King, who led 250,000 people on the great March on Washington 50 years ago, opposed the Vietnam War.
“If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam,” King said. “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on the military than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” (Even more true today.)
He attacked the savagery of capitalism. He urged universal health care, angered that this rich country did not have it while Britain and Scandinavian countries did. He criticized the yawning gap between the rich and poor. (The gap is growing ever wider.)
No wonder the FBI hounded him, sending false reports to the media slandering him and calling him a communist.
As for “I Have a Dream,” it may be the greatest speech ever delivered in America. Its rolling cadences (“justice rolls down like waters”), the contrasting metaphors (“desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice”) and resonating repetitions of “I have a dream” and “let freedom ring.”
The night before he was murdered in 1968 at a motel in Memphis, Tenn., he spoke to the striking sanitation workers. “The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair to its public servants,” he told them. “America must be true to what it says on paper about justice.”
He was first, last and always for justice. Genesis 37:19, 20 records: “Behold this dreamer cometh … let us slay him.” He was slain while going to Memphis to seek justice for sanitation workers.
Fifty years after the great assembly in Washington the nation still has not reached the “promised land” that the dreamer dreamed of.
Local celebration marred
About 50 supporters of the Reno-Sparks NAACP recently crowded the sidewalk in front of the federal building in Reno to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. A small group celebrated fervently. Many passing motorists honked in approval.
But the event was badly blemished by deliberate disruptions by a courthouse worker.
The guy started a noisy weed eater just as the group was gathering. Then, in the words of Andy Barbano, commemoration organizer and Tribune columnist: “He went from annoying to obnoxious.”
The worker threw the NAACP banner and an event sign on the ground and then stepped on them. While the participants were speaking, he deliberately fired up his loud lawnmower, drowned out the speaker, ran the dangerous machine perilously close to the assembly and knocked one woman to the ground.
When an angry Barbano ran up to him to complain, the worker flung an obscenity at him while continuing his careening.
One of the celebrants, former NAACP president Lonnie Feemster, was irked. He decried the worker’s “rude and reckless behavior” and denounced his intrusions as “uncalled for.”
Indeed it was all of that. The worker could have acted only under the orders of the federal Homeland Security officer on duty. That guard disrupted the assembly by making it move away from the steps although the building was closed and no one was entering or leaving.
Feemster should have sent his justified complaint to the guard’s boss, President Obama.
Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.