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Quiet Heroes in the Civil Rights Movement

Every January, we pause and remember the legacy and impact of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Confronted with often violent opposition, he fully embraced a peaceful approach, nonviolent resistance, and quiet strength when advocating for his belief in a more just society.

Dr. King was said to be greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, who believed that nonviolence is more than simply not physically attacking your enemy; it includes seeking ‘truth and love’ while peacefully resisting wrongdoing. In the King Papers, he described how a person who seeks to be a strong leader must combine determination and militancy with an idealistic gentleness.

Gentleness in the Face of Violence

In the face of violent opposition, constant threats and social upheaval, what do gentleness and compassion look like? Behind every visionary leader like Dr. King are untold numbers of family, friends, and peers who offer love, support, and reassurance in the everyday moments of life.

As one example, Naomi King, the wife of A.D. King (Dr. King’s brother), was a quiet hero who bolstered Dr. King during a time of physical and emotional duress. In September 1958 at a department store in Harlem, New York, Dr. King was signing copies of his first book when a woman stepped out of the long line and approached him menacingly. She pulled a letter opener from her purse and sliced his hand before stabbing him. Dr. King was rushed to Harlem Hospital, where doctors removed the seven-inch blade from his chest.

Dr. King was recuperating from this harrowing, near-fatal attack when he received several calls from Naomi King inquiring about his recovery. When she asked what she could do to help him, he replied with the simplest request. He would love for her to make him one of her sweet potato pies. More than happy to oblige, Naomi carefully baked and packaged the pie and sent it to Dr. King by way of his wife Coretta.

The next time that Naomi called him, Dr. King assured her that he was doing much better after receiving her sweet potato pie. Naomi was kind enough to share this story with us herself. Watch below.

Small Acts of Kindness with a Big Impact

Seemingly small acts of kindness like those of Naomi King may not have gotten much fanfare or even been noticed, but they supported a big movement in ways that mattered. People who were not at the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement played an equally important part by providing love and support to those who were.

Perhaps family and friends like Naomi King recognized that peaceful, nonviolent resistance might look like laughter, a kind phone call, and yes, even a sweet potato pie.

On this year’s day of remembrance, may we examine our own ability to foster mutual understanding, goodwill and love for others in the everyday moments of life.

If you’d like to learn more about Naomi King’s life of kindness and courage, please enjoy this documentary featuring more stories and inspiration from Naomi and the King family.

The Butterfly Queen: From Tragedy to Peace

You can also visit the A.D. King Foundation. Ronald Blue Trust is a proud sponsor of this organization.

 

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