The death of Martin Luther King: a 1968 perspective

His leadership is missed, nation is uneasy

January 17, 2011

These editorials ran in The Sun in April, 1968, in the days following the death of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King

Friday, April 5, 1968

The killing of Martin Luther King is a national tragedy, the consequences of which are not readily foreseeable. His was the voice of inspiration for millions of American Negroes. His was the marching figure of undaunted insistence on individual rights and respect. From the 1965 days of the Montgomery (Ala.) bus boycott, his was the stride toward freedom that remained unbroken and drew an impressive following while others faltered or flamed out and went off in diverse directions.

White resentment of Dr. King and at times overt hostility accompanied his every move. Even those in full sympathy with what he was trying to do had occasion to question his tactics. But now that he lies dead there must come the overwhelming realization that there was none other of his stature, that he was man committed to a Gandhian principle of non-violent passive resistance who again and again demonstrated that social changes could be brought about through peaceful means. His voice is needed today, and it will be needed tomorrow, but it has been brutally stilled.

The nation can only wonder anxiously what voices will take Dr. King's place. If his truths march on as he would have wanted them to, the voices will be those of moderation and they will be answered in kind at each point of resistance against which he struggled.

A Nation Tested

Saturday, April 6, 1968

The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King brings shame to our country. More than that, it imposes a severe test on all Americans. Our existence as a nation and our position in the world community are involved in the way in which we meet this test. Somehow the emotion, the shock, the grief, the anger generated by this new national tragedy must be kept from exploding into more violence and more killing, which could only add to the sense of disaster. The example of Dr. King, who preached and practiced non-violence as he worked hard and courageously for the principles of equality, should drive home the grim facts of the extent of the prejudice, the ignorance, the blind hatred in America which still must be overcome.

The dream of which Dr. King spoke so eloquently in the Washington civil rights meeting in 1963 is shared, in great or less degree, by all Americans. But the dream of what we want to be, the comfortable feeling that the United States is advancing toward the long-held goals of civilized man, the belief that we are the leading nation in today's world — all these stand in danger of being shattered by violence and bullets.

The Memphis assassination cannot be considered as an isolated incident in this country or abroad. It will stand with the assassination of President Kennedy, the murder of Medgar Evers in Mississippi, the murder of Malcolm X in New York and the slaying of civil rights workers in the South as a stain on our whole society, a scar which cannot be forgotten. Is this to be the mark of the United States in this second half of the Twentieth Century?

The killings cannot be undone nor can the grief, wrath and despair be made to disappear. But we must do better. And the way to begin is for each citizen, as President Johnson said, to search his own heart. Each of us must resolve to do his part, with honesty and courage, to meet this test of our nation, and indeed, of our way of life.

The Principle

Sunday April 7, 1968

Martin Luther King considered himself a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, and today in India Dr. King's life, and his martyr's death are compared with Gandhi's life and death. Both men lived and died believing in the eventual victory of nonviolence. With neither was it a simple faith in turning the other cheek. Gandhi's genius was to make the principle of nonviolence a political method. That was Dr. King's way also.

For Gandhi it worked. Can we say that in America it will not work? The South Africa of Gandhi's early career and the India of his later were indeed far different from the United States. Yet the thing about a great principle is that, because it is a principle, it applies to conditions of many, many varieties.

We may hope that in today's pause of national mourning Dr. King's people, which is to say the American people, will search their hearts with the question: Was he wrong or was he right in his conviction that moral strength and courage will conquer, and that violence can only beget violence?

We trust that Dr. King's widow, who shared his courage, will be sustained in her grief by the knowledge that his work goes on, and that his children will grow up into a world in which their father's cause of peaceable American nation has prevailed.

In Baltimore

(A continuation of the April 7th editorial)

The bitter trail came last evening to Baltimore, and the urgent necessity, in this city as elsewhere throughout the nation, is to restore order so that the difficult, painful working out of the problems that are the problems of every citizen, that touch us at the core of our citizenship, may proceed. The responsible leadership of the community, including emphatically the responsible Negro leadership, has called for an end to the violence. Particularly have the responsible Negro leaders, in their grief for Martin Luther King and in their awareness how deeply the cause he died for may be hurt by blind passion, demanded a cessation of violence in Baltimore. This Maryland city's trial, bitter as it is, must be a brief one — whatever may be required to make it brief.

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