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The Children of Birmingham

- Abstract

IN THE almost excessive reporting and other coverage of the recent events in the South, there has been amazingly little mention of the momentous success of non-violence as a political means. How and why is it working? One reason for the silence, no doubt, is that reporters and their readers tend to look for, and wait for, “dramatic” violent incidents-the police dogs got much more notice than the fortitude of the children. Perhaps another reason is that successful non-violence does not fit easily with American political thinking; maybe people don’t want to mention it. The fact remains that a major social change is occurring, with repercussions in the power structure and the economy, yet with not many wounded and less than half a dozen killed (counting in a murder or two that “has no connection”). We are witnessing a novelty in democratic history. Especially in pacifists it awakens the hope that the example may have consequences in America and in the world far beyond the field of race relations itself.

In discussions of non-violence–except when they are narrowly moral or religious-much is said, usually discouragingly, about the peculiar group characters and the peculiar circumstances that are necessary. It is always pointed out that just the Indians succeeded with just the British, but nobody could have succeeded with the Germans (not that anybody tried). Certainly success does depend on the character of the opponent and on the nature of one’s own commitment. What can we now gather, from the Southern reports, about our peculiar American situation? I am drawing the following reflections from the observations of Dave Dellinger of Liberation magazine during a recent stay in Birmingham.

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