizations and therefore did not recruit individuals into forming local chapters. As such, the approach of King and the SCLC allowed a much broader range of African Americans to become involved in the civil rights struggle through boycotts, sit-ins, and other peaceful protests.

King often played a leadership role as the public "face" of civil rights campaigns, and as such, he was careful to maintain a public image that would be acceptable to America's white majority. Diametrically opposed to the militant and divisive image that Malcolm X, the public face of The Nation of Islam, portrayed to the world, King carefully cultivated his image so that people thought of him as a moderate, not as a radical extremist. In many ways his moderate image enabled him to actively recruit a critical mass of white Americans to join the movement; King not only embodied the hopes and dreams of African Americans, but also those of white progressives across the country. He also worked to put a united face on the civil rights movement, serving as a bridge-builder between different activist groups at a time when Americans were increasingly interested in ideas of liberation and equality. He was never seen as fully belonging to any of the various factions that threatened to split the civil rights movement, and was particularly effective behind the scenes in bringing together black leaders who otherwise would have been unwilling to work together.[9]

As a civic leader and human rights defender, King drew heavily upon the writings and actions of Gandhi for inspiration. King felt such a strong connection to Gandhi that he visited India in 1959; the trip, according to King, deeply affected his understanding of civil resistance. King explained, "Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity."[10] King was so dedicated to Gandhi's nonviolent tactics of civil resistance that he surrounded himself with civil rights activists like Bayard Rustin, who had studied Gandhi's teachings, so that they could incorporate his teachings into King's activism.[11]

Civic Environment

King and his fellow civil rights fighters faced enormous and often brutal opposition from local officials and police forces in Southern cities, civil rights opponents, and white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan. Civil rights protestors were frequently arrested and jailed; King was arrested 30 times for his civil rights activities.[12]Police forces in many Southern cities did not hesitate to use violence against protestors, and some Alabama police forces even collaborated with the Klan to allow vicious mob attacks on Freedom Riders, the first African Americans to exercise the rights they had gained with respect to the public transporation system in the South. Meanwhile, the Klan bombed the homes of civil rights activists including King himself and assassinated activists such as Medgar Evers. However, these brutal actions actually galvanized support for the civil rights movement, as they attracted increased national publicity and mobilized whites who had previously been indifferent to the plight of African Americans.

In addition to the threat of these groups, King was under constant surveillance by FBI agents who were interested in his ties to Communists.[13] Because King was a charismatic leader with an ability to mobilize African Americans, the FBI viewed King as a threat to the status quo and attempted to blackmail him by threatening to reveal his alleged extramarital affairs.[14] King, however, did not yield to these attempts to damage his credibility.

Although many state governments were hostile to the civil rights movement, the civic environment of the United States was nonetheless favorable for the movement in many ways. Post-slavery amendments to the American Constitution provided a legal basis for equality that had not yet been realized in practice, and the democratic nature of American society gave King and his followers some measure of freedom of association. While unsympathetic media outlets in the South had little interest in giving King a platform on which to spread his ideas, the national media was largely sympathetic to his goals.[15]

Message and Audience

From the launch of his first civil rights campaign in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, King emphasized the importance of equality among all races, whether on a bus in Alabama, a restaurant in Georgia, or a voting booth in Mississippi. Moreover, regardless of the issue or the place, King strove to deliver that message utilizing methods of non-violent civic activism that included city-wide economic boycotts, sit-ins, speeches, and public marches. In addition to tactics of mass mobilization, King used his tremendous charisma and skills as an orator to combat segregation; his "I Have a Dream" speech during the 1963 March on Washington is revered as one of the most powerful speeches in American history.

