BOSTON (CBS) – On April 4, 1968, when one of America’s great moral and political leaders was shot dead on his hotel balcony by a publicity-seeking bigot, there were leaders who stepped forward to calm the fury in the streets.
Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy broke the terrible news of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination to a mostly-black crowd in Indianapolis. Soul Brother #1, James Brown, allowed his scheduled concert at Boston Garden to be televised live, and invited the mayor to join him in an appeal for peace.
Still, 110 cities experienced violence in the days following King’s murder. And as the 50th anniversary of that awful event was commemorated today, there were diverse opinions on whether the King legacy of non-violent activism to achieve social justice has a future in America.
In a taped message released by the White House, President Trump said “we rededicate ourselves to a glorious future where every American from every walk of life can live free from fear and liberated from hatred.”
But Congressman John Lewis, King’s partner in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, isn’t buying it. “Martin Luther King Jr. would be very, very disappointed in Mr. Trump’s America. He would say, ‘this is not the America that I left you. This is not the America we need today.'”
And King’s son, Martin Luther King III, said “I believe a coalition of Black Lives Matter, the #Metoo movement, these young people [will lead us forward]…. We’re going to see folks coming to the polls like never before.”
The battle lines seem as vividly drawn as they were in the 1960s, the country every bit as divided. Which leaves us with a daunting question – where are the modern-day likes of Kennedy, Brown and King when we need them?