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Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.

17 Pages · 2012 · 791 KB · English

  • Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.


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    Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.



    Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929. Dr. King grew up as the son of a leading


    minister in Atlanta, Georgia, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr. His mother, Mrs. Alberta Williams King,


    assisted her husband in the care of his congregation. Because of their efforts and interest in behalf of


    the congregation and the community, his parents were known as 'Momma' and 'Daddy' King. His


    community, centered on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta also influenced him. By the 1930s when he was a


    child, it was the center of business and social life in Black Atlanta and the major center for the Black


    Southeast. The community was so successful that nationwide, it was known as "Sweet Auburn". The


    residential neighborhoods of the community, and especially the one where Dr. King was born were


    known for the diversity of the backgrounds of the residents. Though all Black, the neighborhoods


    had business people, laborers, college-educated, uneducated, rich, poor and successful all living close


    to each other.



    As a boy, Dr. King experienced many of the same things most children do. He helped and played


    games with his older sister Christine and his younger brother A. D. He played baseball on vacant lots


    and rode his bicycle in the streets. He went to school at David T. Howard Elementary, three blocks


    from his home. He attended the Butler Street YMCA down Auburn Avenue. When the family moved


    to the house on Boulevard, he was attending Booker T. Washington High School, working a


    newspaper route, attending his first dances, and planning to attend college. But, Dr. King's primary


    memories of his childhood were of the sting of segregation.



    In 1941 Daddy King moved the family to a brick home. Here King continued his development and


    education until he graduated from Morehouse College in 1948. Dr. King still lived in this home when


    he attended College here in Atlanta, starting at the age of fifteen. After graduation he left for


    graduate work at Crozer Theological Seminary, then in Chester, Pennsylvania (now Colgate


    Rochester divinity School/Bexley Hall/Crozer Theological Seminary in Rochester, New York), and at


    Boston University. He became pastor at The Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama


    in 1954 and served there until 1960. From 1960 until 1968 he was co-pastor, with his father, of


    Ebenezer Baptist Church on Auburn Avenue, where his grandfather, Rev. A. D. Williams had also been


    pastor.



    Starting with the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955-1956, Dr. King was also the foremost leader of the


    Civil Rights Movement. His dedication to the tactics of non-violent resistance led to successful


    campaigns in Montgomery, AL, Birmingham, AL, and Selma,AL as well as encouraging African-


    Americans throughout the South to campaign for their own freedom. After 1965, He expanded his


    work to include actions in the North, opposition to the War in Vietnam, and planning for a campaign


    to aid poor people.



    Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 by James Earl Ray.



    http://infousa.state.gov/life/people/mlk.html



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    Presidential Proclamation


    Martin Luther King, Jr., Federal Holiday, 2012



    On a hot summer day nearly half a century ago, an African American preacher with no official title or


    rank gave voice to our Nation's deepest aspirations, sharing his dream of an America that ensured


    the true equality of all our people. From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the Reverend Dr. Martin


    Luther King, Jr. inspired a movement that would push our country toward a more perfect Union.



    At a time when our Nation was sharply divided, Dr. King called on a generation of Americans to be


    "voices of reason, sanity, and understanding amid the voices of violence, hatred, and emotion." His


    example stirred men and women of all backgrounds to become foot soldiers for justice, and his


    leadership gave them the courage to refuse the limitations of the day and fight for the prospect of


    tomorrow. Because these individuals showed the resilience to stand firm in the face of the fiercest


    resistance, we are the benefactors of an extraordinary legacy of progress.



    Today, Dr. King is memorialized on the National Mall where he once spoke, a symbol of how far our


    Nation has come and a testament to the quiet heroes whose names may never appear in history


    books, but whose selflessness brought about change few thought possible. Dr. King's memorial


    reminds us that while the work of realizing his remarkable dream is unending, with persistence,


    progress is within our reach.



