Publish date:
Updated on
Year
1893

Gandhi’s first act of civil disobedience

In an event that would have dramatic repercussions for the people of India, Mohandas K. Gandhi, a young Indian lawyer working in South Africa, refuses to comply with racial segregation rules on a South African train and is forcibly ejected at Pietermaritzburg.

Born in India and educated in England, Gandhi traveled to South Africa in early 1893 to practice law under a one-year contract. Settling in Natal, he was subjected to racism and South African laws that restricted the rights of Indian laborers. Gandhi later recalled one such incident, in which he was removed from a first-class railway compartment and thrown off a train, as his moment of truth. From thereon, he decided to fight injustice and defend his rights as an Indian and a man.

When his contract expired, he spontaneously decided to remain in South Africa and launch a campaign against legislation that would deprive Indians of the right to vote. He formed the Natal Indian Congress and drew international attention to the plight of Indians in South Africa. In 1906, the Transvaal government sought to further restrict the rights of Indians, and Gandhi organized his first campaign of satyagraha, or mass civil disobedience. After seven years of protest, he negotiated a compromise agreement with the South African government.

In 1914, Gandhi returned to India and lived a life of abstinence and spirituality on the periphery of Indian politics. He supported Britain in the First World War but in 1919 launched a new satyagraha in protest of Britain’s mandatory military draft of Indians. Hundreds of thousands answered his call to protest, and by 1920 he was leader of the Indian movement for independence. Always nonviolent, he asserted the unity of all people under one God and preached Christian and Muslim ethics along with his Hindu teachings. The British authorities jailed him several times, but his following was so great that he was always released.

After World War II, he was a leading figure in the negotiations that led to Indian independence in 1947. Although hailing the granting of Indian independence as the “noblest act of the British nation,” he was distressed by the religious partition of the former Mogul Empire into India and Pakistan. When violence broke out between Hindus and Muslims in India in 1947, he resorted to fasts and visits to the troubled areas in an effort to end India’s religious strife. On January 30, 1948, he was on one such prayer vigil in New Delhi when he was fatally shot by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu extremist who objected to Gandhi’s tolerance for the Muslims.

Known as Mahatma, or “the great soul,” during his lifetime, Gandhi’s persuasive methods of civil disobedience influenced leaders of civil rights movements around the world, especially Martin Luther King, Jr., in the United States.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Battle of Midway ends

On June 7, 1942, the Battle of Midway—one of the most decisive U.S. victories in its war against Japan—comes to an end. In the four-day sea and air battle, the outnumbered U.S. Pacific Fleet succeeded in destroying four Japanese aircraft carriers with the loss of only one of its ...read more

First successful ascent of Denali

On this day in 1913, Hudson Stuck, an Alaskan missionary, leads the first successful ascent of Denali (formerly known as Mt. McKinley) the highest point on the American continent at 20,320 feet. Stuck, an accomplished amateur mountaineer, was born in London in 1863. After moving ...read more

General Westmoreland requests 44 battalions

General Westmoreland requests a total of 35 battalions of combat troops, with another nine in reserve. This gave rise to the “44 battalion” debate within the Johnson administration, a discussion of how many U.S. combat troops to commit to the war. Westmoreland felt that the South ...read more

Bo Jackson drafted by Kansas City Royals

On June 7, 1986, the Kansas City Royals draft football star Bo Jackson, the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner out of Auburn University, in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft. Jackson’s decision to pursue baseball instead of football shocked the NFL and football ...read more

Czechoslovakian president Benes resigns

Edvard Benes resigns as president of Czechoslovakia rather than sign a new constitution that would make his nation into a communist state. His resignation removed the last remnant of democratic government in Czechoslovakia and cleared the way for a communist-controlled regime. ...read more

Rebels turned back at Milliken’s Bend

A Confederate attempt to rescue Vicksburg and a Rebel garrison held back by Union forces to the east of the city fails when Union troops turn back the attack at the Battle of Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana. By late May 1863, Union General Ulysses S. Grant had surrounded Vicksburg, ...read more