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Guest opinion: What if King had lived?

WWMLKD? Fight injustice, and oppose the war in Iraq

By age 79, King would have traveled the world, sharing his message of nonviolence, equality, peace at home and abroad, and social and economic justice for all.

By age 79, King would have traveled the world, sharing his message of nonviolence, equality, peace at home and abroad, and social and economic justice for all.

Today marks the 40th anniversary of that unforgettable day in Memphis, Tenn., when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was struck down by an assassin’s bullet as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel.

Many people cannot help but ponder what America might be like if King – indisputably the leader of the civil rights movement – were alive today.

King, who would have been 79 this year, undoubtedly would have championed many causes over these past 40 years – some pertaining directly to people of color and even more for the benefit of all mankind.

His issues would have included world hunger, conflicts in foreign countries, homelessness, continued acts of racism and hate crimes in general.

King would be concerned about the inability of people around the world to get along.

Most of all, he would be very, very disappointed that America is an occupying force in a nation on the other side of the world.

Many pundits point to King’s increasing comments on the Vietnam War as a possible reason for his assassination.

Community activists in Tucson echo that sentiment.

“When Dr. King began to speak out on the Vietnam War, those in power who supported the war, just like those that support the Iraq war today, made a decision he had to go,” says Roy Cooksey, who with wife Marisa managed a Tucson child care program for years.

“I am sure a few folks in power felt (King) was exceeding his boundaries,” Cooksey continued. “You see, a lot of people did not care for Dr. King. . . . But he was opening doors for a lot of people.

“The Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of ’65 opened doors for women, other ethnic groups and those with physical handicaps.”

Grover Banks, who had been president of the Tucson NAACP in 1988, reflected on King’s death years ago:

“I have always felt King was eliminated because he was beginning to speak out more and more on the war in southeast Asia,” Banks said then.

By age 79, King would have traveled the world, sharing his message of nonviolence, equality, peace at home and abroad, and social and economic justice for all.

Would this message still be viable today? Would there still be an audience?

“Well I am here to tell you, when Dr. King spoke, people stopped and listened,” says Southside activist Betty Liggins, who marched with King when he traveled to Illinois.

In one of his many writings, King reflected on how he had encountered a new level of hatred in the northern U.S. “Injustice lives in the north, just as it does in the south. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” he wrote.

Today, King would be very disappointed that we don’t all get along better, said Liggins.

“But I think he would be more hurt by the fact we are at war,” she said. “In the 21st century, we are at war. Our brightest, bravest, our future is being lost in a godforsaken war.

“The fact people are losing their homes would be a very big concern to him as well,” she said, “but the war would be the thing he would focus on the most.

Liggins believes King might have been the one person who could get all folks on the Iraq issue to put aside their differences and talk together.

“I don’t bet, but if I did,” she said, “I would have put my money on King.”

Danny L. White, M.Ed., is an adjunct faculty member at Mesa Community College and Arizona chairman of United Parents & Youth League Inc. E-mail: Sakilae@aol.com


The night before his assassination, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. told a Memphis crowd:

I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I have been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I am not concerned about that now.

I just want to do God’s will, and He’s allowed me to go up the mountain. And I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the promised land.

I might not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.

I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.



381 Days leading the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott in 1955. The boycott lasted a year and culminated with the Supreme Court declaring the city’s segregated bus system unconstitutional.

30 Number of times King was arrested participating in civil rights activities.

19 Age at time of graduation. King graduated in 1948 with a degree in sociology from Morehouse College in Atlanta.

1986 Year Martin Luther King Day became a national holiday.

Source: USA TODAY and Tucson Citizen research

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