    On the Martin Luther King, Jr., Federal Holiday, we celebrate the man who fought for the America he


    knew was possible. Dr. King's faith in a God who loves all His children and a Nation grounded in the


    promise of equality would not let him rest until victory was won. As we work to meet the challenges


    of our time from fixing our schools so every child gets a world class education to ensuring all


    Americans have access to strong and secure economic opportunity let us draw strength from Dr.


    King's stirring affirmation that "Everybody can be great because everybody can serve." In his


    memory, let us continue climbing toward that Promised Land, one more fair and more just for all


    people.



    NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the


    authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim


    January 16, 2012, as the Martin Luther King, Jr., Federal Holiday. I encourage all Americans to observe


    this day with appropriate civic, community, and service projects in honor of Dr. King, and to visit


    www.MLKDay.gov to find Martin Luther King, Jr., Day of Service projects across our country.



    IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirteenth day of January, in the year of our


    Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two


    hundred and thirty-sixth.



    BARACK OBAMA



    http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/01/13/presidential-proclamation-martin-luther-king-


    jr-federal-holiday-2012



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    The Power of Nonviolent Action


    01 March 2009



    By Stephen Zunes


    Armed insurgencies impose great human costs. Nonviolent “people power” movements succeed by calling attention to


    official repression and winning support from the undecided. Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics at the University of San


    Francisco. He is the principal co-editor of Nonviolent Social Movements (Blackwell, 1999) and chairs the committee of


    academic advisers for the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.



    This article appears in the March 2009 issue of eJournal USA, Nonviolent Paths to Social Change (PDF,


    783 KB).


    Nonviolent action campaigns have been a part of political life for millennia, challenging abuses by


    authorities, spearheading social reforms, demanding an end to colonial rule, and protesting


    militarism and discrimination.


    India’s Mohandas Gandhi and the United States’ Martin Luther King


    Jr., who were both brilliant strategic thinkers as well as great moral


    leaders, are perhaps the best-known leaders of such movements. Not


    only were they committed to nonviolent action as the most effective


    means of waging their respective struggles; they also held to a deep


    faith-based commitment to nonviolence as a personal ethic. In many


    People-power movements, such as this


    one in 1989 in Czechoslovakia, have respects, however, Gandhi and King were unusual in their personal


    helped bring down scores of


    commitment to principled nonviolence, as the vast majority of


    authoritarian regimes.


    nonviolent movements and their leaders have not been pacifists but


    embraced nonviolent action as the best strategic means to advance their struggles.


    Indeed, primarily nonviolent struggles in recent decades have not only led to significant political and


    social reforms advancing the cause of human rights, but have also even toppled repressive regimes


    from power and forced leaders to change the very nature of their governance. As a result, nonviolent


    resistance has been evolving from an ad hoc strategy associated with religious or ethical principles


    into a reflective, even institutionalized, method of struggle.


    Indeed, the past 30 years have witnessed a remarkable upsurge in nonviolent insurrections against


    autocratic rulers. Primarily nonviolent “people power” movements have been responsible for


    advancing democratic change in nearly 60 countries during this period, forcing substantial reforms in


    many countries. Other struggles, while eventually suppressed, have nevertheless posed serious


    challenges to other despots.


    In contrast to armed struggles, these nonviolent insurrections are movements of organized popular


    resistance to government authority that, either consciously or by necessity, eschew the use of


    weapons of modern warfare.


    Unlike conventional political movements, nonviolent campaigns usually employ tactics outside the


    mainstream political processes of electioneering and lobbying. Tactics may include strikes, boycotts,


    mass demonstrations, the popular contestation of public space, refusal to pay taxes, destruction of


    symbols of government authority (such as official identification cards), refusal to obey official orders


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    (such as curfew restrictions), and the creation of alternative institutions for political legitimacy and


    social organization.


