Much hoopla has surrounded the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, so much of it reveling in the historic words of Martin Luther King Jr. And yet, as iconic as those words and images have become, there must remain a distinct bitterness not only because a second march on Washington, The Poor People’s March of 1968, failed, but because deep-seated racism – the economic and back room sort – has remained as strong as ever. Martin Luther King Jr. made a most remarkable speech the night before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3, 1968, remarkable not only for its eloquence and intelligence but for his understanding of what lay ahead. “(W)e are asking you tonight to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola…not to buy Sealtest milk…not to buy Wonder Bread. (W)e must kind of redistribute that pain. We are choosing these companies because they haven’t been fair in their hiring policies…Now not only that, we’ve got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank. We want a “bank-in” movement in Memphis.”
The problem is that people – that’s you and me – just don’t care that much about helping each other, that action is only galvanized by violent images of oppression, never by the root of the cause.
“And so just as I say we aren’t going to let any dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around.” The sad thing is that Martin Luther King Jr. was wrong about that; injunctions do turn everyone around because the enemy isn’t the physical acts of oppression but the insidious inaction of indifference.