What was true then still is today

(February is Black History Month. Coretta Scott King, widow of the most noted black leader in their history, died just before it began, but will, I’m sure, be written of extensively in these 28 days for her own contributions in their rise from slaves to governors, senators, cabinet members, generals, scientists, college presidents and service in the uniform of their adopted home. It has been 38 years since Martin Luther King Jr., 39, was shot to death on April 4, 1968, by escaped convict James Earl Ray as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. This column appeared April 8, 1968, four days after the assassination.)

The death of Martin Luther King Jr. at the hands of an assassin is more than a tragedy.

The pulling of the trigger pulled attention of the world again to the national shame that is ours in the attitudes and relationships of the white and black societies in our land.

Fear of what the black society will do has caused many in the white society to take upon themselves the guilt and blame for what happened.

There is indignation and there is sorrow, but there is mostly fear.

This is a nation filled with fear of what will happen tonight, tomorrow, this summer.

There should be the deepest shame in the white society for what was allowed to happen to Martin Luther King.

What kind of protection was it when 40 policemen in the vicinity of King’s motel, aware of threats against him, could not or did not stop his assassination and could not or did not prevent the assassin’s escape?

The double-standard of law enforcement, one for whites and one for Negroes, that is so often complained of, was never so evident as here.

But the police cannot bear the brunt of the blame. Law enforcement officers do reflect the feelings of their communities.

As for the black society, there should be blame there, too.

What respect and honor was it to their fallen leader when news of King’s death set off, not weeping in the streets, but looting, burning, riots and destruction?

This was not people who had lost their reason in shock over a violence done to one of their members, striking out at anything and everything. This was pure hoodlumism, using death as an excuse to steal. Using the fear they know is present, to destroy.

Responsible Negro leaders constantly plead not to judge the many by the actions of the few, but those few are growing to be many. The fear grows too.

It’s been said there is no hope for true understanding between the Negro and the white until the white makes a basic commitment to have respect for this dark brother of his.

Respect is often born of fear.

Man fears the lightning strike, the raging river, therefore respects these things.

Today, as never before, the white man fears the black man. Where once the primary feeling of white toward black was contempt, that has been replaced by fear.

That fear may in the end be the cause of gaining the black man this respect he wants.

It could be a bloody victory.

Surely, there must be a better way. Together, black and white, we must search for it, and the searching for it, together, may be the finding.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at PO Box 69, Hansville, WA, 98340.

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