Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela stand in my mind together as the leaders who showed what fighting for peace really looks like. February is Black History month in the United States and when my son asked what I was going to do for it, I decided this is an opportunity to dive into both the contributions of Blacks on Thursdays and the threads of fate that connect slavery throughout history for Fridays.
I must start, however, with a little brown not black, man.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi spent twenty one years in South Africa and suffered many acts of discrimination. That was where he developed his views on justice and inequality. He used civil disobedience and nonviolent protest to free India from British rule. Tragically, religion tore the new nation apart. Gandhi’s contributions to the world did not end with his death. His form of nonviolent protest inspired an American Baptist minister.
Martin Luther King Jr. was inspired by Gandhi he said,
“Christ gave us the goals and Mahatma Gandhi the tactics.”
One of the greatest orators in history he inspired millions with his dream of peaceful and friendly co-existence between all races, all people. In April 1959 he made a trip to India,
“Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity”.
When the march on Washington took place without violent incident, he proved that the combination of love and inspiration can bring peace and hope to a discontented populace. He was assassinated a few months before I was born. Sadly riots broke out in many US cities after his death.
Nelson Mandela struggled with nonviolence, yet his story is symbolic of the power of nonviolence. It was the nonviolent pleas of people around the world, an international campaign that freed him after twenty-seven years in prison for his political crimes. He paid the world back by working to abolish apartheid, establish multiracial elections and to promote peace and healing, he created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights abuses. Though it may not have been considered a success by all. I feel strongly it was a brave step in the right direction. He spent the remainder of his life in service to the ideals of equal human rights, and fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic and poverty. Despite the controversy of his not always non violent views, he alone died in a bed, with no riots. Ten days of mourning were observed.
As I mourned, I was struck with the sense that a full circle had been completed. From the actions of an Indian Lawyer who was thrown off a South African train in 1893 to an American Minister who stood up for a tired women refusing to give up her seat on a bus in 1955, back to South Africa for another lawyer, finally freed from prison and president of his newly non-apartheid nation in 1994, one hundred and one years later.