Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Events are scheduled across the country, including at the state Capitol in Little Rock this morning.
The Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission is holding a commemorative vigil from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Governor Hutchinson will be a keynote speaker.
In a new post at his blog today, Wendell Griffen, the circuit judge and Baptist preacher, continues to argue that politicians rushing to offer platitudes are missing the radicalism of King’s message. Griffen, critical of the choice of Hutchinson as a keynote speaker at the MLK vigil event, today takes aim at the D-G’s editorial on King this morning:
Martin Luther King, Jr. did not die on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee because he penned the eloquent Letter From Birmingham City Jail in 1963. He was slain because he insisted and persisted in confronting the United States about its flagrant hypocrisy about and damning dedication to injustice. The Democrat-Gazette editorial dodged that subject, as if King’s greatest contribution to humanity was being an eloquent scrivener. Dr. King’s death should not be dismissed by flowery words about his eloquence, erudition, and rhetorical competence.
Fifty years after Dr. King was murdered, the giant evils of racism, militarism, and capitalist materialism he challenged with increasing alarm and anger during his last years should not be disregarded and discounted by resorting to eulogy. …
Fifty years after Dr. King’s voice was silenced, we should not be deceived when people eulogize Dr. King after they spent the last half century working against social justice. We should not accept shallow sentimentality as a substitute for societal repentance and a fierce insistence on doing justice.
You can read Griffen’s full post here.
More on the sanitization of King’s message over at Vox, which has an interview with Jeanne Theoharis, a professor of political science at Brooklyn College-City University of New York and author of A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History.
Here’s audio of the full speech King gave to striking Memphis sanitation workers on the day before he was killed, commonly known as the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech (sampled in the video above).