Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.



April 4, 1968, about 6:01pm. We should always remember that time. It has now been 48 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. He was moving conceptually and in his actions in a more radical direction combining antiracist, broader anticlass, and antiwar efforts—which efforts likely had much to do with his assassination.King (Photo: Wiki-images)

I remember the day vividly, like it was yesterday, and can still remember the time of day when one of my students at the University of California called me to tell of the terrible event, and I can still remember well my and his distressed emotions as we talked about the shooting. (We did not know Dr. King had died at that time.) He was one of the few African American students then at that university and as one would expect was devastated by the event, as I was too.

The events leading up to Dr. King’s assassination need to be taught everywhere. In late March 1968 Dr. King and other civil rights leaders participated in and supported the local Memphis sanitary works employees, black and white, who were striking for better wages and working condition. (They were also building up coalitions across the various groups of Black civil rights and Black power movements, including a few years earlier between Dr. King and Malcolm X and their supporters.)

Conditions in Memphis, as elsewhere, were very oppressive for workers, in both racial and class terms, as this wikipedia summary makes clear:

In one incident, black street repairmen received pay for two hours when they were sent home because of bad weather, but white employees were paid for the full day.

King gave his last (“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”) speech at a rally for the workers at the Mason Temple in Memphis.
This is the famous section near the end of his prophetic speech, where he reflects on death threats he had often received:

We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.

Let us remember him well, and especially his prophetic antiracist, anti-capitalistic, and antiwar messages, on this spring day, 2016.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not — and the White Sanitization of Racial History

Today, on Martin Luther King Day, Ripley’s Believe It or Not comic strip published the sketch of a smiling Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King as newlyweds The caption of the sketch reads “Martin Luther King Junior and Coretta Scott King spent their wedding night in a funeral parlor instead of a hotel.” The sentence is consistent with the strip’s teaser approach. Nonetheless, the reader is left to wonder why the just-married couple opted for a funeral parlor rather than a hotel room. Were they too cheap to get a room? Did they have a fetish for the macabre? Did someone in their immediate families die that day?

Of course, the reason that the newlyweds spent the night at the funeral parlor on the night of their wedding day on June 18, 1953, was that the local hotels in Marion, Alabama, denied them a room. It was through the help of friends including his father, Martin King Sr. who presided over the wedding ceremony in the Scott family’s backyard in nearby Heiberger, that they were allowed to stay in the funeral parlor.

The Ripley entry represents yet another example of the way history is sanitized when it comes to race. For example, we routinely hear about plantation tours that never mention the words “slavery” and “slave” because it is “not part of the official tour.” On the day honoring Dr. King, the Ripley comic strip writer missed an excellent teachable-moment opportunity by failing to tell, as the legendary conservative commentator Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.”

Rogelio Sáenz is Dean of the College of Public Policy and Peter Flawn Professor of Demography at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is co-author of Latinos in the United States: Diversity and Change and co-editor of The International Handbook of the Demography of Race and Ethnicity.