Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, at the MLK Conference held on Sat., April 5, 2008 in Detroit. (Photo: Cheryl LaBash).
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
By Kris Hamel
Published Apr 10, 2008 9:07 PM
The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History was the site of a special commemoration April 5 marking the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“The Struggle Legacy of MLK” was the theme of the gathering sponsored by the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice. More than 150 people came to hear presentations on various aspects of King’s life and work.
The program, chaired by MECAWI leader Andrea Egypt, opened with a showing of Dr. King’s interview by Mike Douglas in 1967, in which King spoke out against the U.S. war in Vietnam.
Debbie Johnson gave an overview of King’s anti-imperialist, anti-war legacy. “King clearly viewed the situation evolving in Southeast Asia as revealing a long history of Vietnamese struggle against colonialism,” stated Johnson, “and one in which he viewed any U.S. role there as furthering European colonial domination on a long suffering, but clearly determined people to fight any foreign occupation, whether French or American. King said unequivocally, ‘There can be no gainsaying of the fact that we have taken a stand against a people seeking self-determination.’”
Keynote speaker was Larry Hales from Denver, a leader of the national Marxist youth organization FIST (Fight Imperialism, Stand Together) and an organizer against police brutality. His topic was the question of nonviolence versus the right to armed self-defense of the African-American community.
Hales reminded the audience: “There is a constant state of war going on against African Americans, the working class and all people, especially people of color. The first Black people brought here in chains were in a very violent mood. They had just seen their villages destroyed, people killed and sent off to slavery, many of them brutalized and killed or dying on the voyage here.
“The idea of a Black nation and the idea of national liberation quickly formed. The weapon the ruling class used to get whites to participate in the subjugation of people of color is the same one they use now—racism and white supremacy.
“Violence was used to free slaves and rebellions started immediately when slaves were brought to this country. The armed and violent struggle predates the non-violent struggle. Dr. King knew that violence is done by the oppressor and that economic violence, economic warfare was directed at the Black community as well, part of the systematic violence against the oppressed community.”
Hales captured the crowd’s attention with his political analysis and historical examples of the struggle for Black liberation. He laid out a revolutionary approach as the only solution to ridding society of racism and violence: “The system uses violence when it robs us of what we create as workers, the value we create as workers, so they can make huge profits.
"Martin Luther King gave his ‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop’ speech in Memphis to striking sanitation workers and talked about ‘the promised land.’ He didn’t mean somewhere you go when you die. He had a vision that things don’t have to be this way. There is another way. We won’t get rid of violence until this violent system of exploitation is gone.”
Other speakers at the event were Kevin Carey, who talked about communists who were active in the civil rights struggle, as well as possible governmental involvement in King’s assassination. Sandra Hines motivated the audience with song before talking about Detroit women “who stepped up and did what’s needed to be done” in many struggles. Judith Thompson also spoke on women in the civil rights movement.
Abayomi Azikiwe talked about the legacy of King and the ongoing struggle for economic justice.
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