Remembering King 50 Years After His Assassination

A Personal Perspective

It will be 50 years ago next week (April 4) since Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was slain while he was in Memphis, Tennessee for a protest march on behalf of black sanitation workers.

The catalyst for the march was the death of two sanitation workers who were crushed to death by a “malfunctioning” garbage truck.

Dr. King, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was lodging at the Lorraine Motel with other members of his protest entourage, including Ralph Abernathy, Jesse Jackson and his most trusted colleague, Andrew Young.

As Young would recall decades later in his book, An Easy Burden, King was in a particularly jovial mood that morning. He and Abernathy—who was also a minister—were playful to the point of a pillow fight. Yes, hard to reconcile the public somberness of Dr. King with the levity of a pillow fight with a friend.

But according to Young, behind the scenes King was just a regular person who appreciated a laugh and a good soul food meal. But playing with Abernathy wasn’t a common occurrence.

Abernathy, according to Young, often felt underappreciated by the crowds and media, while the dynamic King got the spotlight. Putting it bluntly, Abernathy was a little jealous.

However, that morning they were just having fun like two little boys. Theirs was a stressful life and it was important to let go sometimes. While waiting for the hour of the march to arrive, King took a break from playing and stepped onto the balcony for some air.

This is when James Earl Ray, a white supremacist who hated what King and company represented, must have been waiting for such a moment. He took the opportunity to end the life of America’s icon of peace and justice.
In the months before his assassination, King and the movement had expanded to include the fight for the poor, regardless of race, and speaking out against the war in Vietnam. In fact, they interrupted their planning for “The Poor People’s March” to go to Memphis to participate in the sanitation workers’ protest.

By then, edgier groups of the “black power variety”—most notably, the Black Panthers—were starting to take shape and had been critical of King for being “too conciliatory.” They were more about taking drastic measures to meet their ends on their own time table.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a once-in-a-lifetime leader. He was born for such a time. He was the Moses of the 20th century, and would be flabbergasted by what’s going on with the black community even now.

With the advent of Donald Trump, racial tensions are at their highest since King’s death, and black killings at the hands of police have, over the years, gone unpunished 99.9 percent of the time.

He would also be appalled at black-on-black crime and the mass shootings in our country due to easy access to hand-held war machines and homemade bombs. Ordinary people are being murdered in our schools, churches, concerts, subways, buses and on the streets.

Had he lived, Dr. King would now be 89 years old. Not only were African-Americans robbed of his brand of protest—which no one had ever seen at the time. Humanity was robbed of its conscience personified.

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