Let not the 12 million Negroes be ashamed of the fact that they are the grandchildren of slaves. There is no dishonour in being slaves. There is dishonour in being slave-owners. But let us not think of honour or dishonour in connection with the past. Let us realise that the future is with those who would be truthful, pure and loving. For, as the old wise men have said, truth ever is, untruth never was. Love alone binds and truth and love accrue only to the truly humble.
M. K. Gandhi
1st May, 1929
This message from Mahatma Gandhi was sent to Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, editor of The Crisis, who had requested an article from the leader of the Indian Independence after meeting two of Gandhi’s friends, one of them being Sarojini Naidu. Known as the Nightingale of India, Naidu was a poet, orator, and freedom fighter. Du Bois met Naidu at a banquet organized in her honor in New York in the autumn of 1928, the same year he would publish his great novel, Dark Princess, a political romance about the unity of Pan-Africa and Asia against Western imperialism.
Naidu was an outspoken opponent of the British Raj and was widely hailed for brilliance as a philosopher-poetess earning the nickname, the Nightingale Of India. Again, in the spring of 1929, she would speak in New York City at the Civic Club on the colonial question and the persecution of India. A letter from the International Committee Of Political Prisoners invites Du Bois to a luncheon for one hundred where Naidu would give her commentary, identifies her as “India’s most distinguished woman,” a hard-earned title won after her diligent service to the Indian National Congress.
Du Bois grew very interested in the developments accompanying Gandhi’s spiritual and political campaign of satyagraha (sacrifice for the truth) which began with a single insistence: that love of God began with a love for the soul of humanity. He writes to Charles Andrews, one of Gandhi’s friends, with a request for a message from Gandhi to be published in The Crisis in 1929. When the first Black Christian delegation traveled to India in 1935 under the leadership of Howard Thurman, Gandhi invited them to his abode. Thurman, who would publish the foundational critique of Western Christianity titled Jesus and the Disinherited, would be an important influence on King, who traveled to India as well as Ghana in support of the independence struggles in Africa and Asia. The strategy of civil disobedience would strengthen the Montgomery Bus Boycott and later led King to oppose the war in Vietnam, which he recognized as an unjust, imperial war.
Gandhi, Thurman, and King recognized that British rule—whether in Ghana, Nigeria, or India—was the antithesis of civilization, its negation, a fact he slowly came recognize over the course of his travels, political interactions, and exhaustive study. Gandhi appends his note to the American Negro, with a prefatory note announcing that it would indeed be useless to write an article, after all, and in lieu of it, enclosed what he terms a “little love message.” In his message, Gandhi confirms that the sin of slavery rested not on slaves but on slaveholders, whose pride and decadence barred them from the bliss of the Love Supreme, which, like Truth Eternal, only illuminates the truly humble.
Naidu Banquet Committee, Letter from The Naidu Banquet Committee to W. E. B. Du Bois, October 30, 1928