Martin Luther King Jr. on a Mission

Martin Luther King Jr. on a Mission  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Skinner Inc.

Martin Luther King Jr., listened to his first lecture about Mahatma Gandhi at Crozer Theological Seminary near Chester, Pa., where he was studying in 1948.  He was so excited about Gandhi’s use of nonviolence in fighting social wrongs in India he went out and bought a half-dozen books about the man.   

To other countries I may go as a tourist. But to India I come as a pilgrim. This is because India means to me Mahatma Gandhi, a truly great man of the age.
— Martin Luther King Jr.

For nearly two decades Gandhi conducted a campaign of peaceful resistance to win his country’s freedom from Great Britain.  Martin was fascinated by Gandhi’s mass marches, his boycott of British goods and his hunger fasts which helped shift public opinion against English domination. Gandhi preached the idea of openly disobeying certain laws and willingly facing the penalty for doing so.   

Gandhi’s nonviolent methods gave Martin the courage to use nonviolence as the foundation of the civil rights protests.  King came to believe it was the only way to deal with the brute force of racism. 

“I came to see for the first time its (loves) potency in the area of social reform. I came to feel that this was the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom,” he said.

Martin made a month-long trip to Gandhi’s homeland in February 1959.

“To other countries I may go as a tourist,” he said. “But to India I come as a pilgrim. This is because India means to me Mahatma Gandhi, a truly great man of the age.”

One of the highlights of Martin’s trip was a meeting with Prime Minister Nehru.  He was surprised and flattered by Nehru’s familiarity with his career.  Martin and wife Coretta also visited the site of Gandhi’s cremation and placed a wreath upon the memorial. 

“I left India more convinced than ever before that nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom,” he said. 

During the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott African-Americans broke no laws but protested the segregated seating policy by not riding city buses. The boycott was an example of passive resistance but after returning to America from India Martin decided passive resistance wasn’t enough. He wanted to step up the game and like Gandhi asked his people to disobey some unfair laws, a form of civil disobedience.     

In 1964 Martin was the first African-American selected as Time magazine’s “Man of the Year.”  Now he was as revered in America as Gandhi had been in India.  Even so, not all African-Americans agreed with his philosophy of nonviolence.

Malcolm X, a Black Muslim leader thought Martin was too accepting of whites.  He wanted his people to fight back with violence if necessary. He wanted to keep the races separate and weakened Martin’s support among blacks in northern cities. 

Martin disagreed with Malcolm X but respected his intelligence. When Malcom X was assassinated in 1965, King grieved his death and continued to stand by his nonviolent position.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” he said.

Martin Luther King Jr., ended up as a martyr to the movement he so cherished.  He was killed by an assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tenn. 

“Now Martin is gone from us,” said Ralph Abernathy, Martin’s close friend and associate said. “Now we are alone.”

On Feb. 9, Skinner, Inc., featured a selection of Martin Luther King items in its auction.  

Martin Luther King Jr.

Rally Flyer; with James Meredith; Philadelphia, 1966; 8 ½ inches by 5 ½ inches;  $554.

Press Photographs; 2; King during a press conference; the other of King marching to the courthouse in Montgomery; Chicago, 1965;  $4,613.

Booker T. Washington Items

Framed Letter; $800.

Tintype; Washington standing wearing three-piece suit; $1,169.

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

Relics of the Playground

Relics of the Playground

John Lennon's Last Photo

John Lennon's Last Photo