By ROLAND SHEPPARD
On Dec. 8, a jury awarded Corretta Scott King and her family $100 in damages resulting from the conspiracy to murder her late husband, Martin Luther King. The trial was initiated by the admission of Lloyd Jowers on national TV in 1993 that he had hired King’s assassin as a favor to an underworld figure who was a friend.
After the trial, Dexter King, Dr. King’s son, said, “After today, we don’t want questions like, ‘Do you believe James Earl Ray killed your father?’ I’ve been hearing that all my life. No, I don’t, and this is the end of it. This was the most incredible cover-up of the century, and now it has been exposed. Now we can finally move on with our lives.”
The King family, along with their attorney, William Pepper, plan to lobby historians and elected officials to get the official record of the assassination changed.
There have always been many unanswered questions about the assassination of Martin Luther King. From the beginning it has been clear that the FBI was involved to one degree or another. The FBI “leaked” the information to the Memphis, Tenn., press that King was going to be staying at the Lorraine Motel a couple of days prior to his arrival in the city. This gave time to anyone who wanted King dead to plan an assassination and made it more difficult for the FBI to be accused of the crime.
To confirm the official account that James Earl Ray acted alone in the assassination, The House Select Committee on Assassinations, did an “investigation” in 1979. Immediately after it released the report-affirming that Ray was the lone assassin-the committee sealed all of the evidence it had in its possession for 50 years (until 2029). Thus, we were left with nothing but the “integrity” of the Senators to justify their findings.
We are also well aware of the Cointelpro disruption operations of the government against the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, and radicals and socialists during that period.
The question remains: Why would the government be part of the conspiracy against King? Why would they want him dead?
Martin Luther King had a different political perspective at the time of his death than when he made his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. His final speeches and actions reveal that he had begun to view the struggle for equality as an economic struggle and the capitalist economic system as the problem.
In one of his last speeches, given at Stanford University in February 1997 and titled the “Two Americas,” King addressed the problem of the rich and the poor in this country. Instead of his “dream,” he talked about the nightmare of the economic condition of Blacks. He talked about “work-starved men searching for jobs that did not exist”; about the Black population living on a “lonely island of poverty surrounded by an ocean of material prosperity”; and about living in a “triple ghetto of race, poverty, and human misery.”
He explained that after World War II, the unemployment rate between Blacks and whites was equal and that in the years between then and 1967, Black unemployment had become double the rate for white workers. He also spoke about how Black workers made half the wages of white workers.
From his experience when he started his campaign for equality in Chicago and elsewhere in the North, King concluded in this speech that to deal with this problem of the “Two Americas” was “much more difficult than to get rid of legal segregation.” He pointed out that the northern liberals, who had given moral and financial support to the struggle against Jim Crow, would not give such support to the efforts to end economic segregation.
He also polemicized against the concept that “people should pick themselves up by their own bootstraps.” In the course of explaining the obstacles that Blacks faced coming into this country that Europeans did not have, he stated: “It is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man to pick himself up by his own bootstraps.” Black people, he said, were “impoverished aliens in their own land.”
This was the first speech in which King opposed the war in Vietnam. He criticized the government for spending hundreds of millions of dollars for war and not for equality. He stated his goal “to organize and mobilize forces to fight for economic equality.”
Two days later, in New York City, in his major speech against the war, King also stated the course that he was planning to take in the fight for economic equality: “There is nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American citizen whether he be a hospital worker, laundry worker, maid, or day laborer.
“There is nothing except shortsightedness to prevent us from guaranteeing an annual minimum-and livable-income for every American family. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities….
“The coalition of an energized section of labor, Negroes, unemployed, and welfare recipients may be the source of power that reshapes economic relationships and ushers in a breakthrough to a new level of social reform.
“The total elimination of poverty, now a practical responsibility, the reality of equality in race relations and other profound structural changes in society may well begin here.”
These words have even more meaning in today’s world. At that time, the stock market was below 1000 points. Today it above 11,000 points (11 times higher!) and yet conditions for Blacks are still lower than after World War II!
King was assassinated in Memphis. He was in Memphis to build “the coalition of an energized section of labor, Negroes, unemployed, and welfare recipients” in support of municipal garbage workers on strike.
The capitalist class is fundamentally opposed to such a coalition getting off the ground. If such a force had been launched, the whole power of the antiwar and civil rights movement could have transformed the labor movement and become “the source of power that reshapes economic relationships and ushers in a breakthrough to a new level of social reform.” That is why Martin Luther King was assassinated.
Such a coalition, as King envisioned it 33 years ago, is still needed today. The best tribute to Martin Luther King would be to begin again to build the movement that was also assassinated in Memphis in 1968.