Forty years ago yesterday, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was shot and killed while he was in Memphis Tennessee supporting unionized sanitation workers.
I wanted to say something special yesterday. Something poignant and insightful about the man. No flash of brilliance came to me, so I said nothing.
Yet what worse way is there to honor a man than saying nothing? Dr. King was a radical, a peace marcher before it was popular. He was a man that fought for the end of America’s caste system, be it through class, race, or other stratifications. Dr. King faced an unyieldingly and illegally hostile FBI, an establishment that divorced him after he spoke out against Vietnam, an America that refused to listen when he argued that Northern institutional racism was seperate, but equal to Southern racism.
In his day, the establishment considered King a dangerous troublemaker. He was harassed by the FBI and vilified in the media. He began his activism in Montgomery, Alabama, as a crusader against the nation’s racial caste system, but the struggle for civil rights radicalized him into a fighter for broader economic and social justice. He recognized the limits of breaking down legal segregation. What good was winning the right to eat at a dime-store lunch counter if you couldn’t afford a hamburger and a Coke? (link)
I don’t have much interesting to say, but others do, and did.
RFK, for one.
Dr. King said this:
“The Southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow,” King lectured from the Alabama Capitol steps, following the 1965 march on Selma. “And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than a black man.”
40 years later, compare to this:
Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.