How far did Martin Luther King Jr. travel in his life?

Over the course of the civil rights leader’s 39 years, MLK marched with tens of thousands of civil rights activists from Selma to Montgomery; spoke before tens of thousands more on DC’s National Mall; and in an eerie premonition, told an audience at Mason Temple church in Memphis that “we as a people will get to the Promised Land.” MLK was shot the very next evening, on a balcony, at Memphis’s Lorraine Motel.

While MLK’s domestic trips are well-documented, especially through the South, Dr. King was also a world traveler. In the last 11 years of his life, Dr. King traveled some 6 million miles.

MLK’s first trip abroad was to Ghana, in March 1957. The civil rights leader traveled to the West African country alongside his wife, Coretta Scott King, to attend its independence ceremony (from the United Kingdom). In Ghana, King saw a parallel between European colonialism in Africa and segregation in the United States. At a reception in Ghana’s capital of Accra, MLK brushed shoulders with then-US vice president Richard Nixon, telling him, “I want you to come visit us down in Alabama where we are seeking the same kind of freedom the Gold Coast [Ghana] is celebrating.”


Two years later, in April 1959, MLK traveled to India. MLK had been inspired by the nonviolent activism of India’s independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, and on MLK’s final night in the country, he said in a radio interview, “Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity.” King went on to write, “My Trip to the Land of Gandhi,” for Ebony magazine.

MLK’s speeches and activism led to his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1964, and King accepted the honor in a 12-minute speech at the University of Oslo. Months before MLK had traveled to Germany upon the invitation of Berlin mayor Willy Brandt. In his brief visit, MLK also saw East Berlin and gave a sermon at St. Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church).

Today, MLK’s many miles and travels are chronicled in the 14 compelling quotations chiseled on the MLK Memorial’s Inscription Wall in Washington, DC. King’s legacy of nonviolent resistance also echoes in the naming of parks, schools and memorials worldwide in his honor, from the Martin Luther King Jr. School in Accra, Ghana, to the Garden of Gandhi-King Plaza in New Delhi, demonstrating the global effect that one man’s dream continues to have on the world.

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2 Responses

  1. Katherine says:

    Wow! Great article. Had no idea Dr. King traveled to East Germany. What an analogy for Jim Crow laws in the US during that time…

  2. Steven says:

    In his book, Strength to Love, King also mentions traveling to the Holy Land.

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Lisa SinghLisa Singh is an Interactive Producer at TravelChannel.com. Her multimedia career has spanned print and online publications. One of her first stories involved following a convicted felon into the Mexican...

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