As school children know, Martin Luther King Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize. At the 10 December 1964 award ceremony in the auditorium of the University of Oslo, Gunnar Jahn, Chair of the Nobel Committee, delivered a speech recognizing Rev. King. Here is an excerpt from Mr. Jahn’s thoughtful account of Rev. King’s achievements:
Martin Luther King’s belief is rooted first and foremost in the teaching of Christ, but no one can really understand him unless [they are] aware that he has been influenced also by the great thinkers of the past and the present. He has been inspired above all by Mahatma Gandhi, whose example convinced him that it is possible to achieve victory in an unarmed struggle. Before he had read about Gandhi, he had almost concluded that the teaching of Jesus could only be put into practice as between individuals; but after making a study of Gandhi he realized that he had been mistaken.
“Gandhi” he says, “was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force…”
In Gandhi’s teaching he found the answer to a question that had long troubled him: How does one set about carrying out a social reform?
“I found ” he tells us, “in the nonviolent resistance philosophy of Gandhi… the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”
Because I am not a religious person, some may wonder why I can celebrate this observation, starting as it does with reference to a religious figure. I do not have to agree with 100% of what a person says to acknowledge a debt to her or him. And there is plenty to agree with in Rev. King’s example. For me, Mr. Jahn’s observations here represent one of the foremost aspects of Rev. King’s example.