Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Activity 2: The Thoreau-Gandhi-King Connection

Activity time: 15 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Leader Resource 1, Photographs of Thoreau, Gandhi, and King
  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • Ball of attractive ribbon or yarn
  • Optional: Newsprint from the Welcoming and Entering activity on which participants wrote their ideas about Rev. King's connection to Hinduism

Preparation for Activity

  • Cut apart the photographs of Thoreau, Gandhi, and King from Leader Resource 1.
  • On a sheet of newsprint, draw a straight line that will become a time line. Write "1800" on the far left and the current year on the far right. Post the time line so that all participants will be able to see it.

Description of Activity

By acknowledging the connection between Thoreau, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr., participants identify nonviolent social change as a value that Unitarian Universalism shares with Hinduism.

Display the photograph of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On the blank time line, add marks at 1921 and 1968, approximately, and bracket them with the word "King." Let the youth know that these brackets represent King's lifetime.

If you did the Welcoming and Entering activity, review the newsprint sheet(s) of questions with the youth. If the group is too big for everyone to look on, read the written comments aloud.

If anyone guessed or knew that Martin Luther King Jr. was inspired by Mohandas Gandhi, take special note of that. If no one did, ask the group if they know or have an impression of what religion Mohandas Gandhi, popularly called Mahatma Gandhi, followed. Mention that "mahatma" means "great teacher."

Display the photograph of Gandhi. Tell the group:

Gandhi, who was Hindu, was indisputably one of India's strongest religious leaders. He transformed Indian society, leading the movement to gain India's independence from British rule.

On the time line, add marks at 1869 and 1948 and bracket them with the word "Gandhi." Tell the youth that Gandhi was born in 1869 and died in 1948. Explain that Gandhi used and taught nonviolent resistance to create social change. Write "Nonviolence" on the time line.


Some people called his work "passive resistance," but Gandhi strongly objected to the word "passive." The work he taught and led was active; it required thought, commitment, and bravery.

Ask the youth if they have heard the term "nonviolent resistance" before. Ask if they have heard it used to describe the tactics of Martin Luther King Jr. during the 20th-century Civil Rights Movement. Share that Martin Luther King Jr. used nonviolent resistance to powerfully combat prejudice, violence, and segregation in the United States.

Share, in these words or your own:

It is through nonviolent resistance and Gandhi that Dr. King, a Baptist minister, is connected with Hinduism. King admired Gandhi's work very much; he thought Gandhi was a brilliant and inspiring leader. Dr. King studied Gandhi's theories, methods, and training of volunteers, and then-which was very unusual at the time-actually traveled to India in 1959 to visit where Gandhi lived.

As you can see by the time line, Gandhi had already died by 1959, but Dr. King believed that there was still much to learn from the people Gandhi had worked with and from seeing the places Gandhi had lived and worked. In a sad parallel, Gandhi had been assassinated, as Dr. King would be in 1968. Both of them knew the risks of the work they were doing, but both believed that it was important enough to die for.

So Dr. King was inspired by Mohandas Gandhi, a connection not everybody knows about. But there is another connection-a Unitarian Universalist connection. Gandhi inspired King, and a famous Unitarian inspired Gandhi.

Invite the youth to guess who you mean. Ask: Which famous Unitarian lived in Massachusetts in the 19th century and was jailed for civil disobedience? Who wrote a famous essay titled "Civil Disobedience" in 1849, 20 years before Gandhi was born? Tell them the person was Henry David Thoreau if no one gives the correct response.

Display the photo of Thoreau. Add marks to the time line at 1817 and 1862, and bracket them with the word "Thoreau." Share, in these words or your own:

Thoreau was committed to nonviolence. He went to jail for the principle of nonviolence when he refused to pay taxes because his tax money would be used to fight a war-the war between the United States and Mexico. One of his friends paid his tax bill for him, but Thoreau never would have.

Ask for three volunteers to stand as Thoreau, Gandhi, and King. Give them the pictures to hold to represent "their" person and ask the three to stand at different locations, far apart in the room. One leader should stand a few feet from "Thoreau," holding the ball of ribbon or yarn.

Tell participants:

Thoreau was not the first person in history to be committed to nonviolence or to act on his convictions. Hindus have believed in radical nonviolence for millennia.

The leader holding the ball of yarn should pass it to "Thoreau," keeping hold of one end.

But Thoreau wrote his thoughts so clearly and took such decisive action that he was seen as a model by a Hindu leader clear across the ocean, Gandhi, who used the strategy of nonviolence to change the lives of millions of people.

Ask "Thoreau" to hold onto the yarn and toss or pass the ball to "Gandhi."

Then another spiritual leader, back across the ocean, was so inspired by the work of Gandhi that he also took up the work of nonviolent social change. That was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who also changed the lives of millions of people.

Indicate to "Gandhi" to hold the yarn and toss or pass the ball to "King."

Dr. King inspired many people and is still inspiring us today.

This is a spiritual lineage-the passing of sacred teachings from one inspired leader to another. Just as the gurus-the spiritual teachers-in Hinduism pass their spiritual knowledge from one generation to the next, knowledge about the power of loving, nonviolent action for social change passed from the Unitarian Thoreau to the Hindu Gandhi to the Baptist King. Who is next? Perhaps it will be you.

Have "King" toss or pass the ball of ribbon to another youth. Invite everyone to wrap a piece around their wrist before passing the ball, as a reminder of our legacy of nonviolent social change and one way Hindu beliefs can deepen our Unitarian Universalist faith.