By Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney, Associate Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Texas, Arlington
Fifty years ago, on April 4th, the civil rights movement ended. That was the day that James Earl Ray assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King in Memphis, Tennessee and ended Dr. King’s larger- than-life role in and influence on the civil rights movement.
Photo credit: Yoichi Okamoto/LBJ Presidential Library and Museum
Of course, some historians, as well as others, argue that the civil rights movement ended before Dr. King’s assassination. They cite the backlash that the movement endured after Stokely Carmichael, the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), made his infamous “Black Power” speech in Greenwood, Mississippi during the “March Against Fear” in 1966. Dr. King was on the stage with Carmichael when he gave the speech and tried to change the shouts by the crowd from “Black Power” to “Freedom Now,” but failed. “Black Power” became the new slogan of the movement and it alienated many whites who supported and participated in the movement as well as many of the foundations and organizations that provided financial support to the movement. Opponents of the “Black Power” slogan equated it with black violence against whites. Given the ongoing use of violence by whites against blacks to maintain white power and white supremacy, it was logical for the opponents of Black Power to conclude that the movement would evolve to their worst fear. But they were wrong.
Several of Dr. King’s biographers also argue that the movement ended in April 1967 when Dr. King gave his famous “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” speech at Riverside Baptist Church in New York opposing the war in Vietnam. In the speech, Dr. King indicted the United States as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” and noted that the U.S. government sent young black, brown and poor men to Vietnam to fight in an imperialistic war, but did nothing to improve their lives at home. The Johnson administration, most of the media and even some of Dr. King’s allies in the civil rights movement condemned him as a traitor for speaking out against the war. His critics condemned him and warned him that he should stay away from foreign policy and confine his efforts to fighting only for “civil rights.”
In 1968, despite the continued resistance to civil rights by those who opposed the movement as well as the actions by the federal government to undermine Dr. King and the movement itself, Dr. King had not given up on it. In his last book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967), Dr. King wrote about expanding the movement from civil rights to human rights and addressing the fundamental issue of economic justice. He wrote that the wealthiest country in the world should address poverty by providing every citizen a livable income, affordable housing and a decent standard of living. He expanded his efforts to address the nation’s rampant poverty by supporting the sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis and by planning a Poor People’s March in Washington, D.C. for the spring of 1968. He also believed that a government and society dominated by institutional racism should provide “affirmative action” to provide special support to those whose lives had been historically circumscribed by individual and institutional racism.
Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, 1967
But Dr. King’s assassination ended not only his efforts to expand the movement from civil rights to human rights; it ended the movement itself.
With the assassination of Dr. King, the fissures in the civil rights movement expanded and broke it. White Americans acted on Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” in 1968 to elect him president. For African Americans, the assassination of Dr. King sent a clear message: his strategy of moral suasion, nonviolent social change and his efforts to form a “beloved community” were pipe dreams. Many young African Americans increasingly supported organizations that advocated “Black Power” and “Black Nationalism.” While the FBI and the media sought to paint organizations and individuals who advocated these two ideas as violent, anti-American revolutionaries, young African Americans like me (I was 18 in 1968) rallied behind these ideas as the natural evolution of the ongoing struggle for black liberation.
Indeed, the assassination of Dr. King made it very clear to my generation that “loving your enemies,” “turning the other cheek” and adopting nonviolence as tactics would get us killed. While we loved and honored Dr. King, we saw that the resistance to his very mild and legitimate demands for the nation to honor its own creed of equality of opportunity, voting rights and basic human rights were demands that the nation could not fulfill. Armed self defense and even urban guerilla warfare seemed more plausible as strategies and tactics to win our freedom and to change the inherent racism in American society than moral suasion.
Based on the “wars of national liberation” that we saw being waged in Vietnam, Angola, Mozambique and in other colonized nations in Africa and Asia, we romanticized that we could do the same thing in the United States. But after COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) and the bloody war that the FBI and the police carried out against the Black Panther Party for Self Defense and other Black Nationalist organizations after Dr. King’s assassination, we came to our senses. We realized that the civil rights movement was over, but we had to survive in order to take the movement to the next level. In addition, we knew that we had to educate the next generation to continue the struggle beyond civil rights.
