50 Years Ago: Martin Luther King
Even before the killing of Martin Luther King, this summer promised to be a bad one for race troubles in America. Many city authorities, fearing an intensifying of the riots, had armed themselves with some formidable weapons.
The Negroes were also preparing and waiting, with no lack of black nationalists to advise them on how to use arms, petrol bombs and the like. This menacing situation was ignited by the assassination of Martin Luther King and the death of the advocate of passive resistance was, ironically, marked by a flare-up of the very violence he denounced.
King had, in fact, been losing some ground to the groups like Black Power and this in itself is symptomatic of the change which America has undergone during the last twenty years. The suppression which the Negroes have suffered for so long was bound one day to erupt. For too long have they been denied the vote, subjected to a host of indignities and restraints. For too long has colour discrimination been a part of the American way of life. For too long has a coloured life been cheap so that, in some states, the murder of a Negro counts for little more than the killing of an insect—and the body silently disappears into some southern swamp.
The predictable result of this has been the Negro protest, the riots and the rise of the Black Power theorists. Kill Whitey and Burn, Baby, Burn are sterile remedies for the Negroes’ frustrations—but who, or what, must bear the blame for them?
Martin Luther King, for all his courage, had little more to offer the American Negroes than a place beside the country’s white workers. For most coloured workers, this is their highest aim—the right of access to the same sort of employment, the same sort of working class homes, the same sort of terms from the hire purchase company, as others.
Many have died in the long history of the American Negro, and many will die in the future. Is the result of it all only to be the exchange of one kind of oppression for another?
(Socialist Standard, May 1968)