By Barney Blakeney
Another significant date has sneaked up on me again. I realized last week April 4 is the 49th anniversary of Martin L. King Jr.’s assassination. Chronicle Publisher James French each year often ran an editorial piece with reference to King’s assassination pretty much asking what King would say about our country were he still alive.
At 90 years old Jim doesn’t write any more. He’s been feeling a bit poorly lately, but when I saw him this past weekend, he still was as poignant and ornery as ever. Since Jim won’t be doing the ‘What would King say” piece this year, I figured I’ll take a stab at it.
The anniversary of King’s assassination should bring one thing most especially to people’s minds – that is King was killed in Memphis, Tenn. while supporting sanitation workers asking for higher wages. People most often remember King for his positions on civil rights, but he also had an economic agenda.
On April 4 the members of the International Longshoremen Association Local 1422, supporters of the Fight for $15/hour movement, clergymen and others in the labor organizing community as part of their continuing struggle to end poverty wages and systemic racism held a vigil. They noted April 4 also is the anniversary of the North Charleston police shooting death of Walter Scott. King was gunned down on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel as he prepared to attend such an event.
I wonder what King would say if he could see that nearly 50 years after his life was taken Americans still are fighting police brutality and to get livable wages. I had to laugh this week when I learned President Donald Trump donated his first quarter salary to the U.S. Government, some $78,000 which equates to more than $300,000 annually. A lot of us haven’t made that much money in the past 10 years!
I always get a little spacey when I think about wages. You see I figure if someone makes a positive and productive contribution to the well-being of his community, that person is entitled to whatever that community has to offer. – You work, you eat. Just that simple.
I wonder what King would say if he saw that we’re no closer today to a society where a person’s contributions to his community isn’t valued in dollars and cents than we were when his life was taken? I wonder what he’d say to know that the descendants of slaves have embraced an economic system that continues to put more value on one man’s contribution than another’s no matter how important that contribution.
When King was killed, he died challenging the decisions of elected officials who gave higher priority to the politics of the day than the people they were elected to serve. By most accounts I’ve heard U.S. Appellate Judge Neil Gorsuch would make a fine Supreme Court Justice, but Democrats in the Legislature are playing tit for tat payback for Republican holdout on former President Barack Obama’s failed appointment last year. I’ll bet King would be scratching his head asking, “What’s that all about?” When he was murdered, the Democrats were the politicians he challenged!
In 1968 King saw a government that sent young men, young black men disproportionately, off to foreign lands to conduct a war primarily motivated by international economics. The primary stakeholders then were Michelin and Goodyear.
Today, nearly 50 years later our government continues to send young men to foreign lands to conduct economic wars whose biggest stakeholders are Exxon Mobil, BP and Shell. I wonder what King would say if he could see all the black folks in their huge gas-guzzling SUVs. When King’s life was taken black folks made those SUVs, today we just buy them – we don’t buy stock in the automobile industry –we just buy the cars.
Old guys like King, who would be 88 had he lived, often say you do better when you knew better. I wonder what he’d think to see that schools in America today are just as segregated and even less equal in their ability to educate students than they were when he was killed. I wonder what King would say about South Carolina’s ‘Corridor of Shame’. Some 30 years after King was killed by a bullet that tore through his neck and chin, the state was sued because it inadequately funds a collective of 36 school districts that border I-95 and which are part of the 20-year-old Abbeville County School District v. the State of South Carolina lawsuit. And 20 years later the legislature remains unresponsive to court orders to adequately fund the districts.
Industry that promises to create some of the state’s highest paying jobs already is here. Boeing was offered an incentives package reportedly worth $450 million provided the company create 3,800 jobs and invest $750 million. But in Charleston County 90 percent of high school graduates must take remedial courses before they can take for-credit courses at Trident Technical College. And according to statistics, less than four percent of black grads are “college-ready”.
In 1968 we had fake public school integration, but at least black high school graduates got a quality education in those segregated schools. What would King say to see that his sacrifice has led to the elimination of black teachers in public schools and an educational level for blacks in America that has not been lower since the end of Reconstruction?
I wonder what King would say to see that black folks no longer struggle en mass, to challenge the inequality and racial discrimination his generation fought against so valiantly, that the example of his sacrifice has produced a generation of leaders who have sold out and a people who have given up?
I often think of Martin L. King Jr., not just when it’s around the anniversary of his murder, I thought of King the other day in the barber shop as the 20-year-old woman’s grandmother lamented her granddaughter’s decision not to return to high school three years after giving her first child out of wedlock. I asked myself what kind of man makes the sacrifice King made as that grandmother and I surmised what life will be for that young woman and her child. I can’t say for sure, but I bet if King could see our world, he’d say he’d do it all again.