Friday, April 04, 2008

It was 40 years ago today that the Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Molly can remember hearing about the event and reacting, as a young leftist will, with anger. Today such things evoke sadness. Martin was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta Georgia. His original name was Michael King Jr., but in 1935 his father, a minister, changed both his and his son's name to "Martin Luther" in honour of the German protestant leader in the Reformation. King skipped high school grades and began his doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University at the age of 22. By the age of 24 he was pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
King began his civil rights activism in 1955 with the Montgomery Bus Boycott. During the boycott that lasted over a year King's house was bombed. In 1957 King helped to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) whose goal was to use non-violent protest to bring about civil rights in the USA. he was stabbed in the chest by an insane woman in New York in 1958. The FBI began wiretapping King in 1961, under the direction of then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (yes, him of liberal myth). J. Edgar Hoover, then director of the FBI used the details obtained by these wiretaps in a long campaign to discredit King. By 1964 King had achieved at least a partial victory with the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and in 1965 the Voting Rights Act was passed in an attempt to end the disenfranchisement of blacks in the USA.
In 1963 King's organization cooperated with many others in organizing the monumental "March on Washington" (longer title 'The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom'). Over 250,000 people took part in the March, the largest gathering of protesters in the history of Washington. It was here that King presented his "I Have a Dream" speech (see later).
King's efforts were not always successful. The attempt to march from Selma, Alabama to the capital Montgomery in March 0f 1965 ended with both mob violence on the part of whites and political dissension on the part of the black leaders. After two attempts the march was finally held on March 25. By 1966 the campaign for civil rights had expanded to the north where it was somewhat successful, particularly in Chicago. It was there that Jesse Jackson got his start, as he was left in charge of the organizing efforts in that city. he had considerable success.
By 1965 King began to make his opposition to the war in Vietnam clear. By this time King's thinking had evolved to include other issues of economic injustice beyond the racial divide in the USA. While he rejected the caricature of socialism that posed as such under the rubric of "communism" his views became increasingly socialistic over the years. As he said then, "America must move towards a democratic socialism". King began to organize the 'Poor People's Campaign' in 1968 despite opposition from both the right of the civil rights movement and the left who thought his tactics were insufficiently "militant"(ie not posturing enough). The demand of this campaign was an "economic bill of rights".
On March 30, 1968 King went to Memphis, Tennessee to support sanitation workers who had been on strike since March 12 over issues of wages and racial discrimination. On April 3 he delivered his "I've Been to the Mountaintop' speech at the Mason Temple. On April 4 King was killed at the Lorraine Motel where he was staying while in the city. In the aftermath there were riots in over 100 cities in the USA. Rather belatedly President Johnson called for a national day of mourning five days later. This from a government that had shadowed and hounded king for over a decade and was still engaged in such activities at the time of his death !!!!! Over 300,000 people attended King's funeral that day.
About two months after King's death James Earl Ray was arrested on London's Heathrow Airport while trying to exit the UK under a false Canadian passport. he was charged with King's death and convicted in 1969. Many,especially King's relatives and his widow, believe that he was not the assassin, and that a wider conspiracy, possible with government involvement was afoot. In 1999 Coretta Scott King, King's widow, and the rest of the King family won a civil suit for "wrongful death" against one Lloyd Jowers. The jury in the case (6 whites and 6 blacks) stated that they believed that "governmental agencies were parties" to the murder. With the passage of time the truth of such allegations becomes more and more difficult to ascertain. Barring an East German style revolution in the USA, where the hidden files of the FBI are made public it is unlikely that the full truth will ever be known for certain.
In 1964 King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. You can read his biography at the Nobel site. More details of his life, works and the various controversies surrounding him can be found at the Wikipedia site on him. An interesting declassified document demonstrating FBI harassment of King, ie a letter urging him to commit suicide can be seen HERE. After his death the honours poured in over the corpse. In 1977 then President Jimmy Carter posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1980 King's boyhood home in Atlanta was declared a National Historic Site. In 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating the Martin Luther King Day holiday on the third Monday of January. It was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986. There are numerous other awards that King won both during his life and after his death (see the item on his Nobel prise above) that do not reek of such great hypocrisy as those presented by the US government. Molly has seen examples of such honours that were "clean" in Barcelona where there is a Durruti Street and a Juan Peiro transportation centre, and, of course, the Olympic stadium named after Luis Companies, the Republican president of Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War. Such namings, however, were made by Catalans after the death of Franco ie by the opponents of the state that murdered such people. They were not made by a state that persecuted and killed these people. Neither were they made by a state that continues to cover up the record of its actions to this very day. There is a bad smell that wafts from the American body politic over this matter.
Anyways, let's close with one of King's most famous speeches, the 'I Have a Dream' speech. This is taken from 'The Speeches of Martin Luther King' at the Writespirit site which contains a collection of King's greatest speeches.
Delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity. But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free.

Speech by Martin Luther King Jr
"One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.

So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition. In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.
So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights.
The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. we must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" we can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring." And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snow capped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California! But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

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