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'Dr King's trip to India a landmark event in US history'

February 13, 2009 09:22 IST

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday hosted a delegation of lawmakers, civil rights activists and some of this country's leading musicians, including jazz great Herbie Hancock, on the eve of their setting off on a trip to India to retrace the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr's visit 50 years ago, and to commemorate the influence Mahatma Gandhi had on this civil rights icon and the passive resistance movement he founded.

Hillary, speaking at the ceremony held at the Treaty Room in the US Department of State, described it as "an historic occasion, something that means a great deal to this department and to our country".

Acknowledging the presence of Ambassador Ronen Sen too, she called the delegation "a remarkable group of Americans", and told the audience, "We have standing before you, some of the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement and of our recent history."

Among them were Congressman John Lewis, Georgie Democrat--who marched alongside King in Selma, Alabama, in the 1960s  and had his skull cracked open by the racist White cops--Congressman Spencer Bachus, Alabama Republican, and Martin Luther King 111, the late civil rights leader's oldest son, for whom, Clinton said, "This is a personal journey as well as a historic one."

Turning to Hancock, Clinton said, "He just told me he's going to be recording, including some Indian artists."

She also said the delegation would comprise former US Ambassador to the UN and erstwhile Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young -- who also walked alongside King -- and former US Senator Harris Wofford, who represented Pennsylvania.

"This is the real American dream team, and I don't think we could find better ambassadors for our country to send to help mark the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr's historic trip to India," Clinton said.

She said that "as we celebrate Black History Month here at home, the 50th anniversary of Dr Kinh's trip to India is a reminder that the struggle for civil rights and justice has always been and continues to be a global mission -- it knows no borders, and as Dr King told us, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'"

Hillary said King "was just 30 years old when he travelled to India in 1959, but he had already led the Montgomery(Alabama) bus boycott, and understood the wisdom and power of the nonviolent protest movement pioneered by the great Mahatma Gandhi."

She recalled that in India, King had toured for a month, "studying Gandhi's philosophy, meeting with Prime Minister (Jawaharlal) Nehru," and had also met with other Indian leaders in politics and government, in academia, businesspeople and the public at large across the country.

"He talked with citizens and young people at every opportunity, and he brought the lessons he learned back to the United States, and renewed his own faith in the unmatched moral force of non-violent resistance and its ability to achieve meaningful social change."

Hillary said "it's been my great privilege to have heard Dr King speak when I was a young girl," and reminisced, "It was a few years after he had returned from India. It was a cold January night in Chicago, but I was deeply moved then, as I continue to be, by his timeless call to all of us, his dream for a world that is really worthy of our children. I remain inspired by his undying hope for a better tomorrow."

She said, as such, "I am pleased to honour Dr King's historic journey which really represents the journey that our country has been on, and in many ways, as we have celebrated the inauguration of President Obama, a journey that has brought great faith to people who follow the tenets of non-violence and Dr King's philosophy and preaching and who have worked to make the changes here at home that continue to reverberate around the world."

Hillary said it was fitting that this trip to India, retracing King's visit 50 years ago to the land of Gandhi was being undertaken "during Black History Month, and just week's after our President's historic inauguration."

On behalf of President Obama, she thanked the delegation and expressed her gratitude for their undertaking this visit and their service.

But she wasn't done. She reiterated that "you know, Dr King's trip to India stands as a landmark of the Civil Rights Movement and a real testament to the bonds and shared history between our two nations."

She thanked the Government of India "for welcoming and supporting our delegation, a reflection that India also understands that the deep and broad partnership our countries are forging is one based on common history and values," and predicted that "it is because of that that it is destined to grow even stronger in the future."

Clinton acknowledged to much laughter that she was jealous of the delegation that was undertaking this historic journey of "retracing these footsteps," of King.
MLK III, in his remarks, said, "This is a very special journey for me personally, my wife and I, to retrace the steps that my parents engaged in 50 years ago. On behalf of everyone at Realizing the Dream -- an organization I started, I am honored to be making this journey on this 50th anniversary of that incredible visit."

He said his father and mother, Coretta Scott King, had traveled to India in 1959 at the invitation of the Gandhi National Memoral Foundation, "to immerse themselves in Gandhi's nonviolence movement, and to identify with and give support to the people of India who were struggling to overcome the evils of poverty and discrimination."

MLK III said, "By working to foster peace through nonviolence, I hope this pilgrimage will inspire others to end the dependence on violence for nominal change, and instead look to reconciliatory power of nonviolence to create sustainable progress and diplomacy."

He said, "The impact that Gandhi's life had on my father was quite profound. And it is in that spirit that I set out on this journey."

Lewis in echoing similar sentiments, said, it was with "great please and delight," that he embarks on this journey "to pay tribute to the abiding link between Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr."

He noted that "the two men were not politicians or lawmakers. They were not presidents or popes. But they were inspired human beings who believed deeply in the power of nonviolent resistance to injustice as a tool for social change."

Lewis said, "Because of their courage, commitment, and vision, this nation has witnessed a nonviolent revolution under the rule of law, a revolution of values and ideas that have changed America forever."

"We are all a beneficiary of this powerful legacy," he emphasized.

Lewis said, "I don't know where I would be if it had not been for the teaching of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. We are looking forward to fulfilling an inspiring journey."

Bachus, who said he represents Birmingham in Alabama, said, "Birmingham is a better place today than it was, because of Martin Luther King."

He said when his Congressional colleague Lewis called him and invited him to co-chair the delegation, "I was overwhelmed because we in Birmingham, probably more than anywhere else, know about the ills of discrimination and racism."

Hancock said, that as chairman of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, he was honored to be part of the delegation, and accompanying him would be fellow musicians and singers Chaka Khan, Dee Dee Bridgewater, pianist George Duke, "and young students who are studying with the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz performers in New Orleans."

Hancock said, "We look forward to bringing music and jazz education to the people of India through this historic tour that celebrates the philosophies of Dr King and Mahatma Gandhi, two very inspirational political and spiritual leaders who teachings have really encouraged me to lead a life of peace, honesty, and filled with love for my fellow man."

To peals of laughter, Hancock said, "And of great importance to me and my fellow artists, their philosophies of cooperation, communication, and harmony are also essential elements of every jazz band."

He pointed out that the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz had partnered with the State Department for over 15 years, and this was his third trip to India, and recalled, "on the first trip, I was humbled meeting Mother Teresa, and then filled with joy having several opportunities to contribute to the cultural fabric of the Indian people through performances and jazz education workshops."

Hancock said there would be the Living Dream concerts in Mumbai and Delhi and then workshops with students who attend the Ravi Shankar Institute of the Performing Arts, "where our students are going to be able to exchange valuable lessons with the young Indian musicians and prove again that the language of jazz knows no boundaries."

Hillary, returned to the podium to state that "it's important to really underscore the significance of this kind of cultural and historical diplomacy. It's exactly what the State Department should be doing even more of—reaching out and learning from as well as sharing with people around the world."

"And it's also a reminder that nonviolence works," she added. "And if more people were able to understand that and remember the teachings of Gandhi and Dr King, not only would the world, I think, be a more peaceful place, but I honestly believe that the injustice that persists would be far more likely to be remedied."


Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC