India and Dr. King’s Nonviolent Resistance20 Jan 2010
The history of slavery and its aftermath in America is one of violence, ranging from physical brutality to the more subtle institutionalized and legalized violence that kept black Americans locked out of full and equal citizenship. One thinks of the bloody lynchings that Billie Holiday sang about in “Strange Fruit,” and an entire legal apparatus that forced a condition of separate inequality upon generations of AfricanAmericans. Given this legacy of injustice, it is a miracle the country didn’t explode at the start of the civil rights struggle. The civil rights movement was met with violence at every turn, yet somehow the center held, and change – when it came – came more peacefully than one had any right to expect.
Such was the legacy of Dr. King, who insisted on fighting violence and injustice through peaceful marches, civil disobedience, and nonviolent resistance. Dr. King, in turn, was influenced by the Indian civil rights leader, Mahatma Gandhi, who mobilized resistance to British colonial rule – not by a call to arms, but by a call to peaceably take the moral high ground. Dr. King visited Gandhi in India in 1959 and, by all accounts, was powerfully influenced by Gandhi’s example. Toward the end of his time in India, Dr. King told a radio audience, “Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity. In a real sense, Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation.” (See: Clayborne Carson et al., eds. The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., University of California Press, 1992).
The principles that animated the nonviolent struggles of Gandhi and King went on to shape Nelson Mandela’s struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, and it continues to inspire those who seek social justice and racial equality today – and that is definitely something worth celebrating, wherever you come from!