I always feel reluctant about commemorating the dates of assassinations. I worry that, when we do that, we might divert attention from the person’s life and feed morbid obsessions with death.
That said, we remember April 4, 1968 as the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It is important to look back at that time and consider the projects Dr. King was working on when he was violently taken from the country that needed him so badly.
Dr. King died in Memphis, Tennessee while supporting a strike by sanitation workers. He was also preparing the Poor People’s Campaign, a series of demonstrations and direct actions in Washington D.C. aimed at a better economic deal for impoverished Americans.
The campaign went ahead without Dr. King in May, 1968. It was a brave effort, headed by Reverend Ralph Abernathy, but it didn’t transform American thinking about economic injustice or racial injustice. I think that’s America’s fault rather than the fault of the campaign’s supporters.
Many of those who claim to celebrate Dr. King’s life disregard such vital aspects of his activism. In 2004, I interviewed Dr. C.T. Vivian, a close ally of Dr. King’s and long-time member of the executive of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was quick to point out that Dr. King’s work for social justice has been ignored in recent years. “They want to forget” he said. I’ll never forget the intensity with which he said it.
Here is information about the Poor People’s Campaign from American RadioWorks, with powerful audio clips from Dr. King’s speeches on the subject. Dr. King knew that different forms of injustice are linked. I wish America knew that.