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Let us not forget the legacy of Martin Luther King

By Peter Weinberger | pweinberger@claremont-courier.com

I don’t know if it was just me, but it seems as though Martin Luther King Day was surrounded by so many life changing events, it barely gave anyone time to think about the contributions he made during a day set aside for his memory.

So we went to the COURIER archives to look for the first edition published after MLK’s assassination. It just so happened that two days after MLK’s death on April 4, 1968, the COURIER published its regular Saturday edition. My father, Martin, authored a short story on how others described Mr. King with the headline “King, the man. As Claremonters remembered him.” It included one letter in particular written by Jerry Martin of Claremont, who did not mix words about how Blacks were treated in society by “white ignorance.” Yes, the wounds of MLK’s death were still raw, as was the relationship between races back then.

Any of this sound familiar? Sometimes I feel like nothing has changed. Especially when I see white supremacists march inside the U.S. Capitol like they were playing a game of G.I. Joe—only people got hurt, and five died. Maybe ignorance is just on display in different ways now. And when I see progress in how we treat our fellow man (and woman), I wonder if it’s just because I see race through the filters of a white man. 

Needless to say, my father was extremely upset that day, as he struggled to comprehend why all this was happening. But the day after Mr. King’s death was another production day at the COURIER, and my father had a newspaper to produce. Here’s what he wrote.

 

KING, the man

by Martin Weinberger, published April 6, 1968

“Dr. King’s sacrifice was a tremendous one. Everything he stood for will be remembered by black people all over the world,” says Bert Hammond, director of Project Open Future.

Mr. Hammond met Mr. King in Los Angeles in the early days of the civil rights movement and had a chance to spend a few minutes alone with him at that time. Mrs. King was maid of honor in the Hammonds’ wedding, and last year Mrs. Hammond visited Mrs. King and stayed with her for several days.

Mr. Hammond thinks the direction in civil rights will change, that there will be modifications of Mr. King’s message, but that his spirit will continue to be an influence. He feels that Mr. King’s death is a tragic loss to all of America and hopes that his sacrifice will not be wasted.

Thomas Trotter, dean of the School of Theology at Claremont, was a fellow student with Martin Luther King at Boston University.

He says he has “keen personal feelings in addition to being filled with rage and shame at the same time.” He feels that Mr. King “would not want us to weep for him but weep for ourselves, and the best we can hope for out of such a senseless thing is that the quality of his life will somehow be able to break through the insensitivity and consciouslessness of American life.”

Mr. Trotter believes that we will have to settle the question of violence pretty quickly, for its pervasiveness at home and in Viet Nam is such that we are raising a generation accustomed to dealing with problems in a violent way. He thinks there is evidence that America has lost its ability to transcend the ideas it professes to live by. 

Mr. Trotter is hopeful that Mr. King’s “sublime character will overcome the wave of despair”...this is inevitable. 

He knew Mr. King as a leader of the Negro community in Boston and a leader of Negro students, though this was not a role he sought. It seemed to come naturally to him, for he never worked at being a leader. Mr. Trotter says that he has always thought of Martin Luther King as an aristocrat. He was a dignified man and somewhat aloof. A privileged person from fortunate circumstances, he never looked at home in the overalls he put on when he went back to Alabama. This symbolic identification with his people was perhaps more powerful because of this. 

Mr. King developed a much more evangelical style in recent times, says Mr. Trotter, and perhaps one of the positive influences of the black militant movement on him was to make his style more vigorous, less detached, more forceful. Mr. Trotter thinks this might have been a reflection of the growing intensity of the revolution, that Mr. King was getting more and more anxious about the way things are going. The violence in Memphis last week was a warning that things were heating up, and it is apparent that the black militants were heating it up. 

Who will move into the vacuum created by Mr. King’s death is, of course, a serious question. Mr. Trotter believes there is evidence that Stokely Carmichael, or someone like him, may demonstrate the success of Mr. King’s message and move to a less militant position.

Mr. Trotter feels that the black power movement is an accurate measure of the rages of the Negroes, but the issue we all face is how to express that rage. He sees the white community as paralyzed by hate or by fear, and he sees Martin Luther King’s chief thrust as an attempt to break through paralysis in American life. 

Mrs. Myrlie Evers first knew Martin Luther King through her husband, Medgar Evers, when Mr. King organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Mr. Evers was invited to one of the first meetings. She met him personally for the first time when he received the Spingarn award given annually by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for the individual judged to have contributed most to the civil rights movement. In the months that followed they met at various public functions.

When Mrs. Evers’s husband was murdered on June 13, 1963 in Jackson, Miss., Mr. King flew to Jackson and expressed his grief and sympathy personally to her before attending the funeral. They met frequently after that at various public programs.

“I was impressed most of all by his complete devotion to securing a full measure of citizenship for justice and to making this a better country for all Americans to live in,” she said yesterday. “Regardless of the violence that he came face to face with, he never, never changed his feeling that non-violence was the way to rid a sick America of racism.”

She marveled at his sense of humor. “He was faced with danger every moment that he lived, yet he could laugh in the face of death.

“I’m hopeful that his death will move America closer to the dream that he had for all Americans. I hope that even though he died a violent death, we as human beings will be more determined to follow the non-violent example that he set forth.”

Mrs. Evers said her very personal feelings went directly to Mrs. King. “I all too well can identify with the state of shock she must be feeling now and what she is going to be faced with in the future—the loneliness, the heartbreak, the rearing of children without the help of her husband. But I feel that she is a strong woman and will rise to the occasion just as her husband did.”

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