We adopted the slogan: “a luta continua” (the struggle continues) from FRELIMO (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (Mozambique Liberation Front) in honor of Dr. King who gave his life and inspired us to find new ways to fight oppression, racism and white supremacy. Indeed, as we have seen, the civil rights movement is over, but we continue to struggle against some of the same issues (political disfranchisement, police brutality and economic discrimination) that confronted Dr. King.
The views and opinions reflected in the Museum’s Guest Blog are those expressly of the author alone, and not of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.
By Stephen Fagin, Curator, The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
The BBC television program Doctor Who holds the Guinness World Record as the longest-running science fiction series in history. Such a record is not terribly surprising considering that this British institution premiered one day after the Kennedy assassination in 1963. Perhaps because of its coincidental connection to the program’s 1963 premiere, its historical and pop culture significance, and its malleability for science fiction writers forever pondering “what if,” the Kennedy assassination has been curiously linked to Doctor Who for virtually all its history.
Doctor Who, the television program, was developed entirely during the Kennedy years, beginning in March 1962 when the BBC began to explore creating a new science fiction series. Its premiere on Saturday, November 23, 1963, was delayed approximately five minutes by assassination news coverage. Ratings were poor as one might expect, and in a rare move, the BBC decided to rerun that first episode the following week. The assassination occurred during production of the series’ second story, “The Daleks.” Reportedly, shooting of the series was interrupted and postponed once cast and crew learned that President Kennedy had died.
John F. Kennedy and the assassination were not directly referenced in the series for twenty-five years, though a wax figure of President Kennedy made a brief cameo appearance in the 1970 Third Doctor story, “Spearhead from Space.” During its 25th anniversary in 1988, Doctor Who was particularly nostalgic and John F. Kennedy was twice mentioned. The story “Remembrance of the Daleks” took place in November 1963 near the same London junkyard location where the television series began a quarter century earlier. This story opened with a view of the Earth and included a famous quote by John F. Kennedy from his “Strategy for Peace” speech at American University in June 1963—the first and only time his voice is heard in the series’ history.
Another 1988 story, entitled “Silver Nemesis” specifically mentioned the Kennedy assassination for the first time. The Doctor, now in his seventh incarnation, revealed that he launched a dangerous artifact into space which, unbeknownst to him, had returned to Earth’s orbit once every twenty-five years, triggering some terrible event each time. In 1963, he noted, this would have been the death of President Kennedy.
The assassination again resurfaced in Doctor Who mythology in the very first episode of the re-launched series in 2005. In the premiere, “Rose,” the Ninth Doctor is shown standing along Main Street, observing the Kennedy motorcade moments before the assassination.
In reality, the face of actor Christopher Eccleston was Photoshopped into a famous Dallas Morning News photograph taken by Walt Sisco. The implication, however, was that the Doctor was in Dallas when President Kennedy was shot.
Beyond television, President Kennedy and the assassination have been referenced numerous times in the worlds of Doctor Who through original novels and audio-only adventures that fit within the series’ official canon. Among these, most notably, is the fan-favorite novel, Who Killed Kennedy (1996). Author David Bishop, writing as an investigative journalist, constructed a complex narrative linking bits and pieces of the series history together, building up to a climax that revealed, once and for all, what actually happened in Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963, and how the Doctor was directly involved in this significant event.
The 1998 novel Matrix presented an alternate reality in which President Kennedy survived his trip to Dallas but was assassinated three years later while visiting London. And as one might expect from the titles, Kennedy is referenced in two audio adventures: The Conspiracy and 1963: The Space Race. November 2013 marked the fiftieth anniversary of both Doctor Who and the Kennedy assassination.
To once again acknowledge their connection, the Eleventh Doctor novel, Shroud of Sorrow, takes place the dayafter the assassination where an alien entity is trying to use the tragedy as part of a plot to plunge the Earth into grief. The Doctor teams up with an FBI agent and a reporter at The Dallas Morning News to save the day.
It is inevitable that a historical event such as the Kennedy assassination would turn up so many times in a series centered on time travel, yet Doctor Who holds a special distinction because of its November 1963 premiere. It is likely that, in time, President Kennedy and the assassination will again be part of this long-running series’ history. As for when this might happen next, Who knows?
To read the books mentioned in this blog or see other fictional stories related to President Kennedy or the assassination, make an appointment to check out the Museum Reading Room!