Many people are familiar with the peaceful monk-like image of Martin Luther King Jr. that is so popular. In reality, the story of Dr. King has been sanitized, polished, and glorified. We’ve all heard the timeless soundbites from the I Have a Dream and Mountaintop speeches that are circulated by media outlets and people who consider themselves relevant commentators on race relations in America whenever something “significant” happens in the black community. However, most people would be shocked to hear the things that Dr. King preached in the final years of his tragically short life. The MLK that most people are unfamiliar with condemned the War in Vietnam, sympathized with rioters in Chicago, and demanded that the United States government reimburse African-Americans for 350 years of oppression.
Now, I am the last person to fall for every conspiracy theory presented to me, but did you know that in 1999 a jury found the unnamed United States intelligence agencies guilty of aiding in Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. I am being 100% genuine and serious. A jury of 12 (six black six white) actually unanimously came to that verdict in under an hour. The case had over 70 witnesses present evidence – it’s hard to believe, so google search Coretta Scott King et al. vs Loyd Jowers et al. I mean this was published in the New York Times. At the very least the U.S. government knew of a planned assassination and turned their head. That’s not the point. The point is, why after all of the fame and power King had obtained, did it take until April of 1968 for somebody to decide to assassinate him?
The Poor People’s Campaign was started in 1967 by Martin Luther King Jr. Don’t feel bad if you hadn’t heard of it; most people haven’t. MLK had become very disgruntled by the fact that despite having won civil rights and the right to vote life for African-Americans and people of color all around the world had seen little true improvement. King began to condemn the War in Vietnam. Calling it an “unjust war” fueled by the “evil of American militarism.” He even urged African-Americans not to serve in the armed forces. Along with a damnation of the Vietnam War MLK also insisted that the United States Government pass a bill that would seriously address the issue of poverty, especially in African-American communities. Dr. King had even begun to speak about the hypocrisy of the United States’ commitment to providing white communities with economic opportunities and at the same time “Tell[ing] the negro to pull himself up by his own bootstraps.” Two weeks before the death of Dr. King he was planning to march to Washington D.C. to demand a bill allotting $30 billion to “fight a bloodless war on abject poverty.”
Of course this didn’t fly well with the power elite in 1968 (and surely would not fly over very well with the powers that be today). King said himself “It did not cost the nation one penny to integrate lunch counters. It did not cost the nation one penny to give us the vote. The problem we are addressing now will cost the nation billions.” He literally said that the only way that the problem of poverty could be solved would be a radical redistribution of social and economic resources.
Dr. King planned to shut down D.C. in what he hoped would be the longest running protest in the nation’s history. MLK was consequently called a communist (possibly true), a traitor, and his image was systematically tarnished by the media who tried to portray his movement as dangerous and out of control. The FBI and NSA stepped up their surveillance of him, Lyndon Johnson turned his back on King, and the government even went so far as to prepare 20,000 troops to protect the nation’s capitol when the marchers reached Washington. Despite all of the pressure and resistance, Dr. King, like a soldier desperate to accomplish his mission, fought through the bullets of criticism and resistance shot at him and continued to blast the nation’s unjust treatment of poor and colored people.
In King’s last major speech, the Three Evils of Society, he tells the movement that America cannot consider itself a morally just nation until it eradicated racism, poverty, and militarism. Because of these messages the COINTELPRO program (An FBI program meant to eradicate African-American civil rights leaders and movements it saw as “threats to national security) spied on MLK, tapping his room, opening mail, monitoring phone calls, etc. Documents reveal that the FBI actually blackmailed MLK in attempt to convince him to commit suicide all because of their fear of the spread of communism, socialism, and general radical challenges to the American mode of operation.
Still he prevailed.
Unfortunately April 4th, 1968 was the day Dr. King paid the price for threatening the American status quo so strongly for so long. I am not sure how MLK’s assassination was pulled off. However Reverend Jesse Jackson famously said that “There is no way a one cent white boy (James Earl Ray) killed a one million dollar black man” by himself. However, I am sure of this: MLK had to die because of his support of a plan to radically redistribute resources in a way that would bring about social and economic justice.
What’s most important is that we remember what MLK was fighting for when he died. It wasn’t just anti-racism; it was anti-struggle, anti-pain, and anti-injustice. Were he alive today Dr. King would denounce the fact that black unemployment is twice the national average, that black households make just over half of what white households make and only have 5 cents of wealth to every dollar of wealth that a white family has, that the United States is sponsoring the theft of black life through mass incarceration, that the justice system refuses still to prosecute the modern day lynching that police violence has become, that the United States has sponsored violence and economic depression in countries inhabited by colored people such as Iraq, Iran, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Yemen, Israel, Jordan, and what should today be Palestine. It is with this in mind that we must reclaim the fervor in which he fought all injustice.