“White lives, for the forces which rule in this country, are no more sacred than black ones, as many and many a student is discovering, as the white American corpses in Vietnam prove. If the American people are unable to contend with their elected leaders for the redemption of their own honor and the lives of their own children, we, the blacks, the most rejected of the Western children, can expect very little help at their hands; which, after all, is nothing new. What the Americans do not realize is that a war between brothers, in the same cities, on the same soil, is not a racial war but a civil war. But the American delusion is not only that their brothers all are white but that the whites are all their brothers.”
-James Baldwin, “An Open Letter to My Sister Angela Y. Davis” (November 19, 1970)
In the days following Dr. King’s assassination, Washington D.C. experienced the most destructive rioting in its history. I think that the disturbances which followed King’s murder are worth revisiting because of what they can tell us of the disparity between the promise of American life and its reality for many. I also think it is worth revisiting on account of the role of racism in shaping the physical, economic, psychological, and sociological landscape of urban and black life in the United States.
In the fall of 1968, the Washington Post put out a book on the riots which still stands as a valuable document that has helped me to understand a world I grew up adjacent to but also very far away from.
Next week is the 50th anniversary of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
One of the things that I think that has been neglected over the years is how Coretta Scott King and her four children were impacted by his death. I am currently working on an editorial on this topic and I am hoping that the London Free Press -or someone else- will run it.
In the meantime, I recommend watching this segment from 60 Minutes (11:37-24:52). Just before Christmas 1968, Mike Wallace went to the King household to see how they were faring.