The New York State Martin Luther King, Jr., Commission and Institute for Nonviolence

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The New York State Martin Luther King, Jr., Commission and Institute for Nonviolence

The current New York State Martin Luther King, Jr. Institute for Nonviolence and Commission (NYS-MLK) is composed of what were two separate entities. The NYS-MLK Institute for Nonviolence was conceived in 1986. It was signed into law on August 1, 1988. Nevertheless, the forerunner to the Institute was the NYS-MLK Commission. It was signed into law on August 2, 1985. This endeavor is unprecedented in a governmental context. The essential model for the New York State Institute for Nonviolence and Commission is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change which is located in Atlanta, Georgia.

Across the country states have recognized Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday as a national and state holiday. Irrespective of these tributes to Martin Luther King, Jr., New York is the first state to attempt to bureaucratize the philosophy and methods of nonviolence. New York's attempt at the bureaucratization of the philosophy and methods of nonviolence raises new, different, and significant questions. What politics brought the NYS-MLK into existence? Although New York does not have a death penalty, the state represents an entity which possesses the "legitimate" means of violence. Does this reality render the Institute and Commission inherently null and void due to differing logical conclusions? Aside from extracting violence from its residents, can the state of New York extract violence from itself. This is Madisonian logic applied within an individual state. James Madison wrote in Federalist number 51:

In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control it self.(2)

Bureaucratizing King's philosophy of nonviolence magnifies this dictum. Furthermore, is there a church-state contradiction between King and the state? Is it possible to bureaucratize the essence of the Civil Rights Movement? The Civil Rights Movement began with the arrest of Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama in December 1955 and ended with the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee in April 1968.(3) This period was characterized by sit-ins, boycotts, freedom rides, marches, and confrontation with state authorities. These actions were taken in order to persuade government to end segregation, fight against discrimination, and provide for equal justice. Moreover, these actions were performed by outsiders seeking to influence those in power.

Work has been done on the implementation of policy that resulted from the Civil Rights Movement. This work reflects on national policy that has an impact on the state and local level. In accordance with this, Hanes Walton, Jr. speaks of "the institutionalization of the Civil Rights Movement."(4) Such works, however, do not touch upon the driving philosophy or methods employed by the movement in order to solicit a response from government. Beyond an examination of a policy response, when a state entity seeks to embody the philosophy and methods of the Civil Rights Movement, implementation vis-a-vis institutionalization takes on a qualitatively different character.


The assassination of Dr. King brought to a close an essential chapter of the African American struggle for liberty and equality in the United States of America. This chapter was the Civil Rights Movement as led by Martin Luther King, Jr. After his assassination, the movement splintered into several different channels. These channels became associated with such names as Ralph David Abernathy, Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young, Julian Bond, John Lewis, and Coretta Scott King. The movement moved principally from protest or outsider politics to electoral or insider politics. Andrew Young, for example, in 1972 became the first Black person elected from the south since Reconstruction. …


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