Glenn Smiley; Advised King on Nonviolence


Glenn E. Smiley, a doyen of pacifism who as early as 1940 was using the technique of nonviolence to desegregate tearooms in downtown Los Angeles department stores and 20 years later brought that tool of racial equality to Martin Luther King Jr., has died.

Dean Hansell, who serves on the board of directors of the Los Angeles chapter of the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolence, said the chapter’s first executive director was 83 when he died Tuesday in Glendale of the complications of a stroke.

A lifelong pacifist, Smiley chose to go to prison rather than into the military as a chaplain or a medic during World War II, even though as a clergyman he could have received an exemption.

In 1942, he was serving as a Methodist minister in Texas when he became intrigued with the nonviolent approach used by Mohandas K. Gandhi to win India independence from the British.

Smiley joined the staff of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, serving 25 years as regional secretary in California and then on the national staff in Nyack, N.Y.


In 1956, as King was expanding his bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., he sought support from FOR. At that point, Smiley recalled years later, King was unsure what techniques might best bring about integration of the South.

Smiley answered King’s call and explained to him how Gandhi had achieved his goals. King sent Smiley around the South preaching the doctrine to church congregations and civil-rights groups, and nonviolence quickly became a binding premise of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The two men maintained a close relationship until King’s assassination in 1968.

Smiley then went to South America, where he taught nonviolence under the auspices of the National Council of Churches and the National Council of Catholic Bishops.

In 1990, he founded the King center in Los Angeles to promulgate his lifelong philosophy:

“That nonviolence is the most effective way of achieving change because in the process it does not rip countries apart. It builds, it does not destroy.”

Smiley’s survivors include his wife, Helen, three children, eight grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren.

A memorial service has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at Holman United Methodist Church, 3320 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles.