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Exhibition chronicles Gandhi-King ties


New Delhi : The Black History Month in the US, which began Feb 1, has connected to India with a showcase of civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr.’s pilgrimage to the country and his ideological tryst with Mahatma Gandhi.

The month-long visual chronicle, ‘Journey Towards Freedom’, opened at the American Center here Wednesday.

It documents King’s love affair with India, his inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi and the fruition of coloured America’s dream with the presidentship of Barack Obama in 2008-2009.

“The exhibition coincides with the Black History Month in February in the US. Without Gandhiji, we would have had no King. We are indebted to Gandhiji,” Lydia Barraza, a writer and senior officer at the US embassy, told IANS.

“The Black History Month, over the years, has widened its frame to include women, LGBT groups and other minorities,” she added.

King’s philosophy of non-violence was essentially Gandhian, a panel on display at the exhibition said.

“The true non-violent resistance is not unrealistic submission to evil… it is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence,” Martin Luther King, Jr., had said in 1959.

Gandhi, on his part, was influenced by American resistance writer Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience”.

The showcase is made of 15 panels that bring out aspects of King’s and Gandhi’s lives that were common to their mission of non-violence.

King’s cry for equal rights for America’s coloured population was crafted by Gandhi’s view of the “black people”.

“Let not the 12 million negros (the then population of the coloured people) be ashamed by the fact that they are the grandchildren of the slaves… There is no dishonour in being a slave, there is dishonour in being a slave owner,” Gandhi had told a delegation of African-American leaders led by Howard Thurman, a theologian and educator, in 1936.

Gandhi urged his American visitors to try “civil disobedience”.

Martin Luther King, Jr. a seminary student, first came to know of Gandhi during a weekly college lecture by educator Mordecai Wyatt Johnson at Morehouse College where he studied between 1944-1948.

“The message was so electrifying that I left the meeting and bought half-a-dozen books on Gandhi’s life and works,” King said.

It changed King’s life forever, marking the beginning of his “journey to freedom”.

“To other countries, I may go as a tourist, to India, I come as a pilgrim,” King said in 1959.

With a grant of $4,000 from Christopher Reynolds Foundation and $1,000 from the American Friends Service Committee, King, wife Coretta and a friend Lawrence Reddick visited India in February 1959, a few weeks after King’s 30th birthday.

The group visited Santiniketan, Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Agra and New Delhi.

In the capital, King and his group were hosted by Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira. The Kings visited Gandhi’s memorial at Rajghat, where Coretta King said: “It was like meeting George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in a single day.”

A year after King’s assassination in 1968, Coretta returned to India to collect the ‘Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding’.