Martin Luther King’s nonviolent civil rights efforts still inspire around the world
By Emily Wax,
During the protests this spring in Egypt, a civil-rights-era comic book weaving the tale of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent resistance movement found a fresh audience with the young protesters who packed Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
The comic book, which promotes peaceful civil disobedience, is called “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story” and was translated into Arabic and Farsi by the non-religious American Islamic Congress. It published 2,500 copies, and young people in the Arab world started using them to teach peaceful forms of protest that King championed, such as sit-ins and boycotts.
In Japan, King’s birthday is celebrated in Hiroshima and honored with a special banquet. His message of peace resonates in the city, which was the first to be destroyed by a nuclear weapon.
Around the globe, King’s message is still used by liberation leaders. There’s a forest in his honor in Israel, a school named after him in Yaounde, Cameroon, and an MLK bridge in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
In the 1980s, a social movement to advance worker rights in Poland used the award-winning documentary “From Montgomery to Memphis” as a training guide for its nonviolent resistance. In China’s Tiananmen Square, student leaders held up signs that read “We Shall Overcome,” a key anthem of the civil rights movement. Many protest leaders said they had studied the civil rights leader’s nonviolence techniques.
“They were singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ in Czechoslovakia and Romania,” said Steve Klein, communications coordinator at the King Center in Atlanta. “Even Nelson Mandela referenced Dr. King the day he won the South African election, and he invoked King’s use of the old Negro spiritual lyrics ‘free at last.’ ”
In India, Dalits, who were formerly known as “untouchables” and who rank lowest in the country’s caste system, have modeled their freedom struggle after King. They particularly found power in his “I Have a Dream” speech and watched televisions set up in markets in Dalit villages and urban slums.
In India, Dalit activist B.R. Ambedkar led more than 500,000 Dalits to leave Hinduism and its caste system and convert to Buddhism, just as some African Americans have moved to Islam.
“Like Dalits, African Americans in the U.S. faced discrimination in religious centers, public transport, schools and jobs,” said Chandra Bhan Prasad, a Dalit scholar and writer. “Ambedkar was always inspired by MLK and the black movement in the U.S.”
There are dozens of streets and boulevards named after King: in Terranova, Italy; Niamey, Niger; Kolkata, India; Dakar, Senegal; Martinique; Tel Aviv; Porto Alegre, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Recife, Brazil; and Brussels.
“Dr. King is everywhere. There are so many places that we can’t keep track. But it doesn’t surprise me at all,” Klein said. “King was liberating an oppressed minority, and in doing so he really showed the world that principles of nonviolence can be successful.”
Staff researcher Eddy Palanzo and correspondent Rama Lakshmi in New Delhi contributed to this report.
Read more: King sites around the globe