When African American World War I veterans with guns approached a white mob in 1921, the whites got their guns. Twenty-four hours later, only ashes remained of the “Black Wall Street.” Over 30 years later, Martin Luther King, Jr., led a nonviolent movement that succeeded in expanding voting rights and open accommodations. Then Black Panthers showed up with guns. Many were killed. Others spent decades in prison.

In the violent Algerian struggle for independence from France, 1954-1962, roughly a million were killed out of a population of approximately 11 million. By contrast, only a few thousand Indians were killed between 1915 and 1947 in British reactions to Gandhi’s nonviolent activism out of a population growing from 300 to 400 million.[1] Since independence, India has proudly been the world’s largest democracy while Algeria has been mired in autocracy and anocracy.

This is not to criticize the African American vets for doing what they’d been taught about self defense.  That message is wrong.  This history is consistent with Cheneweth and Stephan’s analysis of the over 300 major violent and nonviolent governmental change efforts of the twentieth century: Nonviolence won twice as often as violence (53 vs. 25 percent). More importantly, when they looked at the change in the level of democratization before vs. after the conflict, they found that violence promotes tyranny, while nonviolence builds democracy.

We reap what we sow.

NOTE: This comparison between Algeria and India was made years ago by Gene Sharp.

[1] Partition after independence was accompanied by a wave of ethnic violence that took between 200,000 and 2 million lives, vastly more people than were killed prior to the official Indian Independence Act of 1947, which officially took effect August 15 of that year. That’s still well under 1 percent of the population of India in 1947, dramatically less than the roughly 9 percent of the Algerian population that died in their struggle for independence, 1954-1962.

Text copyleft 2021 Spencer Graves, Creative Commons Attribution, Share-Alike license.

Public domain photos of Tulsa and the 1963 March on Washington from Wikimedia Commons.