It was forty years ago today that Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed as he was standing on that balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Some people like to portray him as a saint, but it’s much wiser to realize that he was just like the rest of us, sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker, and as full of contradictions, which makes his achievements all the more amazing. He fought the good fight, and was turning, as he saw the naked bones of power in America, more and more radical in his last years, making the connections between racism, class, and the slaughter in Vietnam. He had the best of enemies (and by “best” I of course mean the worst): J. Edgar Hoover, who warped the FBI for decades; the Klan; White Citizen’s Councils (essentially the folks who bankrolled the thugs in the Klan); pigs like Bull Conner; and the American Right in general; as well as apathy, complacency, cowardice, & fear.
But he had the best (and I do mean best) of allies. It’s important to remember that there were thousands in the Movement, struggling without the benefit (or burden) of fame. Most are no longer remembered, but the boycotters, lunch counter sitters, bus riders, and school kids under the water hoses and dogs, are the ones who made it possible. The apartheid terror-state of Jim Crow was dismantled by the power of people.
This Sunday at 1pm, there’s a march, from several places in the city, to the Gandhi statue in Union Square, as part of the Satya Graha Forum. King was of course much influenced by Gandhi, and both were influenced by Thoreau, Tolstoy, and many other alternatives to the boot and gun. It’ll be a good way to touch base with those influences.