King’s inspiration: Mohandas K. Gandhi
Gandhi and his philosophy were of special interest to the progressive African American community. Referring to the African American freedom struggle, Gandhi had called the practice of segregation “a negation of civilisation” (“Letter from Gandhi”). Howard Thurman met with Gandhi in 1935, Benjamin Mays in 1936, and William Stuart Nelson in 1946. King’s colleagues Bayard Rustin, James Lawson, and Mordecai Johnson had also visited India.
Gandhi’s philosophy directly influenced King, who first employed strategies of nonviolent direct action in the 1955 to 1956 Montgomery bus boycott. In 1959, King traveled to India with his wife, Coretta Scott King, and Lawrence D. Reddick on a visit co-sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee and Gandhi Smarak Nidhi (Gandhi Memorial Fund). King met with the Gandhi family, as well as with Indian activists and officials, including Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, during the five-week trip. In his 1959 Palm Sunday sermon, King preached on the significance of Gandhi’s 1928 salt march and his fast to end discrimination against India’s untouchables. King ultimately believed that the Gandhian approach of nonviolent resistance would ‘‘bring about a solution to the race problem in America’’ (Papers 4:355).
For more information on Mohandas K. Gandhi, see the Encyclopedia entry.