My Dream for Equality Died Before I was Born: The Assasination of Martin Luther King Jr.
In the last conversation Martin Luther King Jr. had with Harry Belafonte, King told Belafonte “I have come to believe that we are integrating into a burning house.” During the Civil Rights Movement, our government (or white peoples’) made many promises to Black America. One of America’s promises was an equal education. This turned out to be a lie, as schools today are just as segregated as they were pre-Brown v. Board. Another promise was the right to vote. Yet today Black men are more disenfranchised than during Jim Crow. In addition to these civil rights that have been denied to us, Black Americans have been denied the most basic right: the right to life. What are civil rights if the right to life is violated by America?
Michael Brown was executed with his hands up and Darren Wilson was not charged for a crime. Kayla Moore was suffocated to death and the officers involved were not charged. Aiyana Stanley Jones was sleeping in her own home while executed. The Charleston 9 were praying in church while attacked by a white terrorist. Eric Garner’s last words, like so many other Black folks were “I can’t breathe”. When a house is on fire and smoke fills the room, one cannot breathe. Martin Luther King Jr. was right — the house of America is burning, and our lungs are filled with the smoke of white supremacies ever burning fire.
For the last few decades, Black people have attempted to put out the fire of racism from inside the house; the blatant and constantly worsening lack of justice we experience today makes it clear that this approach is not working. We have integrated a Black man as President, a Black woman as Attorney General, and a Black man as the Director of Homeland Security, yet we still cannot get one racist cop convicted of murder. When we fight back and affirm our right to life, we are met with violence that is nothing short of domestic terrorism. Perhaps the most sickening metaphor to King’s fear is the sheer number of Black churches that have been burnt down by white racists in response to Black activism. Our house is literally burning.
Today, my generation of Black activists are facing the same problems that King’s generation faced — and arguably even worse. The police are significantly more militarized. Surveillance systems are more advanced, and the concept of privacy no longer exists. And we are in the most heightened age of mass incarceration to date, where we see more Black people under correctional control than were enslaved. With the development of private prisons, incarcerated Black people are traded as bodies and dollar signs in the stock exchange, like a virtual slave auction block. Even more shockingly, is that in 2015 Black people were killed by the cops at a rate of 46% more than the rate of lynchings in the post-Reconstruction South. This means that in 2015 Black people were killed at a rate of every 26 hours by the police. We do not have the right to live, we do not have the right to thrive, we do not have the right to be economically independent, we do not have the right to succeed. The house is burning, and my dream for equality in America died before I was born.
I say this because King was one of the most loving people in the world. He loved white people. He wanted integration. He let white racists brutalize him in the most savage of ways, in the name of non-violence and taking the moral high ground. He and the many freedom fighters of the Civil Rights movement did this because they wanted to be treated equally, to be accepted as a part of mainstream American society. And even after all this, King was assassinated by the same America he loved and of which he wanted to be a part of.
King was a peaceful nonviolent Black organizer, and then white America still turned around and killed him. It is a false reality to believe that King’s dream of equality can come true under the same American justice system that killed him. I must speak my truth: my dream for equality in America as we know it died on April 4th, 1968, the day Martin Luther King Jr.’s body laid slain on the steps of Lorraine Motel in Tennessee.
When we as Black Americans celebrate King, we pay respect to his desire to uplift and liberate his people. When white America celebrates King every year on January 18th, it reads of nothing but irony — white America is the force that killed him.
May Martin Luther King Jr. rest in power. May he help guide us to freedom. May we learn from his hard work, from his sacrifices, from his successes and from his mistakes. May we continue to fulfill his legacy, and the legacy of all Black people that fought with him; not by cornering ourselves further into the burning house that King realized was on fire all too late, but by heeding his final words. May we strive for freedom, until our freedom is truly won.