Fifty years ago, a low moment in American history

The year of 1968 was filled with major events, both good and bad. One of the lowest moments in American history occurred this week in April fifty years ago. Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated by a man whose name I will not mention as I don’t feel killers like these deserve the notoriety.

King was in Memphis advocating for striking sanitation workers looking for a pay raise. During a speech while there, he spoke of helping people get to the Promised Land, a favorite metaphor. But, in this instance, he noted he may not be there with them when they get there. With 20/20 hindsight, this added phrase seems surreal.

King won the Nobel Peace Prize for helping America achieve the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He later would provide impetus for LBJ to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act and celebrate as LBJ helped pass Medicare and Medicaid in his war on poverty. King and far too many earned these changes with blood, sweat and tears. And, too many paid with their lives.

King was and remains a hero to many. The white Americans who would go on to vote for Alabama Governor George Wallace in the Presidential election later that year failed to see the heroic nature of King’s non-violent movement. King took a key page from Gandhi’s nonviolent protests in South Africa and India. King’s approach was key to achieving what the protestors did. And, it helps Americans of all colors.

Unfortunately, King’s murder unleashed an anger in inner cities. One major city that did not have riots was in Indianapolis as Robert F. Kennedy shared his admiration for King as well as his pain in losing his brother while campaigning there. RFK would not be alive in two months after his own assassination during this tumultuous year, but his reverence for King was notable.

Let’s remember the life of Martin Luther King. America is better for it. We should never forget that even though a minority of bigoted and hateful voices seem empowered to do so.


16 thoughts on “Fifty years ago, a low moment in American history

  1. Unfortunately our present governing body would undo the good accomplished my MLK, namely voting rights. They are busy now in an effort to suppress the vote for minorities and busy gerrymandering . I only hope they will be stopped.

    • Holly, you are right. I was disappointed when the Supreme Court said parts of the Voting Rights Act were unneeded. Several states like mine followed ALEC’s cookie cutter language to pass unconstitutional voting laws and gerrymander. Mind you Dems have done gerrymandering as well, but this has been an orchestrated effort to suppress votes. The President does not help this with his committee to solve a nonexistent task of 3 million alleged fraudulent voters to distract from the Russian meddling and address yet another conspiracy theory he bought into. This would be funny if it were not so true. Keith

  2. It’s time for the silent majority to speak up .MLK was a force for good as were both the Kennedy brothers who lost their lives as was President Obama. That certain people can’t through bigotry or hatred see how these four people bettered the lives of others, is a shame. But enough will know it so that they’re never forgotten.

    • David, I agree. We have too many focus on their imperfections and not the social change. LBJ did so much to get JFK and his agenda through for social change. While he deserves criticism for Vietnam, he was the ideal President to push through several very significant pieces of legislation. It would have been interesting to see a Nixon/ RFK race as the latter would have likely won. Keith

    • Thanks Jill. I will return the ear worm baton with a little song from Dion…”anybody here seen my old friend Martin…can you tell me where he’s gone…he freed a lot of people, but some say the good die young…can you tell me where he’s gone.”

      • The ear worm planted itself quite nicely … until it was displaced by another … What’s Going On! I am getting behind … I shall have to think of a good one … beware!

  3. Note to Readers: If we scroll forward the non-violent protest approach to today’s time, there are three clear examples. The negative example is the Antifa group which detracts from its message by more violent and destructive protest. The positive contrasts are the Women’s Movement and Student Gun Safety Movement. These groups are showing up en masse with non-violent protests.

    With that said, none of these groups had to face the hatred and bigotry that endangered King and his protests. Reverend William Barber and his Moral Monday movement have seen some jail time for trespassing, but it is a very different time than King lived. He showed the way as to how to protest.

  4. People like to remember that King’s movement was an idealized wonder and everyone felt he did it the right way even then. But he was as heavily criticized as groups protesting today are. We have whitewashed the reality because history favors him. And also I think being shot gave him the edge of sainthood. He stands today as a great symbol, but he was surrounded by a huge number of others who also contributed and did so in ways you don’t approve of.

    The reality was then as it is now, people with privilege do not like to be called on the carpet about it. And they act like spoiled children hoarding a toy when they think anyone is going to change the status quo. They won’t change unless they are forced to. It’s unlikely that King’s message would have been as effective if all the other areas of protest, some destructive, had not been there too.

    We favor peaceful protest because it’s less threatening to the currently privileged. So it’s carefully idealized and taught. And then treated with disdain when it’s acted on. Peaceful protest is easy to ignore and not change. Peaceful protest with the occasional destructive protest puts an exclamation point on the situation. It reminds people that the only thing between unhappy masses and their privilege is the unwritten agreement of civilization.

    • As always, you raise good points and context. One thing King would dread is too much credit being given to him, as there were so so many others moving the ball forward. And, he was also at odds with groups that were with him and those who were fighting a battle differently. There were some that wanted him to push harder and some who wanted true separate, but equal.

      Your comments about the privileged in America. which includes whites advantaged by the color of their skin, being scared of change is dead on accurate. But, what helped King and others reach some success is the non-violent protests, the violence of the status quo against them and the support of more illuminated whites who lent their voice. With that said, it took far too long to realize the routine savagery of Jim Crow and overcome the status quo which was abetted by some ministers who rationalized the bigotry.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. The Jim Crow period and the Civil Rights movement backlash was an ugly time in America. We still have a ways to go and should not forget that. Keith

  5. Note to Readers: One of the troubling machinations years following MLK’s death is the resistance to establish a national holiday in his name. What made it more embarassing is there was discussion about setting up a national holiday for Elvis Presley which garnered more support than MLK in some circles. Elvis was talented, but I don’t recall him winning a Nobel Peace Prize.

  6. Dear Keith,

    The year was 1968, when MLK was assassinated and then Robert Kennedy was fatally shot, is somewhat reflected in today’s times.

    At the time MLK was very unpopular even with President Johnson because MLK was vehemently against the Viet Nam War and he was not afraid to voice his opinion. History has proven him to be right on this subject.

    I remember how protesters were treated by the infamous tough guy, Mayor Daley during the Chicago Democratic Convention in a hot August. It was not pretty. This was when tens of thousands of Vietnam War protesters battled police in the streets, while the Democratic Party was fallng apart over an internal disagreement concerning its stance on Vietnam.

    As you mentioned, the presidential candidate sounding most like today’s President Trump was none other than George Wallace.

    1968 was the year, Richard Nixon became our US president.

    Only a couple of years later in 1970, students protesting the bombing of Cambodia by United States military forces, clashed with Ohio National Guardsmen on the Kent State University campus, where the Guardsmen shot and killed four students. The Kent State Shootings became a focal point of a nation deeply divided over the Vietnam War.

    And then a couple years later in 1972, President Nixon was re-elected but would soon be the subject of the Watergate hearings.

    Hugs, Gronda

    • Gronda, well recounted. And, we did not learn until many years later that LBJ heard a taped conversation between Nixon and the Leader of South Vietnam. LBJ chose not to act (like Obama did with the Russian meddling) and Nixon was elected. What did Nixon promise in the call? He derailed the peace negotiations and told the South Vietnamese leader if he waited, Nixon would get a better deal. LBJ called this a treasonous act when he spoke with lead GOP Senator about it, but it should be noted more than 10,000 more Americans died between that moment and the eventual peace talks. This s sadly a true story. Keith

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