    Why Nonviolence Works


    For many years there was an assumption that autocratic regimes could be overthrown only through


    popular armed struggle or foreign military intervention. Yet there is an increasing awareness that


    nonviolent action can actually be more powerful than violence. A recent academic study of 323 major


    insurrections in support of self-determination and freedom from autocratic rule over the past


    century revealed that major nonviolent campaigns were successful 53 percent of the time, whereas


    primarily violent resistance campaigns were successful only 26 percent of the time. (Maria J. Stephan


    and Eric Chenoweth. “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.” International


    Security, vol. 33, no. 1, Summer 2008.)


    There are several reasons why insurgents have turned away from armed struggle to embrace


    nonviolent action. One reason is a growing awareness of the increasing costs of insurgency warfare.


    Technology has given status quo powers an increasing advantage in recent years in defeating or at


    least neutralizing armed insurgencies. Even when an armed revolutionary movement is victorious,


    large segments of the population are displaced, farms and villages are destroyed, cities and much of


    the country’s infrastructure are severely damaged, the economy is wrecked, and there is widespread


    environmental devastation. The net result is an increasing realization that the benefits of waging an


    armed insurrection may not be worth the costs.


    Another factor endorsing nonviolence is the tendency, once in power, for victorious armed


    movements against dictatorships to fail in establishing pluralistic, democratic, and independent


    political systems capable of supporting social and economic development and promoting human


    rights. These shortcomings often result in part from counterrevolution, natural disasters, foreign


    intervention, trade embargoes, and other circumstances beyond a victorious popular movement’s


    control.


    However, the choice of armed struggle as a means of securing power tends to exacerbate these


    problems and creates troubles of its own. For one, armed struggle often promotes the ethos of a


    secret elite vanguard, downplaying democracy and showing less tolerance for pluralism. Often,


    disagreements that could be resolved peaceably in non-militarized institutions lead to bloody


    factional fighting. Some countries experienced military coups or civil wars not long after armed


    revolutionary movements ousted colonialists or indigenous dictators. Others became overly


    dependent on foreign powers for weapons to keep them in power.


    There is also an increasing awareness that armed resistance tends to upset undecided elements of


    the population, who then seek security in the government. When facing a violent insurgency, a


    government can easily justify its repression. But force used against unarmed resistance movements


    usually creates greater sympathy for the government’s opponents. Some have compared this


    phenomenon with the martial art of aikido, in that the opposition movement leverages the power of


    state repression to advance the movement’s ends.


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    In addition, unarmed campaigns involve far more participants beyond the young able-bodied men


    normally found in the ranks of armed guerrillas, taking advantage of a popular movement’s majority


    support. Unarmed resistance also encourages the creation of


    alternative institutions, which further undermine the repressive


    status quo and form the basis for a new independent and


    democratic order.



    Armed resistance often backfires by legitimizing the use of


    repressive tactics. Violence from the opposition is often


    welcomed by authoritarian governments and even encouraged


    through the use of agents provocateurs, because it then justifies


    state repression. But state violence unleashed on unarmed


    dissidents often triggers a turning point in nonviolent struggles. A


    government attack against peaceful demonstrators can be the


    spark that transforms periodic protests into a full-scale


    insurrection.



    King and Gandhi embraced nonviolence


    Sowing Division


    both in principle and as strategy.


    Unarmed resistance movements also tend to sow divisions within pro-government circles. There are


    often disagreements regarding how to deal effectively with the resistance, since few governments


    are as prepared to deal with unarmed revolts as they are to quash armed ones. Violent repression of


    a peaceful movement can often alter popular and elite perceptions of the legitimacy of power, which


    is why state officials usually use less repression against nonviolent movements. In addition, some


    pro-government elements become less concerned about the consequences of a compromise with


    insurgents if their resistance is nonviolent.


    Unarmed movements also increase the likelihood of defections and noncooperation by unmotivated


    police and military personnel, whereas armed revolts legitimize the role of the government’s


    coercive apparatus, enhancing its self-perception as the protector of civil society. The moral power


    of nonviolence is crucial in the ability of an opposition movement to reframe the perceptions of key


    parties: the public, political elites, and the military, most of whom have no difficulty supporting the


    use of violence against violent insurrections.


