By Katie Jain
WASHINGTON D.C. (UN Press Corps) - Martin Luther King Jr. lived only 39 years, but his activism, his impact, and his adamant fight against injustice, discrimination, and inequality in America made him one of the most influential people of his time. On April 4th 1968, the Nobel Peace Prize winner was assassinated in Memphis Tennessee, and now, three days later, President Johnson has assembled an advisory committee composed of the most influential activists to decide how to proceed in the face of race riots and an unsure future of the civil rights movement.
Though it has been fourteen years since Brown v. Board of Education, five since the March on Washington (at which King uttered his “I Have a Dream” speech), and four since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, equality is barely in sight. From the Birmingham Baptist Church bombing, in which four young black girls were killed, to Bloody Sunday, when protesters were attacked by the police with clubs and tear gas, the movement has faced numerous setbacks. There has been no constitutional amendment passed explicitly guaranteeing equality to all, and many across the nation still believe that segregation is the best policy.
Now that King has been assassinated, this racial divide has reached new heights, and as such President Johnson is meeting with a committee, constituting fighters both for and against the civil rights movement.
While the general goal of the committee is to ease this divide and therefore prevent further violence, different people are choosing to focus on different aspects of the issue. For instance, Richard Russell, Edgar Hoover, and Strom Thurmond—all avid segregationists—met and spoke of the importance of accommodating actions to the white citizens and ensuring that different voices to those in the movement are heard as well. As the only three in the committee who hold this stance, these men might have a difficult time implementing their desired practices. On the other hand, members like James Baldwin and Maya Angelou have different priorities and would like to ensure the civil rights movement creates a society giving equal rights to all people, as opposed to simply the majority.
The first directive passed in this committee was an initiation of an FBI investigation into the assalent of Martin Luther King, in order to achieve justice and retribution for their actions and with the potential goal of appeasing to the civil rights movement, though in a relatively minor way.
After this directive was passed, members of the committee launched into discussion, with Dorothy Height, President of the National Council for Negro Woman, beginning by emphasizing the need for coverage of peaceful protests: “There have been peaceful protests of over 40,000 people that have been wildly successful, but it seems that the riots are getting the most press. I think what we have to do is create an organization of all of these leaders—including a governmental side—so we can start changing the riots into more peaceful affairs.”
Like all attempts towards peace and equality within the United States, this committee has a huge and daunting task ahead of them; however, surrounded by a mixture of politically and socially powerful people, perhaps they can take a step towards mending the division and ensuring civil rights for all people.