It’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Where’s the Nonviolence?

Can we talk?

Steven Yates
6 min readJan 16


Photo by The New York Public Library on Unsplash

I wasn’t sure I wanted to start this year off writing about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. For one thing, I’m white. For another, it might come off as virtue-signaling. For a third, surely others will have done it, and probably better.

But I looked at my two Medium feeds, and … nothing. Not about Dr. King, anyway.

Come to think of it, I only saw one reference to Dr. King in two other feeds I check every morning.

It’s like the King holiday has become just one more excuse to take a day off.

So why not?

Especially as Dr. King was a figure of heroic stature to many of us Boomers when we were growing up. I only glimpsed the early 60s. I was two years old when the decade started. But I have a clear memory of Dr. King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, at the start of a four-year period that arguably changed everything (and not for the better!).

Dr. King’s urged nonviolence. He practiced what he preached. He’d received countless death threats. His home had been firebombed. He was stabbed, attacked, and beaten in public, sometimes by police. He was jailed repeatedly.

Yet he never called for retaliation in kind.

Dr. King did not just call on his followers and supporters to resist the temptations of violent physical retaliation. He asked them to shun the “internal violence of spirit” which breeds and expresses hate.

He was once assaulted on stage by self-professed Nazi Roy James. It happened at a Southern Christian Leadership Conference meeting in Birmingham, Ala., Sept. 28, 1962.

Instead of hitting back, Dr. King literally turned the other cheek. James tried to lunge again, but was restrained by Dr. King’s immediate associates (best friend Ralph Abernathy and SCLC Executive Secretary Wyatt Tee Waler).

The crowd — despite being dressed in their Sunday best — was ready to take a piece out of James’s hide. Then a female delegate to the conference leaped on stage, threw her arms around the man, and cried out, “Don’t hurt him! Can’t you see he is disturbed? We have to love him!”



Steven Yates

I am the author of What Should Philosophy Do? A Theory. I write about philosophy (especially the Stoics), health and systems, and the future if we have one.