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Tuesday, April 4, marks the 55th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Despite yearly commemorations from politicians and communities around the nation, conservative leaders’ fierce opposition to racial justice highlights a new assassination against the legacy Dr. King sought to build.
The Nobel Peace Prize-winning civil rights leader was shot dead on April 4, 1968, at 6:05 p.m. after stepping outside his second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. In a single moment, his life was stolen as he tried to speak with members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference down below, according to archives from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.
“Ironically, the man of peace was no stranger to violence. He was imprisoned at least 12 times in Alabama and Georgia. His home was bombed twice and he was nearly stabbed to death. He faced police dogs and batons, rock-throwing white men and hate-preaching blacks,” The Age recounted two days after his death.
“All because he had a dream of an America where the colour of a man’s skin was irrelevant to the quality of his life.”
Weaponizing his message for political gain, today’s conservatives from Oklahoma to Ohio have tried to assert that it’s now racist to highlight systemic racism.
Racism: “that corrosive evil”
From the 1619 Project to Critical Race Theory, Republicans seeking the maintenance of power have riled up millions of people by making a boogie man out of the truth. Taking a page out of the fascism playbook, school districts around the country continue to ban books and films by and about Black people that make White parents and students feel uncomfortable.
Nevermind the fact that Black students and parents have felt uncomfortable learning a whitewashed version of history for generations.
Republicans like Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and State Superintendent Ryan Walters, who appear eager to dismantle public education in favor of unequal, privatization, seem to have no problem threatening teachers who bravely choose to tell the truth about systemic racism.
“Racism can well be that corrosive evil that will bring down the curtain on western civilization,” Dr. King once wrote.
Educational outcomes, excessive policing, incarceration rates and wealth disparities continue to negatively impact Black Americans, yet Republicans refuse to acknowledge systemic racism and have instead embraced white nationalism.
The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy continues
James Earl Ray, a 40-year-old fugitive was eventually apprehended, charged and convicted for the assassination of Dr. King, who was in Memphis to rally striking sanitation workers. Yet Ray’s claims of innocence and the FBI’s documented surveillance of Dr. King has mired the murder in mystery to this day.
What’s not unclear, however, was Dr. King’s unapologetic desire to achieve some semblance of racial equity in the United States. Notably, it wasn’t until after Dr. King launched his Poor People’s Campaign, a multi-racial coalition of Americans opposed to poverty and war, that years of assassination attempts turned into reality.
Over a half century after his murder, the white backlash against racial progress continues.
It wasn’t until millions of White people joined in the most diverse mass uprising in U.S. history following the police lynching of George Floyd in 2020 that White Republicans around the nation began drafting bills targeting voters, protesters, and educators.
“The step backwards has a new name today, it is called the white backlash, but the white backlash is nothing new,” Dr. King wrote.
Republicans aren’t opposed to the acknowledgment and teaching of systemic racism because it’s false. They’re opposed to it because it’s true, and maintaining their power relies on keeping Americans ignorant and divided.
Rev. Dr. King, Jr. became the victim of a seemingly coordinated assassination after he woke the nation up to the evils of racism. Don’t let conservatives continue to assassinate his legacy.