    The efficacy of nonviolent resistance in dividing supporters of the status quo is apparent not only in


    rendering government troops less effective, but also in challenging the attitudes of an entire nation


    and even foreign actors, as in the South African struggle against apartheid. Pictures of peaceful


    protesters — including whites, members of the clergy, and other “upstanding citizens” — broadcast


    on television worldwide lent legitimacy to antiapartheid forces and undermined the South African


    government in a way that the armed rebellion was unable to do. As nonviolent resistance within the


    country escalated, external pressure in the form of economic sanctions and other solidarity tactics by


    the international community raised the costs of maintaining the apartheid system.


    Due to increased global interdependence, the nonlocal audience for a conflict may be just as


    important as the immediate community. Just as Gandhi played to British citizens in Manchester and


    London, organizers of the civil rights movement in the U.S. South were communicating to the entire


    nation, and especially to the administration of President John Kennedy.


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    Insurgency within the Soviet bloc was disseminated by television broadcasts that spread the news


    from country to country, legitimating local protests that no longer seemed like isolated events


    organized by unstable dissidents. The prominent role of the global media during the anti-Marcos


    people power movement in 1986 was instrumental in forcing the U.S. government to scale back its


    support of the Philippine dictator. Israeli repression of nonviolent protests by Palestinians during the


    first intifada of the late 1980s brought unprecedented international sympathy to their struggle


    against foreign military occupation. As Palestinian-American scholar Rashid Khalidi observed, the


    Palestinians had “succeeded at last in conveying the reality of their victimization to world public


    opinion.”


    As a proactive ingredient in nonviolent resistance, the creation of alternative structures provides


    both a moral and a practical underpinning for efforts aimed at bringing about fundamental social


    change. Parallel structures in civil society may render state control increasingly impotent, as they did


    throughout Eastern Europe leading up to the events of 1989.


    In the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos lost power in 1986 not through the defeat of his troops and the


    storming of the Malacañang Palace, but from the withdrawal of sufficient support for his authority,


    so that the palace became the only part of the country he could effectively control. On the same day


    that Marcos was officially sworn in for another term as president in a state ceremony, his opponent


    — Corazon Aquino, widow of an assassinated Marcos critic — was symbolically sworn in as the


    people’s president. Given that most Filipinos saw Marcos’s election as fraudulent, the vast majority


    offered its allegiance to President Aquino rather than to President Marcos. The transfer of allegiance


    from one source of authority and legitimacy to another is a key element of a successful nonviolent


    uprising.


    In the course of a successful nonviolent revolution, and with adequate popular participation, political


    authority may be wrested from the state and invested in institutions of civil society as these parallel


    institutions grow in effectiveness and legitimacy. The state may become increasingly impotent and


    irrelevant as parallel nongovernmental institutions take over an increasing portion of the tasks of


    governing a society, providing services to the populace, and creating functional equivalents to the


    institutions of the state.


    Indigenous Roots


    Citing the financial support provided by some outside foundations funded by Western governments


    to some opposition groups that later took part in the so-called color revolutions among nations of


    Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, some authoritarian regimes have denied the popular


    legitimacy of these pro-democracy movements by claiming they were simply “soft coups” plotted by


    the United States or other Western powers. Such outside funding cannot cause a nonviolent liberal


    democratic revolution to take place, however, any more than Soviet financial and material support


    for leftist movements in previous decades could cause an armed socialist revolution to take place.


    One Burmese human rights activist, referring to his country’s centuries-old tradition of popular


    resistance, noted how the very idea of an outsider having to orchestrate the Burmese people to


    engage in a nonviolent action campaign is like “teaching a grandma to peel onions.”


    Successful revolutions, whatever their ideological orientation, are the result of certain objective


    conditions. Indeed, no amount of money could force hundreds of thousands of people to leave their


    jobs, homes, schools, and families to face down heavily armed police and tanks and put their bodies


    on the line unless they had a sincere motivation to do so.


