Reflections on MLK, Jr.
Like so many, I remember precisely where I was and what I was doing when I learned of the
murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Within hours of Dr. King’s assassination and while a
participant at a presentation on the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and freedom
movement options at Bryn Mawr College, near Philadelphia, every standard of social morality in
the US had become ashes to me.
A student then at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA, I was founding president of the F&M Afro-American Students Society and a few months later, Black Arise, a Black Panther-inspired youth organization in Lancaster’s Black community. Members of both organizations joined a campaign of Black student organizing on campuses in the state. Chatham College, Shippensburg, Loch Raven, Wilson College, and Millersville were among the schools we visited in that academic year. We were decidedly left of Dr. King and did not promote non-violence as an unchallenged strategy in the struggle for Black liberation. Nevertheless, I cherish the influence Dr. King has had on the development of my social consciousness.
In the summer of 1966, I worked a second job as a reporter for the Chatham Citizen, a
community news publication in Chicago’s near southside. My prized assignment in a summer
that showcased the west side riots and the Richard Speck murders, was to cover Dr. King’s first
visit to Soldier Field. The press event was crowded into a much-too- small conference room that
only amplified the cadence, timbre, and authority of Dr. King’s speaking voice. He spoke of the
Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s plans to organize fair housing and civil rights
activities in Chicago. I wished him well in my heart, but there were many more reasons that the
west side erupted. I had hoped he would have targeted police-Klan violence as well.
A hurried return from Bryn Mawr to Lancaster permitted Black Arise to organize a flash
demonstration in Lancaster’s seventh ward where all but three Black families resided. Our
entreaty to the outraged, vengeance-seeking youth and the mournful, confused majority in the
audience was strategic: “We’ll wait and choose our own time and response. The police are
waiting for us to loot downtown for their own target practice. We’ll demonstrate smarts.”
We waited until April 10th and the news media reported the fire-bombing of the Selective
Service office and the burglary of weapons and ammunition from a popular sporting goods
vendor. They also reported my arrest for carrying concealed deadly weapons, possession of
bombs and explosives, and violation of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. Mine
was the only arrest, a police practice rhetorically called “decapitation.” I was accepted as a
guest of the state at the State Correctional Institute at Huntingdon, PA following failed appeals
Years later, in 1998, when Director of Amnesty International USA’s Program to Abolish the
Death Penalty, permission was granted to us to kick-off the National Weekend of Faith in Action
on the Death Penalty from the revered pulpit at New York’s Riverside Church, a shrine, if there
is one, to the growing, but death-defying radicalization of Dr. King. Along with hundreds of thousands of activists, I had applauded his April 4, 1967 speech at Riverside that bridged so
much schism. We finally had a charismatic, mass organizer of undeniable national-international
stature who now taught that poverty, racism, and militarism, a white power troika, could be
defeated – not just diminished. We also welcomed his newly energized debate on the
effectiveness of non-violence.
Samuel Jordan, President, the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition (MoreTransitEquity.com)
111 N. Glover Street, 21224 (202) 344-0108