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Thursday, April 3, 2008

Did the Military Assassinate Dr. King? Part I

Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I will examine his death in a two part series and layout what I believe to be some disturbing questions that still deserve answers.

Before I am charged with being unpatriotic or anti-American, I better swiftly say that there is no hard evidence to prove military involvement in the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. However, the evidence that is available does provide a scary connection between his death and our Government. According to The Commercial Appeal, a conservative newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee, the U.S. Government had spied on the King family for 30 years and they were in Memphis on the day of Dr. King’s assassination. As his popularity grew and he began to speak out against the Vietnam War, enlisting the support of many anti-war advocates, the military increasingly viewed him as a threat to national security.*

Dr. King was in Memphis in early April preparing to lead a demonstration in support of striking sanitation workers. A few weeks later, he was planning to bring his Poor People’s Campaign to Washington, D.C. to demand that less attention be given to the war in Vietnam and that the government provide more resources for the poor.

An April 4, 1968, Dr. King was slain by an assassin’s bullet.

For those who understood the climate that led to Dr. King’s assassination, it would be impossible to disregard his evolution as a human rights leader. Dr. King was thrust into the national spotlight with his courageous leadership of the Birmingham Bus Boycott in 1955 and 1956, which led to the Supreme Court’s decision prohibiting segregation on city buses. This was the prelude to a short, but very influential career as a social leader. The turning point in Dr. King’s career came on April 4, 1967.

I’m not quite certain if I should categorize this turning point as coincidence, ironic or tragic. However, this date should be regarded as the moment in his ministry that he challenged an even greater evil than racism: In New York City’s Riverside Church, Dr. King preached a sermon that is affectionately known as Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence, where he delivers a blistering attack against the United States’ involvement in Vietnam, while America’s poor languished in poverty. In Beyond Vietnam, Dr. King uses very harsh language against his country that would be considered anti-American or even subversive, if someone with his celebrity status gave it today in light of Iraq.

I call it Dr. King’s turning point, because essentially he called it his turning point. During his experience in the ghettos of the North, he claims to have grown to a deeper level of awareness regarding his calling as a minister. This experience motivated his active participation in the anti-war effort. He shared his insight into the evolution of his ministry on April 4th, 1967 in New York, which coincidentally (or is it ironically, or tragically?) is exactly one year to the date of his assassination – April 4, 1968:

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the [ghettoes] of the North over the last three years -- especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent [emphasis mine].

Dr. King called for the “radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam,” and he began to embark upon a course where some white people, who opposed his civil rights stance, along with those who didn’t, embraced his anti-war sentiment. This anti-war theme brought blacks and whites together to form a common bond of major public dissent. This concerned the war planners, because a successful military campaign in a democracy hinges on public support, and Dr. King’s presence in the anti-war movement began to contribute to the erosion of such support.

By most post-war accounts, Vietnam was a failed foreign policy that was aggressively pursued under the Johnson and Nixon Administrations. In fact, Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense from 1961 through 1968, offers an unabashed apology for his involvement in Vietnam in his book, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. I believe that this is one of the most significant books written in the United States in the last 25 years, because it is so rare for a public official at McNamara’s level to give this type of extraordinarily candid view of his errors in judgement over a failed policy.

History vindicated Dr. King over his anti-war stance; however, his position fueled an anti-King reaction within the military and Federal government. Of course, it is legend the stories of illegal spying by the FBI on the Civil Rights Movement, but what is not so widely known is that the military illegally spied on Dr. King as well. In fact, according to The Commercial Appeal, “[the] U.S. Army spies shadowed Dr. [King] the day he died in Memphis. They watched him closely through most of the 1960s, but stepped up their observation of him in early 1968 because of fears that his planned ‘Poor People’s Campaign’ on Washington would lead to widespread violence.”

...to be continued

* (The following link will take you to a search page at The Commercial Appeal regarding its investigation on Dr. King's Assassination.) http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=CA&p_theme=ca&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_text_search-0=army%20AND%20secretly%20AND%20watched%20AND%20King&s_dispstring=army%20secretly%20watched%20King%20AND%20date(1993)&p_field_date-0=YMD_date&p_params_date-0=date:B,E&p_text_date-0=1993&xcal_numdocs=20&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:A&xcal_useweights=no.

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