Black community in US calls for education, taking action on 54th anniversary of MLK’s assassination

‘His death is a reminder of all the blood, sweat and tears he put in for the civil rights movement,’ says Alicia Jennings of Houston

Darren Lyn   | 04.04.2022
Black community in US calls for education, taking action on 54th anniversary of MLK’s assassination


Eighty-year-old Helen Lewis Johnson remembers the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968 as if it were yesterday.

“I was enjoying being home with my four children while on a spring break…when the tragic news of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination aired on national television,” Johnson recalls.

“Like most admirers and followers of Dr. King, I was saddened, hurt, disappointed and angry,” she continued. “How could a man who advocated so strongly for non-violence, inclusion, peace and freedom for all people have met such a tragic end?”

Johnson, an African American historian for the Black Heritage Society of Houston, told Anadolu Agency that the anniversary of King’s assassination should be a day in which all people embrace his peaceful teachings.

“America should reflect upon the life and legacy of Dr. King, who was too gentle to be cruel, too loving to hate, too concerned to be silent, and too forgiving to seek revenge,” she said.

“There would be no need for organizations to fight discrimination and injustice if we treated everyone as equals regardless of race, color, creed, religion and gender. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

James Earl Ray, a known racist and fugitive, was arrested two months after King’s assassination. He was convicted of King’s murder on March 10, 1969 after pleading guilty and sentenced to 99 years in prison. Ray recanted his confession behind bars and professed his innocence to the King family in 1997. He died the following year.

“Few Black people believed James Earl Ray assassinated Dr. King, although he was a confessed racist,” said Johnson, which fueled conspiracy theories about MLK’s assassination in the Black community.

“Rather, we felt Dr. King’s death was orchestrated by a faction of the US government in collaboration with the Mafia,” Johnson continued.

“James Earl Ray was merely a pawn in the game of institutionalized racism, mind manipulation and control. His disdain for Blacks and hatred toward them made him an easy prey to take the fall for the assassination.”

Despite that tragic day, Johnson believes MLK’s assassination serves an important purpose to younger generations of African Americans and to people around the world that King’s crusade was one of peace for everyone.

“We must remember that high ideals, love and compassion for all people, and the courage to speak out against injustices of all kinds will force our countries and their leaders to condemn corruption, racial hatred and unfairness at all levels,” said Johnson.

“His death is a reminder of all the blood, sweat and tears he put in for the civil rights movement,” said 38-year-old Alicia Jennings of Houston, who is part of that younger generation.

“This tragic day means to me as an African American that because MLK fought so hard and sacrificed so much for civil rights, freedom and the rights of African Americans, we got to receive a small portion of change,” she said.

But Jennings told Anadolu Agency that the fight for civil rights is far from over and MLK’s assassination is a reminder for society not to be complacent.

“Things have changed for African Americans and yet at the same time are at a standstill. It’s time for people to look through the lens and re-evaluate what’s right and wrong and realize working as one benefits us as a whole,” she said.

“It saddens me because still to this day, my fellow brothers and sisters are still marching, fighting, protesting and voting for some of the same issues that took place when MLK was still alive. The anniversary of his death reminds me that we have still so much more work to do as a society.”

“The plantation was never dismantled, just redesigned,” said Frederick Douglas Bailey, a 27-year-old African American living in Houston, who is also part of that younger generation.

“The lesson I want people to learn on this anniversary is that the fight is far from over,” Bailey told Anadolu Agency. “The current power structure is trying to create an illusion that progress has been made, but really they have just become organized and subtle in their attack.”

Bailey says the only way society can get beyond these racial barriers and injustices is to face racism head-on and continue to employ MLK’s teachings.

“I think a message that can be shared with the world when considering this tragedy is how limiting the concept of racism is,” he said.

“It’s a made-up social construct to create a false sense of power for one group over the other. But it prevents humans from experiencing a higher form of humanity.

“Living a lie and forcing everyone to engage in the lie prevents everyone from experiencing the freedom, resources and love we are all capable of cultivating when we work together,” he added.

While Jennings says the anniversary of MLK’s assassination is important for America and the world to commemorate, she believes much more needs to be done to make sure real change takes place.

“I want people to signify that the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.‘s death isn’t the time to repost pictures and quote lines from MLK’s legendary speeches. If you don’t live by or honor his words, what’s the purpose of plastering them?” she said.

Jennings says actions speak louder than words, and MLK’s ideologies need to be practiced, not just preached, to promote peace, unity and inclusion.

“The only way future generations can carry on his legacy is by learning in-depth about his works and the issues that led to the civil rights movement and learning what happened in the past,” Jennings continued.​​​​​​​

“It’s not to shame certain groups of people for their unfair treatment of others. It is to make sure we as a society correct the errors and produce a better environment currently and for the future generations to come. Education is the key to preventing ignorance.”

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