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April 8, 2008

January 21 is Dr Martin Luther King day in the USA. Most Big Issue read­ers will have heard of Dr Martin Luther King. They will almost certainly know that he was very active in the civil rights movement in the USA in the 1960s. They probably know that he won the Nobel Peace Prize. They might know that he was killed by a single bullet while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. They might even know that the man who went to jail for that crime was called James Earl Ray.

What they probably don’t know is that the family and friends of Dr King never believed the official story and fought for thirty years to get nearer the truth. And what they definitely won’t know is that the family succeeded in proving the offi­cial government story to be completely false in a court of law.

In 1999, thirty years after the assassi­nation, in a civil trial held in Memphis, Tennessee, the family proved in a court of law that it was the US government that killed Dr Martin Luther King and not at all the man who was put in jail for it. The trial lasted three weeks during which seventy witnesses gave evidence and yet it took the jury of six white people and six black people only one hour to decide that it was a part of the US government who executed Dr King.


Anyone interested in the trial can read the transcript on the King family website at www.thekingcenter.org/news/trial-.html. An excellent overview of the back­ground is given by the lawyer in the case. The complete media blackout of the trial is not accidental. Compare the fren­zied media circus that covered the trial of OJ Simpson (a trial about a black man killing a white woman) with the blank-ness about the trial of a white man accused of killing a black man – even when that black man was a Nobel Prize Winner who had a National Holiday named after him.

This year is the 40th anniversary of Dr King’s assassination. Although the media will rightly heap praise on him for his civil rights campaigning, they will deliberately

ignore mentioning the political activities that the jury thought had probably got him killed.

The media will not mention that by 1967, King had become the country’s most prominent opponent of the Vietnam War and a staunch critic of overall U.S. foreign policy, which he deemed militaristic. In his ‘Beyond Vietnam’ speech delivered at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4,1967 – a year to the day before he was murdered – King called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today”.

King also spoke-out against the causes of poverty. Noting that a majority of Americans below the poverty line were white. King started to sneak on behalf of all poor people – not just black ones. He decried the huge income gaps between rich and poor, and called for “radical changes in the structure of our society” to redistribute wealth and power.

“True compassion,” King declared, “is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which pro­duces beggars needs restructuring.”

In his last months, King was organis­ing the Poor People’s Campaign. He criss­crossed the country to assemble “a multi­racial army of the poor” that would go to Washington and engage in non-violent civil disobedience at the Capitol until Congress enacted a poor people’s bill of rights.

King’s economic bill of rights called for massive government job programmes to rebuild America’s cities. He was going to confront a Congress that had demonstrat­ed its “hostility to the poor” – appropriat­ing “military funds with alacrity and gen­erosity”, but providing “poverty funds with miserliness”.

How familiar that all sounds, 40 years later America is still “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today”. Except that now Britain openly helps them in their illegal war and parliament can always find money for war – but not for the homeless.


© 2003 Freedom Lite (Michael Culver)

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