Black History

* Malcolm X



  Elke Moritz

V. King and the second period of the Movement

There 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.
Hosea Williams

This madness must stop !
Martin Luther King Jr., "Standing by the best in an evil time", 6.Aug. 1967, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta

In 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:
"We are on the move now. Yes, we are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us."47

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

The 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." 52 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 of blackness:
"We must feel that we count, that we are persons, that we are children of the living God. ... We must never be ashamed of our heritage,...[or] of the colour of our skin. Black is as beautiful as any colour. ... I am black and beautiful." 53 The movement became more nationalistic and there was a conscious effort to motivate African-Americans to change their present conditions. He soon had to discover that although most whites supported federal actions, they didn't want to pay for social equality. Many whites who sponsored the demonstrations in the South and marched beside him, deserted him when he went North.

King 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:
"It is just as evil to kill Vietnamese as it is to kill Americans, because they are all God's children."54 and the hypocrisy of white America:
"They applauded us in the sit-in movement when we non-violently decided to sit in at lunch counters. They applauded us on the freedom rides when we accepted blows without retaliation. They praised us in ... Birmingham and Selma, Alabama. Oh, the press was so noble in applause and ...praise when I would say "Be non-violent toward Bull Connor,"..."Be non-violent toward Jim Clark," There is something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that would praise you when you say, "Be non-violent toward Jim Clark," but will curse you and damn you when you say, "Be non-violent toward little brown Vietnamese children!" 55

His 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" 56, 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 57 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:
"Now I don't believe in black separatism. I'm against it. ... But I do say this. It seems that our white brothers and sisters don't want to live next door to us. ... So...they're pinning us in central cities....We're hemmed in. We can't get out. They won't pass the fair housing bill here. And that's true in every city in this country. Now, since they're just going to keep us in here,...what we're going to do is just control the central city. We got to be the mayors of these big cities. And the minute we get elected mayor, we've got to begin taxing everybody who works in the city who lives in the suburbs. I know this sounds mean, but I just want to be realistic."58

The 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." 59 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 disillusionment.

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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