Martin Luther King Center of Nonviolence and Civil Courage Germany
- Archives of the Civil Rights Movement of South West Saxony -
The Martin Luther King Center was founded in June 1998 thanks to the support of peace researchers from all over Germany. Until 2010, it was located in the “Torbogenhaus” (“Archway House”) in Western Werdau. It is now situated in Stadtgutstrasse 23.
A highlight was a visit by Dr. Hildegard Goss-Mayr, who shared her experience with nonviolent activities all over the world. Another highlight was a concert of the Afro-American gospel singer Melbra Rai. Both are honorary members of the Center, as was Professor Dr. Horst-Eberhard Richter, a psychologist and representative of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). Prof. Richter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. Honorary members of the Center are also Joan Baez and Prof. Dr. Margot Käßmann.
The Center’s founding members include the initiator of the Meissen peace seminary, the creator of the slogan “create peace without weapons” (“Frieden schaffen ohne Waffen”), and the initiator of the human chain Stuttgart-Neuulm in 1983 as well as the mastermind of civil peace service and “social defense” (Soziale Verteidigung) as a society’s means of nonviolent resistance against a military attack.
Additional Martin Luther King Centers exist in Atlanta (Georgia, U.S.A.) and Havanna (Cuba).
The Martin Luther King Center represents the East German peace- and civil rights movements. While it focuses on Saxony, it also serves as a nationwide information center. In an increasingly violent world, the Center promotes the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other pioneers of nonviolence. Drawing on the experience of the 1989 peaceful revolution in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), we aim at applying lessons from history to present-day conflicts particularly in the field of right wing extremism.
We collect documents of the Bekennende Kirche (Confessional Church) in the Third Reich and serve as archives of the regional civil rights movement in East Germany that brought down the GDR.
Before 1989, some of the Center's senior members had been under surveillance by the GDR secret service called "Stasi" for many years. They learned to undermine and to outwit state-controlled repression, such as by putting together stamp collections on the lives of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. The Center today continues with this tradition of presenting exhibitions on issues of war and peace. They learned to undermine and to outwit state-controlled repression, such as by putting together stamp collections on the lives of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. The Center today continues with this tradition of presenting exhibitions on issues of war and peace. Some intriguing roots of nonviolent conflict resolution may be traced in the Werdau region near Zwickau, an industrial center well-known for producing the East German car “Trabant.” In 1937, the local Confessional Church resisted the Nazi regime. After World War II, local young people opposed Stalinism following the example of the “White Rose” resistance group during national socialism. In 1951, 19 young students were sentenced to altogether 130 years in prison for their resistance to Stalinism. More flexible methods of articulating dissent were consequently used in later years, such as aforementioned stampcollections. They could be presented to cultural associations in official contexts.
In 1973, Christian peace meetings started with the support of the local church in Königswalde near Werdau. Until today, these seminars have served as important spiritual and practical assemblies of the East German peace and civil rights movements.
In 1987, a major documentary film about the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. was released in Werdau. It had taken four years of preparation to make it possible. Between 1987 and 1989, 10.535 people watched the film in Werdau.
The Werdau "round table" preceded even the one in Berlin. It brought together representatives of the civil rights movement and representatives of the Socialist Union Party to discuss how to get out of the crisis. Moreover, the first independent newspaper was launched in Werdau after the fall of the Berlin Wall
In honor of Rev. Martin Luther King’s 70th birthday in 1999, an exhibit of art works in memory of Dr. King was presented. Since 2013 there is a travelling exhibition "To hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope" about "Martin Luther King and the GDR".
- Who We Are
We see ourselves both as an initiative of the peace and civil rights movement and as an initiative to come to terms with the history of the GDR opposition in both regional and superregional contexts.
- What We Want
We carry on Martin Luther King’s ideas about nonviolent conflict resolution. Back in King’s day, many of his ideas influenced the peace and civil rights movement in both German states until the Peaceful Revolution in the GDR.
Considering the radicalization and violence in our society, we want to keep alive the legacy of representatives of nonviolence, adapt it to the present-day situation in Germany, apply it ourselves, and pass it on. Taking 1989 protests in the GDR as an example, we want to encourage people to intervene, show civil courage, and contribute to developing a civil society.
- What We Do
We offer opportunities especially for young persons to learn and to meet others – such as by joining youth clubs and events for young people and adults.
In its archives, the King Center collects and preserves materials on nonviolence movements and churches resisting national socialism. We also have documents, photos, and objects that testify to the opposition and repression in the GDR, and we work with contemporary witnesses. The results of our work are used for political education, exhibits, projects, and publications. The lessons from totalitarianism and how to overcome it also serve to help the young generation to stand up against right-wing extremism in society and to contribute to developing a civil society.
We design exhibits on war, peace, nonviolence movements, and, most importantly, about civil courage, opposition and resistance in the GDR as well as about Martin Luther King. We have a library on war and peace, civil movements, and the environment.