The struggle hasn't changed fight racism, war and poverty!
Published Apr 7, 2010
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot to death in Memphis on April 4,
1968, at the height of the civil rights movement that he led. He did
not live to see the end of segregation, even in the schools. While
the Supreme Court back in 1954 had ruled in Brown v. Board of
Education that public schools be desegregated, it had added the words
"with all deliberate speed." This gave the racists a loophole.
It wasn't until Oct. 29, 1969, that the court ruled desegregation was
the law "now and hereafter." By that time, the movement which began
in the 1950s had engaged in years of powerful battles against racist
repression. Not intimidated by the assassinations of Dr. King, Black
Muslim leader Malcolm X and dozens of members of the Black Panther
Party, the Black masses had shown they were more than ready to fight
for their long-delayed freedom.
The grief and anger caused by the King assassination led to
rebellions in at least 110 cities, including Washington, D.C., the
This year, there was little media attention on the anniversary of Dr.
King's assassination. It is more acceptable to the ruling class to
celebrate his birthday and minimize the enormous struggles he helped
unleash. In the myth created by the corporate media, the ugly days of
racism are behind us, except for a right-wing "lunatic fringe" movement.
It is true that the civil rights movement brought monumental changes
to the United States. The segregation laws were struck down. Black
representatives won election to local, state and federal offices
across the South, reinforcing those from areas in the North where
African Americans were concentrated, like Harlem, Detroit and Los Angeles.
Thurgood Marshall in 1967 became the first Black justice on the
Supreme Court. Other appointments followed: Colin Powell was the
first Black person to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff and to be
Secretary of State. A conservative, he did not come to politics
through the civil rights movement, but he benefited from it.
And finally, in a tremendous rebuff to the reactionary politics of
the Bush administration, whites joined Black voters in 2008 to elect
the first African-American president.
However, racism is still rampant in the United States. Beside the
abundance of painful personal experiences that every Black person
endures, statistics show how bad it is.
The oppressed status of Black people in this country is undeniable,
starting with the rate of incarceration and running through layoffs
and unemployment, income, personal debt, housing foreclosures and
evictions, life expectancy, maternal and infant mortality, and
illness and early death. Now the capitalist economic crisis, which
has dashed the dreams of so many millions, is hitting people of color
the hardest, widening the social gap again.
While during most of his career Dr. King focused on ending
segregation, by the end of his life he had spoken out forcefully on
other issues deeply affecting the Black community.
Exactly one year to the day before his assassination, King spoke to
an historic meeting against the Vietnam War held in New York's
Riverside Church. In explaining how he had come to a decision to
speak out on a subject that he knew he would be attacked for and he
was he said, among other reasons, that the war had destroyed the
poverty program of the Johnson administration:
"I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some
idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew
that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in
rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam
continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic
destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the
war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such."
He was in Memphis to support the demands of striking sanitation
workers for decent wages and treatment when he was killed. Who
arranged and paid for his assassination is still a government secret.
Rep. John Lewis, a hero of the civil rights struggle who was spit
upon by racists last month when he went to vote for the health care
bill, is co-sponsoring the Martin Luther King Assassination Records
Act, which would force the FBI and other investigative agencies to
open up to the public tons of records on the assassination that have
never been released. Some are due to be destroyed soon.
Capitalism needs cheap labor and will scour the globe for it. Since
King was killed, the U.S. government has continued to wage wars in
the interests of the rich corporations. These days it relies on the
poverty draft to provide youth of color for its military adventures abroad.
While a lot has changed, the fundamental reason behind racism in the
U.S. the need of capital to divide the working class in order to
super-exploit a large section of it has not. The Black working
class is in a deep crisis, from Detroit to Washington, D.C. Millions
of immigrants are also fighting for the right to live and work
The super-rich are putting money behind a racist, fascist movement
trying to exploit the frustration and anger of working-class and
middle-class whites, who for the first time in decades also face a
deep economic crisis.
In his final years, King sought to combine the struggles against
racism, poverty and war. The need to do so is greater than ever. The
demonstrations coming up on May Day that address these issues and
call for the legalization of immigrant workers will be an opportunity
to put such a program into action. One week later, on May 8, a
grassroots demonstration for jobs in Washington, D.C., will carry on