King expertly tailored his message according to its intended audience. As an ally in the Evangelical movement for social justice put it, "He could, in turn, be raucous, smooth, erudite, eloquent, vulgar, and even salacious [without being] a chameleon or a hypocrite."[16] One of King's many biographers, Jonathan Rieder, remarked that King "had an uncommon ability to glide in and out of black, white, and other idioms and identities in an elaborate dance of empathy. Straddling audiences, he blurred not just the lines between them but their very meaning."[17]

In Montgomery, developing a response to the unlawful imprisonment of Rosa Parks, King helped to lead a citywide boycott of public transportation. African Americans refused to use public transport until city officials agreed to change the rules to make them less humiliating. The boycotters' demands were modest and did not even include desegregation. They asked for courteous treatment on buses; the hiring of black bus drivers to service bus routes predominantly used by black passengers; and seating on a first-come, first-served basis with whites in the front and blacks in the back of the bus.[18]

The boycott received strong support from the black community, and since they made up the majority of public transport users, the boycott had a noticeable effect on revenues. The boycotters endured fines, arrests, and even physical attacks, but on November 13th, 1956, the Supreme Court finally ruled that racial segregation laws for buses were unconstitutional. In just over a year, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was ended.[19]

Eight years later, in March 1963, King and the SCLC launched a campaign to end segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, where they hoped to replicate the results of Montgomery. Instead of focusing on a specific issue like public transportation, King wanted to put an end to economic policies in Birmingham that promoted segregation and discriminatory practices against African Americans. Knowing that this would require more intense civic action, King organized the Birmingham campaign to be more aggressive than previous ones. In what became known as "Project C", with the C standing for Confrontation, King and his cohorts of civic activists launched economic boycotts against businesses who refused to hire people of all races and desegregate their facilities, and began a series of marches through the city and peaceful sit-ins at libraries and restaurants that he knew would provoke the arrest of civil rights activists. Explaining his strategy, King said, "The purpose of…direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation."[20]

In response to the protests, Birmingham police not only arrested large numbers of nonviolent activists, but they attacked many others using clubs, dogs, and high-pressure water jets. King, who was arrested during the initial stages of Project C, used his time in jail to write his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," in which he argued that true civil rights could not be achieved without nonviolent direct actions of civil disobedience. King wrote that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," and made the case that "one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."[21] The letter, which was later published in many magazines and books, still serves as one of the best examples of civic activist writing in American history. The letter, alongside Project C, led to significant gains in Birmingham by the end of Spring 1963; many of the discriminatory practices in Birmingham were abolished, and the city became notably less segregated.[22]

In the months after the end of the Birmingham campaign, King became intimately involved in the organization of the historic August 28, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The organizers intended to highlight the status of African Americans in the South; however, in order to give the march a more widely accepted audience, it was organized under the auspices of civil rights, labor, and religious organizations. In expanding its message beyond the scope of African American civil rights to universal labor issues, the march took on a life of its own, culminating in the gathering of a quarter of a million people in front of the Lincoln Memorial for King's keynote address. Drawing inspiration from both the Bible and the United States Declaration of Independence, King outlined his hopes for racial harmony and the prospect of equality in the United States: "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.' Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children."[23]

King's speech was met with great applause and admiration from the march's attendees, as well as from Americans throughout the country. The success of this speech and the march as a whole led to the passage of significant civil rights legislation; the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the National Voting Rights Act of 1965 legally ended segregation throughout the country. While the passage of civil rights legislation brought King's dream much closer to reality, there was still much work to be done at the community level in terms of implementation, and King spent the next three years working tirelessly towards that goal.

For his tremendous efforts in working towards desegregation, King was awarded the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize and named Time Magazine's Man of the Year in both 1963 and 1964, while posthumously receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004, having a national American holiday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, named after him, and receiving a myriad of other prestigious national and international awards.

Outreach Activities

By carefully shaping his message and image, King was able to win support from a number of organizations within the United States that might otherwise not have supported him. King often used points of cultural reference that would be well-known to his audience, whether white or black, secular or religious.[24] To the American Jewish Congress, for example, King proclaimed, "My people were brought to America in chains. Your people were driven here to escape the chains fashioned for them in Europe. Our unity is born of a common struggle for centuries, not only to rid ourselves of bondage, but to make oppression of any people by others an impossibility."[25]

At times, however, King chose to compromise in order to win the support that he needed. King played a key role in changing the tone of the March on Washington in order to make it less stridently critical of the government.[26] The March had originally been conceived as a condemnation of the federal government's failure to address the needs and concerns of African Americans, but at the request of President John F. Kennedy, King persuaded the other organizers to take a less aggressive approach.[27] This change in tone inspired criticism from some civil rights such as Malcolm X, who dismissed the event as a "Farce on Washington,"[28] but it improved relations between activists and the federal government and led to concrete change quickly.[29]

On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated as he stood on the balcony of his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee, while on a trip advocating for black sanitary workers' rights. His death led to panic and riots across the country, but did not derail the civil rights movement from fighting for the equality of African Americans. In the decades since his assassination, activists have continued to work to end racial discrimination in the United States. Their work built upon King's remarkable legacy: a largely nonviolent movement which, despite impassioned and often brutal opposition, tore down discriminatory laws to help create a country true to its ideals of equality and justice.

