Joseph Guthrie reflects on the powerful legacy of Dr Martin Luther King Jr
Imagine using your entire being to be the conduit for revolution only to have your legacy ultimately diluted by the same people you resisted.
Don’t get me wrong: there aren’t many people would dispute that the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr was a magnanimous human being and a titan for civil rights. When it comes to heroes in the Black diaspora, King is rightfully heralded as one of the greats; a man that took on the ingrained white supremacist status quo in the United States of America. Flanked by many brilliant people, King sought deliver the sort of social justice the American establishment adamantly refused to bequeath to African Americans; the same folks America enslaved and forced to build a nation that would mercilessly oppress them. This immense task was taken on not just for the sake of King’s generation but for future generations of African Americans that would take over from their predecessors and keep the vessel of Black liberation puttering dutifully toward the promised land King saw beyond the horizon.
Now that we have happened upon the fiftieth anniversary of Dr King’s assassination, one can’t help but wonder if there is consensus around Dr King’s mortality. I often wonder if the denizens of the entire political matrix acknowledge that Dr King’s mortality is inextricably linked to the acts that are glorified as quasi-supernatural. After all, there was sentiment imploring unity and harmony amongst all people, but that sentiment wasn’t without pressing white people to acknowledge their complicity in a system that benefits them above all. There was a speech that appealed to everyone within earshot that we hoped to usher in the illusionary meritocracy that was constantly referenced in rebuttals to demand for socio-political change, but not without pointing out how hampered the civil rights movement was under the authoritarian pressures of capitalism and the constant gatekeeping performed disproportionately by many white moderates.
However, one cannot simply uphold the grandiose pushes for humanitarianism without considering the humanity – warts and all – of a man that stepped forth to be one of the proponents of said effort. Dr King’s extramarital affair meant more than it usually would for two reasons: anti-miscegenation laws were still active at the time and as important as the act and the optics surrounding said act undoubtedly are, the onus of controversy doesn’t lie upon the act itself, nor does it rest with how Hoover and his colleagues in the FBI used it in an attempt to entrap Dr King and eventually kill off an undertaking that wouldn’t rest until the balance of power was equally distributed; thus realising the sentiment as per the opening stanza of the Declaration of Independence: that all men are created equal. No, it lies where it originally was: a damning indictment and reminder of how paternal ideals fail all men and have the propensity to ruin any and everything a man has dedicated his life to building and furthering.
In the end, Hoover and the FBI failed to leverage that happenstance to end or even stem the tide of a righteously furious force for good. Therefore, the conspiracy to end Dr King’s life garnered more conviction to realise it and on 4 April 1968, the FBI and the dynamisms for continued oppression of Black Americans got their wish. Via sniper fire, Dr King was gunned down on the balcony right outside his hotel room. As Dr King’s blood pooled onto the cement floor, it reminded the United States of America and the world writ large that the demigod for human rights was never immortal. It served as a poignant aide-mémoire that any man could be excised from the realm of the living. But like all status quo warriors, they overlooked the Achilles heel in their ideology: you can kill a man but you can never kill an idea; especially one as relevant and as important as the liberation of a people that have historically been branded three-fifths human.
It undoubtedly wouldn’t have felt like vindication on that fateful day but in hindsight, that’s what Hoover and the American empire delivered. As opposed to accepting the disparities abounding in the nation they professed to love, they attempted to bury the truth along with the man speaking it to power. The Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr had taken the movement as far as he could and by simply refusing to be silenced, he embodied what it means to be a voice for the voiceless.
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Joseph Guthrie is a UK based musician, and writer. Originally from south London, most of his education was set in central Florida (United States). His nomadic life has seen him return to the UK in 2010 and when he’s not tending to the IT infrastructure of a major printing company, he’s the lead vocalist for the band Ships Down and is Nothing Ain’t Nice recording artist. He also contributes to music blog Sampleface. Tweets @TheAuracl3
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