The courageous efforts of Civil Rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. garnered much attention this past Wednesday, in recognition of the 50th anniversary of his April 4, 1968, assassination in Memphis, Tenn., at age 39. Although he was very influential while physically present—drawing international attention to the overt racism and terrorism Americanized Africans endured daily in the land of the free—he helped mold a different world for future generations as his legacy has continuously been felt ‘til this very day.
While a few frown on his passive approach, some progressive historians contend that it served a purpose for a people coming out of the Jim Crow segregation era, just years earlier.
“Martin Luther King’s contribution to us was not nonviolence. King’s greatest contribution to us as a people was he taught us how to confront the enemy without fear,” said revolutionary activist Dr. Kwame Ture, who suggested studying King’s legacy to get a clearer understanding. “When they get through with Dr. King’s interpretation—since we don’t read, study or analyze him—they make you believe that the greatest contribution Dr. King made to his people was nonviolence.”
After coming to national prominence during the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, he utilized his platform to speak against the plight of his people. He upped the ante regarding racial justice as the world witnessed on TV the inhumane atrocities.
On Aug. 28, 1963, he continued his fight for equal, economic opportunities during the monumental March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, in D.C. More than 250,000 witnessed live as he delivered his most famous speech, “Normalcy, Never Again!”
“That speech wasn’t about no dream,” argues African-scholar-warrior Dr. Leonard Jeffries. “It was about reparations. He said, ‘America has given us a bad check.’ There’s still no 40 acres, nor mule.”
Some historians say that event played a significant role in getting the 1964 Civil Rights Bill passed.
According to Malcolm X’s aide Brother James 67X, the Muslim minister and the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize recipient were planning to unite forces. After Malcolm’s Feb. 21, 1965 assassination, the Southern reverend shared some sympathy.
“Nothing can be accomplished by violence, it only leads to new and more complex social problems,” King rationalized. “I think it’s unfortunate for the Black Nationalist movement, I think it is unfortunate for the health of our nation.”
As his understanding grew, the peaceful preacher began commenting publicly against capitalism’s exploitive practices and the clandestine military industrial complex in the U.S.
During his “Beyond Vietnam” dissertation delivered at Harlem’s Riverside Church April 4, 1967, he denounced the U.S. invasion. Although that was not his first time speaking publicly against it, never before had it been on such a grand stage.
“I come to this great magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice,” he stated. He added, “Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war.”
He continued, “There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America... I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything on a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men, skills and money, like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor, and to attack it as such.
“We were taking the Black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them 8,000 miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia, which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching [Black] and [Caucasian] boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them, in brutal solidarity, burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.”
Standing on the front lines for approximately a decade-and-a-half, he was well aware of his impending death. The day before he was martyred he delivered his final presentation at the Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ headquarters) in Memphis, supporting striking sanitation workers, titled, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” In 1986, the third Monday in January became a national holiday in his honor.