On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated. Perhaps, like me, you're old enough to remember the shock and grief this news brought.
Perhaps, like me, you had the misfortune of hearing an expression of triumph. My aunt, whom I'd never thought was an overt racist, burst out, "Good! I'm glad they got the sonofabitch!"
That was nearly as shocking to me as King's murder.
This diary over on Kos marks the tragic occasion by recalling a speech given by King exactly one year before his death. That speech was "Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break Silence." Sadly, it is still sharply relevant today, when the US is embroiled in Iraq, still raining down carnage on innocent people it views merely as "collateral damage."
I urge you to read both the diary and the speech itself. Let me leave you with this, from near the end of the speech, after King's call for a "revolution of values" that shifts America from being "thing-oriented" to being "people-oriented":
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.
I'm afraid that thanks to the corrupt, venal, mendacious sociopaths who have been running this country, we will indeed suffer a legacy of shame--and worse.
But Dr. King never gave up hope, and neither should we. Yes, I often despair; but you can't work for change if you're paralyzed by despair.
Despair is a luxury we can't afford.