Last week, Condoleezza Rice appeared on The Daily Show to promote her new book about growing up in Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement. Surprisingly, Jon Stewart had read the book (or enough of it, at least) to pick up on a rather interesting point: Rice’s father did not agree with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s stance on nonviolence. When asked to explain why, Rice said:
My parents lionized Martin Luther King, like all black people, and, of course, they did the things that middle class blacks did at that period. They boycotted downtown Birmingham stores. They were teachers and when the school board said, “Tell us which students went out and marched with King and they won’t be able to graduate,” they [her parents] falsified the names so they [the school board] couldn’t get to them. But, when it came to marching himself, I remember like it was yesterday, standing in the hallway and hearing my father say to my mother, “You know, Angelina, if somebody comes after me with a billy club (meaning the police), I am going to fight back and try to kill him. And then he is going to kill me and my daughter is going to be an orphan.” My father did not believe in meeting violence with nonviolence. He couldn’t see himself doing it.
After hearing this, I could hardly help but wonder how this vivid memory may have shaped her immediate support of a violent response to the attacks of September 11th. Even now she appears unable to see the catastrophe that response has created. At least her father was wise enough to realize that his violence would only beget more violence, even if it was for more personal reasons than for any understanding of how it would have undermined the Civil Rights Movement.
Recent criticisms calling the founder of nonviolent theory a Cold Warrior are way off the mark. To rightly evaluate him, we need to understand the role he chose for himself.
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