Biography

Mary King HeadshotAfter being graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University, Mary Elizabeth King went to work for the U.S. civil rights movement, first in Atlanta and then Mississippi, serving on the staff of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced snick) in the 1960s. At age 22, she worked with Ella J. Baker and Professor Howard Zinn, immediately before joining SNCC staff. At age 23, she spent Christmas in Atlanta’s city jail “Big Rock.” Julian Bond and King ran SNCC’s Communications shop, getting out the news. In 1964, she was sent to Jackson to handle communications for Mississippi Freedom Summer. Uniquely among the SNCC staff, she has built her academic specialty as a political scientist on the study of nonviolent civil resistance and is acclaimed a top authority on the subject.

Since 2002, she has been professor of peace and conflict studies with the UN-affiliated University for Peace (main campus Costa Rica) and currently teaches for the Online Master of Arts in Sustainable Peace in the Contemporary World. She is also a Distinguished Rothermere American Institute Fellow at the University of Oxford, Britain, and Distinguished Scholar with American University’s School of International Service, Washington, DC.

King’s latest book, Gandhian Nonviolent Struggle and Untouchability in South India: The 1924–25 Vykom Satyagraha and the Mechanisms of Change, was published by Oxford University Press in 2015. Among her other works is Freedom Song: A Personal Story of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement (New York, 1987), an autobiographical account of her experiences for which she received a 1988 Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Book Award. She is the author of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr: The Power of Nonviolent Action (Paris, UNESCO, 1999; New Delhi 2002), as well as A Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance (New York, 2007). In a 2009 collaboration with the New York Times, King wrote a reference volume on emerging democracies in Eastern Europe and the national nonviolent revolutions that brought about democratic transitions, playing a definable role in ending the cold war.

She was awarded the Jamnalal Bajaj International Prize in Mumbai, the El-Hibri Peace Education Prize, and the James Lawson Award for Nonviolent Achievement. In 2011, Ohio Wesleyan University bestowed on her the honorary doctor of laws degree. Also in that year, she was elected a Fellow by Aberystwyth University, Wales, United Kingdom, their equivalent of an honorary degree, where she did her doctoral work in international politics.

As a Presidential appointee in the Carter Administration, confirmed by the Senate, she had worldwide oversight for the Peace Corps, and responsibility for the domestic VISTA program and other national volunteer service programs.

She is Co-Chair (along with Erica Chenoweth) of the Academic Advisory Council for the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict (2016–2017), and serves on the board of the Albert Einstein Institution. King is Moderator for the new James Lawson Institute. She is a Friend of the Oxford University Network of Peace Studies.

Mary resides with her husband, Dr. Peter G. Bourne, in Virginia in the United States and Oxford in the United Kingdom.