Mary Elizabeth King is professor of peace and conflict studies at the UN-affiliated University for Peace and and is Scholar-in-Residence in the School of International Service, at the American University in Washington, D.C. She is also a Distinguished Fellow of the Rothermere American Institute at the University of Oxford, in the United Kingdom.
Her most recent book is The New York Times on Emerging Democracies in Eastern Europe (Washington, D.C.: TimesReference and CQ Press/Sage, 2009), chronicling the nonviolent transitions that took place in Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, the Baltic states, Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine in the late 1980s and early 1990s. She is the author of the highly acclaimed A Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance (New York: Nation Books, 2007; London: Perseus Books, 2008), which examines crucial aspects of the 1987 uprising overlooked or misunderstood by the media, government officials, and academicians. In 1988, she won a Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Book Award for Freedom Song: A Personal Story of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement (New York: William Morrow, 1987), in which she tells of her life-defining experiences working for four years with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Her involvement with SNCC led her to work alongside the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (no relation) and other figures prominent in the movement. In 2002, New Delhi’s Indian Council for Cultural Relations and Mehta Publishers released the second edition of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr: The Power of Nonviolent Action (originally published by UNESCO in 1999), in which King discusses nine contemporary nonviolent struggles.
During the civil rights movement, King and her colleague Casey Hayden (Sandra Cason) turned their attention to women and co-authored “Sex and Caste,” a 1966 article now viewed by historians as tinder for the second wave of feminism. As a presidential appointee in the administration of President Jimmy Carter, King directed the worldwide operations of the Peace Corps and national volunteer service corps programs in the United States. She continues to work with Carter as a special adviser. King’s vocation over the years has brought her into working contact with heads of state and government ministers of more than 120 developing countries.
In 2003 in Mumbai (Bombay), King received the Jamnalal Bajaj International Prize, named for the silent financial backer of Gandhi and awarded for the promotion of Gandhian values. With this acknowledgment of her work, she joined the ranks of such fellow prize winners as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat of the United Kingdom, and Professor Johan Galtung of Norway. She was awarded the 2009 El-Hibri Peace Education Prize for outstanding leadership in the practice of nonviolent action and in the field of peace education for her contributions toward social justice in the Middle East.
King holds a doctorate in international politics from the Aberystwyth University, Wales, which in 2011 elected her a fellow, their equivalent of the honorary degrees awarded elsewhere. With the assistance of a grant from the United States Institute of Peace, she has completed original archival research for a case study of a famous nonviolent struggle against untouchability in Vykom, Kerala, India, 1924–1925, which influenced the building of theory on the mechanisms of change in nonviolent civil resistance.
In May 2011, her alma mater Ohio Wesleyan University awarded her a doctor of laws (honorary) degree. In June of that year, she received a James M. Lawson Award for Nonviolent Achievement.
Mary resides with her husband, Dr. Peter G. Bourne, in Virginia in the United States and Oxford in the United Kingdom.