Learn More

News and Analysis

"African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968)." Wikipedia. 25 March 2010.

Davis, Ronald L.F. "Racial Etiquette: The Racial Customs and Rules of Behavior in Jim Crow America."

"Home Page." Civil Rights Movement Veterans. 14 April 2010.

"Home Page." Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. 14 April 2010.

"I Have a Dream." American Rhetoric. 14 April 2010.

"I Have Seen the Promised Land." Time. 1 Jan 2006.

Ling, Peter J. "Martin Luther King's Style of Leadership." BBC History. 1 April 2003.

"Martin Luther King, Jr." Wikipedia. 13 March 2010.

Books

Burns, Stewart. Daybreak of Freedom: The Montgomery Bus Boycott. USA: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Branch, Taylor. At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.

Branch, Taylor. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988.

Branch, Taylor. Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.

Freedman, Russell. Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. USA: Holiday House, 2006.

Lawson, Steven F. Black Ballot: Voting Rights in the South, 1944-1969. Lanham: Lexington Books, 1999.

Nojeim, Michael J. Gandhi and King: The Power of Nonviolent Resistance. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2004. Print.

Phibbs, Cheryl. The Montgomery Bus Boycott: A History and Reference Guide. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2009.

Rieder, Jonathan. The Word of the Lord is Upon Me: The Righteous Performance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Cambridge: Harvard Press, 2008.

Williams, Juan. Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965. New York: Penguin Books, 1988

Video

"Martin Luther King: I Have a Dream." YouTube.

"Death of Martin Luther King, Jr. 1968 Announced by Robert F. Kennedy in Indiana." YouTube.

Footnotes
[1]"Brown vs. Board of Education: About the Case." Brown Foundation. 11 April 2004.
[2] Walsh, Frank (2003). The Montgomery Bus Boycott. Gareth Stevens: Milwaukee. p. 24.
[3]Barnes, Brooks. "From Footnote to Fame in Civil Rights History". The New York Times 25 Nov 2009.
[4] King, Jr., Martin Luther; Clayborne Carson; Peter Holloran; Ralph Luker; Penny A. Russell (1992). The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. University of California Press. p. 9.
[5] Marable, Manning; Leith Mullings (2000). Let Nobody Turn Us Around: Voices of Resistance, Reform, and Renewal: an African American Anthology. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 391–392.
[6] Downing, Frederick L. (1986). To See the Promised Land: The Faith Pilgrimage of Martin Luther King, Jr. Mercer University Press. p. 150.
[7] Fuller, Linda K. (2004). National Days/National Ways: Historical, Political, And Religious Celebrations around the World. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 314.
[8] Marable et al.
[9]Ling, Peter J. "Martin Luther King's Style of Leadership." BBC History. 1 April 2003.
[10] King et al. pp. 135–136.
[11] Ibid.
[12]"Biography." The King Center.
[13] Theoharis, Athan G.; Tony G. Poveda; Richard Gid Powers; Susan Rosenfeld. The FBI: A Comprehensive Reference Guide. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999. p. 123.
[14] Kotz, Nick (2005). Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Laws that Changed America. Houghton Mifflin Books. p. 247.
[15]"King – Letter from a Birmingham Jail: 45 Years Later." Harper's Magazine. April 2008.
[16]Neuhaus, Richard John. "Remembering and Misremembering Martin Luther King, Jr." First Things. 2008.
[17]Rieder, Jonathan. The Word of the Lord is Upon Me: The Righteous Performance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Cambridge: Harvard Press, 2008. p. 2
[18]Freedman, Russell. Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. USA: Holiday House, 2006. p 54.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Garrow, David J. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (Perennial Classics). New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2004. Print.
[21]"Letter from Birmingham Jail." Bates Now. 2001.
[22] Harrell, David Edwin; Edwin S. Gaustad; Randall M. Miller, John B. Boles; Randall Bennett Woods; Sally Foreman Griffith. Unto a Good Land: A History of the American People, Volume 2. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005. p. 1055.
[23]"Martin Luther King Jr. - I Have a Dream." American Rhetoric. 25 March 2010.
[24] Rieder, 290.
[25] King, Martin Luther, Jr. The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Volume IV: Symbol of the Movement, January 1957 - December 1958. Ed. Clayborne Carson, Susan Carson, Adrienne Clay, Virginia Shadron, and Kieran Taylor. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000, p. 407.
[26]Schlesinger, Arther Meier. Robert Kennedy and His Times. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002.
[27] Ibid.
[28]Boggs, Grace Lee. Living for Change: An Autobiography. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.
[29] Ibid.

