History People

Slay the Dreamer

On the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr and the National Civil Rights Museum:

Visitors pass through displays depicting African-American life in the Jim Crow South, honoring early civil rights pioneers like Ida B. Wells and describing seminal events like the 1955-56 bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala.

Finally they come to the room in which King spent his final minutes and look onto the balcony where he was standing when Ray’s bullet hit him. Some find this place as evocative an American shrine as Independence Hall or the battlefields at Gettysburg and Antietam.

Thanks to wood s lot.

As I stated earlier, I would never join a protest based on a ‘celebration’ of an assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. However, I am aware that, in some ways, marching against war on the anniversay of King’s death is a vindication of the last few years of his life, spent fighting the Vietnam war. In an excellent perspective article on King’s death, On anniversary of assassination, some want King remembered as more than ‘dreamer’, the author, Gregory Lewis, writes:

As far as Julian Bond is concerned, the day King was shot to death is “the beginning of the reshaping of King’s legacy by erasing the last five years of his life, freezing him in August 1963.” Since his death at the age of 39, King’s image as a dreamer has supplanted King the radical opponent of the Vietnam War and economic exploitation of the poor.

Yet it’s King’s fight for economic equality for blacks, and his fight against the Vietnam war in addition to his eloquent and powerful influence for civil rights that made him, truly, the great man for all times. In one of his speeches, he said:

“Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.”

“Beyond Vietnam,” April 4, 1967

How uncanny that King would use the same words then, in a different war, that are so appropriate today: about securing liberties several thousand miles away when we’re being denied liberty here in this country, now. If anything marching against war would seem the perfect memorial for King.

But I think that Martin Luther King, Jr would disagree. He wasn’t a man who be comfortable with shrines, and wreaths, and glass cases containing memorabilia. I think he would say that the perfect memorial for him would be a living one, reflected in people fighting for freedom and against injustice and inequality every day of the year.