As a peace activist and president of the Quaker Center in New Delhi, India, an affiliate of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), James Ellery Bristol served as host of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s month-long tour of India in 1959.
Born in 1912 in Philadelphia, Bristol began his career as an outspoken pacifist after receiving degrees from Gettysburg College and Lutheran Theological Seminary. In 1935 Bristol became pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Camden, New Jersey. He spent 18 months in prison for refusing to serve in the military during World War II and, after his release in 1943, left the pulpit to work with peace organizations in Philadelphia. In 1947 he joined the AFSC, an organization founded by Quakers in 1917 to provide conscientious objectors an opportunity to aid civilian war victims. In 1957 Bristol was transferred to New Delhi, where he became director of the Quaker Center, a position that led to his first meeting with King.
In December 1958, after the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi invited the Kings to tour India, Bristol, with the assistance of King’s representative Bayard Rustin and the AFSC in Philadelphia, arranged an itinerary. When the Kings arrived in Bombay in February 1959, Bristol accompanied them as they toured India, speaking at public gatherings and meeting local dignitaries. Bristol chronicled the trip in a series of letters to his wife, Dorothy, expressing frustration that the focus of the trip was being “thought of in terms of the return to U.S.A. and what will make an impact and produces an effect there” (Bristol, 25 February 1959). Nevertheless, he reported to the AFSC that the “net effect of the King trip seems to have been very, very good!” (Papers 5:137n). Following the Kings’ visit, Bristol continued to work for the AFSC until his retirement in 1977. He remained active in the organization through 1986, and continued his peace advocacy until his death in 1992.
Bristol, et al., With the Kings in India, A Souvenir of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Visit to India, February–March 1959 (New Delhi, India: Gandhi National Memorial Fund, 1959), WRMP-GAMK.
Bristol to Dorothy Bristol, 25 February 1959, AFSCR-PPAFS.
Bristol to Johnson, 10 March 1959, in Papers 5:137–142.
Introduction, in Papers 5:4–12.
G. Ramachandran to King, 27 December 1958, in Papers 4:552–553.