Mahatma Gandhis Influence on the Civil Rights Movement of the United States

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11 October 2015

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Mahatma Gandhi’s Influence on the Civil Rights Movement of the United States


            The influence of Mahatma Gandhi relating to peace movement was experienced as early as in 1920’s. His long-lasting dedication and support of passive resistance finally led to Indian gaining full independence in 1948. Gandhi fought for the Indians’ rights in South Africa in his stay there. He fought to ensure that immigrant Indians who shaped an image of African blacks in United States enjoyed equal rights during civil rights movement. The similarity had a weighty impact on the blacks’ interests in following what Gandhi showed them in Gandhi back in south Africa, a struggle which is non violent, with an aim of extending the same to America. The United States citizens and particularly African Americans have been receiving constant flow of information concerning the Indian struggle of freedom which was led by Mahatma Gandhi. Murial Lester who was Gandhi’s friend toured America during 1930’s delivering speeches concerning non violent undertakings of Mahatma Gandhi.

            The struggle for independence by Indians got many supporters and sympathizers, inside as well as outside peace movement. The undertakings of the struggle which was non violent between 1930-1933 all- India operations were being reported by united state’s newspapers by man journalists for example Webb Miller and Negley Farson. Progressives and liberals of different kinds were inspired by the struggles which were successful against imperialism and colonialism. When Gandhi was undertaking his non violent resistance concept he was inspired by advice from Henry David Thoreau’s relating to resisting things which were not right.

            Thoreau gave an advice that people could defy immoral an immoral action by government by not cooperating. Mahatma Gandhi implemented many thoughts from Thoreau in developing his concept of Truth force or satyagraha (non cooperation)4. One of the most critical and tangible effects that India has had on life in America was the influence of mahatma Gandhi on Luther King who was a leader of the civil rights, who implemented the Gandhi’s thought of civil disobedience to the united states’ civil rights movement.

            Luther king at all times paid tribute to Mahatma Gandhi to be one of the most significant sources of his own values. Luther king in 1959 he made a pilgrimage to India. Martin Luther king who was a Baptist minister received much of his philosophy relating to resisting evil nonviolently from the holy Bible, from the king’s undertaking of the Jesus teachings and also from particular pacifist threads in the traditions of the Christians. Nevertheless, Luther king was highly inspired by particular non- Christian ideologies.

            Perhaps the most significant of these ideologies was nonviolence philosophy which was practiced by Mahatma Gandhi who was a spiritual leader who led India’s independence movement in first half of the twentieth century. Gandhi’s philosophy of non violence was not completely non-Christian since it was informed by both extensive studying of other moral and religious traditions including Christianity and also from his Hindu background.

            Also Gandhi was mentored by count Leo Tolstoy, who was a famous novelist of Russian origin who supported and adopted “back -to -basics’’ pacifist version of Christianity which was radical and was based on the factual understanding of Sermon on the Mount. Throughout history many individuals have resisted using violence and have refrained participating in war. Pacifism means deciding to be ineffectual and even resisting from participating in the righteous fights. Many good individuals have deemed it necessary to balance between being warlike and too violent versus being defenseless and too passive. Greatest contribution of Mahatma Gandhi to the history and the ground his was such a great influence to Luther King was calling into question this apparent truism that becoming nonviolent means becoming passive.

            Gandhi used most of his adult life experimenting with nonviolent methods purposed to be effective in the real life and also morally admirable. His argument was always prevailing over evil, resisting against injustice, standing up for oneself, living with integrity and dignity, etc. never necessitates willingness of using violence. In this regard Gandhi argued that there are many other strategies that can be used instead of violence. Martin Luther king from a tender was convinced that some things in this world are morally unacceptable. The intense racial discrimination of the Black Americans which king experienced was one example however war and poverty among other issues were very significant to him.

            He perceived that these vices were morally wrong and were supposed to be opposed and curbed with all the intelligence, courage and strength by all individuals. King was very committed to Christian values and he felt obliged to even love his enemies, not to kill any one and also not to wish ill to anyone. King was faced with a dilemma, a similar dilemma that individuals of conscience have faced always. After discovering Gandhi, Luther king was able to get out of the dilemma.

            This is because king was able to realize that it is possible to struggle for the rights of the Black people non violently without using bombs and guns or with propaganda and lies, but with truth and love. Under king’s leadership the civil rights movement was referred to be non violent and non passive. Luther king had always heard regarding Gandhi as a great player in the world scene from his early life however he did not notice Gandhi in a deeper way the time he attended crozer Theological seminary from 1948 to 1951. He was particularly inspired to know more about Gandhi in 1950 after he attended a talk which was delivered by, president of Howard University, Dr. Mordecai Johnson.

