40-years after King’s death, can it be said that the Civil Rights movement was a failure?

By Sam Johns

Memphis BNW) —
All due respect should be given to Martin Luther King and his so-called struggle for civil rights in this country. However, after 40-years since he was murdered, I think it’s reasonable to ask… Was Martin on the wrong side of history relative to Black social justice?

Did the nonviolent movement work for Blacks? No! But, each year as the assassination anniversary approaches, legions flock to the Lorraine Motel to claim a victory over Civil Rights. Among those who made the pilgrimage last week were two leaders of the civil rights movement — U.S. Rep. John Lewis and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Yeah, non-violence worked with Mahatma Gandhi to get Great Britain out of India. But, you had over a hundred million Indians and only a few hundred thousand British.

While Gandhi was murdered like King, the big difference in the two situations is that the people of India are free today, but Black Americans are still fighting for the same civil rights that got so many innocent Black people beaten to death, killed and lynched without even fighting back.

Even Martin got himself killed fighting nonviolently is the face of extreme violence and terror. Either he is the great man all Americans are claiming today, or he was a coward that got many Blacks killed for nothing because he wouldn’t fight back.

Some say the preacher in him would have continued speaking out against injustice, war and maybe even pop culture. He would likely not have run for president. He probably would have endured more harassment from the FBI if he weren’t murdered before his time.

King would be 79 now, but those who knew him say his power would remain undiminished. Everybody loves Martin today, but I remember when loving Martin wasn’t cool. For example, Democrats have been pointing out that Arizona Sen. McCain, as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, voted in 1983 against creating a federal holiday marking King's birthday.

The holiday was approved by a 338-90 vote and President Ronald Reagan signed it into law.

Obama, on the other hand, has been criticized by revelations about some of the sermons given by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright at Obama's Chicago church.

Wright, who has since retired, used inflammatory rhetoric from the pulpit, saying "God Damn America" as he railed against the country's history of racism.

Obama gave a well-received speech on race to try to allay concerns about why he sat in the pew all those years as Wright made outrageous statements.

Since those sermons came to light, some of Obama's supporters have suggested the Clinton campaign has been playing the race card against Obama.

Clinton, flying overnight from California and due to arrive before dawn, was accused of injecting race into the campaign when her husband, President Bill Clinton, was viewed as denigrating Obama in the South Carolina primary in January.

Clinton, who would be the first woman to win the White House, is scrambling to try to win the Democratic presidential nomination from Obama in what increasing looks like a difficult battle for her. Obama or Clinton will face McCain in the November election.

McCain has some work to do to improve his standing among black voters. He skipped a Republican campaign debate last September that focused on African-American issues.

McCain told reporters this week that he had "learned that this individual was a transcendent figure in American history" and deserved to be honored.

He is to speak to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference at a civil rights museum built at the old Lorraine Motel where King was gunned down.

Four decades after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. fell to an assassin's bullet, colleagues and biographers offer many answers to the question: What if he had lived?

For his children, however, the speculation is more personal. They know their lives would have turned out differently had they had their beloved father to guide and teach them.

Instead, history moves on, remaking the world in myriad ways. The nation has grappled with issues of race and inequity without the benefit of King's evolving wisdom. A generation has come of age celebrating him in a national holiday, like other figures of the frozen past.

But given the trajectory of his life — from his appearance on the national scene during the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott of 1955 to his death on a second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968 — some of those closest to him have a good idea what King might be doing now, and where we might be as a country.

In the months before his death, King was speaking out against the growing U.S. involvement in Vietnam and was working with other civil rights leaders on a Poor People's Campaign, with a march on Washington scheduled for that May. He was in Memphis that spring day to support striking sanitation workers.

Were King alive today, the disciple of Mahatma Gandhi would most certainly be speaking out against the Iraq War, says King biographer David J. Garrow. However, citing the famous "Drum Major Instinct" sermon King delivered from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta just two months before his death, Garrow says people might be surprised to hear echoes of presidential candidate Barack

"God didn't call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war," King said of the fighting in Vietnam. "And we are criminals in that war. We've committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I'm going to continue to say it."

While King didn't go as far as the Rev. Jeremiah Wright in suggesting that God "damn America," he predicted that the almighty might punish this country for "our pride and our arrogance."

"And if you don't stop your reckless course," he imagined the deity admonishing, "I'll rise up and break the backbone of your power."

Garrow and others feel comfortable saying that King would not have sought elective office.

In 1967, King was being courted by the "New Left" to make a third-party run for president on an anti-war ticket with the renowned pediatrician, Dr. Benjamin Spock. FBI wiretaps reveal that King gave serious thought to running, but ultimately decided that his role lay outside the political arena.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with King and marched alongside him, doesn't think time would have changed his friend's mind.

"I think Martin was a preacher, and I doubt very much if he would have wanted to subject himself to the need to compromise and play certain games that are requisite to political candidacy," says Lowery. "I think he would have preferred to do what he did best, and that was point out to ALL candidates and ALL officials ... `Thus sayeth the Lord."'

Had he chosen that path, his enemies — chief among them FBI Director Hoover — would have laid bare potentially embarrassing details of King's personal life.

Then-U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy authorized the wiretapping of King's home and offices in a campaign to ferret out communists. The secret recording campaign failed to prove that King was a communist, but it did provide evidence of the civil rights leader's extramarital affairs.

