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To Jayaprakash Narayan

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Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr.?

Date: May 19, 1959

Location: Montgomery, Ala.?

Genre: Letter

Topic: Martin Luther King, Jr. - Travels



While visiting the Indian state of Bihar King spent 14 February at the ashram of Gandhian independence leader Jayaprakash Narayan, an advocate of hand labor and a decentralized economy. According to James Bristol, King “found J. P.'s decentralist ideas challenging, but he could not go as far as J. P. is prepared to.”1 During a jeep ride to the ashram, King reportedly noted Narayan's dependence “upon a factory-produced vehicle to keep his Ashram in touch with the surrounding community.”2

Sri Jayaprakash Narayan
Mahila Charkha Samithi
Kadam Kua, PATNA 3,

Dear Sri Narayan:

I have written you over and over again in my mind, but I am just getting to the point of putting it on paper. Actually, when I returned to my office, I found such an accumulation of mail and other organizational problems that I have been playing a game of catch up ever since.

Words are inadequate for me to express my appreciation to you for making our recent visit to India such a meaningful and enjoyable one. I will long remember our moments together. Your deep sense of dedication, your warm personality, and your devotion to God and man, tremendously impressed me from the very beginning. I was deeply moved by the powerful and positive manner that you are going about the task of serving humanity.

I regret very deeply that problems here at home made it impossible for me to spend more time in India, but I am consoled by the fact that this does not necessarily mean my last visit to India. I hope to come back some day when I can spend much more time.

I returned to the United States more convinced than ever before that nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and human dignity. As a result of my visit to India, I believe that my understanding of nonviolence is greater and my conviction deeper. I hope to spread this message all over the United States.

Please give my best regards to all of the friends that I had an opportunity to meet through you, and especially the members of your Ashram. We are looking forward with great anticipation to your visit to the United States. I hope you will consider it a must to visit us when you come.3

My wife, Coretta, and Dr. Reddick, join me in extending best wishes to you. We have talked about nothing but India since we have been back.

With warm personal regards, I am

Sincerely yours,
Martin L. King, Jr.

1. Bristol, Notes from the tour diary, 10 February-10 March 1959. Jayaprakash Narayan (1902- 1979), born in the Sarah district of Bihar, studied political science and economics for seven years in the United States. Returning to India in 1929, he joined the Indian National Congress and was frequently imprisoned for his anti-colonial activities, which included acts of sabotage. An ally of both Gandhi and Nehru, Narayan was widely regarded as the successor to the prime minister, but he gave up politics in 1954 to join the land redistribution movement headed by Vinoba Bhave. In 1975, Narayan was jailed for leading a protest campaign targeting corruption within the government of prime minister Indira Gandhi.

2. According to Bristol’s tour diary, the visit with Narayan was “both a revelation and a revolution-in-the-process for Martin and Coretta King.” At the ashram, Bristol also observed King’s “great love for children,” referring to him as a “Pied Piper” who “moved about the Ashram with several children clutching his arm or holding his hand.”

3. King had recently agreed to serve on an advisory committee for Narayan’s planned visit, which was canceled the following month (Ballou to Clarence Pickett, 14 May 1959, and Pickett to King, 8 June 1959).

Source: MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Boston University, Boston, Mass.

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