There are highly significant moments, both good and bad, in every person’s life, i.e. marriage, birth of a child, death of a cherished relative or friend. These personal significant moments stay with us forever. However, there are also moments in time, historic events, that affect all of us profoundly, even people who were not even born when they occurred. For example, people of a certain age still remember where they were on December 7, 1941 when they heard that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. At the time, FDR called it “a date that will live in infamy,” and it has. In addition, anyone who was alive in 1963 remembers where he was on November 22 when he heard JFK had been shot. Well, a similar event occurred 46 years ago this week, April 4, 1968. I’m referring, of course, to the assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis, Tennessee. To this day, many believe that James Earl Ray, who was convicted of the crime, did not act alone but was part of a broader conspiracy. An FBI investigation did not disclose any such conspiracy, but that has not resolved the issue. Many of the records of the investigation remain classified to this day, which adds to the mystery. Americans do love their conspiracies.
MLK was born on January 15, 1929. He was the most prominent civil rights leader of his time, maybe ever. He believed that more could be achieved by civil disobedience than by violence. Unlike any African American before or since, he had the ability to unite, rather than divide. He was respected by all African Americans and many whites as well. In that regard, he was similar to Nelson Mandela. After his death, despite the urgings of some civil rights leaders who wanted to continue MLK’s philosophy, more militant African American leaders, such as Stokely Carmichael and Malcom X, came into prominence. There was rioting in over 100 US cities, and a slew of violent incidents at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in front of the national press and millions of Americans. The Civil Rights movement was changed forever.
MLK came into prominence in 1955 when he led a bus boycott, peacefully, in Montgomery, Alabama. The boycott had been fueled by the famous Rosa Parks incident when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white person. Later, he became the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and remained so until his death. He applied his non-violence philosophy to protests in Selma, Ala., St. Augustine, FL, and the March on Washington, D. C., among others.
Some little-known facts about MLK:
1. His birth name was Michael King, Jr., after his father. In 1931 his father changed his own name to Martin Luther King, after the German theologian, Martin Luther, whom he admired. At the same time, he changed his son’s name.
2. In 1958 MLK was stabbed in the chest after a speech by a woman who had been stalking him and nearly died.
3. MLK won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 at the age of 35, the youngest age ever at the time.
4. MLK won a Grammy Award in 1971, posthumously. It should be denoted that he won it, not because he displayed a great singing voice, but for a “Spoken Word Album,” “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam.”
5. Even though MLK was one of the great public speakers of his time, inexplicably, he got a “C” in a public speaking course at the seminary. (Kind of like a baseball scout saying Willie Mays can hit “a little bit.”)
6. MLK is one of three individuals and the only native-born American to have a holiday named after him. In case you’re wondering, the others are George Washington (born in the COLONY of Virginia), and Christopher Columbus.
CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION
Today, there is much division among African Americans as well as their leaders. Some are moderate and want to work within the system; others are more militant. They have their own agendas and look for any excuse to foment distrust and discord. I believe that these leaders, and we all know who they are, do more harm than good, but that is a subject for another blog.
One can speculate whether and to what extent MLK’s assassination changed the course of history. In my opinion, had MLK lived, the Civil Rights Movement would have been considerably different over the last 46 years, more peaceful and less divisive, with better results. Furthermore, his assassination had a significant impact, not only on the history of the civil rights movement, but also on the overall history of the country, itself.
I hope and believe that eventually a moderate leader will emerge and bridge the gap as MLK did half a century ago.