Mohandas K. Gandhi, known to the world as The Mahatma, or the "Great Soul", brought a great gift to the modern world. That gift was the light of Non-Violence, of Service to the Community and of Social Justice. His life served as an example and this light became a torch which illuminated our world and which saved us from our own inhumanity to each other.
Â Â Â Â The torch was carried by many hands. They included Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, the principal of Morehouse College, who returned from India as one of the growing number of African-American disciples of Mahatma Gandhi. When Dr. King entered Morehouse at the age of 15, Dr. Mays became one of the great influences in his life. And there, the torch was passed on.Â In February of 1959, Dr. and Coretta Scott King spent a month in India studying Gandhi's March techniques of nonviolence as guests of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.Â The impact of Gandhi's teaching and example on Dr. King's life was considerable, and he carried Gandhi's message with him back to America.
Â Â Â Â Dr. King once told a story of his visit to India to the congregation of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Dr. King told the members of his church, "I remember when Coretta Scott King and I were in India, we journeyed down one afternoon to the southernmost part of India to the city of Trivandrum in Kerala. That afternoon I was to speak at a school, what would be the equivalent of what we call a high school in this country. This particular school was attended by and large by students who were the children of former 'untouchables'.
Â Â Â "The principal of the school introduced me and then as he came to the conclusion of his introduction, he said, 'Young people, I would like to present to you a fellow untouchable from the United States of America,'. And for a moment, I was a bit shocked and even peeved that I would be referred to as an untouchable.
Â Â Â Â "I started thinking about the fact that twenty million of my brothers and sisters were still smothering in an air-tight cage of poverty in an affluent society. As I thought about this, I finally said to myself, 'Yes, I am an untouchable, and every negro in the United States is an untouchable.'"
Â Â Â In 1959, Dr. King gave a sermon on the life of Gandhi in Birmingham Alabama. In that sermon, Dr. King says "The world doesn't like people like Mahatma Gandhi. That's strange, isn't it? They don't like people like Christ, nor do they like people like Lincoln. They killed Gandhi â€“ this man who had done all of that for India, who gave his life and who mobilized and galvanized 400 million people for independence.Â One of his own fellow Hindus felt that he was a little too favorable to Muslims, felt that he was giving too much to the Muslims.
Â Â Â "Here was the man of non-violence, falling at the hands of a man of violence. Here was a man of love falling at the hands of a man with hate. This seems the way of history. And isn't it significant that he died on the same day as Christ died? It was on a Friday. And this is the story of history, but thank God it never stopped there. Thank God that Good Friday is never the end. The man who shot Gandhi only shot him into the hearts of humanity. For the same reason that Abraham Lincoln was shot, mark you, for the same reason Gandhi was shot â€“ that is, the attempt to heal the wounds of a divided nation â€“ when Abraham Lincoln was shot, Secretary Stanton stood by and said, 'Now he belongs to the ages.' The same things is true of Mahatma Gandhi now: He belongs to the ages."
Â Â Â The teachings of Gandhi Â and his love for the poor and impoverished had a tremendous influence on Dr. King. And he repeatedly made references To Gandhi throughout his career. Thus, Dr. King made Gandhi an integral part of the civil rights movement in America. Ambassador Lalit Mansingh spoke about the Gandhi-King connection at a ceremony last yearÂ at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, saying, "Gandhi and King joined India and the United States together through the bonds of shared suffering and struggle," The Ambassador expressed a keen understanding of the influence of Gandhi on Dr. King when we said,Â "Dr. King synthesized Gandhi's method of nonviolence and the Christian ethics of love to develop a powerful weapon in the struggle of the African-American community for human dignity."
Â Â Â Â Â Coretta Scott Scott King has said, "Mohandas K. Gandhi's teachings and example provided a pivotal influence on Martin's leadership." She was influential in the establishment of the Gandhi Room at the King Center, which paved the way later for the installation of the Gandhi Statue on the grounds of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site.
Dr. King received the torch from Mahatma Gandhi, before the Mahatma's assassination in 1948, and held it high until his own assassination three decades later. It was kept burning by the civil rights movement. And today, it is we who must carry on the torch and keep it ever lifted up, that it may be passed on to future generations. The Gandhi Foundation is honored to continue this tradition of bearing the torch of Non-Violence, of Service to the Community and of Social Justice.
Dr. H.V. Shivadas, D.D. is the Director of Operations and Assitant Executive Director of the Gandhi Foundation USA , a 501(c)3 non-profit organization headquartered in the Martin Luther King National Historic District of Atlanta, Georgia. The GFUSA is dedicated to promoting non-violent conflict resolution, community service and social justice.