Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered by James Earl Ray April 4, 1968, in Memphis Tenn., at the Lorraine Motel. Most family members, close advisors and supporters believe King’s death was a plot authorized by the American intelligence community. There are many theories and conspiracies on why King was killed, but from the very beginning of his mission, he understood that changing American injustice could cost him his life.
King was a great speaker and political operational genius who galvanized and mobilized the African-American community in America, demanding their civil rights based on the United States Constitution. He focused on American injustice as it related to the political, educational and social status of Black people.
King’s political strategy was to transform an entire society with tactics of nonviolence and civil disobedience inspired by the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi. Many radical Blacks argued that America was a racist and violent country and the only way to change a society was through bloodshed.
But King believed in his Christian principles and the American justice system. During his lifetime, King made great achievements, such as leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott from December 1955 to December 1956 and the March on Washington in 1963, being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and forcing Congress and the president to implement the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965. He was a disruptor, a change agent, and his vision and strategy revolutionized America.
In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” King wrote, “You may well ask. Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches etc.? Isn’t negotiation a better path? You are exactly right in your call for negotiation. Indeed, this is the purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”
Blacks in America think there is no crisis, and most of us see no reason for direct action. Some of us have money in the bank, a mortgage to pay and a nice vehicle to drive, and we are consumed with paying our bills.
With the election of Donald Trump, Black Americans are no longer a priority or a significant culture and community in the scheme of things in America. We are essentially invisible, and there is a roll back of many of the legal rights afforded to our community under President Obama and other presidents.
Fifty years later, the question must be raised: “What would Dr. King do?”
To answer this question, it is essential to understand why King risked his life for 1,300 Black sanitation workers in Memphis. It was 1968. All the sanitation workers were Black and made 65 cents an hour, with no overtime pay, with no paid sick time, and on-the-job injuries could result in an employee losing his job.
Two sanitation workers were killed on the job, and the Memphis Department of Public Works refused to compensate their families. This refusal resulted in all the workers walking off the job, and Mayor Henry Loeb refused the demands of the sanitation workers union.
Once King was aware of the injustice in Memphis, he joined the union’s fight for justice with direct action and demonstrations. The mayor called for martial law, and the governor sent in the National Guard.
On April 3, King gave his famous “Mountain Top” speech, and he was killed the next day. Where ever there was injustice, King took action and he was willing to fight for change.
Blacks in America must organize, mobilize and fight for change with direct action. We must use King’s political and legal strategies by engaging Black churches and organizations, and we must use tactics of nonviolence and civil disobedience, because we are still in crisis after 50 years.