Stanford University The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute
Lectures in India on “The Influence of Gandhi on the African-American Freedom Struggle”
September 16, 2008

Almost fifty years after Martin Luther King, Jr., visited the Gandhi Museum in Madurai on his 1959 tour of India, I laid a wreath on a statue of Gandhi before my lecture.  While serving as co-instructor of the Stanford India Serminar, which consisted of fifteen undergraduates, I also lectured to various Indian audiences about Gandhi's influence on the modern African American Freedom Struggle.  With the exception of my talk at Gujarat Vidyapith University in Ahmedabad, the lectures were arrangned with the assistance of the United States Embassy in New Dehli and the U.S. Consulate general in Chennai.  Addressing groups that included academics, college students, Gandhian activists, and members of the general public, I emphasized the depth of Gandhi's influence on African American leaders.  Although Gandhi's influence on Martin Luther King, Jr., has often been cited in the literature about King, I drew attention to the broader interactions between African Americans on the one hand, and Gandhi and his followers, on the other hand.  As was documented in Sudarshan Kapur's Raising Up a Prophet (1992), black leaders such as theologian Howard Thurman, Morehouse College President Benjamin Mays, Howard University President Mordecai Johnson, veteran pacifist Bayard Rustin, and Methodist activist James Lawson learned about Gandhian ideas during thier travels to India, and each of them later influenced King's understanding of Gandhi.  Moreover, many participants in the African American struggle gained their own understanding of Gandhian concpets from sources other than King.  During the late 1950s, James Lawson organized a study group that attracted many of the included Nashville, Tennessee, students-- such as John Lewis, Diane Nash, James Bevel, and Bernard Lafayette--who in 1960 launched a sustained "sit-in" protest campaign against segregated eating places.  Many of those that Lawson influenced would become active in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a group that was a militant counterpart to King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  I pointed out that the modern African American freedom struggle would have happened even if King had never lived but that King nonetheless was a singularly important visionary who stressed the struggle's significance in the 20th century's global struggle for peace with social justice.

The following institutions hosted my talks:

29 August:  The American Centre in New Dehli

3 September:  Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Dehli

12 September:  Gujarat Vidyapith University, founded by Mahatma Gandhi in 1920

15 September:  The Centre for Contemporary Studies in Chennai (an affiliate of Bharath Sevak Samaj, established by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1952)

16 September:  Department of Modner History, Madurai Kamaraj University

16 September:  The Gandhi Memorial Museum in Madurai

17 September:  Department of Politics & Public Administration, University of Madras, Chennai

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