50 years ago: the MLK Jr assassination

The Lorraine Motel, where MLK was killed. It is now a civil rights museum.

If I were a believer in conspiracy theories, I would wonder about this coincidence: on April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech against the US involvement in Vietnam, an address that most civil rights leaders opposed because it could threaten his relationship with President Lyndon Johnson. And on April 4, 1968, he was dead.

It was that speech, which I read only after the assassination, that really fueled my own antiwar sentiment, that U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia was imperialistic and that the war diverted resources from domestic programs created to aid the black poor. Further, “we were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.”

One could note that the struggle in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968 wasn’t the mere bigotry in public accommodations, which prompted the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott of 1955/56, but about government injustice that provided sanitation workers, all black men, with substandard wages and unsafe working conditions. And that was the city in which MLK died.

I vividly remember the I AM A MAN signs on the nightly news. The strike began on February 12, but it was King’s presence starting on March 18 that really attracted attention. The labor action didn’t end until April 16, 12 days after MLK’s murder.

I was home when I heard the awful news, and almost immediately my father, the late Les Green, went downtown to try to “keep the peace.” He had been involved with something called the Interracial Center at 45 Carroll Street in Binghamton.

In answer to a Facebook query I posted, someone wrote that my dad “was very involved with the kids who hung out there, talking to them, and a little counseling if needed.” Whatever his role might have been, Binghamton did NOT have any “rioting” that night, as many US cities did in that painful period.

In 1970, I got to go by the Lorraine Motel where MLK was killed. It is now a civil rights museum.

While the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. had an effect on me, his death may have had the greater impact.
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Fort Wayne, IN tribute to MLK, April 7, 1968