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Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Pilgrimage to India

Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta, both wearing garlands, are received by admirers after landing at the airport in New Delhi, India, in 1959.

 

R. SATAKOPAN / AP

 

 

Introduction

Nearly sixty years ago, on February 3rd, 1959, Martin Luther King, Jr., embarked on a five-week long journey to India. Accompanied by his wife, Coretta Scott King, and his friend Dr. Lawrence Dunbar Reddick, King toured the homeland of Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), the leader of India’s independence movement. Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolence and his success in ending the colonial rule of the British Empire over India profoundly influenced and inspired King’s Civil Rights work back in the US. In the struggles of the Indian people against imperialism and the African Americans against racial discrimination, Martin Luther King, Jr., saw a connection and a common goal of ending oppression and injustice. 

During the busy five weeks, the Kings and Reddick met with Indian politicians, scholars, Gandhi’s family members, and ordinary citizens. They also traveled across the country visiting places relevant to Gandhi’s life, and the site of his cremation. The trip had a great and lasting impact on King, as he himself later surmised. Experiencing firsthand the results of Gandhi's nonviolent activism, Martin Luther King, Jr., solidified his belief in the power of nonviolence as guiding ideology in the pursuit of freedom and justice. 

Author: 
Dr. Mira Foster
Subject: 
U.S. History, World History
Grades: 
6-8, 9-12

Essential Question

How did the trip to India impact Martin Luther King, Jr. and his understanding and practice of nonviolence? 

Sub Questions

  • What is the importance of the India trip?
  • Why did King want to travel to India?
  • How was King received in India?
  • What were King’s observations and impressions during his trip?
  • What did nonviolence mean to King?
  • What are the similarities between the role that Gandhi played in liberating India and King’s activism in the Civil Rights movement? What are the differences?
  • Is nonviolence still a useful tool in achieving social change? If so, how can we apply it today to facilitate social changes?
  • Why should we commemorate the 60th anniversary of Dr. King’s visit to India?