16 January 2012
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. 1929-1968
I was 21 years old when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. It was one of those events in which everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news. Dr. King, clergyman, orator, civil rights activist, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, advocate of non-violence, outspoken opponent of racial discrimination, poverty, and the Vietnam War, remains one of our nation's most beloved and revered voices of conscience. He was also reviled by those who advocated hatred and racial segregation, those anachronistic minds which feared what they did not understand.
On the day of Dr. King's death, I was in military communications, attached to a mobile battery of 155 mm self-propelled howitzers, at a temporary fire base in the outskirts of Cholon, the Chinese section of Saigon, South Vietnam. I was politically naive (hence my presence in the war), but I had heard enough about the charismatic Dr. King to know that upon his death by an assassin's bullet, all hell was likely to break loose back in the U.S. To some extent, it did. But there were also individuals who, in spite of their shock and grief, pleaded for restraint, to honor the vision of the slain leader. Robert F. Kennedy was one calling for peaceful mourning. Two months later he himself was assassinated. 1968 was a dark year.
But it was also a turning point. The counterculture joined mainstream American in eventually prevailing in our efforts to end the war, and to bring the deeply corrupt presidency of Richard M. Nixon to a close. All did not become roses and birdsong ~ a look around today will confirm that. But the times were dynamic, fraught with the potential for rising to our higher natures. No one personified that potential, complete with human frailties, than did Dr. King. Here is a link to his I Have A Dream speech, delivered to an audience of 250,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, on August 28, 1963 during the March on Washington. It remains one of the most stirring and visionary speeches in the history of this or any other nation.