Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. emblazoned a new trail for change in America. It was a trail that led to beatings, mob attacks, and character defamation. He pursued a non-violent approach to defeat racial injustice. Black youth and older activists wanted access to equal education, housing, the right to vote, and the economy. It was a task that millions undertook in support of equality.
Before the “Dream” speech, people were tired of dogs attacking, being spat upon, mob violence, lynching’s, and police brutality. Many black people thought it was time to abandon King’s concept of non-violence. They began to think Dr. King was an “Uncle Tom,” who wanted to appease the white racist and his ideology of non-violence went under attack.
In the meantime, Dr. King was being put down by stronger voices against racism, such as Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, H Rap Brown, and others. The black youth and older activists were aligning themselves with these stirring, vociferous persons. Dr. King started speaking at Ivy League Universities and soon decided to speak about the injustice of the Vietnam War. It wasn’t long before he responded to the pleas for help from the Sanitation workers. Their Strike was for better working conditions, and higher wages. He and his entourage chose to stay at the Lorraine Motel during his visit to Memphis, Tennessee.
It was during the times of mass enlightenment in the Nation, the people of America were beginning to understand why black people were protesting against the War, racism, injustice, and integration of the public schools. Unionists were picketing, University students in America were demonstrating, taking up the fight against age-old practices that stained the character of the Nation. All of this during the sexual revolution in America, where reefer smoking, drugs, LSD, and the flower children were invading San Francisco and other cities. America was on a roller coaster ride to chaos, and somebody thought the best way off the roller coaster was to assassinate Dr. Martin Luther King.
Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated Thursday, April 4, 1968. When the murder happened, the mood of the Country changed, some people were overcome with grief and some were overcome with fury and anger. Slums were alight with fire, riots were in many cities of America, and people were injured, and killed. The National Guard was deployed in some of our largest cities and some of the most reputable citizens wanted to take up arms against racist whites, feeling the hate groups were responsible for the death of Dr. King. However, level heads among church leadership, entertainers and politicians made pleas for calm, and order eventually took place in the land.
A hush seemed to have come over Peoria and after a period of sorrow and mourning, people returned to the fight for equality. The mood changed, the vision was not lost; the fight was not over. The local chapter of the NAACP took to picketing fervently for racial equality. Civil disobedience took place in the form of “Sit-Ins” led by the President of the NAACP, John Gwynn. Under John Gwynn’s leadership, and participation by prominent black’s, change was slowly coming to Peoria and many white people helped to bring about that change. The “Dream” was possible and people of different races are still working with endurance to keep the vision alive in Peoria. Dr. Martin Luther King did not die in vain!