Martin Luther King: 49 years since death of the civil rights leader

By Tony Inglis

Today marks 49 years since the death of Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most important figures in American, and world, history.

Some readers may note that, perhaps, next year, the half century anniversary of his passing, would be a more fitting year to remember the iconic civil rights activist.

However, the fact is, Dr King’s shocking assassination, his ultimate death and the things he achieved in his lifetime should and need to be eulogised every time April 4 rolls around.

The man needs little introduction. A Baptist minister, who took it upon himself to dedicate his life to lead an entire movement fighting for the civil rights of his fellow African American, was, on this day 49 years ago, cruelly cut down in his prime.

Dr King’s lessons on peace, tolerance and equality seem to have been carelessly tossed to the side. His death seems less now a chance to honour the man and recognise the rights he defended than it is a source of shame to be forgotten.

Dr King said: “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

Sadly, this reality that he hoped for could not seem further from the truth.

Since his death, there have been the campaigns of police aggression and gun misuse that led to the Rodney King riots in the US in the early 90s and the needless deaths of hundreds of black people at the hands of police that led to the rekindling of that discontent that was then organised into the Black Lives Matter movement and resurgence in black activism that has put the issue back at the forefront of society.

At least in this sense, the memory of Dr King is still alive.

But now, over 100 days since the election of Trump, the new White House administration seems intent on muddying his memory through its restrictive orders on the movement of people and its uncaring attitude towards celebrating Martin King Day and Black History Month. The Reverend Al Sharpton called it “a total reduction”.

The greatest celebration of his memory are the throngs of people lining the streets of cities across the world in opposition to this complete dismantling of the civil rights which Dr King gave his life for.

As he said himself: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

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