            Johnson had returned from India where he had visited and he had a lot to say concerning the nonviolent direct action by Gandhi. King took an action where he bought several books narrating about Gandhi and engaging himself in the mission of comprehending all he could relating to the Indian leader and also his philosophy. King had believed that ‘love your enemies’ philosophy and ‘The turn the other cheek’ philosophy were only valid when people were in a disagreement with other people; when racial groups and states were in conflict, a more realistic approach deemed necessary.

            As a result it was starting in 1955 when Luther king became actively engaged in planning and executing strategies to struggle against racial discrimination which is experienced in America at the time he decided absolutely to adopt the nonviolent direct action methods by Gandhi. Over many years king was influenced further by other important figures in civil rights movement who admired Gandhi and proponents of nonviolence for instance Bayard Rustin.

            King followed Johnson’s footsteps by making his own pilgrimage to India in 1959.In this visit king was able to meet Gandhi’s family members and also with Jawaharlal Nehru who was the prime minister. Jawaharlal Nehru for decades had been a significant all of Gandhi in the fight for Indian independence. Andrew Young who worked in civil rights movement together with Luther king when he was asked concerning the visit to India in 1959 he mentioned of how king constantly concerning this trip and also talked regarding how Gandhi had influenced his life. He was able to learn more about the meaning of heritage which he had grown up in and also spoke about that.

            He also clarified that – the March on Washington- the entire civil rights movement was a reflection and effort on their part to replicate salt march to the sea by Gandhi. Andrew Young also said that their methods and teachings that they used were all derived from the spirit and life of Mohandas Gandhi. Had Mahatma Gandhi not lived maybe Luther king would have become the leader of the American civil rights movement and also maybe he would have found other ways of embracing the Christian peace and love and also still be successful in resisting against injustice and evil.

            However, it is evident that the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King would have been very different in absence of the influence of Mahatma Gandhi who was an Indian spiritual leader. After a journey to India which took him a month he returned to America where he rededicated himself to peaceful struggle without using violence for justice to which mahatma Gandhi gave his life to as India’s independence movement leader. King continued adopting Gandhi’s commitments and the Indians passionately adopted king’s campaigns since they both shared common strategies, common struggles and common values.

            Although Gandhi and king lives were cut short as a result of violence up to date their values have much to teach the world relating to divisiveness, war, discrimination and terrorism. Most Americans know very little concerning Hinduism and only several of them imagine that Hinduism values had any influence concerning development of the American society. However, the little they know relating to Hinduism is probably gotten from their knowledge concerning Mahatma Gandhi. Several Americans understand that Gandhi life’s work and teachings had a tremendous effect on development of the American society all through the civil Rights movement.

            Mahatma Gandhi brought a valuable gift of social justice, of non-violence and of the community service. Gandhi’s life acted as an example and this light illuminates the globe and which saved mankind from our own inhumanity to one another. The torch was handled by numerous hands. Such people included Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays who was the Morehouse college principal, who had just returned from India being one of the increasing numbers of the African-American disciples of Gandhi. When Luther king joined Morehouse aged 15 years old, Dr. Mays emerged to be one of the huge influences in his life. Therefore, in this regard a torch was passed on.

            Dr. King and coretta scott king in February 1959 spent one month in India where they studied Gandhi’s march nonviolence techniques as guests of Jawaharlal Nehru, who was a prime minister in India. The effect of the teachings of Gandhi’s teachings and illustration on the life of Dr. Kings was considerable and he carried with him to USA the Gandhi’s message.

            Luther king once narrated a story Ebenezer Baptist church congregation in Atlanta concerning his visit to India. In February 2000, Mohan Gundhi arrived at Emory University as a resident fellow, Rev Andrew Young and Bishop Tutu took part in public discussion with him where they discussed concerning violence and Religion in southern states of America. Between January to April in 2000 was pronounced ‘A season for Non- violence,’ which was a public awareness campaign that was led by a group of eight kingandhian non violent fellowships and reconciliation across the nation.

