50 years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assasinated on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. His legacy continues to run deep, his shadow cast long, on American struggles with race, poverty, inequality and injustice. Distinguished Research Professor of English and African American Studies Ed Pavlic offers this meditation on The Forgotten Economic Vision of Martin Luther King:
King’s position in history signals part of the danger afflicting us all: something—possibly rooted in our insistence upon simplicity—polices American history and transforms things we come to understand—even each other and ourselves—into untouchable objects. Rare exceptions who can’t be kept silent or neutralized in coronation, are attacked, undermined, and destroyed. Then, after they’re destroyed, the process of neutralization ensues, and by no means always by their opponents. One key to revivifying the living passion and power of King’s late vision is found in his increasingly explicit insistence upon economics and the tangles of inter-generational and cross-cultural complexity and potential that came with that insistence. No less than Marx, by the last year of his life King had come to understand that economics offered key indices of social relations, and vice versa. King’s sense of both was changing rapidly in the year leading up to his assassination fifty years ago.
The familiarity with Dr. King as an icon who resists categorization mirrors his absence as a leader through the decades from a country desperately in need of him. But he continues to influence us through his words, his activism, and the powerful resonance of a voice of love and a conscience for justice.
Image: President Lyndon B Johnson discusses the Voting Rights Act with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965