The Impact of Gandhi on American Society Through Martin Luther King Jr.

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Most Americans know little about Hinduism and few imagine that the values of Hinduism had any influence on the development of American society. But what little they do know of Hinduism is most likely derived from their knowledge of Mahatma Gandhi. Few Americans realize that Gandhi's teachings and life's work had a tremendous impact on the development of American society during the Civil Rights Movement.

Mohandas K. Gandhi, known to the world as The Mahatma, or the "Great Soul", brought a great gift to the modern world. That gift was the light of Non-Violence, of Service to the Community and of Social Justice. His life served as an example and this light became a torch which illuminated our world and which saved us from our own inhumanity to each other.

The torch was carried by many hands. They included Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, the principal of Morehouse College, who returned from India as one of the growing number of African-American disciples of Mahatma Gandhi. When Dr. King entered Morehouse at the age of 15, Dr. Mays became one of the great influences in his life. And there, the torch was passed on. In February of 1959, Dr. and Coretta Scott King spent a month in India studying Gandhi's March techniques of nonviolence as guests of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The impact of Gandhi's teaching and example on Dr. King's life was considerable, and he carried Gandhi's message with him back to America.

Dr. King once told a story of his visit to India to the congregation of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Dr. King told the members of his church, "I remember when Coretta Scott King and I were in India, we journeyed down one afternoon to the southernmost part of India to the city of Trivandrum in Kerala. That afternoon I was to speak at a school, what would be the equivalent of what we call a high school in this country. This particular school was attended by and large by students who were the children of former ‘untouchables'.

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