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Part One: Early Disciples of Gandhi's Principle of Nonviolence


In these lesson activities, students will take a closer look at the individuals who studied Mahatma Gandhi's ideas of nonviolence and applied them to resist inequality and injustice in the United States. Students will also learn about organizations founded in the early 20th century that were influenced by and committed to the Gandhian principle of nonviolence.

1. Classroom Activity

The goal of this activity is to introduce students to influential individuals who studied and taught the Gandhian philosophy of nonviolence. Some of them visited India and met with Gandhi firsthand, others read his writings and applied his ideology to their work for equality and justice at home, in the U.S. Invite each student to choose a person of their interest and conduct research using the King Encyclopedia:

Ask students to introduce the individual they research: how did they encounter nonviolence? How did it influence their work and activism? What was their connection to Martin Luther King, Jr., and/or the civil rights movement? Lastly, discuss with students: does the legacy of the African American Gandhians have any impact in our lives today?

2. Classroom Activity

The goal of this activity is to introduce students to organizations committed to racial equality and social justice. Begin by focusing on the Fellowship Of Reconciliation (FOR) and the Congress Of Racial Equality (CORE) as two of the early 20th century organizations influenced by the concept of nonviolence. Examine also the history of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) founded in 1960.

Divide students into three groups; group one will focus on FOR, group two will focus on CORE, group three will focus on SNCC. Within each group, ask students to pair up, read information about the assigned organization, and discuss it. Discussion questions:

  • When was the organization formed?
  • What were the social/historical circumstances at the time?
  • What was the mission of the organization? (For SNCC, review the SNCC Purpose Statement,) (use the written document analysis worksheetif necessary)
  • How did the principle of nonviolence shape the organizations and their work?
  • Who played a significant role within these organizations? 

After students have discussed the organizations in small groups, ask them to share their information with the entire class. Outline the characteristics of each organization, including influential individuals who propagated the principles of nonviolence. 

3. Classroom Activity

Share with students the collection of quotes from the African-American Gandhians. Invite students to pick a quote and ask to write a short reflection on the quote: Why did you choose the quote? How do you interpret the meaning of the quote? How does it relate to civil rights activism? 

4. Additional Activity - Reading Primary Sources

Rev. Howard Thurman was one of the most influential leaders in the history of intellectual and religious life in the mid-20th century United States. In spring 1936, he led a delegation of African Americans to meet with Mahatma Gandhi. Deeply influenced by Gandhi's ideology of nonviolence, Thurman became one of the major architects of the modern nonviolent civil rights movement and a key mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ask students to read the notes on the meeting between Mahatma Gandhi, Howard Thurman, and his wife Sue Bailey Thurman, "With Our Negro Guests." Using the written document analysis worksheet, ask students to examine the interview. What was the main topic of the discussion? What was Gandhi interested in? What has he learned from the Thurmans? What did the Thurmans learn from Gandhi? 


Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR):

FOR King Encycopledia Entry

Congress Of Racial Equality (CORE):

CORE King Encycolpedia Entry

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC):

SNCC King Encyclopedia Entry
SNCC Purpose Statement 

Howard Thurman, "With Our Negro Guests"

Written document analysis worksheet

Back to: 

Introduction: African American Gandhians 
Part Two: Nonviolence Advocates Today

Questions? Suggestions? Ideas?

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