Friday, April 4, 2008

Remembering the Assassination of Martin Luther King for a Day

Four decades after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. fell to an assassin's bullet, colleagues and biographers offer many answers to the question: What if he had lived?

Instead, history moves on, remaking the world in myriad ways. The nation has grappled with issues of race and inequity without the benefit of King's evolving wisdom. A generation has come of age celebrating him in a national holiday, like other figures of the frozen past.

But given the trajectory of his life — from his appearance on the national scene during the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott of 1955 to his death on a second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968 — some of those closest to him have a good idea what King might be doing now, and where we might be as a country.
The conjecture is that if King was aroudn today, he'd be speaking out against the Iraq War, says King biographer David J. Garrow. Garrow and others believe that King would not have sought elective office.

He felt, they say, that he could make more of a difference outside the political arena. Yet some question whether King would have continued to have much influence at all beyond the 1960s, believing instead that King's time in the National spotlight had already come and passed.
"The painful truth is that in his last two months or so before he was killed, King was so exhausted — emotionally, spiritually, physically — that a lot of the people closest ... to him were really worried about his survival, his survival in the sense of would he have some sort of breakdown," Garrow says. "It would be expecting something truly superhuman, literally superhuman, for King to have continued the pace of life he had lived over those 12 years for another 12 years, never mind for another 20 or 40 years."
So while King's life was definitely cut short, there's room to wonder if his Civil Rights career was upended too. or if it had run its course. What's evident though is that one man, James Earl Ray thought King had to be stopped, for whatever reason. A CNN investigative report tackled these issues.
Ray's brother believes in his innocence; so, more startlingly, does the King family. We see footage of King's son Dexter visiting Ray in prison in 1997 and pledging solidarity. Ray died in jail in the next year, but we hear from lawyers who took up his cause and from those who opposed it. Your opinions when watching are likely to bounce about: convinced first that he was guilty, then that he was framed, then that he was involved but was part of a conspiracy (involving, it's alleged, the FBI, the Memphis police and the U.S. military).
The hotel switchboard operator who found King's dead body in his hotel room suffered a fatal heart attack fromt he shock of it. We can't help but wonder what he would have amounted to had he lived.

[National Post]

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