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    Foreign powers have historically promoted regime change through military invasions, coup d’etats,


    and other kinds of violent seizures of power that install an undemocratic minority. Nonviolent people


    power movements, by contrast, make regime change possible through empowering pro-democratic


    majorities.


    There is no standardized formula for success that a foreign government or a foreign


    nongovernmental organization could put together, because the history, culture, and political


    alignments of each country are unique. No foreign government or NGO can recruit or mobilize the


    large numbers of ordinary civilians necessary to build a movement capable of effectively challenging


    the established political leadership, much less of toppling a government.


    As a result, the best hope for advancing freedom and democracy among oppressed nations of the


    world comes not from armed struggle and not from the intervention of foreign powers, but from


    democratic civil society organizations engaged in strategic nonviolent action.


    The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S.


    government.



    Nonviolent Thought Through U.S. History



    01 March 2009



    By Ira Chernus


    Rooted in 16th century Europe, the intellectual traditions of nonviolent thought and action were developed in the United


    States in the 19th and 20th centuries and traveled abroad to Asia and Africa. Ira Chernus is a professor of religious studies at


    the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea.


    This article appears in the March 2009 issue of eJournal USA, Nonviolent Paths to Social Change


    (http://www.america.gov/media/pdf/ejs/0309ej.pdf PDF, 783 KB).


    When people set out to create social change, they have to decide


    whether to use violence to achieve their aims. Some who opt for


    nonviolence may have no objection to violence in principle. They just


    believe that violence will not succeed in gaining their goals, or they


    are afraid of getting hurt, or they can’t persuade others to join them


    in violence. Theirs is the nonviolence of convenience, or pragmatic


    nonviolence.


    Nonviolent Vietnam War protests in the


    1960s followed the example of the civil


    rights movement. But over the centuries there have been many who might have gained


    their goals through violence — who had the means, the courage, and


    the strength to do violence — yet freely decided not to do violence under any circumstances. They


    followed the way of principled nonviolence. Though many have been inspired to adopt principled


    nonviolence for emotional and cultural reasons, they have also been moved by the rich intellectual


    tradition that offers logical arguments on behalf of nonviolence.


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    That intellectual tradition runs like an underground stream through U.S. history. Its roots go back to


    the Anabaptist Christians of Europe in the 16th century, the era when Protestant Christianity began.


    The Anabaptists rejected violence because they were committed to staying separated from the


    mainstream society and its many conflicts. Some of their descendants came to the United States,


    where they established what are known as the historic peace churches.


    The distinctive American contribution came when other Christians, who were deeply involved in the


    conflicts of society, decided on principle to pursue political and social change using only nonviolent


    means. The process began in colonial times, before the United States declared its independence


    from Britain, among members of the Society of Friends, known as Quakers. Their strict commitment


    to nonviolence led some of them to oppose the payment of taxes for war, the enslavement of


    African Americans, and the persecution and displacement of Native American peoples. But the


    Quakers were primarily a religious group, whose beliefs led them to nonviolence.


    The great turning point came in the 1820s and 1830s, when a group of people from different religious


    backgrounds began to demand the abolition of slavery in the United States. These abolitionists were


    nearly all Christians, and not all of them were committed to pursuing their goal nonviolently. Those


    who were, however, created the first group that formed around a goal of political-social change and


    then chose nonviolence as their means. They believed in God as the supreme ruler of the universe.


    Therefore, they said, no human should ever exercise authority over another human. On that basis


    they denounced slavery. But since violence is always a way of exercising authority, they were led


    logically to renounce violence, too.


    The same line of thinking influenced the great essayist Henry David Thoreau to go to jail rather than


    pay taxes to a government that supported war and slavery. In his famous 1849 essay “Civil


    Disobedience,” Thoreau explained that he would never obey an unjust law, regardless of what


    punishment he received, because people should follow their own conscience rather than passively


    follow the government’s demands. Thoreau’s main goal was to maintain his own moral virtue and his


    freedom to act on the truth as he saw it. But he did point out that if enough people refused to obey


    unjust laws, they could “clog the machinery” of the state.


