Faith of a mustard seed

Barbara Woods Washington

Barbara Woods-Washington

In ‘HIS OWN WORDS’— from ‘The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.’: “India appeared to be integrating its untouchables faster than the United States was integrating its Negro minority.

Both countries had federal laws against discrimination, but in India the leaders of government, of religious, educational, and other institutions, had publicly endorsed the integration laws. The prime minister admitted to me that many Indians still harbored a prejudice against these long-oppressed people, but that it had become unpopular to exhibit this prejudice in any form. In part, this change in climate was created through the moral leadership of the late Mahatma Gandhi. In part, it was the result of the Indian Constitution, which specified that discrimination against the untouchables is a crime, punishable by imprisonment.

The Indian government spent millions of rupees annually developing housing and job opportunities in villages heavily inhabited by untouchables.

Moreover, the prime minister said, if two applicants compete for entrance into a college or university, one of the applicants being an untouchable and the other of high caste, the school is required to accept the untouchable.

Professor Lawrence Reddick, who was with me during the interview, asked: “But isn̓t that discrimination?” “Well, it may be,” the prime minister answered. “But this is our way of atoning for the centuries of injustices we have inflicted upon these people.”

From the prime minister down to the village councilmen, everybody declared publicly that untouchability is wrong. But in the United States some of our highest officials declined to render a moral judgment on segregation, and some from the South publicly boasted of their determination to maintain segregation. That would be unthinkable in India.

Although discrimination has not yet been eliminated in India, it is a crime to practice discrimination against an untouchable. But even without this coercion, so successfully has the government made the issue a matter of moral and ethical responsibility that no government figure or political leader on any level would dare defend discriminatory practices. One could wish that we here in the United States had reached this level of morality. America must seek its own ways of atoning for the injustices she has inflicted upon her Negro citizens.”

From the SERMON ON GANDHI delivered March 22, 1959, in Montgomery: “The world doesn̓t like people like Gandhi. That̓s strange, isn̓t it? They don̓t like people like Christ; they don̓t like people like Lincoln. They killed him—this man who had done all of that for India, who gave his life and who mobilized and galvanized 400 million people for independence… One of his own fellow Hindus felt that he was a little too favorable toward the Moslems, felt that he was giving in too much for the Moslems… Here was the man of nonviolence, falling at the hands of a man of violence. Here was a man of love falling at the hands of a man with hate. This seems the way of history. And isn̓t it significant that he died on the same day that Christ died? It was on Friday. And this is the story of history, but thank God it never stopped here. Thank God Good Friday is never the end. The man who shot Gandhi only shot him into the hearts of humanity. Just as when Abraham Lincoln was shot, mark you, for the same reason that Mahatma Gandhi was shot— that is, the attempt to heal the wounds of the divided nation—when Abraham Lincoln was shot, Secretary Stanton stood by and said, “Now he belongs to the ages.” The same thing could be said about Mahatma Gandhi (and Martin Luther King, Jr.) now: He belongs to the ages.”

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