Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 50 years ago today on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was there to support the ongoing Sanitation Workers’ Strike, the impetus of which was the deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker, who were crushed by a defective garbage barrel on the back of an antiquated truck. Furthermore, Black workers were paid less than their White peers and were generally subjected to hazardous working conditions, similar to what caused the untimely demise of both Mr. Cole and Mr. Walker.
While Dr. King is best known as the face of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950's and 1960's, a facet of his legacy does not get a great deal of publicity is the fact that he was an extremely unpopular figure in America – a Gallup poll taken in 1967 showed that of those that participated in the survey, 63% held a negative view of him. At this juncture in his life, he had shifted his focus to becoming an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and kicked off a new initiative termed the Poor People’s Campaign.
The Poor People’s Campaign was a vehicle through which Dr. King sought to shed light on human rights concerns in America – not only for Black people but for all people with the goal of the diminishment and ultimate eradication of crushing poverty and economic inequality. It is my view that his high-profile stance against the War in conjunction with his efforts to bring a multicultural coalition to bear is ultimately what cost him his life.
Speaking from a present day perspective and the polarized society in which we currently reside, I firmly believe that there is more that unites us vis-à-vis things that cause division. While we have serious issues that pervade the very fabric of the country – I think that at the root, we all desire the same things for ourselves and our loved ones. We want access to equal opportunities (economic and otherwise), safe neighborhoods and schools for our children and the ability to be judged on the merits of our character (or lack thereof) as individuals. I long for the day when a movement will occur that is reflective of a true multicultural cross-section that will drive progress – I’ve taken notice of a burgeoning effort by the brave young people that comprise Generation Z. Time will tell if they are the group that will ultimately pick up the baton from Dr. King.