This Monument is dedicated to Henry David Thoreau’s essay On Civil Disobedience, and to its continued warning that the worst of human behavior occurs under the cover of our own indifference, apathy and compliance. Both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi were profoundly inspired by the essay as they worked to topple the British Empire in India, and the American Apartheid system in the Jim Crow South. Thoreau warns us that every institution, including our own University, is in danger of passively and invisibly doing violence to even its most sacred principles, and this monument and the essay it celebrates stand as a reminder that the strongest institutions are the ones that continually question their own virtue.
“During my student days I read Henry David Thoreau's essay On Civil Disobedience for the first time. Here, in this courageous New Englander's refusal to pay his taxes and his choice of jail rather than support a war that would spread slavery's territory into Mexico, I made my first contact with the theory of nonviolent resistance. Fascinated by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system, I was so deeply moved that I reread the work several times.
I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest. The teachings of Thoreau came alive in our civil rights movement; indeed, they are more alive than ever before. Whether expressed in a sit-in at lunch counters, a freedom ride into Mississippi, a peaceful protest in Albany, Georgia, a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, these are outgrowths of Thoreau's insistence that evil must be resisted and that no moral man can patiently adjust to injustice.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. from his Autobiography
“Why of course I read Thoreau, I read Walden first in Johannesburg in South Africa in 1906 and his ideas influenced me greatly. I adopted some of them and recommended the study of Thoreau to all my friends who were helping in. the cause of Indian independence. Why I actually took the name of my movement from Thoreau's essay On the Duty of Disobedience written about eighty years ago. Until I read that essay, I never found a suitable English translation for my Indian word-Satyagraha. You remember that Thoreau invented and practised the idea of civil disobedience in Concord, Massachusetts, by refusing to pay his Poll tax as a protest against the United States Government. He went to jail too. There is no doubt that Thoreau's ideas greatly influenced my movement in India.”