50 Years After the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Where Do We Go from Here?

Thursday evening April 4th, 1968 a day and moment eulogized in song, poem, film the moment the prophet of peace left this earth.   

The funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, his wife, and looking over his body, a man who lived for peace was murdered by violence. 

Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, St Louis
K Gerard Thomas

The first time I remember seeing my mother cry I was going on seven years old I was at my babysitter’s home, my mother was an RN at the Jewish Hospital she left her nursing shift early to come pick me up around 8:00 PM fateful Thursday evening April 4th 1968.


Once my mother arrived at the apartment she walked in with tears in her eyes and hugged my babysitter Ms. Rose, and they both began to weep together, that was very strange to me, I asked my mother why she was crying she told me “Martin Luther King was killed tonight.”


I knew a little bit about him from the news, and talk shows my grandmother watched, but I did not realize the significance of who he was until I saw the look on my mother’s face, I sat next to her and watched the television as more news was breaking about his assassination. 


 Honor in Death but Not Life


It was a year later that Martin Luther King Jr became even more familiar to me and the homes that I visited, his picture and the picture of John F Kennedy and Robert Kennedy were appearing on the shelves and mantelpieces of my grandparents, cousins and family friends. 


A few years after his assassination to honor Dr. King’s memory city and county legislators passed bills to name streets, hospitals, schools, and awards after him.  Most of the streets named after him are in what is commonly called urban communities, in other words where black people live. 


His death changed how Washington would respond to the needs of the black community especially after the riots that were taking place across the nation after the assassination; it seemed the country or urban city was going up in flames.  


President Lyndon B. Johnson savvy ability to use tragic moments to enact laws that favored the concerns of the black community and the nation as a whole. After the assassination of President John F Kennedy in 1963, he pushed for the voting rights act to be passed. Two years later under the watchful eyes of Dr. King the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed and signed into law. 


It appeared since the 1955 Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott which catapulted King to the headlines the 1963 March on Washington and the Freedom Riders Movement in 1964 moved previously silent Americans to finally take notice, these young people road busses into the south and were willing to die and (some did) both white and black.


America and the world were on notice that there was a change coming and some in Congress realized that,  the 1967 Kerner Commission on race was becoming the norm that the nation was divided by “Two America’s One White One Black.”   As a result of the findings, the federal government created The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.


The HUD website says its beginning was due in part to “Riots in major cities follow assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights Act of 1968 (also known as the Fair Housing Act) outlaws most housing discrimination, gives HUD enforcement responsibility. Housing Act of 1968 establishes Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae) to expand the availability of mortgage funds for moderate-income families using government guaranteed mortgage-backed securities.”


1970s Martin Luther King’s name was on every street where there was a significant population of African Americans, this phenomenon stretched from coast to coast, some thought just naming a street after a person would make a difference in the community.  A street name and a school name has no value unless the proper resources are available to the members of that community.


1980s Crack Cocaine and gang violence entered the streets named after Dr. King and was a blight to his memory, but a Republican president followed the lead of another Republican president and out of sheer will signed into law a national holiday to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


The 1990s -2000 Martin Luther King Jr. is quoted and misquoted by friends and enemies of his movement that continues today as people are marching over the murder or unarmed people of color. 


Dr. King has been honored with a monument at the National Mall, but his memory has been relegated to history books, parades, a day off from work and quotes, and sadly we who owe so much to him have often honored his memory out of a hopeless bastardization of his original purpose.  


Like Moses, Dr. King set out to deliver his people and the nation as a whole out of bondage and like the Children of Israel we Rose up to Play and forgot the example set by our ancestors, to treat each other’s with love and respect Like Exodus 32.6 “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, "Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves” 


Dr. King's spirit is rising again in the original Black Lives Matter, Women’s Movement, and now the March for Our Lives Parkland Survivors who like the Children’s Movement and the Freedom Riders have brought together young people from across the nation by the millions to petition the government to pass sensible gun law legislation. 


These movements have awakened the nation to the work that still must be completed. The best way we can honor Dr. King is to become the expressed image of his purpose for living, serve humanity with unconditional love and a willingness to make a change not with a gun or violence but with reason and careful strategic planning and prayer. 


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