V. King and the second period of the MovementThere is a definite effort on the part of America to change Martin Luther King Jr., from what he really was all about - to make him the Uncle Tom of the century. In my mind, he was the militant of the century.
This madness must stop !
1965, Martin Luther King and the SCLC and SNCC started their
voter-registration campaign in Selma. Now that the African-Americans
had gained their civil rights, they still continued their "fight
for the vote". Like in the demonstrations of the years before,
many people were arrested. A few days after Malcolm X was
assassinated on Feb. 21, 1965, a peaceful march was staged leading
from Selma to Montgomery, but was immediately prohibited by Governor
Wallace46. When the
marchers knelt down for prayer, police on horseback started
dispersing them by the use of tear-gas and sticks, which made people
later call this day the "Bloody Sunday." Several days later
a small group of people was allowed to march from Selma to
Montgomery, where they were joined by more then 25,000 others. Then
King gave an address at the state capitol, proclaiming:
On August 6, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. But only 5 days later the dream which had been deferred for too long48 exploded in Watts. No one of the Civil Rights Movement had been prepared for this. King had to realize that his optimism was in strong contrast to the growing despair in the ghettos and that economic problems of class were now greater than problems of race. Although his aides warned him against a northern campaign, King decided to move to Chicago to fight for slum-rehabilitation, better employment opportunities, and open-housing to end poverty and social discrimination. Slowly, he started to change, because he experienced the problems of living in the ghetto: the apartment the family lived in was "too hot, too overcrowded, too devoid of creative forms of recreation"49 and reminded him of jail conditions. He began using a vocabulary similar to Malcolm's, calling the ghettos a "system of internal colonialism" in a "morally sick country"50 Realizing that blacks, who constantly had been beaten down psychologically, developed a feeling of powerlessness and hopelessness, Martin turned toward economic issues, calling for social justice for the urban, black underclass, but also for the poor in the third world, because he was aware that African-Americans weren't only at home in the US, but also in the "world house" 51
optimism of the movement had faded, especially the students were
disillusioned and demanded radical changes. "Non-violence might
do something to the moral conscience of a nation, but a bullet didn't
have morals and it was beginning to occur to more and more organizers
that white folks had plenty more bullets than they did conscience."
So when Stokely Carmichael of the SNCC used the slogan "Black
Power" in public for the first time, white America was shocked
of the "new militancy". Although King didn't accept the
slogan, he tried to keep the unity of the movement by changing it
into "Black is beautiful" and thereby making an affirmation
now concentrated on two major topics: the war in Vietnam and the war
to end poverty and racism. He started attacking the Johnson
administration's war policy in Vietnam:
co-operation with the Peace Movement and his comments concerning the
actions of the US in Vietnam antagonized many Civil Rights Leaders
and especially the government. He even dared calling the US "the
greatest purveyor of violence in the world today"
and threatened the start of non-violent campaigns and national
boycotts to force the government to deal with the masses of poor
Americans. He still hold on to his dream of nonviolence, love and
peace, although he saw that progress was too slow. Throughout the
long, hot summers of 1965 until 1968 riots broke out in many big
cities. The report of the Kerner Commission
confirmed what leaders like Malcolm and Martin had said about the
racial situation in America, but the government still didn't react.
So Martin continued to urge the people in the ghettos to start
changing things by themselves:
SCLC started their "Operation Breadbasket" and planned to
stage a "March of the Poor on Washington", to present the
situation of poor blacks and whites to the public through mass civil
disobedience. He felt responsible for his people, because he had
"worked to get these people the right to eat hamburgers, and now
I've got to do something...to help them get the money to buy it."
In 1967/ 1968 King became so radical that he disturbed many people of
the government and the media. But he often was forced to keep quiet
and reduce his criticism because established black leaders, white
liberals and the Johnson administration pressurized him, so that he
often found himself isolated and alone. In March 1968, just before
the planned march, he went to Memphis to support striking sanitation
workers. On April 4, 1968, just one day after he had made his famous
statement that he had "been to the mountain top" and "seen
the promised land"60,
he was shot by a sniper, who was later identified as James Earl Ray.
Following the news of his assassination, riots broke out in more than
125 cities. It seemed as if the last piece of optimism had died with
King. The movement became more radical and militant, but at the
beginning of the seventies the mood shifted again to hopelessness and
46.) see chapter III.2
47.) speech entitled "Our God is marching on !", in A testament of hope, p.227
48.) cp. Hughes, Langston, "Harlem - What happens to a dream deferred ?"
49.) quoted in "Freedom Bound" ,p.182
50.) cp. "We live in a confused..,sick, neurotic nation", staff address, 17 Jan. 1968, quoted in "Martin & Malcolm & America"
51.) cp. his views in his last book "Where do we go from here - Chaos or Community"
52.) Julius Lester, "The angry children of Malcolm X", p. 473
53.) taken from his speech "Some things we must do",Cleveland, April 1967, in "Martin & Malcolm & America"
54.) speech held on Feb.5,1966, "Who we are", Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta
55.) in "Why I am opposed to the war in Vietnam", 30 April 1967, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta
56.) in "A time to break the silence", speech held at the Riverside Church in New York City" on 4.April 1967 (one year before his assassination); printed in "A Testament of Hope", p.233
57.) Excerpts from the National Advisory Commission's Report on Civil Disorders, called the "Kerner Commission" (appointed in July 1967, issued on Feb. 29, 1968): "Our nation is moveing toward two societies, one black, one white - separate and unequal. ... Segregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most white Americans. What white Americans have never fully understood - but what the Negro can never forget - is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it. ... To many Negroes the police have come to symbolize white power, white racism and white repression!"
58.) in "Which ways its soul shall go?",2 Aug.1967 at a voter registration rally in Louisville, Kentucky; in "Martin & Malcolm & America"
59.) quoted in "Bearing the cross",p.439
60.) speech entitled "I see the promised land", Memphis, Tennessee, 3 April 1968; "A Testament of Hope",p.286