    Tolstoy and Gandhi


    The writings of the abolitionists and Thoreau inspired the great


    Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy to become an ardent exponent of


    Christian nonviolence. His writings, in turn, helped to shape the


    ideas of the greatest of all nonviolent activists, the leader of India’s


    independence movement, Mohandas K. (Mahatma) Gandhi. In the


    20th century, the ideas of Tolstoy and Gandhi came back to the


    United States and inspired many Americans, who often did not know


    that so much of the theory of nonviolence had originated in their


    Abolitionist Wendell Phillips delivers an


    own country. antislavery speech on Boston Common


    in April 1851.



    For Gandhi, nonviolence was more a matter of intention than actual behavior. He defined “violence”


    as the intention to coerce another person to do something the other person does not want to do.


    Nonviolent actions such as boycotts, blockades, and disobedience to laws may look coercive, but if


    done in a true spirit of nonviolence, they are merely ways of following the moral truth as one sees it.


    They leave others free to respond in any way they choose. A follower of Gandhian nonviolence says,


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    in the spirit of Thoreau, “I am doing what I feel I must do. Now you do whatever you feel you must


    do. You may jail me, beat me, or even kill me. But you cannot take away my freedom to be true to my


    conscience.”



    Gandhi recognized that he was calling all people to act on their subjective view of truth. No one can


    know the whole truth, he said, and we must be open to the possibility that we will later see that we


    were wrong. That is why we must never aim to impose our own views on others. But we must take a


    firm stand — even unto death — on the truth as we see it now. Only then can we discover for


    ourselves what the truth is in any given situation.


    Since principled nonviolence means non-coercion, people committed to nonviolence believe they are


    never trying to make a situation turn out the way they want it. They are working not for selfish


    purposes but for the good of the whole world as they see it. In fact, according to Gandhi, they should


    never be concerned about the outcome of their actions at all. They should only be sure that they are


    doing the morally right thing at every moment. Following the moral truth is both the means and the


    end of nonviolence; a right process is the goal. Therefore, nonviolence should not be judged by its


    ability to produce results.


    The most famous exponent of nonviolence in the United States was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the


    great spokesman for the civil rights of African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s. King agreed with


    Gandhi that nonviolent actions must always be taken out of concern for the well-being of all people,


    even those who are unjust and oppressive. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,”


    he proclaimed, “tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all


    indirectly.”


    Unlike Gandhi, though, King was concerned about the results of his actions. He judged the strategies


    of the civil rights movement not only by their intrinsic moral virtue, but also by their effectiveness in


    ending discrimination against black people. He wanted to provoke conflict and win political victories.


    But as long as one is working nonviolently for justice and equality, King argued, the conflict will yield


    greater justice and peace for everyone. So in his view, there is no conflict between success for


    oneself and benefit for society: “We are in the fortunate position of having our deepest sense of


    morality coalesce with our self-interest.” Even when our acts involve unyielding confrontation and


    pressure, he said, as long as we are motivated by selfless love offered equally to both sides in the


    conflict, we are working to harmonize the opposing sides and improve life for all. On that point,


    Gandhi certainly would have agreed.


    Results From Nonviolence


    The civil rights movement demonstrated that nonviolence can produce results, if one chooses to


    judge by that standard. In the 1960s, the nonviolent movement to end the Vietnam War — largely


    inspired by the successes of civil rights activists — played a significant role in persuading the U.S.


    government to remove its troops from Vietnam.


    Up to the 1960s, most Americans who committed themselves to principled nonviolence were moved


    by Christian religious beliefs. But the protest movement against the Vietnam War brought in many


    who were not Christian. The Jewish Peace Fellowship (founded in 1941) grew significantly. An


    emerging Buddhist peace movement was guided by the teachings of Thich Nhat Hahn and, later, the


    Dalai Lama.


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