Contributed by Joe Montero
Today marks the 49 anniversary of the 1968 assassination of American civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr, who was shot in Memphis. At the time, he was supporting striking sanitation workers.
He was shot on a balcony. His family have consistently argued that the killing involved the US government.
Dr King, who was 39 at the time of his death, had previously survived several attempts on his life, including the bombing of his home in 1956.
He first came to national prominence as one of the leaders of the Alabama bus boycott in 1955, and in 1963 led a massive march on Washington DC, where he delivered his now famous “I have a dream” speech. In 1964 he was awarded the Nobel peace prize.
Because he could not be ignored, even in death, the political establishment has worked to turn him into a sanitised and harmless icon. Despite this he continues to inspire, because his core message was that those who are being trampled could dream and work for a better tomorrow.
Martin Luther King was never on the side of the establishment. He pointed the finger at those in power and relied on grass-roots action to make a difference.
A section of the civil rights movement, rallying behind the influence of Malcolm X, was critical of his non-violence stance against brutal official violence. Malcolm X, was himself assassinated in 1965.
But over the years, the important thing is that King has continued to inspire others to act. The call was summarised in his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, where he called on people to act against “racism and economic oppression”.
It is obvious that the battle is very far from won. Living standards for most Americans have fallen more than would have been though possible in King’s day. Police attacks on black American communities have been rising steadily. It has given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement. Hispanics are targeted. Native Americans are finding their rights over traditional lands under greater attack than has been seen for years. This has been seen in the epic battle over water rights at the Dakota pipeline. Division and the politics of hate have accompanied the rise of Donald Trump.
The United States is being drawn deeper into conflict with other nations and the prospect of new war rises.
Fast food workers are campaigning for a minimum $25 an hour wage and the deep south is now being used as a cheap labour haven for manufacturing companies that have relocated from the traditional industrial north.
King’s message to the American people is a message for us all. It is relevant to Australia too. We too need to declare war against the politics of hate, work to build communities and collective responses to injustice. We too need to have a vision and work for a future based on justice, fairness and where power is not based on the size of one’s bank account.
Videeo from History®
March on Washinton for jobs and freedom