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Casting a black Gandhi: Martin Luther King Jr, American pacifists and the global dynamics of race

Hodder, Jake



Martin Luther King Jr. is widely read through his association with Gandhi’s ideas and practice. Whilst it is important to neither overstate nor ignore this influence, the paper retraces the work undertaken behind-the-scenes to script this relationship for wider audiences. It questions how King’s casting as America’s Black Gandhi was strategically undertaken, by whom and for what purposes, as well as exploring why it was ultimately short-lived. Although King experimented with Gandhism briefly in the late-1950s, by the early-1960s the idea had largely been dropped. In particular, the paper focuses on the role played by the American pacifist movement up to, and including, organising King’s visit to India in 1959. These sources are used to make a broader argument that King’s ability to inhabit Gandhi’s legacy during the movement’s early years was critical to forging global anti-colonial connections. As such the paper argues that nonviolence was more than a repertoire of resistance techniques, but a spatial mechanism which could fold scale, bridge distance, and thereby produce and reshape racial solidarity itself.


Hodder, J. (2019). Casting a black Gandhi: Martin Luther King Jr, American pacifists and the global dynamics of race. Journal of American Studies, 55(1), 48-74.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 15, 2018
Online Publication Date May 14, 2019
Publication Date May 14, 2019
Deposit Date Oct 24, 2018
Publicly Available Date May 16, 2019
Journal Journal of American Studies
Print ISSN 0021-8758
Electronic ISSN 1469-5154
Publisher Cambridge University Press (CUP)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 55
Issue 1
Pages 48-74
Keywords General Arts and Humanities; General Social Sciences
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information License: Copyright © Cambridge University Press and British Association for American Studies 2019This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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