Narrated by Sean Braswell
Explore history's interlocking lives and events. Turn back the clock, one story at a time. Discover how various strands are woven together to create a historic figure, a big idea or an unthinkable tragedy. From OZY Media. History. Unwound.SUBSCRIBE NOW
Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated after leading the most influential protest movement in American history. King revolutionized the use of nonviolent resistance to combat racial injustice in the United States, but the Alabama preacher did not always believe in nonviolence. In fact, early on, King relied on armed guards for his protection until an older Quaker activist named Bayard Rustin walked into King's home and changed the direction of the civil rights movement.
The seasoned activist and Quaker Bayard Rustin was King's mentor in nonviolence and the organizing genius behind the March on Washington in 1963. Many felt that Rustin was on his way to becoming the "American Gandhi." There was just one problem: Rustin was gay, and as a result, would be forced to the sidelines of the civil rights struggle, and to the margins of American history.
The Indian lawyer and activist Mohandas Gandhi was the first leader to take up the age-old doctrines of love and nonviolence and transform them into tools of political and social resistance. In doing so, he would inspire Bayard Rustin and other activists across the world. Armed only with love, humility and disobedience, Gandhi brought the most powerful empire on earth to the bargaining table — and eventually to its knees.
Just before his death in 1910, the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy struck up a correspondence with a young lawyer in South Africa named Mohandas Gandhi, one that would change the young Indian’s life. Today Tolstoy is best known for penning War and Peace and Anna Karenina. But the Russian writer’s biggest legacy – and gift to the world – might be his ideas on nonviolent resistance, which emerged after he had a profound spiritual crisis in midlife.
William Lloyd Garrison, one of the leading figures of the early abolitionist movement in America, was a major influence on Leo Tolstoy. Garrison believed in using "moral suasion" rather than violence to achieve social change. Armed only with his newspaper and pen, the social reformer forced America to confront the most defining moral issue in its history, kick-starting a nonviolent revolution that would change the world.
In the final episode of this season, we trace the path of the revolutionary idea that spread across the globe to become the dominant form of political resistance today. We also examine the role that personal psychology, and even mental illness, play in what Gandhi, King and others recognized as the secret ingredient of any nonviolent approach: empathy.
Would Martin Luther King, Jr. have taken a knee alongside Colin Kaepernick? Is there any precedent for the protests being waged by high school students in Parkland, Florida? This special bonus episode of The Thread examines how the impact of Dr. King and the civil rights movement continues to influence nonviolent resistance today.