Civil Rights History: On This Day

Starting this month, I will be writing a feature article entitled, “Civil Rights History:  On This Day.”  These articles will explore important civil rights events from the past, but which continue to inform and influence civil rights discussions to the present day.

To start off the feature, we look back to April 4, 1968.  On this day in history, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed at a Memphis, TN hotel. King had traveled to Memphis to participate in protests involving the rights of Black sanitation workers. Following his “I Have A Dream Speech,” which occurred in 1963, King’s civil rights work increasingly focused on class and poverty issues, rather than strictly on race.

Petty crook James Earl Ray initially pleaded guilty to King’s slaying, but then later recanted.  Ray claimed that he had been set up.  Nevertheless, despite his recant, Ray’s conviction was upheld numerous times, and he died in prison.

Following King’s assassination, widespread violence broke out across the U.S., engulfing nearly 100 cities.  Members of the King family, as well as many others, maintain the belief that King was the victim of a government assassination plot.  Whether government plots against King included assassination is unclear.  However, what is clear is that the FBI waged a fierce campaign against King and his civil rights activities, branding King a communist and attacking his family relationships.  An excellent discussion of these efforts by the FBI can be found at

Today, as he did when he delivered the “I Have A Dream” speech, King typifies the noble goal of racial equality in the United States.  Is it a goal still unmet?  How would King assess the state of race relations if he were alive today?  On the one hand, we are led by the first African-American President in our nation’s history, Barack Obama.  As a result, one might argue that the United States looks scarcely like the United States of the turbulent 1960s era.  Yet, income and educational disparities between the races – particularly African-American and whites – remain a significant problem.  And, as we have seen in recent months, growing political divisiveness in our country, which I frankly believe is unmatched by anything since the 1960s civil rights movement.

What do you think King would have to say?

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Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream Speech’

There is so much to listen to, say, and write about the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that it would be foolhardy of me to think that I can encapsulate all – or even most – of the accomplishments of this great man on a blog post.  Throughout the day, I will be posting my thoughts about Dr. King here at CRW, and will also be tweeting information of interest about Dr. King and his legacy on my Twitter stream @ericgyoung.

Let me being by saying that I believe it is providential that we should be celebrating Dr. King’s legacy today.  Why?  Each of us who heard the false, ridiculous, and mean-spirited statements recently made by the Reverend Pat Robertson about the Haitian earthquake witnessed first-hand the living embodiment of hatred and deception.  Such qualities are anathema to civil rights progress, whether the issue be racial, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.

Unlike Rev. Robertson, Rev. Dr. King led his community to face seemingly insurmountable civil rights obstacles with a conviction to peaceful, yet persistent, non-violent protest.  While unpopular with some as not going far enough to combat racism and discrimination, Dr. King’s approach recognized that all human being have inherent worth and are deserving of equality.  Rev. Dr. King’s approach did not employ belittlement, revisionist history, hatred, or terrorism.  Rev. Dr. King’s approach was as strong as steel; Rev. Pat Robertson’s weak as water.

Rev. Dr. King’s philosophy – and, possibly, foresight – on the African-Americans’ civil rights struggles is epitomized in his ‘I Have A Dream Speech.’  You can link to the full text of the speech here.  For many of you, the speech will seem like ‘old hat.’  Even if you consider yourself familiar with the speech, I urge you to read the speech again, read it to your children, read it in your schools or with your neighbors.

R.I.P. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King