Martin King was growing as a man and a leader, at the time, when a bullet ended his life. Civil Rights for negro americans was a just cause. For this alone, many revile him to-day. Since the success of legal recognition of equality, not one Democratic nominee for president, has achieved fifty percent of the white people’s vote. Clearly, Johnson’s belief, that the south was written away for a generation, was no exaggeration―it was―an understatement.
But, King was becoming more than an ethnic or race leader. His stature encompassed greater justice: peace, economic justice, labor rights, an end to unjust and unnecessary war and the failings and wrongdoing of his country on the world stage. This earned him greater enmity, even among those who agreed with him on the race issue. Many americans are willing, to a degree, to admit to racial inequality and suppression (especially in the past), but capitalism, militarism, nationalism and imperialism in calvinistic triumphalism and license are more central to the national psyche, and these views have not, yet, fallen.
The crisis of King’s original movement’s plaintiffs was being fractured, and to-day the negro [now identified as black or african american] family and culture is in greater crisis, and much of it is self afflicted. King was non-violent, some thought that was too soft and wrong or not adequate. Within the black community, King, if he to were to have lived, would have undergone further confrontation. We cannot know how it would have played.
Some of his speeches should be read by all students of american history and civics. He speaks, in them, as a striving christian, cognisant of the Old Testament prophets and of the teachings and passion of Jesus. As a personal aside, I was struck, by a certain understanding and reference that looked Catholic and Orthodox*; I am not personally familiar with the number of currents within black, american, christian churches. I asked a comrade at work, who grew up in that tradition, and he confirmed that he was not familiar with that emphasis or dwelling.
Martin King, like Bobby Kennedy, was taken from America too soon. Forty years is a long time. Martin did not finish forty. His death in Memphis, was caused by one, opportune, angry and hateful man, but one man alone was not the totality of his opposition. He came, in order, to aid striking garbagemen. They were negroes, but they were men, and they were workers, and they were mistreated on all these counts. To stand for what is right, even in America, is perilous. It was surely recognised then.
You don’t need to go out this morning saying that Martin Luther King is a saint. Oh, no. I want you to know this morning that I’m a sinner like all of God’s children. But I want to be a good man. ― 3 March 1968.
*One, in my understanding, was on the suffering Christ, the Christ we see on Good Friday.