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GUEST COLUMN: King's agenda still echoes 50 years after his death

By: Henry D. Allen Jr
April 4, 2018 Updated: April 4, 2018 at 6:05 am
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FILE - In this April 3, 1968, file photo, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. makes his last public appearance at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tenn. The following day King was assassinated on his motel balcony. Travelers will find a variety of events and sites in Memphis and elsewhere honoring King's legacy on the 50th anniversary of his death.(AP Photo/Charles Kelly, File)

During Dr. Martin Luther King's speech at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Convention in 1967, he asked, "Where Do We go from Here?" During this speech, he stated, "...in spite of a decade of significant progress, the problem is far from solved."

Each year in January (Dr. King's birth month), February (Black History Month), and April (the month Dr. King was assassinated), our government officials and civic leaders offer up eloquent speeches honoring Dr. King. They publicly call on Dr. King's name as a rallying tool for their various agendas, but they in no way mirror Dr. King's prophetic nature.

Today, The Pikes Peak Southern Christian Leadership Conference will join other Southern Christian Leadership Conference chapters across the country in recognizing the assassination of its founder, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Feb. 11, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn., striking African American sanitation workers staged a walkout to protest unequal wages and poor working conditions imposed by Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb. During that time, African American workers were paid significantly lower wages than whites. Several of the African American workers had been killed while on the job because of unsafe working conditions.

While white workers received pay if they stayed home during bad weather, most black workers worked during driving rain and snowstorms because they were not paid if they stayed home.

On April 3, 1968, Dr. King returned to Memphis and spoke to a crowd at the Mason Temple, the world headquarters of the Church of God in Christ. It's noted that Dr. King's flight to Memphis was delayed by a bomb threat but he arrived for his planned speech, "I've Been to the Mountaintop." If you listen to this speech, near the close, he mentions the bomb threat.

On April 4, 1968, a fugitive from the Missouri State Penitentiary fatally shot and killed Dr. King, the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis. Dr. King was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. CST.

Dr. King was a Baptist minister and founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He led the civil rights movement beginning in the mid-1950s, using nonviolent protest to fight segregation. His assassination led to a period of national mourning and the signing of an equal housing bill that would be the last significant legislative achievement of the civil rights era.

James Earl Ray was arrested on June 8, 1968, in London at Heathrow Airport, extradited to the United States, and charged with the crime. On March 10, 1969, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 99 years in the Tennessee State Penitentiary. He later made many attempts to withdraw his guilty plea and wanting to be tried by a jury but was unsuccessful; he died in prison on April 23, 1998, at age 70.

The King family has always believed the assassination was the result of a conspiracy involving the U.S. government, the Mafia, Memphis police, and that Ray was a scapegoat.

We cannot honor Dr. King if we remain committed more to charity than justice.

There's no shortage of people that do good things but to just settle for tepid appeals for more mentors and individuals acts of good displays a lack of a comprehensive plan to improve the quality of life for the majority of our citizens.

We must never underestimate how Dr. King's theology undergirded his social and political witness. His actions were a byproduct of the social and political demands of the moment.

The Pikes Peak Southern Christian Leadership Conference, in its third year in the Pikes Peak region, continues to move forward in the spirit of Dr. King's agenda of bringing about the promise of "one nation, under God, indivisible," together with the commitment to activate the "strength to love" within the community of humankind.

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Henry D. Allen Jr. is president of The Pikes Peak Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Email: President@PikesPeaksclc.org. Website: www.PikesPeaksclc.wildapricot.org. Facebook: PikespeakSCLC

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