The U.S. Civil Rights Movement of the mid-20th century took inspiration from the minds of freed American slaves and abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and black artists and poets like Langston Hughes. But there was also a central place in that history for a soft-spoken lawyer from the western coast of India.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. repeatedly cited Mahatma Gandhi as a moral and spiritual guide, helping to shape the strategy and spirit of the Movement that King led. As the Indian news site The Wire recalled, King used a 1959 sermon to speak at length about the modern father of civil disobedience, who was able to free "his people from the domination of the British Empire without lifting one gun or uttering one curse word."
Of course MLK himself became a symbol for liberation movements and non-violent protesters around the world for decades to come, from South Africa to South America, which in turn inspire others. And so on.
These crucial moments of social justice have a global domino effect.
Today, all eyes are back on the United States' continued struggle to overcome its poisoned history of slavery and racial oppression — and the whole world is watching. As a country with unmatched cultural and political influence, America's reactions to its systemic racism have repercussions for the entire world. Back when King was making headlines in the 1960s, the British government introduced the Race Relations Act. This week, following the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed African American, spontaneous marches in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement have taken place from Brazil to Denmark to New Zealand.
The question of police violence is itself a topic in many countries, but as Milan-based daily Il Sole 24 Ore notes, this has a particularly American angle: "George Floyd is the latest in a long list of African Americans killed by white police officers. Because in the United States, questions of public order often cross with the problem of racism that has never been resolved, and has actually become more evident since the election of Barack Obama, the first black president."
It is indeed undeniable that so much of the oppression against Black Americans is intertwined with the country's unique history. Yet it's also true that these crucial moments of social justice have a global domino effect, reminding people of injustice — racial and otherwise — that may be happening closer to home. But at least one thing has changed since the 1950s: Back then, it may have taken years for the speeches of an Indian lawyer to reach an American pastor — today, it's as quick as turning on your phone.