“To other countries I may go as a tourist, but to India I come as a pilgrim,” he told the two dozen reporters gathered there on Feb. 10, 1959.
They peppered him with questions. Was it true interracial marriage was illegal in the American South? Could nonviolent protest work in colonized Africa? Was he a vegetarian?
The Montgomery bus boycott three years earlier had been closely watched in Indian newspapers, particularly since King, as the young leader of the boycott, espoused the teachings of Indian leader Mohandas K. Gandhi. Now, he would be spending a month in India to learn more and pay homage to his hero.
King first learned about Gandhi as a seminary student in 1949, just a year after Gandhi had been assassinated. He soon wrote about Gandhi in his schoolwork as a person who “greatly reveal[s] the working of the Spirit of God.”
Six years later, after the arrest of Rosa Parks, King led the 381-day boycott that would make him famous. Of the nonviolent direct action technique, he said, “Christ showed us the way, and Gandhi in India showed it could work.”