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To Chester Bowles

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Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr. 

Date: October 28, 1957

Location: Montgomery, Ala.

Genre: Letter

Topic: Martin Luther King, Jr. - Political and Social Views



In a 1 October letter Bowles, former U.S. ambassador to India, continued his efforts to persuade King to visit India: “A visit on your part . . . at this time to talk to Gandhian leaders about the potential power of non-violence in the situation which we face would have dramatic implications.” 1 Bowles believed such a conversation would provide King with “an ideal platform from which to launch a nation-wide or regional program that would adapt these same proven techniques to the explosive American challenge.” He also mentioned that while serving as ambassador he had discussed with Gandhian leaders the applicability of nonviolent techniques to American racial problems.2

Mr. Chester Bowles 
Essex, Connecticut 

Dear Mr. Bowles:

Thanks for your very inspiring letter of October 1. I have read every line of it with scrutinizing care. I would have answered before now, but absence from the city and the accumulation of a flood of mail stood in my way.

I am in total agreement with all that you said in the letter. I have been convinced for a long time that the Gandhian method of non-violence coupled with the Christian doctrine of love is the most powerful weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for human dignity. The American Negro has not even scratched the surface in utilizing this potent weapon. It is my hope that as the Negro plunges deeper into the quest for freedom and justice he will plunge even deeper into the philosophy of non-violence. The Negro all over the South must come to the point that he can say to his white brother: “We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. We will not hate you, but we will not obey your evil laws. We will soon wear you down by our capacity to suffer. So in winning the victory we will not only win freedom for ourselves, but we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that you will be changed also. The victory will be a double victory: We will defeat the evil system and win the hearts and souls of the perpetrator of the evil system.”3 It seems to me that this is the only way. I have said to audiences all over the country that if the Negro succumbs to the temptation of using violence in his struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and their chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.

I am still planning to go to India. I agree with you in the feeling that I should go as soon as possible. At the present time I have made tentative plans to go about the middle of March. If this does not materialize, I will definitely go in the month of September 1958. I am deeply grateful to you for the great interest that you have taken in my humble efforts and the contacts you have already made for me in India. As soon as my plans for going to India are definite I will contact you in order to get the names of persons that I should see.

I notice in your letter that you will be in Washington on the 6th and 7th of November. Unfortunately, I will not get to Washington until the 9th of November. It seems, therefore, that I will not have an opportunity to see you on this trip. But I do hope it will be possible for us to get together for a long talk some time in the near future.

With warm personal regards.

Sincerely yours, 
Martin Luther King, Jr.

(Dictated by Rev. King, but signed in his absence.)

1. See also Bowles to King, 28 January 1957. Chester Bliss Bowles (1901–1986), born in Springfield, Massachusetts, received a B.A. (1924) from Yale University. After establishing a successful New York advertising firm, Bowles served as governor of Connecticut (1949–1951), U.S. ambassador to India (1951–1953, 1963–1969), member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1959–1961), and undersecretary of state (1961 ).

2. Additionally, Bowles reported that some Gandhians felt nonviolence “could solve any social-political problems, and even bring about the destruction of Communism within the Soviet Union itself.’’ Other “more sober” observers believed that nonviolence succeeded in India “because the opponent . . . was a nation and a people with a conscience who preferred the good way to the bad way, and because the democratic atmosphere of Britain made it possible for the problems to be brought home to the people.” Bowles reasoned that the victory in Montgomery indicated that the prospects for a Gandhian campaign “are even more favorable” in the United States because “here we are dealing with people, most of whom have a conscience.”

3. For further discussion of King's use of this passage see note 20, King, “Some Things We Must Do,” 5 December 1957, in this volume.

Source: CB, CtY-BR, Chester Bowles Collection, Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, New Haven, Conn., Group 628, Box 142.

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