Peace Tales for MLK Jr. Day

Posted on January 15, 2007. Filed under: Storytelling |

What I’m reading right now, to celebrate the holiday is Margaret Read MacDonald’s Peace Tales: World Folktales to Talk About.

King’s focus was, of course, racial equality. But what I believe distinguished him as a leader was his process: “nonviolent direct action.” In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” he lays out the process as follows: “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action.” For King, “nonviolent direct actions,” processes we have come to know as “resistance” or “protests”–tellingly, both words that carry connotations of anger and conflict–had to be thoroughly grounded in principles of peace. It was not enough for him that people attend sit-ins and rallies keeping their anger turned down to a simmer–he insisted on the transformation of that angry energy into something new: fellowship, faith, steadfastness in the struggle. My own political life has been changed by his example.

For me, it’s no longer enough to respond to racial injustice, to gender inequity, to fear-mongering, war-making and a multitude of other social ills with self-righteousness, with the escalation of my own anger. It’s time for transformation, for conducting my political life in a spirit of love, of reaching out. And of late, that’s taken the form of sharing MacDonald’s book, letting children see what peace looks like. How it can be enacted. Here’s a quick example.

MacDonald offers two versions of a short tale about two goats who live on adjacent mountains. They routinely cross a bridge into one another’s territories and graze, until one day they both find themselves on the bridge at the same time. In the first version of the tale, they challenge one another, lock horns and both end up falling into the river, sputtering mad that the other’s stubborness has caused such trouble. In the second version, they work together to carefully negotiate around one another, allowing each to cross simultaneously–but it’s not easy. They do, however, each leave the encounter impressed by the other’s ability to cooperate.

MacDonald’s introduction and her notes on the collection of the tales are well worth reading. As are the many, many documents by Martin Luther King Jr., available at the Stanford website, along with BIG lesson plans and other excellent curricular materials (See Liberation Curriculum):




4 Responses to “Peace Tales for MLK Jr. Day”

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Thank you! I have put that book on hold.

I am with you about making all of our interections, whether a “protest” or a personal relationship, full of peace and love and void of judgement.—Susan

Great suggestion! Also, MLK is always so *suprising* to me. Who would’ve thought to say ‘self-purification’ is necessary to a campaign of non-violent resistance? That’s genius.

Hey Susan,

Glad the Peace Tales recommendation has appealed to you. It’s a fun book!

Your comment about King being surprising sent me back to some of Ghandi’s work–and I’ve ended up finding the grounds for a whole new article.


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