            The climax of the season took part over spiritual Awareness Week in between March-April in 2000 with fantastic ceremony dedicating honorary degrees posthumously for spiritual leader Gandhi and also his wife at Morehouse College, which is one of the most popular Black colleges in America. Gandhi institute for reconciliation was established at this occasion where massive plague containing the words“ I have a dream’’, Dr. kings jr’s historical speech. The reason why Gandhi was being honored and valued in a nation which is very far from his home country even 50 years following his departure was due to the clout that Gandhi had on civil rights movement and African Americans during 1950’s to 1960’s.

            The leader of the American civil rights movement, martin Luther king junior who was later awarded the Nobel peace Prize was greatly influenced by the ideologies of Gandhi and he also advocated the same as a leader of the civil rights movement. The outcomes of the American civil rights movement using the ideologies of Gandhi are evident even today where African Americans are treated equally as the white Americans. There was severe racial discrimination on the Blacks and in South Africa there was an instance where an educated lawyer who was well dressed was harshly thrown out of the train’s first class cabin back in South Africa.

            A similar occurrence Montgomery Bus accident in 1955 led to a revolution and his experiments with the genuineness shall be important in leading the civil rights movement. Inspired by Ruskin and Thoreau, Gandhi’s experiments have developed both in size and shape and spread via his printing press in Durban and were successfully adopted in India, south Africa and finally it reached to the Negros. This was an instantaneous event that occurred over a long period of time. Influence of Mahatma Gandhi on peace movement was experienced in early 1920’s.

            John Holmes who was Unitarian minister and a popular debater who was very influential in forming NAACP(National Association for Advancement of colored people) laid down his finding of mahatma Gandhi in a sermon which was titled “The Christ of Today’’ that was circulated widely. In 1922 he gave another sermon which was titled “who is the greatest Man in World Today’’ where his description of Gandhi astonished many listeners where most of the listeners had not heard the name Gandhi before. Holmes also published “My Gandhi’’ in 1953 which was also one of his works where he described his interactions and meetings with Gandhi.

            Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography was initially published in United States in magazine unity which John Holmes was the editor. Dandi March spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi which was a 200 mile walk to Dandi from porbandar has gained popularity and international media coverage where it served also as an inspiration source to many idealists. Inside Asia by John Gunther was widely read in United States where it gave sympathetic portraits of Nehru and Gandhi during this March heightening the significance in Indian independence movement.

            Before this Gandhi attracted the world attention as he spearheaded the first successful satyagraha which was a Sanskrit word meaning firmness for the truth cause which was finalized by the south Africa’s liberation from the Apartheid reign. The movement which was undertaken simultaneously in South Africa although not fully active got constant source of inspiration from Gandhi’s ideology of active resistance which was based on the principles of non violence. In America the blacks were not fully aware of Gandhi’s initiatives until the emergence of martin Luther king who became their leader. However there was a constant flow of information which assisted in sparking the civil rights movement at times however not on large scale.

            Only a small number of the colored individuals mostly educated class and included a minority of blacks who were fully aware of non violent struggle occurring in South Africa in late nineteenth century and early twentieth century in India.

            Gandhi’s efforts and ideologies also influenced the religious leaders who also were social idealists where they learnt on applying religious insights to both political and social challenges. They were highly inspired by his battle against untouchability and caste.

            While Holmes remained to be the leading populariser of the Gandhi’s ideologies in united states also there were also Stanley jones who was a Methodist missionary who highly influenced by his personal familiarity in India; and also Kirby page who was a key figure in peace movement for many decades.

            African American started attending conferences in paris and England on coloured peoples congresses and pan-African where Gandhi’s followers expressed the illogicality of the ordinary plight of “black and brown races’’. Among the participants from the United States was Du Bois whose association as also that of Marcus Garvey who was All-African leader with expatriate Indian nationalists resulted to a stable stream of them going aboard on lecture tours of United States and conference. There were some whites apart from African Americans who promoted the campaign of equal rights to all the American citizens. These whites were very active in supporting the African Americans where they attended the conferences which were held by Gandhi’s followers.

            In mid 1920’s they were joined by popular dignitaries such as Rev CF Andrews and also Mirabai who were who close English emissaries, joined by Gertrude Emerson an American journalist Activist who were sent abroad later by Mahatma Gandhi to correct deceptive polemics by British regarding the universality and motivation of the campaign he had spearheaded in India. Other many delegates of the Indian national congress also followed. Popular Negros ministers involved in peace movement were Howard Thurman and Benjamin Mays held interviews with Mahatma Gandhi and he commented to Howard that it may be via the Negros that the pure message of non violence will be delivered around the world.

