Thursday, April 4, 2019

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life serving others

"If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. ... I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others." - Martin Luther King Jr., 'Drum Major' sermon February 4, 1968.

Before and after 6:01pm CST at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis Tennessee
Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was fatally shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, at 6:01pm CST. He was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital, where he died at 7:05pm. Tonight at 6:01pm across the country the documentary, King: A Filmed Record...Montgomery To Memphis was screened in a hundred theaters by AMC.  It was first screened on March 24, 1970 for one night only. The film opens with contrasting images of black power activists advocating political violence and Martin Luther King Jr making the case for nonviolent action.
Poster from first screening in 1970

The documentary charts the rise of Martin Luther King Jr. from the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott to the Sanitation Workers strike in Memphis Tennessee.  The film is 183 minutes long with an intermission in the middle.  The first part of the film ends with the March on Washington and the "I Have a Dream Speech" in its entirety.

Interestingly, civil rights leader Bayard Rustin's speech at the Washington gathering is also featured. Bayard was called by some "the unknown hero" of the civil rights movement. He was a "tireless crusader for justice, a disciple of Gandhi, a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr., and the architect of the legendary March on Washington." Rustin debated Malcolm X in 1962 from both a principled and strategic nonviolent position and would go on to play an important role at Freedom House.

Screening time was April 4th at 6:01pm the same time MLK was shot
The second part of the documentary begins with Reverend King receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and then continues with the events surrounding the three marches in Selma, and the signing of the voting rights act. This is followed by Dr. King venturing north to Chicago and encountering the virulent racism of the windy city. and concludes with his funeral.

There is a key moment towards the end of the documentary were Martin Luther King Jr. breaks down how he began his activism with a social focus, ending segregation on buses and commercial establishments then shifted to a political focus, with voting rights and finally shifted to the economic sphere with the poor peoples campaign.

Not shown in the film was the reaction of the Black power movement. On April 5, 1968 in Washington, DC Black power militant Stokely Carmichael held a press conference and appealed for violence and called for retaliation for the killing of Reverend King.

"When White America killed Dr. King last night, it declared war on us. There will be no crying there will be no funerals. The rebellions that have been occurring around the cities of this country is just light stuff to what is about to happen. We have to retaliate for the deaths of our leaders. The executions of those deaths won't be in the courtroom but in the streets of the United States of America. Last night we led all of those youngsters up and down the street to close every store in this area. Because Dr. King was shot and they should have closed those doors. Now some of them kicked glass door windows in. We are not stopping them from kicking in the store windows. We are stopping them from coming out on the streets without guns. When they come out on the streets we want them with guns. If they don't have guns we won't let them throw bricks and bottles, but when they get guns we will be out on the street."
Carmichael had already been advocating for armed insurrection on American streets prior to Dr. King's assassination and on February 17, 1968 explicitly made the case for "offing" blacks who did not agree with hm. Following the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Carmichael's threat was made reality. Newsweek reported that "riots broke out in dozens of cities across the United States. The rampage left 39 dead, 21,000 arrested, more than 2,600 injured and was responsible for damages estimated at $65 million."

Instead the film concludes with the funeral service for Reverend King.

Coretta Scott King requested that King eulogize himself: His last sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, a recording of his famous 'Drum Major' sermon, given on February 4, 1968, was played at the funeral.  The King family held solemn services for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta, Georgia, attended by thousands including the then Vice President of the United States, Hubert Humphrey, Senator Robert Kennedy, and Richard Nixon.

Meanwhile in Memphis the local government met the demands that had been made by Reverend King and the striking sanitation workers.

The King family went on to found the King Center and continued his nonviolent legacy to the present day. Other activists from King's inner circle continued their civil rights work, while some, like John Lewis, entered political life and continued working to realize Reverend King's beloved community in the U.S. Congress.

Revisiting the record of Martin Luther King Jr. fifty one years after he was assassinated is a powerful experience. This is an important documentary and a must see.

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