 

 

 

 

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The heady days of the Arab Spring brought glimpses of what a more tolerant Middle East could look like. As pro-government soldiers threatened to disperse protesters in Tahrir Square in early 2011, Christians formed a ring around worshipping Muslim activists. Those Muslims later returned the favor by gathering protectively around praying Christians. Although religious tensions in Egypt have consistently run high in its modern history and Coptic Christians face persecution, those civic gestures in Tahrir Square showed that another Egypt is possible.
In an attempt to forcibly transform the Soviet Union into a socialist paradise, the Communist Party declared the elimination of religion to be an ideological imperative. Even though the Orthodox Church was deeply interwoven in pre-revolutionary Russian society, the state forbade public expressions of faith, demolished hundreds of places of worship, and executed hundreds of priests. However, the Orthodox faith remained rooted in Russia - as communism collapsed in the late 1980s and early 90s, millions rushed to be baptized and thousands were ordained as priests. Despite attempts to eliminate religion, today the majority of Russians identify themselves as Orthodox Christian.
Across the United States there are over five hundred distinct tribes of Native Americans speaking more than two hundred indigenous languages, and very few of them have a word for "religion." Despite having a myriad of spiritual beliefs and rituals, Native American tribes view the issue to be intermingled with every aspect of community and family life. “We don't have a religion”, some Native Americans insist, “we have a way of life.”
In 1920, the anti-Semitic business magnate Henry Ford published excerpts from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as part of a disparaging series of leading articles in his private newspaper, the Dearborn Independent. The public was unimpressed, with the New York Times condemning the Protocols as the “strangest jumble of crazy ideas that ever found its way in print.” However, his dissemination of the Protocols did contribute to the spread of anti-Semitic thought in modern America, and Ford’s propaganda was later applauded by Goebbels and Hitler.
Appalled by the scourge of slavery across the United States, Harriet Beecher Stowe called attention to its horrors and impact on American society by publishing Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852. Selling 10,000 copies in its first week and becoming the second best-selling book of the century after the Bible, the graphic horrors of slavery portrayed in the book ignited social consciousness and fierce public debate. This debate carried through into the U.S. Civil War, which in turn led to Congress passing the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting slavery throughout the country. Uncle Tom's Cabin prepared the way for one of the biggest social shifts in American history.
Even as Hitler rose to power in Germany, Baghdad was a haven of religious and ethnic tolerance with Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen, Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and Sabeans living in a land where “the mosque stands beside the church and the synagogue.” Hebrew was one of Iraq’s six languages and about 120,000 Jews lived in the country. Today, after decades of intermittent war and repression, it is estimated that fewer than ten Jews remain, while more Yazidis and Christians flee every day.

 And if we want to achieve our goal, then let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness.

- Malala Yousafzai (1997-present), Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel Prize laureate, July 12, 2013

 To deny any person their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.

- Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black president of South Africa, June 27, 1990

 It is hardly possible to overrate the value, for the improvement of human beings, of things which bring them into contact with persons dissimilar to themselves and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar... It is indispensable to be perpetually comparing [one's] own notions and customs with the experience and example of persons in different circumstances.

- John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), British philosopher, political economist and civil servant, Principles of Political Economy, 1848

 To build a future you have to know the past.

- Otto Frank (1889-1980), Holocaust survivor who was a German-born businessman and father of Anne and Margot Frank, 1967

 A person is a person because he recognizes others as persons.