            Reinhold Niebuhr was another significant character to be dealt with and in his book “moral man and immoral society’’ he said that Mahatma Gandhi’s non violent technique could be of great importance to a minority group which is being oppressed such as the blacks in America3. Reinhold also added that non violent resistance although it is not an absolute solution for Black Americans, but if it is used in the Gandhi’s manner then this could result to justice which is unattainable through moral persuasion.

            However it was until 1950’s when this Gandhi’s ideology was implemented in civil rights movement. Therefore each important step in the Gandhi’s struggle including his fasting, successful satyagrahas like the salt march, imprisonment, together with his powerful personal messages to the American Negroes were printed and distributed across the leading Black magazines and papers and also the independent church newsletters.

            Specifically the most popular among them were crisis which was edited by Du Bois since 1910 together with Harlem Renaissance, the National council of churches, Atlanta Daily World, Christian century, The Chicago Defender, unity, Baltimore Afro-American, the American Negro Labor Council and the Norfolk Guide intensified Gandhi’s coverage in 1920’s and also 1930’s and also featured articles from the growing traffic between. American south and Gandhi’s India beginning with the opening African- American delegation, in order to meet Mahatma Gandhi in 1936.Black America joined in celebrations of India’s independence with a delegation which was led by Benjamin Mays and Mordecai Johnson leaving for New Delhi. Many writers had been greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and also their writings had a significant impact beyond the peace movement. Such writers included Chester Bowles, Louis Fischer, Edmond Taylor, Vincent Sheean, Pearl Buck, Herrymon Maurer, Frances And John Gunther.

            Gandhi had a great influence on martin lather king who was the leader of American civil rights movement thus this movement was operated and based on the Gandhi’s ideas and principles which had a lot of influence on many people even in America. This is because king who was the leader of the American movement of civil rights in the United States embraced Gandhi’s methodology and philosophy in struggling for justice. He became a great follower and an avid preacher of Gandhian principles.

            King believed strongly that the moral justice can be acquired in the rightful approach through taking the method of non- violence. Concurrently, Luther king’s interest in Mahatma Gandhi and his principles increased. In universities and colleges there has been a constant interest in Mahatma Gandhi on part of those personalities who are interested in social justice and peace. New course which deals absolutely on Gandhian principles have started being introduced in the universities.

            The success of the tested Gandhian approaches in the struggle for Indian freedom and similarities between the African American movement of civil rights and Indian freedom struggle has influenced both followers and leaders to adopt the ideologies of Gandhi in their struggle for equality. Martin Luther king was attracted to Gandhi due to the fact that he the first individual to use Jesus’ love ethics beyond personal level and also for using love ethic as a tool of effecting social change in large scale.

            With many young nonviolent activists eventually king, jr mobilized non violent human barricades, mass movement, marches, civil disobedience, undertaking satyagraha-style sit-ins systematically, non cooperation pickets and strikes, spiced by use of passionate speeches while risking police beating and arrests from Montgomery to Birmingham, Atlanta to Albany and the popular Selma march on Washington D.C or else at other civil rights campaigns sites across united states using his popular phrase “ I have a dream…’’ King also spoke out also against the dangerous and distracting American participation in Vietnam War. However, it worth noting that king did not implement all methods that were preached by Gandhi. For example, he resisted using the idea of taking over the private property and refusing to pay taxes and he contemplated however he never adopted fasting. In spite of these discrepancies, king implemented Gandhi’s overall non-violent resistance philosophy.

            In 2001 Martin Luther king was influenced by Gandhi’s approaches in becoming the civil rights movement leader and is forever the Africans American’s hero. Coretta scott at National civil rights museum based in Tennessee said Gandhi’s example and teachings provided a strong influence on king’s leadership. Indian ambassador in USA, Latin man singh at the same event said that king and Gandhi joined America and India together through bonds of shared struggle and suffering.

            The influence of Mahatma Gandhi on civil rights movement which occurred thousand miles away from India or England, where he got his education or in South Africa where Gandhi experimented with new principles had been very deep. It is evident that Mahatma Gandhi was invisible force of civil rights movement in United States4. King Jr was not only the leader who adopted ideologies of Gandhi into the fight for equality by African Americans there were many others like the followers of Gandhi from India who played a great role in giving the non- violent protest the shape as early as in the twentieth century. After the king’s arrival the civil rights movement in United States has strict adherence to the Gandhi’s principles like satyagraha and non violent protests.


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