Part 3: From dream to reality (1963-1968)

1963 (continued)

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom with King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech was an impressive event, but it would still be a long wait for real social change… Even worse, the racist violence of the Ku Klux Kan and other groups only intensified at first. A tragic low point was the bomb attack on the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing four African-American children.

In the fall, there was even more despair in the United States when president John F. Kennedy was assassinated…

1964

The passing of the Civil Rights Act was undoubtedly a historic moment. The Act represented an important step forward for the African-American community, but it was not the ultimate goal of the American civil rights movement. Discriminatory measures affecting the right to vote, like the level of education, still had to be abolished. Only then would the African-American community really be able to express itself in elections and change the social debate.

Martin Luther King and other leaders of the American civil rights movement were still very active. King’s book ‘Why We Can’t Wait’ was published and he coordinated protests in Alabama, Florida and Mississippi.

The developments in the United States were watched closely around the world and at the end of 1964 Martin Luther King received the Nobel Peace Price.

1965

Protests aimed at extending the right to vote continued to be met all too often with violence by local authorities. On 7 March – ‘Bloody Sunday’ – in Selma, Alabama, a protest march was savagely blocked with brute force.

Two weeks later the protest succeeded when, led by Martin Luther King and John Lewis, 25,000 people walked to Montgomery, the capital of Alabama. It was a legendary protest march, which would result in the Voting Rights Act being passed a couple of months later.

1966

After the 1965 Voting Rights Act had become law, Martin Luther King extended his activities further afield. He moved to Chicago for a couple of months, which was then the most racist city in the north of the United States. King started to focus on alleviating the poverty and improving the poor housing conditions of the African-American community.

In June Martin Luther King headed south again to take part in the March Against Fear, a 220-mile protest march against racism from Memphis, Tennessee, to Greenwood, Mississippi.

During this march, Stokely Carmichael – alias Kwame Ture – introduced the slogan ‘black power’. This was no coincidence. More and more young African Americans were starting to oppose to King’s non-violent approach. They had more faith in the more extreme approach of the Black Power movement.

1967

King’s commitment to a better world went beyond the fight against racial inequality. He strived for world peace and opposed to the US policy on Vietnam. In New York he delivered a stirring antiwar speech, ‘Beyond Vietnam’, which earned him the resentment of many Americans…

Alleviating poverty also remained a priority and King launched the Poor People’s Campaign, which demanded jobs, a minimum wage and decent housing for all Americans.

King’s book ‘Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?’ was published.

1968

Martin Luther King went on tour to deliver speeches in several American cities. In Greensboro, Alabama, he escaped an attack by the Ku Klux Klan, but was starting to feel concerned for his safety… This became clear a couple of weeks later during a speech in Memphis, where King had gone to offer his support to striking sanitation workers.

On 4 April 1968, one day after his now legendary ‘I Have Been to the Mountaintop’ speech, King was shot dead on the balcony outside the room of his motel in Memphis. He was a little over 39 years old. America was in shock and riots broke out all over the country.

Two months after King’s assassination his killer was arrested, but speculation continues to this day whether other people were involved in a conspiracy to murder him…