John Lewis [now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives] and I were good friends, and he was the one who persuaded me to come to those workshops. I was a little reluctant because I didn't have time; I was a student and had a couple jobs on campus and a job downtown during the lunch hour washing dishes. But through the training, I learned to see the world through another person's eyes. That was an important step in my personal development.
What methods were used to train you in nonviolence?
Myles Horton, who was in charge of the Highlander Folk School at the time, would always ask provocative questions that got us to think and analyze. At one point, he started making some racist comments like, Why do you black people want to be eating with whites? Don't you enjoy being by yourself? I started challenging him and arguing! Now I laugh at how I responded to that. But I learned so much from that experience. The entire training program was to get people to think about how to put yourself in another person’s position and see the world through their eyes. That was so helpful for me in being able to embrace nonviolence.We practiced "loving, not judging" your opponent, but thinking about the fact that there was a reason your opponent behaves the way they do. It's important to understand that if you want to bring about change. We learned that the idea is not just to get rights, but to behave in such a way that we would win our opponents over. That was the difference between simply demanding your rights and the goals of the civil rights movement: We were concerned about others.
I want to go to that school. I want lessons in how to be an effective, persuasive change agent. Because it certainly does seem that there's a lot of increasingly powerful evil that needs to be resisted these days, and I want to do my best to resist it in ways that are effective and strategic.
Another thing that's driving me is that lately I feel overwhelmed by all that's going on in the world. "I don't even recognize the world I'm living in" runs through my mind on a regular basis. The assault on the workers and the middle class, the scapegoating of immigrants, racial profiling, the ever-widening chasm between the extremely rich and everyone else. My reaction to feeling overwhelmed is to read, because I can't shake the idea that the better I understand something, the better I can cope with it. And there sure is a lot to cope with and understand these days.
Another thing rattling around in my head a lot lately is a theory that I've read recently that we're still fighting the Civil War. That idea is spurring me to learn what I can about the history of the Civil War and race relations in the United States. I found a ton of stuff that I could download onto my Kindle for free: Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Souls of Black Folk, Up From Slavery, to name only a few. Maybe I've enrolled myself in my very own personal Highlander Folk School.