William C. Sullivan, head of domestic intelligence under Hoover, told a congressional committee that King was subjected to the same tactics used against Soviet agents and, "No holds were barred."

Hoover's office was unable to marginalize King with his supporters or cow him into silence with threats of exposure. But how might King have fared in the Internet age, when every peccadillo is exposed and every word parsed in a 24-hour news cycle?

The late Hosea Williams, one of King's chief lieutenants, once told Martin Luther King III that his father was "unstoppable" because he had conquered the two things that made men most vulnerable: the fear of death and the love of wealth.

Some, however, feel King's influence was on the wane and that at the time of his death he had already reached the zenith of his public career. He had "run out of things to do," the late Chauncey Eskridge, a King attorney, told Garrow.

"The painful truth is that in his last two months or so before he was killed, King was so exhausted — emotionally, spiritually, physically — that a lot of the people closest ... to him were really worried about his survival, his survival in the sense of would he have some sort of breakdown," Garrow says. "It would be expecting something truly superhuman, literally superhuman, for King to have continued the pace of life he had lived over those 12 years for another 12 years, never mind for another 20 or 40 years."

Journalist, author and commentator Juan Williams wonders whether King would be able to connect in a meaningful way with today's youth.

Although he was just 39, the 1964 Nobel Peace laureate's insistence on nonviolence was bumping up against the burgeoning black power movement, says Williams, author of "Eyes on the Prize" and more recently "Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America--and What We Can Do About It."

"The big issue would be whether or not when he spoke out against the excesses of the rappers, for example, or when he spoke out on the high number of children born out of wedlock, whether or not he would be lumped in with the Bill Cosbys of the world ...," Williams says.

But he has no doubt King would be a force on the international stage.

"I don't think he'd be in the petty fray in the way that we think of some of these civil rights guys who are kind of ambulance chasers," says Williams. Instead, he sees an elder King as a man of "some standing, some stature, that people wait to hear from him... I think of Nelson Mandela in this way."

Lowery says that when King died, part of the nation's conscience died with him. Four young children lost something much more personal.

To Marty, Yolanda, Dexter and Bernice, the baby, Martin Luther King Jr. wasn't the icon or the dreamer. He was Daddy -- the man who smelled of Magic Shave and Aramis and chlorine from the YMCA pool where he taught his sons to swim, and of the long-stemmed green onions that somehow fell outside the prohibition against eating before the evening blessing.

One of Bernice King's fondest memories is of the ritual she and her father shared when he'd return from a trip, like the time he came home for her fifth birthday party on March 29, 1968 -- a day late because of a march in Memphis. She would jump into his arms for the "kissing game," in which each member of the family had a different spot on his face. Bernice's "designated spot" was his forehead.

Had her father lived, the 45-year-old minister is fairly certain she would be married and have children by now. But his graphic death and ponderous legacy, she fears, have made her a less than "viable candidate" for domestic bliss. Part of the problem is that her father set the bar so high. She remembers something her mother often said.

"She said, `I didn't marry a man. I married a mission,"' the daughter says. "So for me, a spouse is more than just a companion. It's someone to fulfill your destiny with. And I think in my case, because the destiny is so great, because you had a man whose life was cut short and there was some work that had to be completed, that you now have a responsibility to participate in, that makes it a little more difficult."

Martin III, likewise, feels he wouldn't be having his first child at age 50 had his father not been killed. "I wasn't clear that I even wanted to bring a child into the world," he says.

Both siblings are quite certain, however, that their father's death did not determine their career paths.

"I don't feel like I could have been exposed to what my father and mother were doing without being involved in this movement," says Martin King, president of the nonprofit group Realizing the Dream.

If King were alive today, Lewis has no doubt he would be speaking just as forcefully and with as much authority as ever about the issues that matter most to Americans, old and young.

"He would be the undisputed leader," the Georgia Democrat says. "Martin Luther King Jr. 40 years later would still be speaking out against poverty, hunger, against violence, against war."

Jackson, then 26 years old, was in the parking lot of the Lorraine that day, talking up to King when he was shot. During his recent visit, the aging activist stepped over a low wall meant to keep out ordinary tourists, climbed the stairs to the balcony where his mentor lay dying, and wept.

King would be 79 now, but Jackson feels his power to move would remain undiminished.

"He might not be leading the marches, but he would have set the frame of reference," says Jackson. "His voice would be a voice of great moral authority."

Of all the "might be's" and "what if's," MLK III feels sure of one thing. Had his father lived, the country would be closer to realizing the "beloved community" he'd envisioned.

Still, he feels his father's guiding force pulling us inexorably in that direction.

"From my perspective, his light still shines," he says. "His voice, his message, we're living every day. We're embracing more and more. We're not as close to it as I would like to see us, but we're still living it. We're still moving toward it."
MEMPHIS (Reuters) - Forty years after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot to death in a racially charged assassination, the civil rights leader is still roiling American politics.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate John McCain have both come to Memphis to mark King's April 4, 1968, death and try to shore up support among black voters attracted to Democrat Barack Obama.

Both have some fence-mending to do among African Americans, and both are expected to give speeches and appear at an NBC News event to talk about King's leadership role in the 1960s movement against segregation.

Obama, who would be the first black U.S. president and is getting overwhelming support for his candidacy from black voters, will mark the holiday but will do it in North Dakota, where he will address the state's Democratic convention.

He was invited to the NBC event but could not attend due to a prior commitment, his campaign said.

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