45th Anniversary of King’s Assassination
Imagine being told where you could sit in a bus, whether you could eat in a restaurant or which water fountain you could use to quench your thirst.
This was the life of the African-American for the first half of the 20th century in states throughout the South. The segregation was commonplace, and some of the things that were done to maintain separation of the races were contemptible.
Hotels could ban African-Americans, and restaurants could prevent blacks from entering through the front door. Instead, African-Americans would get their food in the back, right from the kitchen. The public water fountains were designated as “whites” and “colored”.
Racists were merciless and vicious. They bombed a church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing African-American children in a Sunday school. They killed African-Americans and whites who were trying to get blacks to vote in Mississippi.
On June 11, 1963, Governor of Alabama, George Wallace, actually stood in front of the admissions center at the University of Alabama to prevent an African-American student from entering. “Segregation then, segregation now and segregation forever” was Wallace’s cry, as racists amassed there cheered the governor.
Demonstrations by African-Americans were stifled by police using high-pressure water hoses and biting German shepherds. This was the world Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saw and experienced, and wanted to see changed, no matter what price he would pay. He was one of the leaders who saw these injustices and dared to challenge them.
His message of protest and nonviolence resulted in him being arrested 29 times. King’s worst experience came not in the South, but in Chicago in 1966, where he and his followers who were marching were pelted with rocks, bottles and King was hit in the head with a brick. But even that injury wouldn’t stop him from marching that day.
Martin Luther King was one of those rare men in history who had no fear for his safety. His home was bombed when he was leading a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. The boycott started when Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a bus. The boycott lasted 385 days, and King was arrested, but a U.S. District Court decided to end segregation on Montgomery buses, and King became a national figure.
His greatest moment came in August 1963 when King spoke at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington. There, before an estimated half-million people, King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.
On October 14, 1964, King became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for leading non-violent resistance to racial prejudice in the U.S. And after that Dr. King had truly become the voice of the civil rights movement, and he was called on to lead many more demonstrations, including his last one in Memphis. On April 3, 1968, King, who was only 39, delivered a prophetic speech about what this country would be like in the future.
“And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you.” King said. “But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”
He continued his fight until he was the victim of an assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968- 45 years ago yesterday.
Shortly after King’s death, the U.S. Congress approved fair housing laws, giving all races the right to live where they want. Just as President John F. Kennedy’s death spurred the passage of civil rights legislation four years earlier, King’s legacy began in the same way, as the pillars of segregation began to fall one by one.
Now, 45 years after King’s assassination, things such as separate schools, water fountains and bathrooms seem ridiculous. But they still might be the norm if it wasn’t for the endless efforts and courage of a man who not only talked about injustice but also took the actions he believed were needed to make changes occur.
As the anniversary of King’s death passes, let’s remember the world that he lived in, and what transformations he brought about for the good of all of us in this country. And to honor his legacy, let’s continue to work for a more fair, more peaceful and non-violent world.