Dr. King's Anti-War and Economic Justice Legacy of Struggle Must Not Be Forgotten
Over four decades later we must honor his work
By Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire
"So far, we may have killed a million of them--mostly
children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of
children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the
streets like animals."
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking on the U.S. war in
Vietnam during 1967.
April 4, 2009 marks the 41st anniversary of the martyrdom of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee.
The son and grandson of Black Baptist ministers, Dr. King was destined for a career of public service and leadership in his southern community. However, the rapid developments of political events during the 1950s propelled him and thousands of others into the forefront of social struggles against legalized segregation and institutional racism in the United States.
What is often ignored by the federal government and the mass
media who pay tribute to Dr. King annually, is the tremendous anti-war and social justice legacy that the civil rights leader left during the critical years of American military involvement in Vietnam and south-east Asia.
With the influence of Mahatma Ghandi during the Indian independence struggle as well as other mass liberation movements of the post World War II era, King adopted a non-violent, civil disobedience approach to waging war on the system of racial exploitation and degradation in the American South. King's commitment was always geared towards the alleviation of suffering and the upliftment of humanity from oppression and poverty.
Although he recognized many years before that there was a direct link between the fight against American militarism and the movement for civil rights and economic justice, it was not until early 1967 that Dr. King placed his full weight behind the anti-war movement designed to bring about the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam.
In a story recounted by a Southern Christian Leadership
Conference colleague Rev. Bernard Lee of Atlanta, he says
that: "Martin and I were traveling to Jamaica. He was going
to finish a book that he had been working on. Martin always
carried a couple of really heavy suitcases. Never had any
clothes in them, really. They were filled with books and
magazines and various kinds of documents that he would study."
According to Rev. Lee, while they had dinner before boarding
the plane, Dr. King looked through an issue of Ramparts
magazine that featured photographs of Vietnamese civilians
victimized by the American bombing of the country in early
1967. Lee said that King "froze as he looked at the pictures
from Vietnam. He saw a picture of a Vietnamese mother
holding her dead baby, a baby killed by our military. Then
Martin just pushed the plate of food away from him. I looked
up and said, 'Doesn't it taste any good?' and he
answered, 'Nothing will ever taste any good for me until I do everything I can to end that war.'"
In March of 1967 Dr. King participated in the first massive
anti-war demonstration of the era in Chicago where he marched alongside Dr. Benjamin Spock, Stokely Carmichael, then chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and others who had already taken a firm stand against U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Two weeks later King was to deliver his definitive position against the war in Vietnam with an address at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta, and at Riverside Church in New York City.
In these addresses, delivered one year to the date before his death, Dr. King said that Americans should "watch as we
poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their area preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals, with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury."
Dr. King's call for an immediate cessation of U.S. military
action in Vietnam was denounced by the leading media outlets
and established organs of power of 1967 and 1968. Reader's
Digest magazine published an article stating that Dr. King
had created "doubt about the Negro's loyalty to his
country." He also became a pariah to the administration of
President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had signed the Civil Rights
and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965.
Yet Dr. King remained steadfast in his position of linking
the civil rights movement with the anti-war struggle. In
late 1967 in a radio broadcast over the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's (CBC) annual Massey Lecture Series, he said that: "The war in Vietnam is just a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit. And if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing clergy and layman concerned committees for the next generation. They will be concerned with Guatemala and Peru; they will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia; they will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and politics."
These words were not only visionary but prophetic. Four decades later, the American political economy is still driven by war and economic exploitation. Today the focus of attention for American militaristic and imperial ambitions centers on Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and North Korea, as well as other areas of interests which include Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Sudan, Zimbabwe, the Horn of Africa and Cuba.
Dr. King's assassination on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, amid
the ongoing sanitation workers’ strike which had paralyzed
the city, illustrated the inability of the U.S. ruling
class to come to grips with the necessity of reforming its
own system that is rooted in racism, genocide, greed and class dominance. As we move further into a new century and
millennium, we are faced with the continuation of many of the same ills that Dr. King fought against during the late 1960s. It is this challenge that we must take up in order to make his dream of a truly just society a reality.
April 3-4 mobilizations represent a fitting tribute to King
As thousands of people demonstrate in New York City on April 3-4 against the current bailout of Wall Street and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is important to reflect on the significance of this year's anniversary of the martyrdom of Martin Luther King, Jr. We must continue the true legacy of Dr. King by opposing U.S. militarism and the continued exploitation of the poor and working people of the United States and the world.
Corporate media pundits and the U.S. administration will of
course make mockery of Dr. King's legacy through the
utterance of false platitudes and outright falsehoods as it
relates to this great civil rights and human rights leader of the 20th century.
Despite these distortions, the modern-day disciples of peace
and social liberation will continue through the anti-war
movement and the struggle against the ruling class imposed economic crisis to reclaim and honor the genuine legacy of Dr. King and the movement he led.
Some Related Theories on the Assassination of King
Forty-one years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. King, the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and recognized as the most prominent leader within the U.S. based civil rights movement, was killed as he granted support to an African American sanitation workers' strike that had lasted for two months.
