Tuesday, July 04, 2006

king conspiracies

While researching the final months of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, life, during which he was planning an unprecedented act of civil disobedience, I came across some of the cospiracy theories surrounding his assassination. Most interesting is the Memphis bar-owner one, which resulted in a little-publicized guilty verdict in a civil court in 1999.

It didn't take much digging to figure out that the trial was pretty much bogus. But I was taken aback when I first discovered it, at the online home of the King Center, King's official living memorial, established by Coretta Scott King in 1968. They offer the full transcript of the trial, as well as a forthright press statement by Coretta Scott King and her children.

This, I thought at first, is incredible. I still think so, really, even now that I know that the trial was pretty much rigged. I'm amazed because the event of Coretta Scott King's funeral last year is still fresh in my mind, all the nation's most powerful gathered to honor her, all ignoring the fact that she went to her grave believing that her nation conspired with the mafia to kill her husband.

I'm hesitant to say so, because I don't like coming off like a wingnut, but the whole conspiracy thing starts makes sense the more I learn about what King was working on at the end. His proposed Poor People's Campaign must have scared U.S. leaders to death.

Think about it. You have this incredibly charismatic leader. He's already led mass movements of poor, disempowered people that actuallytook control of this nation and demanded and received change. With school children in Birmingham he forced the nation's leaders to create federal laws for equal access in public accomodations. With weary marchers in Selma he did the same for federal voters' rights legislation.

And these were local events, comparitively small grassroots drives. For the Poor People's Campaign, he was going big time. He was heading straight for the Capitol, and the Capital.

He never overtly said so, but he was calling for a revolution. From his August 16, 1967, address to the SCLC in Atlanta:
I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about "Where do we go from here?" that we must honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. (Yes) There are forty million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, "Why are there forty million poor people in America?" And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. (Yes) And I'm simply saying that more and more, we've got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life's marketplace. (Yes) But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. (All right) It means that questions must be raised. And you see, my friends, when you deal with this you begin to ask the question, "Who owns the oil?" (Yes) You begin to ask the question, "Who owns the iron ore?" (Yes) You begin to ask the question, "Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that's two-thirds water?" (All right) These are words that must be said. (All right)

Then, I dig a little deeper, and I learn in this essay by Robert Chase that says that it was Democratic presidential front runner "Bobby Kennedy who... told Martin Luther King to "bring the poor people to Washington." See, the Poor People's Campaign, went on without King. Thousands of demonstrators actually camped out in DC for six weeks. But it ended a couple of weeks after Kennedy was assassinated.

I'm not saying I believe it was all a conspiracy. But it's funny how it all worked out. Even though the Campaign had a vast array of obstacles arrayed before it -- not the least of which was a fractured Black community -- the fact is its two most powerful proponents were gunned down before it even had a chance to get moving.

And if there's one thing King's legacy shows, it's that the impossible can be possible. The disempowered can get together and claim power.

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