King's Disappointment

Both King and Gandhi were frustrated that they could get people to protest but not to serve.

BY: Harris Wofford


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At the end of his life, Gandhi called himself a failure because he could not persuade Hindus and Muslims to come together as one India, and because that other side of the coin, constructive service, had never taken hold of the Indian mind.

Gandhi said he could get a million people to go into the streets, to march in protest, and nonviolently to turn the other cheek when they were beaten with clubs; he could get a hundred thousand to go to jail--but he couldn't get 10 thousand, not even one thousand, to carry through, every day, the 13-fold constructive program.

So there is a time for everything, as Martin used to say, citing Ecclesiastes: "a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to break down, and a time to build up."

For America, and for the legacy of Martin Luther King, it is morally and strategically right now to focus on service, and to turn that service into the kind of force that Gandhi and King believed it could become.

In today's world, we can ask, "Why wait for the government to act in order to tutor and mentor millions of young people who seem to be heading for disaster in life?" The most urgent and persistent question for us now is not how to overturn evil laws but how to point kids in the right direction, how to build the community institutions needed to fulfill the American dream--Martin's dream. I believe that Martin Luther King would see this beginning of the 21st century not as a time to go to jail to protest evil laws but as a time to build.

So Coretta Scott King is profoundly right when she says: "The greatest birthday gift my husband could receive is if people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds celebrated the holiday by performing individual acts of kindness through service to others."

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