Martin Luther King Day Longevity Has Its Place
April 26, 2000
"...You are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that... your end is approaching... you are done... awards will not save you... you are done... There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is beared to the nation. "-- letter from William Sullivan, Deputy Director of the FBI, telling Dr. King to commit suicide, shortly after he received the Nobel Peace Prize]The public image of Martin Luther King is simple: a non-violent black guy who believed in equality, led some marches, and got shot for his trouble.That's about as detailed as the Disney version of Pocahontas.Martin Luther King was more than just a civil rights activist; he was also a major critic of the Vietnam War, the military-industrial complex, and an economic system which places profit ahead of human life. Before his death, Dr. King became a champion of not just civil rights for blacks, but human rights for all.His memorial deserves the full story.Until 1965, Dr. King tried to separate civil rights from Vietnam and other issues. Eventually, however, he found it impossible to split what he came to call "the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism."And so, in March 1967, he not only denounced the Vietnam War as "morally and politically unjust," but promised to do "everything in our power" to end it.Soon, King encouraged potential draftees to become conscientious objectors, calling the United States (rightly) "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."Eventually, King spoke of "civil disobedience on a massive scale... to cripple the operations of an oppressive society," including a Hungry People's Sit-in at the Department of Labor and a Poor People's March of Washington.For once, the powerless -- black and white -- had a powerful leader.To the Washington Post, King's words were "sheer inventions and unsupported fantasy." To Life magazine, they were "demagogic slander that sounded like a script from Radio Hanoi."To the warmakers, King's words were treason.By 1968, U.S. Army Intelligence had amassed files on Dr. King's family for three generations. Throughout the last year of his life, King was under constant military surveillance.The Army shared their information with the FBI, where Dr. King was the #1 target, a potential "'Black Messiah' who could unify and electrify the militant black nationalist movement." COINTELPRO, the largest series of secret operations in FBI history, explicitly worked toward the destruction of the civil rights and anti-war movements and the "neutralizing" of its leaders.J. Edgar Hoover, always a few pearls shy of a full string, truly believed that King was secretly controlled by communists bent on sabotaging America's security.The CIA agreed, deciding (wrongly) that King's plans for the spring of 1968 were nothing less than a Red attempt to destabilize the United States.Something had to be done.In March 1968, Dr. King was committed to leading a non-violent demonstration in support of striking sanitation workers in Memphis.Soon after King announced plans to return in April, members of the 20th Special Forces Group (SFG) of the Alabama National Guard were dispatched to Memphis, where Green Beret recon teams had earlier scouted sniper positions.On April 3rd, the Memphis police removed almost all security from around Dr. King, whose speech that evening concluded by referring to his impending death: "I don't know what will happen... but it really doesn't matter to me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. I won't mind... I just want to do God's will..."On April 4th, at 4 p.m., what security remained was diverted.At 6:01 p.m., a single shot tore through Dr. King's face and neck.The second man to reach his body was Marrell McCullough, code-named "Max," an undercover informant for the Memphis police and, in turn, the FBI.Riots erupted in over 100 cities. For the only time in White House history, the Situation Room was used to monitor a domestic crisis.Meanwhile, FBI agents in Dr. King's hometown literally danced at their desks, shouting "We got Zorro!"Whodunit? Oh, maybe it was James Earl Ray, a petty thief with no record of violence, who left no fingerprints at the crime scene, and whose rifle was never proven to have been fired and cannot be linked to the shot that struck King. And maybe you can aim a bullet with your ass and fire it by sneezing.In any case, there are really two assassinations at work here.The first killed the man. The second is killing his message.For example, in 1963, Dr. King dreamed of a nation where children "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."Most op-ed writers say Dr. King was therefore opposed to affirmative action.Wrong. King devoted a large part of Why We Can't Wait (1964) to a convincing argument that "special measures for the deprived" are an essential part of American history, and wrote in Where Do We Go From Here (1967) that "a society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for him."Most op-ed writers should be knocked down with fire hoses.Similarly, King's passionate fight for poor people of all races is almost always censored from TV news shows sponsored by stock brokerages and arms contractors.What remains is a comfortable caricature of Dr. King, stripped of the very beliefs for which he finally gave his life.To accept this is a betrayal of his memory.It's too late to save Martin Luther King's life. His legacy is still in our hands.