Gandhi was assassinated on this day in 1948, a shocking and dispiriting event covered by media all across the world, including a mournful Nation. But perhaps more interesting to read today is this article from our issue of May 6, 1897, “East Indians in South Africa,” written by Alfred Webb, an Irish MP and an early president of the Indian National Congress. According to the historian Ramachandra Guha, this is the first mention of Gandhi ever to appear in the American press.
The population of India increases rapidly and encroaches upon the means of subsistence. South Africa is the nearest outlet for emigration. The climate is congenial; and thither numbers of Indians have repaired…. While all were at first welcomed as helpful toward the development of the country, all alike have been subjected to disabilities by color prejudice and by law…. M.K. Gandhi, a Hindu barrister, long resident in South Africa, returned to India to arouse public interest in the subject. His address at Bombay, last September, has been published…Mr. Gandhi says: “The general feeling throughout South Africa is that of hatred towards the Indians, encouraged by the newspapers and connived at, even countenanced, by the legislators. Every Indian without exception is a coolie in the estimation of the general body of the Europeans…” These varied disabilities, sufferings, and wrongs have been most strikingly forced upon public attention, both in Indian and at home, by Mr. Gandhi during his mission to his native country. In the treatment meted out to him on his return to Natal, at the hands of the people whose conduct towards his countrymen he had exposed, we are reminded of early abolition days in the United States. When his return was signalled, a crowd of indignant whites collected, who mobbed him, upon his landing, with stones and beating.
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