50 years since the Assassination of Martin Luther King: A Resurrection in the Making

By David Brooks on April 4, 2018

Photo: Bill Hackwell

The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated 50 years ago today in Memphis, marking the bloodiest moment of what would be a 1968 that shook the United States and various parts of the world. Half a century later, this country is in the midst of a reactionary wave that has elevated a white supremacist backed by the Ku Klux Klan to the presidency, almost mocking King’s famous dream.

But it is worth remembering that King, when he was murdered, was no longer just the man with a dream of racial equality, but a Nobel Prize winner and an international moral authority who had dared in his later years to question and condemn the economic and imperial system of his country, including the war against Vietnam.

King went to Memphis, in the southern state of Tennessee, to lend his support to a garbage workers strike in the name of economic and social justice. At the same time he was organizing a national mobilization called the Poor People’s Campaign to demand economic rights for the less favored of all races and colors, that is, a fundamental change of the American capitalist system.

In the rituals and official festivities that are given to King each year his famous speech of I Have a Dream that he gave in 1963 is remembered, but the radical message at the end of his life is almost never mentioned.

In 1967, King declared before a civil rights organization that the movement has to address the question of restructuring the entire American society, adding that doing so meant getting to see that the problem of racism, economic exploitation and the problem of the war are all linked. They are evils that are interrelated. On the issue of economic injustice, he did not limit it to a racial issue, “Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and hopelessness are destroyed by the rams of the forces of Justice”.

A few months earlier he commented at a meeting of a civil rights organization, “I think it is necessary to realize that we have gone from an era of civil rights to the era of human rights (…) we see that there has to be a radical redistribution of economic and political power… ”

Fifty years later, despite major changes in the country’s laws and regulations around institutional racism crowned with the election of the first African-American president and what that implies in a country founded on the backs of slaves, in essence it seems that little has changed

An AP / NORC survey last week found that only one in 10 African-Americans believe that the United States has achieved the goals of the civil rights movement half a century ago (35 percent of whites believe so) and that after two terms of an African-American president.

Fifty years later, new generations continue with the same fight against economic inequality, which has reached a record level in almost a century, where 1 percent of the wealthiest families control nearly two times the wealth of the 90 percent at the bottom.

Fifty years later, incidents of official violence provoke fury, and impunity prevails as before, and indicators of segregation and racism multiply along with, and part of, the official anti-immigrant policies. Not to mention militarism in a country that has been in its longest wars in its history seeking to forget Vietnam.

But 50 years later, people can hear the echoes of King across the country.

Teachers in Oklahoma will begin a strike on Monday, following the triumphant example of their peers in West Virginia, demanding not only a living wage and respect for their work – like 50 years ago in Memphis – but also greater investment in public education, over all to serve the poor and minorities; their counterparts in Kentucky (where teachers declared themselves sick by closing schools in 26 counties last Friday), Arizona and Wisconsin are demonstrating, occupying capitols and performing sit-down actions with similar demands for salary increases and working conditions as defense of public education.

The African-American reverend William Barber, famous for his Moral Mondays campaign in North Carolina, in 2013, who battled state initiatives to reduce spending on education and health, as well as nullify some electoral rights, is resurrecting King’s Poor People’s Campaign this spring, and declaring, like his predecessor, that this is a moral issue.

The new civil rights movement Black Lives Matter continues to link police violence against African Americans with a system designed to marginalize and criminalize minorities.

The new student movement against gun violence is linking the rightist arms agenda with a system of widespread violence in rich suburbs and on the streets of marginalized areas of large cities, creating new alliances among those who suffer the consequences.

The dreamers also describe the persecution of immigrant communities as part of racist policies against the most vulnerable, and understand that it is part of a systemic violence, and with that, alliances with students and Black Lives Matter are being born.

While the most backward of this country hysterically shouts that it wants to recover the greatness of “Our America” again – that nostalgia of a white country without rights for women, minorities and new immigrants, and that imposes its will on the world- they are frightened before the increasingly strong and present echoes of the prophet King, among other beings that represent the most noble of this people.

With that, today no longer marks an anniversary of a death, but, perhaps, that of a resurrection.


Source: La Jornada, translation Resumen Latinoamericano, North American bureau