Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia — a freedom fighter, Gandhian socialist, activist, and politician — was concerned about more than just the injustices suffered by Indians at the hands of both British and local politicians after independence. He was a global citizen, and just like Mahatma Gandhi, the discrimination experienced by communities around the world affected him equally.
His involvement in the Indian freedom struggle is well known, whether it was running a clandestine radio operation for the Indian National Congress during the Quit India Movement or spending years in prison and suffering torture at the hands of the administration. Inspired by MK Gandhi’s nonviolence and civil disobedience principles, he even spent time in prison after independence for opposing the Congress establishment.
While his activism in India is well documented, what is less well known is his involvement with various causes in support of justice and around the world, particularly in the United States.
Throughout his speeches in America, he frequently spoke to university students and civil rights activists about Gandhi’s nonviolent and civil disobedience methods. Lohia walked the walk against systemic racism during his second visit to the United States in 1964 as a Member of Parliament (MP) representing Farrukhabad, Uttar Pradesh.
According to a 9 June 1964 issue of Student Voice (published in Atlanta, Georgia), the newspaper of the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNCC), he was denied service twice at a Morrison’s cafeteria and was led out by the Police. Dr Lohia was joined by white people and dressed in native attire on both occasions on May 27-28. He was in town on a visit to Tougaloo College. The events of those two days, however, did have an impact on India-US diplomatic relations.
On May 1, he gave a lecture titled ‘Indian Politics Today’ at the Stephan Poetry Center at the University of Arizona in which he criticized policies of Pandit Jawaharlaal Nehru.
Lohia voiced profound concern about racial inequalities faced by the African-American community in the United States as a man whose entire life was built on the goal to confront and rectify systematic injustice. Because of this worry, he accepted an invitation to Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, a hotbed of civil rights activism in an area plagued by discriminatory Jim Crow laws that legalised racial segregation.
He wanted to learn more about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a group founded by college students to remove segregation in public places and increase African American community involvement in electoral democracy by assisting them in voter registration.
On the 27th of May, Lohia was met at the Jackson airport by the president of Tougaloo College, after which they dined at Morrison’s Cafeteria in the city’s centre.
Because the restaurant was designated as a ‘Whites Only’ establishment, the management turned the group away due to Lohia. However, before leaving the eatery, Lohia stated that he would return the next day. After all, according to Edwin King, an SNCC activist and Tougaloo College Chaplain, Lohia was not going to keep quiet about it.