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MLK: Assassinated Leader for Blacks and Poor Was a Constant Agitator of the 1%

Martin Luther King Jr., had he lived, would be eighty three years old. He is remembered because his efforts caused Congress to eventually to pass the Civil Rights Act. 

MLK’s “I Have a Dream" speech, which I was lucky enough to hear in person along with more than a quarter of a million of Americans in front of the Lincoln Memorial, is without doubt one of the greatest speeches in American history, by one of the nation’s greatest orators. 

The "establishment," what we now call the 1%, generally celebrated MLK’s speech and supported his nonviolent campaign for Civil Rights. Today, mainstream media and the 1%, including President Obama, have put MLK on a pedestal for their convenience. But by the time he was assassinated, Martin Luther King was not convenient for those in the 1% including then-President Johnson.

MLK was the leader of an army of nonviolent activists. As MLK reported in his own words from India, “I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity. In a real sense, Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation." In October 1964, MLK became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent resistance to racism in America.

MLK lost the support of the 1%, including mainstream media and then-President Johnson, when he began to organize and speak against the Vietnamese War. In 1964, the day after President Johnson's State of the Union Address, MLK called for an anti-war march on Washington, DC, to stop what he called "one of history's most cruel and senseless wars.” In 1967, exactly one year before he was assassinated, he delivered a speech against the war effort and told the world that the U.S. government was "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

MLK’s opposition to the war was not only based on the hypocrisy of killing people to give them democracy, but also on the fact that the war effort took money from social programs to spend on weapons. "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

As if challenging what we then called “the War Machine” wasn’t enough to threaten the 1%, in 1968 MLK began organizing the "Poor People's Campaign," and travelled the nation to assemble  "a multiracial army of the poor" that would march on Washington to demand an economic bill of rights for “the disadvantaged of all races.” Before he was assassinated, MLK was challenging the 1% on three fronts: civil rights, poverty, and the war in Vietnam. 

A single bullet killed MLK as he was standing on a balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tenn.essee on April 4, 1964. MLK’s assassination itself has raised plausible questions. Two months after the assassination, escaped convict James Earl Ray was captured in London. On the advice of his attorney, Ray confessed to killing MLK to avoid a trial that could impose the death sentence.  Three days later he tried to withdraw his confession and he spent the rest of his life trying to get the trial that his confession had superseded. In 1997, MLK's son Dexter Scott King met with Ray and supported Ray’s efforts for a public trial. Two years later, after Ray’s death, MLK’s widow Coretta Scott King and family won a wrongful death suit in court.  A jury of six whites and six blacks found that Loyd Jowers and "other unknown co-conspirators" guilty, and that government agencies had been involved in the assassination. Ray’s attorney claimed that “the federal government… feared Dr. King's growing denunciations of the Vietnam War and his threats to clog Washington with massive protests by the poor.” In 2000, the United States Department of Justice determined that there was insufficient evidence to support claims of a conspiracy.

Had King lived, he would today be the venerated and active leader of a vast movement of Americans citizens who oppose the U.S. government’s wars and who oppose the growing immoral disparity of wealth between the 1% and the 99%. MLK could have been a powerfully effective spokesperson for the Occupy Movement and he would have insisted that those in the movement be trained to be impeccably nonviolent. Were he still alive, MLK would have been inconvenient to President Obama, the military-industrial complex, and the 1%. Martin Luther King was a man of integrity and backbone. I wish he were still with us.

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