- Desmund Tutu (1931-present), South African social rights activist and retired Anglican bishop, September 7, 1986

 I believe in God who made of one blood all races that dwell on earth. I believe that all men, black and brown and white, are brothers, varying through Time and Opportunity, in form and gift and feature, but differing in no essential particular, and alike in soul and in the possibility of infinite development.

- W.E.B Dubois (1868-1963), African American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil, 1920

 We need a little more compassion, and if we cannot have it then no politician or even a magician can save the planet.

- 14th Dalai Lama (1935-present)

 [Most] can seldom discern even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as obliges them to admit the falsity of conclusions they have formed, perhaps with much difficulty — conclusions of which they are proud, which they have taught to others, and on which they have built their lives.

- Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), Russian novelist, playwright, and philosopher

 Tolerance is the positive and cordial effort to understand another’s beliefs, practices, and habits without necessarily sharing or accepting them.

- Joshua Loth Liebman (1907-1948), American rabbi and best-selling author, Peace of Mind: Insights on Human Nature That Can Change Your Life, 1946

 Tolerance implies a respect for another person, not because he is wrong or even because he is right, but because he is human.

- John Cogley (1916-1976), author of Religion in a Secular Age, 1968

 Being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.

- John Locke (1632-1704), English philosopher, Second Treatise of Government, 1689

 Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.

- Mahatma Gandhi (1969-1948), leader of Indian independence movement

 Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live in somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me unless there is peace and joy finally for you too.

- Frederick Buechner (1926-present), American writer and theologian

 I am a lover of truth, a worshipper of freedom, a celebrant at the altar of language and purity and tolerance. That is my religion.... My belief in my religion is strong and I know that lies will always fail and indecency and intolerance will always perish.

- Stephen Fry (1957-present), English comedian, actor, writer, presenter, and activist, 1993

 I think... if it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.

- Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), Russian novelist, playwright, and philosopher, Anna Karenina, 1877

 The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.

- Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), African-American abolitionist and U.S. minister to Haiti from 1889 to 1891, Speech on the twenty-fourth anniversary of Emancipation in the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C., April 1885

 I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. I refuse to live in other people’s houses as an interloper, a beggar or a slave.

- Mahatma Gandhi (1969-1948), leader of Indian independence movement, 1927

 My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.

- Thomas Paine (1737-1809), English-American political activist, philosopher, and revolutionary, The Rights of Man, 1791

 The time must come when, great and pressing as change and betterment may be, they do not involve killing and hurting people.

- W.E.B Dubois (1868-1963), African American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Dark Princess, 1928

 Freedom of judgment must necessarily be permitted and people must be governed in such a way that they can live in harmony, even though they openly hold different and contradictory opinions.

- Baruch de Spinoza (1632-1677), Dutch philosopher, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 1670

 We recall our terrible past so that we can deal with it, to forgive where forgiveness is necessary, without forgetting; to ensure that never again will such inhumanity tear us apart; and to move ourselves to eradicate a legacy that lurks dangerously as a threat to our democracy.

- Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black president of South Africa, February 25, 1999

 Many of our problems are created by ourselves based on divisions due to ideology, religion, race, resources, economic status or other factors. The time has come to think on a deeper, more human level and appreciate and respect our sameness as human beings.

- 14th Dalai Lama (1935-present), The Compassionate Life, 2001

 No rational argument will have a rational effect on a man who does not want to adopt a rational attitude.

- Karl Popper (1902-1994), Austrian-British philosopher, The Open Society and its Enemies, 1945

 It is thus tolerance that is the source of peace, and intolerance that is the source of disorder and squabbling.

- Pierre Bayle (1647-1706), French philosopher, 1686

 Give to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself.

- Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899), American lawyer, May 8, 1888

 [W]e are all guilty in some Measure of the same narrow way of Thinking... when we fancy the Customs, Dresses, and Manners of other Countries are ridiculous and extravagant, if they do not resemble those of our own.

- Joseph Addison (1672-1719), English essayist, poet, playwright, and politician, 1711

 Religion must mainly be a matter of principles only. It cannot be a matter of rules. The moment it degenerates into rules, it ceases to be a religion, as it kills responsibility which is an essence of the true religious act.

- Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956), Indian jurist, economist, politician and social reformer

 I was heartened that people everywhere want certain basic freedoms, even if they live in a totally different cultural environment.

- Aung San Suu Kyi (1945-present), Nobel Peace Prize laureate and leader of the National League for Democracy in Burma, 2012

 Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, December 16, 1966

 We must plan for freedom, and not only for security, if for no other reason than only freedom can make security more secure.

- Karl Popper (1902-1994), Austrian-British philosopher, The Open Society and its Enemies, 1945

 There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.

- Socrates (469 BC-399 BC), Greek philosopher

 It is a worthy thing to fight for one's freedom; it is another sight finer to fight for another man's.

- Mark Twain (1835-1910), American author and humorist, June 17, 1898

 Where in this wide world can a person find nobility without pride, friendship without envy or beauty without vanity? Here, where grace is laced with muscle and strength by gentleness confined. He serves without servility, he has fought without enmity. There is nothing so powerful, nothing less violent; there is nothing so quick, nothing more patient.

- Ronald Duncan (1914-1982)

 Anger and intolerance are the twin enemies of correct understanding.

- Mahatma Gandhi (1969-1948), leader of Indian independence movement

 The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression.

- W.E.B Dubois (1868-1963), African American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, John Brown, 1909

 All of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us.... this ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God.... And that, simply, is blasphemy.

- Pope Francis (1936-present), May 22, 2013

 You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.

- Malala Yousafzai (1997-present), Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel Prize laureate, October 10, 2013

 There's in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated, and grown will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again.

- Anne Frank (1929-1945), author of The Diary of a Young Girl, 1942-1944, entry dated May 3, 1944

 I knew that to really minister to Rwanda's needs meant working toward reconciliation in the prisons, in the churches, and in the cities and villages throughout the country. It meant feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, caring for the young, but it also meant healing the wounded and forgiving the unforgivable.

- John Rucyahana (1945-present), former Rwandan Anglican bishop, The Bishop of Rwanda: Finding Forgiveness Amidst a Pile of Bones, 2007

 If our goal is to be tolerant of people who are different than we are, then we really are aiming quite low. Traffic jams are to be tolerated. People are to be celebrated.

- Glennon Doyle Melton, Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed, April 2, 2013

 Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.

- Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), German poet, journalist, essayist, and literary critic, Almansor, 1821

 A human being is a part of the whole, called by us "Universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish it but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind.

- Albert Einstein (1879-1955), German-born theoretical physicist, 1950

 The open society is one in which men have learned to be to some extent critical of taboos, and to base decisions on the authority of their own intelligence.

- Karl Popper (1902-1994), Austrian-British philosopher, The Open Society and its Enemies, 1945

 Is discord going to show itself while we are still fighting, is the Jew once again worth less than another? Oh, it is sad, very sad, that once more, for the umpteenth time, the old truth is confirmed: "What one Christian does is his own responsibility, what one Jew does is thrown back at all Jews."

- Anne Frank (1929-1945), author of The Diary of a Young Girl, 1942-1944, entry dated as May 22, 1944

 Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

- Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), American Baptist minister and leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, Strength to Love, 1963

 Whenever you're in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.

- William James (1842-1910), American philosopher and psychologist

 It is my inmost conviction, Badshah Khan said, that Islam is amal, yakeen, muhabat – selfless service, faith, and love.

- Badshah Khan (1890-1988), Pashtun independence activist

 God's dream is that you and I and all of us will realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion.

- Desmond Tutu (1931-present), South African social rights activist and retired Anglican bishop, April 26, 2005

 I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.

- Socrates (469 BC-399 BC), Greek philosopher

 Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), German Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, 1995

 There can be only one permanent revolution — a moral one; the regeneration of the inner man. How is this revolution to take place? Nobody knows how it will take place in humanity, but every man feels it clearly in himself. And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself

- Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), Russian novelist, playwright, and philosopher, 1900

 The golden rule of conduct... is mutual toleration, seeing that we will never all think alike and we shall always see Truth in fragment and from different angles of vision. Even amongst the most conscientious persons, there will be room enough for honest differences of opinion. The only possible rule of conduct in any civilised society is, therefore, mutual toleration.

- Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), leader of Indian independence movement, 1927

 More dangerous than bayonets and cannon are the weapons of the mind.

- Ludwig Van Mises (1881-1973), leader of the Austrian School of economic thought, Liberalism, 1927

 I respect Muslims, Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Bahá’ís, etc., even non-believers who believe in the principles of humanity. I love them dearly and kiss the hands of each and every one of them.

- Masoumi Tehrani, senior Iranian cleric

 I believe we are here on the planet Earth to live, grow up and do what we can to make this world a better place for all people to enjoy freedom.

- Rosa Parks (1913-2005), African-American civil rights activist

 You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say you did not know.

- William Wilberforce (1759-1833), English abolitionist, 1791

 I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.

- Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black president of South Africa, I am Prepared to Die, Statement in the Rivonia Trial, Pretoria Supreme Court, April 20, 1964

 The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors. Our political life is also predicated on openness. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it and that the only way to detect it is to be free to inquire. And we know that as long as men are free to ask what they must, free to say what they think, free to think what they will, freedom can never be lost, and science can never regress.

- Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967), American theoretical physicist

 I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.

- Anne Frank (1929-1945), author of The Diary of a Young Girl, 1942-1944, entry dated July 15, 1944

 If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.

- Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black president of South Africa, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, 1995

 From the saintly and single-minded idealist to the fanatic is often but a step.

- Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992), economist and philosopher, 1944

 At every level of society, familial, tribal, national and international, the key to a happier and more peaceful and successful world is the growth of compassion.

- 14th Dalai Lama (1935-present), The Compassionate Life, 2001

 How many paths are there to God? There are as many paths to God as there are souls on the Earth.

- Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273), 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic

 No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.

- Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), Author of the Declaration of Independence and Third President of the United States, Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, 1786

 The love of one's country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?

- Pablo Casals (1876-1973), Spanish cellist, 1974

 How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

- Anne Frank (1929-1945), author of The Diary of a Young Girl, 1942-1944, March 26, 1944

 Christian, Jew, Muslim, shaman, Zoroastrian, stone, ground, mountain, river, each has a secret way of being with the mystery, unique and not to be judged.

- Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273), 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic

 I don't believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is vertical, so it's humiliating. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other and learns from the other. I have a lot to learn from other people.

- Eduardo Galeano (1940-present), Uruguyan journalist, writer, and novelist, 2004

 Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one's own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.

- John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), 35th President of the United States, October 10, 1960

 I can imagine nothing more terrifying than an Eternity filled with men who were all the same. The only thing which has made life bearable…has been the diversity of creatures on the surface of the globe.

- T. H. White (1906-1964), English author

 All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness … the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.

- 14th Dalai Lama (1935-present)

 While differing widely in the various little bits we know, in our infinite ignorance we are all equal.

- Karl Popper (1902-1994), Austrian-British philosopher, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge, 1963

 We all live with the objective of being happy, our lives are all different and yet the same.

- Anne Frank (1929-1945), author of The Diary of a Young Girl, 1942-1944, entry dated July, 6, 1944

 We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.

- Karl Popper (1902-1994), Austrian-British philosopher, The Open Society and its Enemies, 1945

 For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

- Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black president of South Africa,Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, 1995

 Hate. It has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it has not solved one yet.

- Maya Angelou (1928-2014), American poet and author

 I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.

- Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), Author of the Declaration of Independence and Third President of the United States,Letter to Archibald Stuart, Philadelphia, December 23, 1791

 Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every man present his views without penalty, there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.

- Albert Einstein (1879-1955), German-born theoretical physicist, 1940

 I have no animosity towards anyone. Whoever displays human dignity, regardless of their religion or faith, I bow my head before them and hold them dear.

- Masoumi Tehrani, senior Iranian cleric

 The test of faith is whether I can make space for difference. Can I recognize God's image in someone who is not in my image, whose language, faith, ideal, are different from mine? If I cannot, then I have made God in my image instead of allowing him to remake me in his.

- Jonathan Sacks (1948 - present), rabbi, philosopher and scholar of Judaism, The Dignity of Difference, 2002

 If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.

- John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), British philosopher, political economist and civil servant, On Liberty, 1859

 Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.

- Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), African-American abolitionist and U.S. minister to Haiti from 1889 to 1891, Speech on the twenty-fourth anniversary of Emancipation in the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C., April 1886

 Tolerance and patience should not be read as signs of weakness. They are signs of strength.

- 14th Dalai Lama (1935-present), spiritual leader of Tibet, September 21, 2012

 Compassion is not religious business, it is human business. It is not a luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability. It is essential for human survival.

- 14th Dalai Lama (1935 - present), spiritual leader of Tibet

 Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.

- Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), American Baptist minister and leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, Loving Your Enemies, 1957

 No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

- Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black president of South Africa, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, 1995

 We all know we are unique individuals, but we tend to see others as representatives of groups.

- Deborah Tannen (1945-present), linguist and author, You Just Don't Understand, 1990

 It is the enemy who can truly teach us to practice the virtues of compassion and tolerance.

- 14th Dalai Lama (1935-present), Ocean of Wisdom: Guidelines for Living, 1989

 Human nature is not simple and any classification that roughly divides men into good and bad, superior and inferior, slave and free, is and must be ludicrously untrue and universally dangerous as a permanent exhaustive classification.

- W.E.B Dubois (1868-1963), African American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Evolution of the Race Problem, 1909

 I truly believe the only way we can create global peace is through not only educating our minds, but our hearts and our souls.

- Malala Yousafzai (1997-present), Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel Prize laureate, September 3, 2013

 WHAT is tolerance? it is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly--that is the first law of nature.

- Voltaire (1694-1778), French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher, 1764

 If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity.

- John F. Kennedy (1917-1961), 35th President of the United States, Commencement Address at American University, June 10, 1963

 Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.

- Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black president of South Africa

 We call upon all communities to be tolerant, to reject prejudice based on caste, creed, sect, colour, religion or agenda to ensure freedom and equality for women so they can flourish. We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.

- Malala Yousafzai (1997-present), Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, July 12, 2013

 I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

- Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968), American Baptist minister and leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, "I Have a Dream", August 28, 1963

 I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.

- Baruch de Spinoza (1632-1677), Dutch philosopher, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 1670

 Injustice, poverty, slavery, ignorance — these may be cured by reform or revolution. But men do not live only by fighting evils. They live by positive goals, individual and collective, a vast variety of them, seldom predictable, at times incompatible.

- Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), Russo-British Jewish social and political theorist, philosopher and historian, Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century, Foreign Affairs, 1950

 He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.

- Thomas Paine (1737-1809), English-American political activist, philosopher, and revolutionary, Dissertation on First Principles of Government, July 1795

 First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

- Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor, January 6, 1946

 If we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

- Karl Popper (1902-1994), Austrian-British philosopher, The Open Society and its Enemies, 1945

 I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies another this right makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.

- Thomas Paine (1737-1809), English-American political activist, philosopher, and revolutionary, Age of Reason, 1794

 Even God doesn't propose to judge a man till his last days, why should you and I?

- Dale Carnegie (1888-1955), American self-help author and lecturer

 I like the religion that teaches liberty, equality and fraternity.

- Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956), Indian jurist, economist, politician and social reformer

 Each person must live their life as a model for others.

- Rosa Parks (1913-2005), African-American civil rights activist

 Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands.

- Anne Frank (1929-1945), author of The Diary of a Young Girl, 1942-1944

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About Tavaana

Tavaana: E-Learning Institute for Iranian Civil Society is Iran’s pioneer e-learning institute. Tavaana – meaning ‘empowered’ and ‘capable’ in Persian – was launched on May 17, 2010 with a mission to support active citizenship and civic leadership in Iran through a multi-platform civic education and civil society capacity building program. Tavaana holds a vision for a free and open Iranian society, one in which each and every Iranian enjoys equality, justice and the full spectrum of civil and political liberties.

About The Tolerance Project

The Tolerance Project aims to inspire conscience, pluralism, religious freedom, and celebration of difference. Using an array of educational materials in Arabic, Persian, and English, The Tolerance Project emphasizes the capacity of each and every individual to counter hate, and imparts the benefits of living in tolerant, open societies. The Tolerance Project educates to prevent persecution and genocide, cultivating the basis for vibrant and stable societies in the broader Middle East.

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