Mahatma Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

4 min read

| By Traci Cothran |

Like many other people, I love to learn new things – with history being my favorite subject.  At Gale, we have a volunteer program at a local elementary school where we are “reading buddies” with kids once a week.  It’s nice to laugh with these youngsters, and it’s fun to watch the kids progress in their reading skills.  This year, I’m paired with a third grader named Anirudh.  He’s told me his family moved from India to the US less than two years ago; his English is great, and he is sooo curious.  We recently read a book about Martin Luther King, Jr., and Anirudh was eager to share with me what he knew about Mahatma Gandhi and how the two men were connected.  Smart kid!  A few days later I spied my ninth-grader studying Gandhi’s Salt March in 1930 – of which I knew, well, nothing.

Since I never formally studied Gandhi in school, I figured these were signs it was time for me to take a deeper dive into Gandhi’s life and times. So naturally, I turned to our Gale resources.  Here are just a few of the things I learned from Biography In Context and World History In Context:

  • Gandhi was a lawyer, educated in London, who practiced in India and South Africa.
  • He was the most prominent leader in the nationalist movement to free India from Great Britain’s rule; he was a proponent of nonviolent protest and civil disobedience, practices which deeply influenced Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • He was imprisoned multiple times for organizing campaigns of civil disobedience in India.
  • In 1930, Gandhi led a 240-mile march to oppose the British monopoly on the salt industry.  Indians could not even pick up salt on their shores without being subject to a British tax on it!
  • Gandhi believed in Indian culture and village communities, and urged nationalists to shun Western culture. His wearing of the khadi exemplified this belief – Indians should spin their own clothing instead of buying British goods.
  • After a century-long freedom movement and decades of protest led by Gandhi, India achieved independence in August 1947 when the British passed legislation partitioning British India into Pakistan and India, and declaring them independent.  However, this geographic split highlighted religious divisions, resulting in great sectarian violence and mass displacement of millions of people.
  • Less than six months later, Gandhi was assassinated, on January 30, 1948.  A trial was held for the men who conspired to assassinate Gandhi; seven men were found guilty, and two were hanged.
  • Gandhi achieved his goal of India’s independence, but not his dream of Indian unity.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. studied Gandhi’s philosophy and the Gandhian Technique while in theological school, “never realizing that I would live in a situation where it would be useful to me.”  Here’s a really neat video of MLK talking about this:

I love learning about amazing historical connections, like this one.  It makes you wonder: How might history have been different if MLK hadn’t heard about and considered the work Gandhi had done?  Who influenced Gandhi?  There is, of course, so much more to know about these men who left such enduring legacies, each at great personal sacrifice.

Start your own journey into their lives–and see where your travels lead you! Here are just a handful of resources in our GVRL collection to get you going:

UXL Protest, Riots and Rebellions Tracey Vasil Biscontini, ed. Farmington Hills, MI: UXL, 2018. 732 pp. 3 vols.

Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace, & Conflict  Lester Kurtz. Ed. Lester Kurtz.  Vol. 2.  2nd ed.  San Diego: Academic Press, 2008.

The 100 Most Influential Religious Leaders of All Time  The Britannica Guide to the World’s Most Influential People New York: Britannica Educational Publishing with Rosen Educational Services, 2017.

Encyclopedia of Global Justice  Nancy E. Snow. Ed. Deen K. Chatterjee.  Vol. 1.  Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2011.

Encyclopedia of Race and Racism Rajmohan Gandhi. Ed. Patrick L. Mason.  Vol. 2.  2nd ed.  Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2013.

The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest: 1500 to the Present  Kunal Chattopadhyay. Ed. Immanuel Ness.  Vol. 3 Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

Human Rights Encyclopedia  Carl Sketch. Ed. James R. Lewis and Carl Sketch.  Vol. 2: Countries M-Z, Issues and Individuals A-I.  Armonk, NY: Sharpe Reference, 2001.

Not a GVRL subscriber? Request a trial and start researching today!

Traci J. Cothran


About the Author


Traci Cothran is a manager in Gale’s Database Program and a history buff, so she can often be found watching videos from the early 1900s in Gale’s World History In Context.  

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