Thirty-five years ago, on April 4, 1968, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the greatest men in American history, was assassinated.
Dr. King, who led the Civil Rights Movement from the mid-1950s to his assassination at age 39, never failed in his insistence on promoting nonviolence as the principal tactic of the movement, nor in his faith that some day justice and equality would be achieved.
In December 1955, when Rosa Parks, a worker and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) activist, was arrested in Montgomery, Ala., for violating the state Constitution by not giving up her bus seat to a white man, a boycott against the city’s bus service was launched. Dr. King was invited to lead it. The boycott ended following the 1956 Supreme Court decision that declared segregation in mass transport carriers unconstitutional.
The success achieved with the Montgomery boycott filled Blacks with confidence in themselves, in their new instrument for struggle and in their new leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a young and charismatic Baptist minister, who preached the gospel of nonviolent resistance against all forms of discrimination. Until then the leadership of the movement had come almost totally from organizations based in northern cities, as was the case, for example, with the NAACP. Dr. King became the first southern African American who, operating entirely within the South, emerged as a regional leader of the confrontation against segregation. His leadership was strengthened by the foundation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, as an instrument to conduct a nonviolent crusade against all forms of discrimination.
His assassination in Memphis, Tenn., occurred while he was engaged in support of a sanitation workers’ strike and simultaneously organizing a march of the poor on Washington, D.C. It was one of the greatest tragedies suffered by the American nation, since it ended the life of someone committed to the noble task of healing a society which he wisely characterized as ill.
Dr. King aimed at introducing reforms that would guarantee racial equality and fair participation in the economy, in the housing market, in the educational system and in opportunities. But he evidently acquired a political understanding that led him to expand his vision of the illnesses of his country far beyond the narrow limits of racial segregation and to comprehend that social injustice affected not only Blacks but also whites, Mexican Americans, Indians and others. He also recognized certain negative tendencies in the prevailing system itself.
This remembrance of Dr. King comes at a time when the U.S. government attempts to impose a dictatorship on the world, has proclaimed that you are either with it or against it, and has unleashed an illegal and unnecessary aggression against Iraq, despite the rejection of world public opinion. It is necessary to stress the validity of his warnings more than three decades ago:
“In the days ahead we must not consider it unpatriotic to raise certain questions about our national character. We must begin to ask, ‘Why are there 40 million poor people in a nation overflowing with such unbelievable affluence? Why has our nation placed itself in the position of being God’s military agent on earth, and intervened recklessly in Vietnam and the Dominican Republic? Why have we substituted the arrogant undertaking of policing the whole world for the high task of putting our own house in order?’ All these questions remind us that there is a need for a radical restructuring of the architecture of American society. For its very survival’s sake, America must re-examine old presuppositions and release itself from many things that for centuries have been held as sacred. For the evils of racism, poverty and militarism to die, a new set of values must be born. Our economy must become more person-centered than property- and profit-centered. Our government must depend more on its moral power than on its military power.”
This is the man against whom the extreme right wing discharged its hatred!
May the remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination contribute to making his message – at last – reach the hearts of men and women of good will, and persuade them to unite their efforts in favor of stopping war and redirecting the course towards PEACE.
Let us save humanity by struggling for PEACE!
Clinton L. Adlum is a retired Cuban diplomat, currently researching African American movements in the U.S. at the University of Havana. A son of Jamaicans, he was an underground leader of the 26th of July movement in Guantanamo in the struggle to overthrow Batista.