On the 4th of April 1968, Martin Luther King Junior was fatally shot in his motel room in the depths of Tennessee.
His death marked a significant turning point in the history of the United States of America as the African American civil rights movement lost its key figure. As a Baptist minister, King saw the racism entrenched in the foundations of American society – and he decided to do something about it.
It was 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama when Rosa Parks, a black woman, was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white male, electrifying the southern states of America. African Americans began speaking out against the injustices placed upon them.
As racial tensions and resentment increased while the movement progressed, King was always there to nurture the non-violent resistance, organising walk-outs, sit-ins and marches. Pacifism was built into the bedding of his entire philosophy and he proved how progress can be achieved without resorting to the gun or the bomb.
While the United States started dismantling racial segregation and unfair voting laws, King’s inspiring words and hunger for change travelled across borders and oceans until they landed on our own soil.
John Hume, the face of the Northern Irish peaceful civil rights campaign for Catholics has always mentioned King as a source of inspiration. This impact is still seen today, evident in the #BlackLivesMatter movement in 2015 and this year’s #MarchForOurLives.
However, these recent demonstrations show that injustice is still prevalent in our society. According to the 2017 European Network Against Racism iReport, reported racist incidents in Ireland are up 33 per cent compared to the year before. The report has also noticed a consistent annual rise in reports since its launch back in 2013.
“Racism in Ireland, whether it’s against black people, Muslims, travellers or migrants, is unfortunately an everyday occurrence” says Shane O’Curry, director of ENAR Ireland and one of the co-authors of the iReport.
“Just this morning, an incident was reported where a black man cycling received harassment from the gardaí, who pushed him around and accused him of traffic violations while simultaneously ignoring his two, accompanying, white friends.”
A poll taken at the time of King’s death showed that over two-thirds of Americans viewed the Baptist minister in an unfavourable light. Memet Uludag of United Against Racism mentioned how King was “hated by the political establishment, the FBI persecuted and defamed him while liberal leaders like Kennedy and Johnson were extremely lukewarm in their support”.
This is a contrast to 2018, where there is a day dedicated to celebrating his name. Standing up against the status quo can lead to adverse reactions, but Martin Luther King’s life and legacy is a lesson to us all that we must fight for what we believe in, no matter the cost.
In his own words, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. In a political climate rife with challenges and controversies, let your voice be heard.