highlander folk school

Billboards claiming to identify Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at a communist training school stand on the route from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery taken by civil rights marchers, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., protesting racial discrimination in voter rolls. This is actually a picture of Dr. King at the Highlander Folk School at Mount Eagle in the 1940s.

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Myles Horton is, in my mind, one of the greatest people to ever live. 

Consider, for instance, the case of Rosa Parks, the heroine of the U.S. civil rights movement. The public myth around her figure suggests that she spontaneously refused to give up her bus seat in Montgomery to a white man and by so doing she single-handedly gave birth to the civil rights efforts. The reality is that before sitting in that bus, Rosa Parks had spent more than a decade as a community organizer at the local NAACP chapter. In the summer of 1965, a few months before the bus incident, she attended a workshop at Highlander where she expanded her realm of experience by meeting an older generation of civil rights activists of different races. Although her action on the bus was not prearranged and she acted on an individual basis, Rosa Parks knew that she was contributing to the civil rights cause when she refused to move, and her action was the result of many years of assimilative learning. At the same time, although she was not new to the civil rights movement when she attended the Highlander workshop, the experience made an impact on her and provided her with new insights. This is how Rosa Parks described her first Highlander workshop: “At Highlander, I found for the first time in my adult life that this could be a unified society, that there was such a thing as people of different races and backgrounds meeting together in workshops, and living together in peace and harmony. It was a place I was very reluctant to leave. I gained there the strength to persevere in my work for freedom, not just for blacks, but for all oppressed people” (cited in Horton, 1998: 150).

Daniel Schugurensky, “Transformative Learning and Transformative Politics: The Pedagogical Dimension of Participatory Democracy and Social Action”, Expanding the Boundaries of Transformative Learning (2002)

Fortunately, the Negro has been willing to grapple with a new and powerful approach to his problem in the South, namely, nonviolence.

It is my great hope that as the Negro plunges deeper into the quest for freedom, he will plunge deeper into the philosophy of nonviolence. As a race we must struggle passionately and unrelentingly to the goal of justice, but we must be sure that our hands are clean in the struggle. We must never struggle with falsehood, hate, or malice; we must never become bitter. We must never succumb to the temptation of using violence in the struggle, for if this happens unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.

I realize that this approach will mean suffering and sacrifice. Some will ask, “What if these acts of violence continue and increase as a result of the Negro following this method? What then can be his defense?” His defense is to meet every act of violence toward an individual Negro with the fact that there are thousands of others who will present themselves in his place as potential victims. The oppressors bomb the home of one Negro for his courage, then this must be met by the fact that they will be required to bomb the homes of hundreds and thousands of Negroes. If they deny bread and milk to Negro children whose parents want them to be free, then they must be required to deny these children every necessity of life: water and air itself. This dynamic unity, this amazing self-respect, this willingness to suffer and this refusal to hit back will soon cause the oppressor to become ashamed of his own methods. You will leave him glutted with his own barbarity; you will force him to stand before the world and his God splattered with the blood and reeking with the stench of his Negro brother. This, it seems to me, is the only valid answer.

—  Martin Luther King Jr., in a speech titled “A Look to the Future” delivered Sept. 2, 1957, at the 25th anniversary meeting at the Highlander Folk School, Monteagle, Tenn.

“When people criticize me for not having any respect for existing structures and institutions, I protest. I say I give institutions and structures and traditions all the respect that I think they deserve. That’s usually mighty little, but there are things that I do respect. They have to earn that respect. They have to earn it by serving people. They don’t earn it just by age or legality or tradition.” 

  – Myles Horton, We Make the Road by Walking