What the US, India and the world can learn from King and Gandhi
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, and Mahatma Gandhi died on January 30, 1948.
However, there is a much more indelible connection between these two foremost practitioners of non-violence to advance civil and human rights, than the month of birth and death that they share. That is their connection with one another and the examples they set for those in their homelands and around the world.
Martin Luther King Jr was a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi.
More than 60 years ago in February, 1959, King travelled to India. During that trip he told a group of reporters, “To other countries I may go as a tourist, but to India I come as a pilgrim.” During his visit, he also stated in a radio broadcast, “If this age is to survive it must follow the way of love and non-violence that Gandhi so nobly illustrated in his life.”
It is both tragic and ironic that both of these prominent advocates of non-violence died violently. Gandhi’s life was cut short by an assassin who shot him because of his advocacy for unity and equality between India’s Hindus and Muslims. King’s life was cut short by an assassin who was a supporter of white segregation.
Several years ago, American novelist and civil rights activist, Marian Wright Edelman observed, “A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi to come back – but they are gone. We are it. It is up to us. It is up to you.”
In 2015, I had the distinct honour of being awarded the Martin Luther King Jr Legacy Award for International Service. At that time, I said, “I agree wholeheartedly with Ms. Edelman’s statement of responsibility to carry on the good work of King and Gandhi. It is up to us. It is up to you. It is up to me.”
I then qualified that by saying,”But I do not agree that these great men are gone. They live on through each of us who are willing to pick up the baton of non-violence and use it as an instrument of peace to make the world a healthier and better place for all.
In these polarised times in the United States, India, and indeed, around the world, Gandhi and King live on through their deeds and words.
Here is counsel from Gandhi that is relevant for the situation in present-day America. “To safeguard democracy the people must have a keen sense of independence, self-respect and their oneness, and should insist upon choosing as their representatives only such persons as are good and true.”
Here is counsel from King that is relevant for the situation in India today. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
In his last speech in Memphis, Tennessee, on the day before he was killed on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr said to a massive crowd, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. …. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
King did not get to the promised land. But he did get to India, where he spent a month learning from Gandhi’s associates, friends and family.
King never met Gandhi but did spend a night in his residence. Now he is united with him above.
In January, 2020, India, the US, and the world, need more peace, love and healing. We need a renewal and a reawakening of our better angels. Those of us who understand this must hear the voices of King and Gandhi and step forward to “walk in the light” and to “be the change”.
Frank F Islam is an entrepreneur, civic leader, and thought leader based in Washington DC.
The views expressed are personal