Remembering Martin Luther King: A tireless champion of equality, peace and democracy
Martin Luther King's struggle not just for racial equality and civil rights, but also the wider struggle for peace and democracy remains relevant across the world even today
MLK Day was observed on January 17 in the USA and many parts of world. Actually there was some confusion regarding the exact day as last year MLK day was observed on January 18. This confusion can be cleared by remembering that the MLK day is actually observed on the third Monday of January, whatever the date. This day has been officially declared a holiday in the USA. It is celebrated to remember the great messenger of equality on his birthday, the exact date of which is January 15.
Martin Luther King Jr. emerged in the 1960s as the most prominent civil rights activist of the USA and made a historical contribution to the pursuit of civil rights using non-violence. In this, he was inspired greatly by Mahatma Gandhi, as he stated several times very clearly.
He emerged as the most inspiring practitioner of non-violent resistance against injustice and discrimination during the 1960s, also as the most visible symbol of black resistance and struggle. His powerful oratory and well-planned struggles fascinated not just the black population but an increasing number of other supporters as well--all those who stood for justice, equality and peace.
He was a great orator and several of his speeches like the famous 'I have a dream' speech are still widely remembered and quoted time and again as an indelible source of hope and inspiration.
While his contribution to civil rights and racial equality was no doubt great, it will be a mistake to confine his achievements only to this. With the passage of time, King went one step ahead and emerging as a committed anti-war activist, he raised a strong demand for ending the Vietnam War.
In addition, he should be seen as a very strong democracy activist too as he raised very significant questions about the way the USA was being governed with very dominant intervention of the military-industrial-intelligence agencies complex. President Eisenhower had given a clear warning about this at the time of the end of his Presidency in his farewell speech, although he himself could not do much to check this sinister and increasingly powerful aspect of American democracy which was seriously eroding its roots.
After some hesitation and dithering, President John Kennedy dared to confront this powerful caucus and as a result he was assassinated at the age of only 46 in November 1963.
Something very crucial in American democracy died the day President Kennedy was assassinated. It has never been the same again. However, for some years after this, MLK continued to give hope to those citizens of USA who stood for equality, real democracy and peace. In the later phase, King increasingly emerged as a strong advocate of peace in international affairs as well and in particular took a clear stand for ending the Vietnam war.
This alarmed and enraged powerful persons in the military-industrial establishment and the intelligence agents and politicians colluding with it. Hence the hostility towards him arising from his civil rights actions was further aggravated. At the same time his popularity was increasing rapidly. He had become the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 35 and this increased greatly the frustration of his opponents.
It was in these conditions that attacks against him were stepped up from high-level forces. From now onwards what happened to King became a case study of the great and incredible lengths to which the intelligence agencies can go to destroy a honest, courageous, peaceful activist and leader of their own country who dares to oppose their highly distorted agenda.
One effort was to depict him as a communist enemy of the USA. Another was to depict him as a man of loose morals and sexual promiscuity. Cooked up evidence of this was sent time and again to Corretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King. She persistently rejected it. The FBI sent him blackmailing letters which pressurised him to give up his public life and even intended to increase the pressure on him to such an extent that, as King himself stated, he would be driven towards suicide.
When all this failed, Martin Luther King was assassinated in April 1968. The establishment presented this as the work of one assassin Ray and this view remained prominent for several years despite most glaring loopholes. Dexter King, son of Martin Luther King Jr, later considered this to be “the most incredible cover-up.”
Corretta King and other friends of Martin continued efforts to expose the cover-up and bring out the truth of the most tragic assassination. Finally, in December 1999, 31 years after the assassination, a jury in Memphis, Tennessee, reached the verdict that Martin Luther King Jr. was killed as a result of a conspiracy involving the FBI, CIA, US Army, Memphis Police and the mafia. This verdict came after a 5 week trial and examination of 70 witnesses. Corretta Scott King called this verdict “ a great victory for justice and truth.” Judge James Swearenges deserves great credit for this, as also attorney William Pepper.
Coming back to 1968, a few weeks after the assassination of King, the prominent political leader and Presidential candidate who was closest to the ideals and agenda of King based on peace and equality, Robert Kennedy , younger brother of John Kennedy was also assassinated. As in the case of King, glaring loopholes were found in the official version of the assassination of Robert Kennedy.
As we remember MLK, we should also remember his struggle not just for racial equality and civil rights, but also the wider struggle for peace and democracy which still remains of the greatest importance for the USA as well as other countries impacted by US policy.
(The writer is Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children and Man Over Machine—A Path to Peace.)
(Views are personal)