By Marty Russell
Today marks the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 44 years ago outside his motel room in Memphis. We’ve come a long way in race relations and civil rights here in this country and even here in Mississippi since that day but as recent events have brought to light, we’ve obviously still got a long way to go.
My family was living in Memphis that day in April when Dr. King was leading a march in support of striking sanitation workers after delivering his “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” speech the night before where he spoke presciently of his own demise.
I was just a kid at the time and was more concerned with other things. Looking back, I’m actually a little ashamed that the only reaction I can recall from that day’s events was anger, not because a great force for change and doing what’s right had been snuffed out by a racist with a rifle but because a curfew was put into effect in the city of Memphis which prevented me from going to my guitar lesson at the local YMCA. Turns out that didn’t matter. No amount of tutelage was going to make me a great, or even good, guitar player.
But in looking back at the legacy of Dr. King and how far we’ve come since that day in April, I can’t help but wonder what King, if he were alive today, would say of recent events, most notably the uproar over the death of Trayvon Martin.
Since 17-year-old Martin was shot dead more than a month ago by an armed neighborhood watch volunteer, allegations have been flying back and forth most, unfortunately, having to do with race.
Whether you agree with Florida’s law that allows someone to shoot another person in self-defense without any apparent legal ramifications is irrelevant. It’s the law in that state.
But the reaction to the shooting has been disturbing from both sides of the situation.
I think that if Dr. King were alive today he would first and foremost call for calm on both sides.
Voicing an opinion in the case is one thing but some of the vitriol and protests and marches have bordered on violence, something King was adamantly opposed to.
And I think Dr. King would have called for justice, something blacks couldn’t count on in tumultuous ’60s but which, thanks in large part to his own work, they should legitimately expect in the 21st century.
We may never know what happened that night between Trayvon Martin and the shooter, George Zimmerman. We can only hope, as I’m sure Dr. King would, that justice, and not a modern-day lynch mob on either side, prevails.
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University, MS 38677 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org