Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., remembered 50 years after assassination

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It’s been 50 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., and many have taken the day to honor the efforts he made and remember the legacy he left.

In 1968, King strongly opposed the Vietnam War and actively led the poor people’s campaign. Matthew Delmont, a history professor at Arizona State University, says that while King is one of the most respected American figures today, 75 percent of Americans at the time were not in favor of his actions.

King was 39 years old when he was killed, and Delmont says his background as a preacher paved the way for him to become a skilled and powerful public speaker.

“Among African Americans, he was a hero,” Delmont says. “There was some controversy around whether the tradition civil rights movement or the black power was the best way to go, but he was a hero. His assassination was a tragic event for African Americans.”

His death was tragic for other communities as well, but Demont says it made the divide between those who cared and those who didn’t much more apparent. For many Americans, King represented change they had trouble getting behind.

King was in Memphis to give a speech for sanitation workers who were experiencing extremely dangerous working conditions. The country he left was still plagued with protests for civil rights and economic equality, says Delmont, but he believes King left it in a better condition than when he found it.

How would King feel about today’s world? Delmont says the preacher would be happy to see more African Americans going to college and taking on more leadership positions. The professor doubts Barack Obama would’ve become president if it wasn’t for the work of Dr. King. However, Delmont says there are many issues that would make King shake his head, such as the fact that 12 percent of Americans live in poverty, and 22 percent of African Americans live in poverty.

“It is one of my concerns of how much we remember Martin Luther King,” Delmont says. “Outside of presidents, he’s the most famous American in American history… Martin Luther King should make us uncomfortable. He was challenging Americans to do things that the country really never reckoned with.”

Matthew Delmont: ASU School of Historical, Philosophical & Religious Studies

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