Negative vs Positive Peace
On February 3rd of 1956, Autherine Lucy became the first African American student enrolled in the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, AL. From the first day she stepped foot on campus, she was met with violence. A cross was burned, eggs were thrown, and a mob tried to attack Lucy.
In response to the violence, the University suspended, and eventually expelled Lucy, claiming that her presence was causing a threat to the security of the school. The following day, the local newspaper ran a headline that read:
“Things are quiet in Tuscaloosa today. There is peace on the campus of the University of Alabama.”
So we are left to ask: was there peace on the campus the next morning? No one was throwing bricks anymore, no crosses were burning, there was no visible sign of tension. So was the newspaper correct?
The editors at the newspaper made the common mistake of understanding “peace” as simply the absence of violence. This false understanding of peace is something Dr. King called “negative peace.” He said that this “peace” is not a real peace because it came at the expense of justice for Autherine Lucy.
Negative peace can be understood as a situation where there may be no visible signs of violence or tension, but only because the violence, tension or injustice has been repressed and swept under the rug. It is this false understanding of peace that allows us to justify going to war or to incarcerate masses of people to create a sense of peace.
The peace that Dr. King fought for, and the peace that East Point Peace Academy continues to work towards, is a “positive peace,” a true, sustainable peace that is built on a foundation of justice for all peoples.
Watch senior Kingian trainer Charles Alphin discuss Negative vs Positive Peace