04 April 2018

Fifty Years Ago Today

Today I am going off-topic.

One of the most tragic events--no, I take that back, the single most tragic event--in the history of the United States took place fifty years ago today.

I am talking about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Now, I don't mean to diminish how terrible were the killings of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X or the unfortunate souls who perished on 9/11.  They were all awful, and it could be said the country and this world weren't the same after them.  

Perhaps I see the murder of MLK as I do because it's the first assassination I can recall clearly.  I have only vague memories of JFK or Malcolm X, and the fall of the Twin Towers doesn't have a single tragic figure that stands out.  But, even at my tender age, I could see that Martin was emblematic (though neither I nor anyone else in my milieu at the time would have used the word) of everything that was necessary and possible.

Martin Luther King Jr. is kissed by his wife, Coretta Scott King as Nipsey Russel, back left, and Harry Belafonte, right, look on in 1963.

America is, of course, not alone in venerating its military leaders.  And I am not foolish enough to believe that this country, or the world, will ever exist without armies and munitions.  But the only hope the human race has, I believe, is to work toward, if not ending, then at least diminishing, the role of the military and war--and indeed all violence--play.  Doing such work, I believe, is inseparable from the struggles for social and economic justice.

That last sentence is something Martin understood, perhaps too well.  When he said as much, in a speech he gave exactly one year before he was gunned down, many of his longtime supporters abandoned him. President Lyndon Johnson championed both civil rights and America's involvement with the Vietnam War.  When Martin denounced the war, some of his supporters took it as an attack on the person who brought to fruition some of the things for which Martin and his followers fought.

Some Americans--including some of my acquaintance, a few of whom are related to me--simply cannot understand why Martin Luther King Jr. is "the only person with his own holiday."  In some states, at least, that is not the case: Lincoln's birthday is celebrated before "Presidents' Day".  But, really, if only one person in the United States of America is to have his or her own holiday, I cannot think of who else that person could or should be.

In short, I feel he is this country's greatest hero, and we are still hurting from losing him.                                                               


  1. I would propose that the assassination of Lincoln in 1865 was the other great tragic event in American history. The reconstruction period might have been very different with the Captain still at the helm. And both events had in the end to do with that great stain on the American charactor that has been all too influential, right down to this day: slavery.

  2. Leo--You're right. Lincoln's and MLK's assassinations were probably on equal order of magnitude, for they both derailed the march toward equality.

    I am not religious, but I say that slavery is the Original Sin of America, just as colonialism is the Original Sin of the West.