King was the target of the federal government's counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO) and was subjected to several previous attempts aimed at neutralization and liquidation carried out by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) under the leadership of the late J. Edgar Hoover.
King at the time of his murder was estranged from the American government for several reasons. One main bone of contention between Dr. King and the Johnson administration was his complete opposition to the U.S. military intervention and occupation of Vietnam. Dr. King declared in 1967 that the U.S. government was the largest impediment to the realization of national self-determination and world peace on the international scene.
He called for a radical re-distribution of wealth in the United States which would involve the adoption of policies that would require a guaranteed annual income for all peoples in the country. At the time of his murder, Dr. King was poised to take several thousand people to Washington, D.C. in order to demand immediate congressional action aimed at the alleviation of the suffering of poor people in America.
Although King never abandoned his commitment to non-violent social change, he was clearly moving towards an internationalist position that could have brought him to see the relevance and effectiveness of armed revolutionary struggle as a tactic designed to achieve the larger strategic goals of total emancipation from institutional racism, national oppression and economic exploitation.
However, we will never know what may have been because of the machinations of the assassins in 1968. Did King's murder result from a broad conspiracy involving the FBI, racist business elements, army intelligence and the local government and law-enforcement officials in Memphis? This has been the contention of several writers who have advanced this thesis in print over the last thirty years.
There are three books worth mentioning which have set out to shed light upon the notion of a grand conspiracy involving the murder of Dr. King.
The first being "Code Name Zorro", by Mark Lane and Dick Gregory, which suggests that the federal government was behind the assassination thirty years ago. Another book is by Philip Melanson entitled, "The MURKIN Conspiracy". This work attempts to draw a link between the military intelligence apparatus in the U.S. and the killing of Dr. King.
A Canadian connection to the assassination is drawn through the acquisition by James Earl Ray of false identities of residents of Toronto who bore a striking resemblance to himself. Ray was able to obtain a Canadian passport after he allegedly escaped from prison one year before the murder of Dr. King.
The final publication that will be mentioned here is "Orders to Kill" by Attorney William F. Pepper, whose thesis attempts to place responsibility for the murder on military intelligence units operating under the orders of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
All of these books make for interesting reading and analysis despite the absence of key material and documents that would conclusively prove the theories behind each argument.
Although government documents have been released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), one can never be certain that the most essential and relevant ones have not been destroyed or are still being withheld.
Another possibility is that the lack of trained investigators who could comb and probe the existing government documents and witnesses to glean new and more pertinent information related to a government conspiracy is preventing the revelation of a version of the murder that would be much closer to the actual truth of what occurred.
This lack of documentation and concrete analysis has resulted in questionable speculation and inferences by the above mentioned writers, with specific reference to the book by William F. Pepper (Orders To Kill).
Perhaps the most objective of these accounts would be the work by Melanson- who is very cautious in his inferences and conclusions based upon his collection of what he perceives as relevant data on the murder case.
These theories should be examined, in addition to the FBI files on the assassination which are available now on microfilm. Despite the redactions in the documents, one can see clearly that the government was more concerned about minimizing Dr. King's legacy and curtailing violent activity after his assassination than with arresting the culpable forces behind the conspiracy.
Even the House Committee on Assassination (HCOA) in the late 1970s concluded that there was a conspiracy in the death of Dr. King, although they refused to draw a viable link to the intelligence apparatus of the United States at the time.
A Worldwide Movement Opposing War, Exploitation and Racism
Just prior to the April 3-4 mobilizations in New York, tens of thousands gathered in London to protest the G20 summit. The G20 became a focal point of anti-war, environmental, social justice and economic rights organizations and coalitions. People outside this international gathering were raising the same issues as the mass organizations in the United States are addressing.
The growing impoverishment of not only the oppressed African American, Latino, Asian and other people of color and women has become a source of renewed struggle, but the worsening conditions of the white working class is also raising contradictions in the U.S. to new levels. Millions of people of all races have been evicted from their homes, thrown out of their jobs, robbed of their health care benefits and pensions. These broad population groups within the country must mobilize and organize into a coalition that can effectively change the nature of the debate and political struggle in the coming period.
The failure of U.S. imperialism to accept and come to grips with its racist past has come to light with the refusal of the administration to participate in the Durban Review Summit in Geneva. However, this denial of the racist past cannot obscure the continuing phenomena of national oppression inside the country and throughout the world. The oppression of the Palestinian people and their struggle for liberation and statehood will not go away simply because the imperialist nations refuse to attend an international conference.
People of conscience in the U.S. have no other choice but to link up with the working class, poor and oppressed masses of the world in a common struggle for a new system. The crisis in the western capitalist system stems from its long tradition of class warfare against working people and oppressed domestically and the attempted military domination of the peoples of the developing countries throughout the world.
With the economic crisis spreading throughout the planet, it provides excellent opportunities for the building of larger and more effective movements aimed at genuine social change. Together, the people of the U.S., in alliance with the struggling masses throughout the globe, can forge a new era of peace, prosperity and social justice.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire and has been a researcher on the history of the civil rights movement in the United States.