Stewart Acuff

Jan 16

Dr. King was assassinated because he was a nonviolent revolutionary

In a wonderful irony of America’s continuing struggle with and for racial justice, President Obama’s second inauguration is on the same weekend as our Dr. King Holiday, the man who led the nonviolent revolution that led to voting rights for African-Americans.

Every year starting about this time of January we are told over and over by Corporate America and the corporate media of Dr. King’s commitment to love and service, leaving out his commitment to militant but nonviolent struggle for racial justice AND economic justice AND a fundamental change in the way America works.

It is up to each and all of us to keep alive the memory of the real Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – the Dr. King of Memphis, of Birmingham, of Albany and a life of real struggle who led thousands of Americans into the streets and moved the hearts and souls of millions of Americans not by just being a “drum major” but by being a nonviolent warrior chief committed to racial justice and voting rights, and also committed to ending poverty and for trade unionism and for peace.

We must remember why Dr. King was in Memphis when he was assasinated. He first went to Memphis from Mississippi with my close now departed friend Rev. Orange to build the Poor People’s Movement. Dr. King’s Dream in 1968 was to build a national multi-racial movement against poverty, for good jobs and economic justice.

That commitment led Dr. King to the AFSCME sanitation strike led by T. O. Jones and on the staff side, William Lucy. Dr. King was not unfamiliar with union struggles. He was a friend of the AFL-CIO. One of his mentors was A. Philip Randolph, the founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. One of his chief supporters and benefactors was UAW President Walter Reuther.

That struggle in Memphis, the daily marches, the rallies, the rotting garbage, the solidarity of the Memphis AFL-CIO and other unions, the Movement swirl in the city of cotton and Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Rising Up of Black Memphians, the racist fear of many white Memphians led directly to the assassination of Dr. King on April 4, 1968.

Dr. King was not assassinated because he was a drum major, but because he was a nonviolent revolutionary committed to love, and also committed to justice. The commitment to justice leads directly to confrontation and struggle.

More about Dr. King through this week.

Lest we get too comfortable thinking of how far America has come since 1968, Colin Powell on Sunday called out the fundamental racism of the Republican Party on Sunday, saying, “There is a dark vein of intolerance” in the Republican Party where too many look down on minorities and the other 47%.

And there is actually MORE income and wealth inequality today than there was in 1968.

Sisters and brothers, let us not grow weary in well doing.


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Stewart Acuff is the former organizing Director of the AFL-CIO. Acuff has also written two books: Playing Bigger Than You Are: A Life in Organizing, and Getting America Back to Work.

Playing Bigger Than You Are - A Life in OrganizingGet the e-book edition of Playing Bigger Than You Are by clicking here!

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