This past week marked the fifty-year anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I remember it well. We had only been in Nashville for about a year. I was working at a club six nights a week, and I remember going to work early so the club could observe the local curfew.
There was an indescribable, intangible feeling in the city, almost as if some overnight storm had blown all the oxygen out of town and dark confusing feelings came to bear as we watched America’s inner cities explode and riot, and it was almost as if something was telling us that it was never going to be alright again.
It was hard to believe, that of all the highly visible people who were leading the struggle for equal rights for the black race, this gentle, Christian man who preached, lived and breathed non-violence, this humble crusader, would be the one that whoever or whatever – I am still not convinced that there weren’t deeper and darker powers behind James Earl Ray – was behind this horrible deed, would choose to silence.
Not the firebrands, not the purveyors of social unrest and street violence, but it was this, this one man, the one catalyst that brought together all the elements, the angry young men, the agitators, the hate-filled and the moderate and molded them into a cohesive peaceful movement, that was rapidly gaining momentum and converts of all races.
One can only wonder what would have happened had Dr. King lived, if he had had more years to prove that the goals of his race could be accomplished by motivating not only African Americans but members of all races who had finally started to “get it,” had finally begun to understand that the black race had largely been deprived of a fair shot at the American Dream, that educational, occupational and social status had systematically been denied them, and it was way past time to level the field.
With the death of President John F. Kennedy, the movement had lost some ground, but now Lyndon Johnson had already tacitly committed to helping Dr. King move the agenda along. And much of white America, after a century of denial and repression, had begun to admit the sins of our fathers and the inherent attitude of white supremacy that pervaded so much of our society.
And all of a sudden, on April 4th, 1968, one bullet was to change the course of a nation for years to come, and it seemed that any fences that had been mended, any bridges that had been crossed, any headway that had been made between the races came crashing down as city after city was burned and looted, and many old fears and anger surfaced.
There was no one to pick up the pieces, no one to calm the anger, and the blossom of a peaceful and orderly solution to America’s racial problems withered on the vine as the unrest grew for a season and hotter heads prevailed. And the symbol of the movement became the raised fist.
But the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. was too strong to be destroyed. There were still those who faithfully ascribed to his doctrine of non-violence, who understood that leaving a city in ashes and practicing incendiary rhetoric was not the answer, that that sort of behavior accomplished even less understanding and empathy causing an ever-widening chasm between the races.
They empathized with the need for education and political muscle, for personal responsibility and strong family ties. And because of their efforts, much has been accomplished, producing black senators, congressmen, successful entrepreneurs and business leaders, governors, a secretary of state and a two-term African American president.
Unfortunately, there is another side of this coin, and it seems that the leadership of that faction are not really interested in bridging the divides or working on the problems of the African American community from the inside. Rather, they seek to blame all the problems on outside forces and racial animosity that, for the most part, doesn’t even exist anymore.
One can only wonder how things would have progressed had Dr. King lead the movement for another decade or so – man who had the respect of the nation, the ear of politicians and the courage to face whatever obstacles that crossed his path.
Shortly before he died, Dr. King said he had been to the mountaintop, and he had looked over into the promised land and that “we as a people” would get to the promised land.
What do you think?
What a vision, what a dream, what a man!
Pray for our troops, our police and the peace of Jerusalem.
God Bless America
— Charlie Daniels
Charlie Daniels is a legendary American singer, song writer, guitarist, and fiddler famous for his contributions to country and southern rock music. Daniels has been active as a singer since the early 1950s. He was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry on January 24, 2008.