Gandhi's Birthday: Dr. King's Tributes to The Mahatma



Pictured Above: The cover of The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., available at The King Center's Bookstore and Resource Center.

October 2nd marks the 143rd birthday anniversary of Mohandas K. Gandhi, leader of India's nonviolent liberation struggle and a pivotal influence on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s embrace of the philosophy and strategy of nonviolence. The King Center's Freedom Hall building includes a 'Gandhi Room' and the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site includes a statue of Gandhi. In commemoration of Gandhi's birthday, The King Center presents the following quotes by Dr. King about Gandhi's influence on the nonviolent movement Dr. King lead in the United States:  

“Then one Sunday afternoon I traveled to Philadelphia to hear a sermon by Dr. Mordecai Johnson, president of Howard University.  He was there to preach for the Fellowship House of Philadelphia.  Dr. Johnson had just returned from a trip to India, and to my great interest.  He spoke of the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.  His message was so profound and electrifying that I left the meeting and bought a half-dozen books on Gandhi’s life and works.  Like most people, I had heard of Gandhi, but I had never studied him seriously.  As I read I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of nonviolent resistance.  I was particularly moved by the Salt March to the Sea and his numerous fasts.  The whole concept of “Satyagraha” (Satya is truth which equals love, agraha is force; “Satyagraha,” therefore, means truth-force or love force) was profoundly significant to me. As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform.  Prior to reading Gandhi, I had about concluded that the ethics of Jesus were only effective in individual relationship.  The “turn the other cheek” philosophy and the “love your enemies” philosophy were only valid, I felt when individuals were in conflict with other individuals; when racial groups and nations were in conflict a more realistic approach seemed necessary.  But after reading Gandhi, I saw how utterly mistaken I was. Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale.  Love for Gandhi was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking for do many months.  The intellectual and moral satisfaction that I failed to gain from the utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill, the revolutionary methods of Marx and Lenin, the social contracts theory of Hobbes, the “back to nature” optimism of Rousseau, and the superman philosophy of Nietzsce.  I found in the nonviolent resistance philosophy of Gandhi.  I came to feel that this was the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”

Stride Toward Freedom, pp 96-97


“In the summer of 1956 the name of Mahatma Gandhi was well-known in Montgomery.  People who had never heard of the little brown saint of India were now saying his name with an air of familiarity.  Nonviolent resistance had emerged as the technique of the movement, while love stood as the regulating ideal.  In other words, Christ furnished the spirit and the motivation while Gandhi furnished the method.”

Stride Toward Freedom p. 85


“As the days unfolded, the inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi began to exert its influence.  I had come to see early that the Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to the Negro in his struggle for freedom.”

Stride Toward Freedom, pp. 84-85


“Posterity could not escape him even if it tried.  By all standards of measurement, he is one of the half-dozen greatest men in world history.”

“My Trip to the Lard of Gandhi,” Ebony, July 1959.


“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon…a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and enobles the man who wields it…It was used in a magnificent way by Mohandas K. Gandhi to challenge the might of the British empire and free his people from the political domination of economic exploitation inflicted upon them for centuries.  He struggled only with the weapons of truth soul-force, non-injury and courage.”

Nobel Lecture, 1964


“He was able to mobilize and galvanize more people in his lifetime than any other person in the history of this world.”

Sermon on Gandhi at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church”


If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought, and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony.  We may ignore him at our own risk.”

The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr. p. 71


“The final thing I would like to say to you is that the world doesn’t like people like Gandhi.  That’s strange, isn’t it? They don’t like people like Christ, they don’t like people like Abraham Lincoln…One afternoon he walked to his evening prayer meeting.  Every evening he had a prayer meeting where hundreds of people came.  And he prayed with them.  And on his way out that afternoon, one of his fellows Hindus shot him.  And here was a man of nonviolence falling at the hands of man of violence.  Here was a man of love falling at the hands of a man of hate.  This seems the way of history.  And isn’t it significant that he died on the same day that Christ died.  It was on a Friday.  And this is the story of history.  But thank God, it never stopped there.  Thank God Friday is never the end.  The man who shot Gandhi only shot him into the hearts of humanity.”

“Sermon on Gandhi at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church”