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Forty years ago last week, one of America’s saddest and most shameful episodes concluded with the assassination of the single most significant leader in America’s history. Save Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, no individual had a greater impact on the race question in America. Certainly in the 20th Century, no individual sought to challenge the racial equality resistance in the way King did. In a moment when America could have stood for justice, it stood for supremacy.

The assassination of King, forty years later, is still sad and shameful. Sad because America refused then, and still refuses now, to acquiesce to the demand for racial equality. Shameful then as now, because America felt the only way to end the demand for equality, through a message of love and non-violence, was with a hate-filled act of violence. Racial hate crimes are still a part of America; martyrdom is not. The era of public assassinations targeting change agents, five in five years (starting with Medgar Evers in June, 1963 and ending with Bobby Kennedy in June of 1968 - JFK, Malcolm and King in between) demoralized the nation on many levels. America clearly lost its mind during that period, but the King assassination, unlike the others, still weighs heavy on the public psyche. America hasn’t been the same since the King assassination. White America now talks more about King’s dream than anybody else - maybe as a function of guilt, or a function of mockery - I’m never really sure. Black America has spent much of that time stuck in a dream…a bad one, at that. They were either dreaming about King’s so-called dream, or looking for the next King.

Much of the reason America can’t have a civil conversation about race is because it rehashes memories of the King years and why the assassination had to happen. Radical thought mixed with radical action was too much for America to bear. Much of the reason the nation is so enamored of Barack Obama is that he is reflective of a certain radical idealism that is not threatening to Whites but engaging to their stigmatized perceptions of race. America hasn’t seen this type of radical idealism since King.

Many people think that King wasn’t a radical because of his non-violent philosophy. But his direct action protest approach of confronting “massive resistance” was radical and scared the “Be-Jesus” out of Roy Wilkins and Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP, Whitney Young of the Urban League, A. Philip Randolph of Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. It scared the “Be-Jesus” out of the National Baptist Convention (who put King out of the convention - King co-founded the National Baptist Progressives). King scared the Be-Jesus out of the white clergy, who hid behind the supremacy activities of community and sided with the community in trying to suggest that King wanted too much, too soon and should wait. King forced America’s hand on civil rights (social equality), political (voting) rights, economic rights (poverty) and human rights (War on Viet Nam).

Change was in the air and it was King at the front of the change line, framing how the world was viewing America. They tried to say a lot about King’s methods, ethics; J. Edgar Hoover even challenged his morals. But they could never say he wasn’t right, and his reasoning wasn’t just. King put America to the justice test, and America has failed. After forty years, America still cannot tell you who killed King, or why. It still hurts…

We certainly can surmise the reasons, largely centered in the extent some people went to maintain the dominant effects of the supremacy position in a Eurocentric culture. White supremacy was pervasive then, and it is pervasive now. It’s just not as visible. Is it just as vicious as 1968? We won’t know until another King surfaces and challenges America’s core values and moral practices in the same way King did. Part of the two-fold problem is that another King has yet to emerge and if one did, America would not be ready to re-live the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. experience. Forty years later, Dr. King. is still the moral conscience of the nation. His voice still rings in our ears. The scars are still present. America couldn’t handle another King.

It still hasn’t gotten over the way it treated (killed) the last one. Columnist Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the new book, Saving The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom. His Website is Click here to contact Dr. Samad.


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April 10, 2008
Issue 272

is published every Thursday

Executive Editor:
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Peter Gamble
Est. April 5, 2002
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