Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.
− Mahatma Gandhi
This week in South Carolina the nation witnessed shock and awe.
Shock: Nine innocent members of the historic Emanuel African Methodist Church attending a Bible study murdered at the hands of a hate-filled white supremacist attempting to incite and spread violence.
Awe: Families of the murder victims forgiving the gunman, Dylann Roof. While acknowledging anger, Bethane Middleton Brown said her slain sister, Middleton Doctor, would have urged love. “We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive.” Family members expressed their faith in “God’s power to mend our broken hearts.”
Nonviolence: So easy to pay lip service to the idea. Breathtaking to see real human beings, those most grievously injured, courageously giving it life.
These events reminded me of a visit earlier this year to Atlanta’s National Center for Civil and Human Rights, a new museum dedicated to the achievements of the United States civil-rights movement and the broader worldwide struggle for human rights. I was traveling as one of the leadership trainers for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s new Community Leadership Network, working with a national cohort of energetic young leaders focused on community projects in the arena of racial equity and healing.
The museum’s exhibits were inspiring, helping visitors remember the ugly reality of Jim Crow laws and then bringing the movement to life: desegregation, the freedom riders, the 1963 march on Washington culminating in “I Have a Dream.” The vivid displays also covered the aftermath, including the Birmingham church bombing that killed four young African-American girls, Dr. King’s eventual murder, and a moving tribute to the dozens of diverse young leaders from across America who died for the cause. The design was creative and deeply impactful, including a participatory virtual lunch counter that helped visitors viscerally understand the threats inflicted upon sit-in protesters at a segregated diner.
Tragically, last week’s Bible study massacre at Emanuel Church now finds its terrible place in this history.
But not without hope.