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Peace Warrior and Prophet A.J. Muste

Martin Luther King, Jr. commented to Nat Hentoff in the mid-1960’s, “I would say unequivocally that the emphasis on non violent direct action in the civil rights movement is due more to A.J. (Muste) than anyone else in the country.”  During the early years of the movement, A.J. Muste as President of the Fellowship of Reconciliation hired the principal organizers of the “freedom rides” on buses in the south.  Among them were Bayard Rustin, leader of the 1963 March on Washington, James Farmer founder of CORE and George Houser, founder of the American Committee on Africa.

I wrote several blog posts in 2020 on the pioneer U.S. organizer of non-violent protest A.J. Muste.  Following the police killing of George Floyd that year, the  human right to demonstrate publicly against the actions of government and powerful institutions was exercised repeatedly as the most effective counter force to policies of the outgoing Trump administration.  Civil disobedience and non-violent resistance had at the time already proliferated with the spread of authoritarian regimes worldwide. 

Although the life and work of Rev. A.J. Muste has yet to be celebrated in a comprehensive biography, I want to share news of four videos made recently focusing on the leading U.S. revolutionary non-violent resister of the 20th century.  The videos total over 6 hours recounting the progression of Muste’s life from his pacifist opposition to WW I to Trotskyite labor organizer, his return to the church and subsequent leadership in civil rights and anti war movements.

The videos’ interviews with trainers and organizers of non violent resistance such as civil rights leader Rev. James Lawson and founder and head of the War Resisters League David McReynolds establish Muste as having introduced non violent theory and practice to key U.S. protest organizers in the last century. In his eighties he continued to organize or serve as lead consultant for anti-Vietnam War demonstrations and draft resistance public actions. His role in shaping the civil rights’ struggle’s reliance on non violent civil disobedience is emphasized by several of the interviewees.

 All four videos were made by David Schock, former English professor at Hope College in Michigan, Muste’s alma mater, in collaboration with Dr. Kathleen Verduin also of Hope College.  Here is the link to an excerpt, the final minutes of the second video “The No. 1 U.S. Pacifist”, which concludes with Muste’s dream of a peacemaking U.S. foreign policy:

The four complete videos can be accessed on the web site A.J. Muste: Radical for Peace. Also on the site is a request to donate to help cover the video project’s costs covered by the two creators of the film.   

In another tribute to Muste’s prominence as the leading opponent of the U.S. war machine and foreign interventions, Professor Noam Chomsky in 1967 wrote at length about the recently deceased Muste’s contributions in the Sidney Lens/Muste Liberation magazine. It is at: