Tag archives: Martin Luther King Jr

Remembering The Week of Dr. King’s Assassination: It has been worse

by Robert Morrison

April 5, 2013

Talking with dispirited conservatives these days, there’s a tendency to think things have never been worse. One of the men in my Bible study regularly gives in to Jeremiads and thinks we are on the eve of destruction.

I don’t want to stop anyone fighting as hard as he can—within law—to prevent such wrong policies as Obamacare, abortion-on-demand, and the abolition of marriage. But we are still free to oppose these deeply wrong policies. And we should.

And I join with all my friends in decrying the current pressures on the church. These, I strongly believe, have never been worse. Liberal journalists at religious liberty conferences often pooh-pooh these charges. They cite such examples as Bible riots in Philadelphia in the 1840s at which dozens were killed. They note that the anti-black Ku Klux Klan was also anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-immigrant. And the KKK marched openly through Washington, D.C. in the 1920s.

Well, first, the good news is that there are such conferences being held. And some liberals even feel it necessary to respond to our reports of religious hostility in this home of freedom. Our rejoinder to their dismissive comments about Bible riots in the 1840s and Klan marches in the 1920s is fairly easy to make: None of those examples of religious bigotry was sponsored by the federal government. What we are dealing with today is unprecedented.

But in a large sense, we need to recognize the experiences of our fellow Americans. Millions of our fellow citizens remember the 1960s. This is the week in 1968 when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated by a white racist in Memphis, Tenn. Following Dr. King’s murder—and in complete contempt for all that he taught and held sacred—riots erupted in a hundred American cities.

The flames of violence and lawlessness were stoked by radicals in those cities and excused by a liberal press that regularly rationalized the violence. Even the sitting Vice President of the United States, the civil rights hero of my youth, Hubert Humphrey, said that if he had to face the injustices faced by minority citizens, he, too, would lead a riot. That was probably the worst thing Hubert ever said.

What happened in those burned-out cities was a national tragedy. Small business owners—black and white—fled to the suburbs. They left a hollowed-out core in many cities. Unemployment, crime and blight wrecked the hopes of millions in what came to be called “Inner Cities.” Detroit had already been scarred—in 1967—by a terrible riot. But more and more American towns began to look like Detroit as a result of the King Assassination riots.

Photographs of the U.S. Capitol taken forty-five years ago this week showed the dome wreathed in smoke. It looked like St. Paul’s Cathedral in London under the Nazi blitz of 1940. But the terrible difference was that in this case, the flames were ignited by our own people.

The year 1968 has been aptly called an Annus Horribilis. America was then embroiled in the Vietnam War. President Lyndon B. Johnson was the commander-in-chief. His own record had been one of physical cowardice in the South Pacific in World War II and in besieged West Berlin in 1961 But he drafted thousands of young men and sent them to fight in a war he could not defend, and from which he had no plans for disengagement. Weekly battle deaths averaged 280 under the misrule of LBJ.

Johnson was reviled by members of his own party. Four years earlier, he had been nominated for a full term at the Democratic National Convention of 1964. The convention hall was draped with huge portraits of Johnson, the kind usually reserved for Communist bosses in May Day parades. But in 1968, Lyndon B. Johnson was chased out of the presidential race and dared not even attend his party’s nominating convention. So hated was the president that anti-war protesters regularly chanted “Hey, Hey, LBJ! How many boys have you killed today?”

When Dr. King was assassinated, one of the greatest speeches of tribute and most eloquent calls for restraint came from Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, then running for president. Bobby Kennedy would himself be gunned down by a Palestinian terrorist in Los Angeles, just two months after King.

Conservatives today are often accused of wanting to “turn back the clock.” Liberals charge us with being on “the wrong side of history.” They want us to believe that all their ideas must be accepted as “progress” and all their initiatives must fulfill some plan of historical inevitability. (And they wonder why we charge them with being Marxists!)

Millions of Americans alive today remember those terrible days. We need to recall them too when placing the bad policies of today in proper perspective—the better to gain the agreement of our fellow citizens.

And we should remember what one of my favorite college profs taught us at University of Virginia in 1968. Norman A. Graebner noted the mood of profound pessimism among the young, the widespread belief that the United States was headed for collapse. “America,” he said, “is like the boxer Joe Louis. America has power to spare.”

I didn’t fully understand Mr. Graebner then. Economic power? Yes. Political and military power? That, too. But “Graebner the Great” as we called this star lecturer was a regular communicant of his local Lutheran congregation. I cannot imagine he did not include spiritual power in his Joe Louis comparison. Let’s never forget that.

It Has Been Worse

by Robert Morrison

October 19, 2009

I’ve been on travel the past week, visiting with college administrators, staff, and students. I’m often asked by concerned young people: “Has it ever been this bad before?”

Oh, my yes. When I was your age, I tell them, 300 American cities went up in flames after Dr. King was assassinated, riots in the streets turned huge areas of America’s cities into no-go zones. Bob Kennedy was assassinated en route to a likely presidential nomination. Three hundred young Americans were dying in Vietnam every week, with no strategy for victory and no end in sight. Inflation was rampant and few Americans could see our country healing after such terrible divisions.

But heal she did. Last week, I witnessed American troops coming home from Iraq in two of our major airports. Welcoming committees cheered them wildly. What a great improvement on the sullen indifference that greeted too many of our returning Vietnam vets. One of my pool pals—guys I swim with every morning—was one of those Vietnam vets who came home to no welcome. Today, he joins the welcomers in applauding our magnificent troops. God bless you, Bob Hogan!

Even worse than that “annus horribilis” of 1968 was Washington in 1861. A book by Ernest Furgurson, Freedom Rising, describes the scene in the Capital. “Panic seized the people and the previous emigration [from Washington] was child’s play to the present hegira,” wrote a young man of that time of civil war. He was obviously educated before we had a federal education department. Furgurson’s narrative goes on: “Property is valueless, business is dead,” wrote a 19th century observer. “To feed incoming troops, the federal government confiscated all the flour in the mills of Georgetown and aboard schooners about to sail. Residents of Georgetown were awakened by what they feared was cannon fire; it was [instead] 3,000 barrels of flour being rolled out of one of the town’s thirty-three canalside warehouses, to supply ovens being built for the army in the basement of the Capitol. Within fifteen minutes of the confiscation order, the public price of a single barrel of flour more than doubled.”

Check out your local super market: the price of bread has not doubled. Yes, it has been worse, much, much worse.

After Pearl Harbor, there was a real, sinking feeling that the West Coast of the U.S. was defenseless. With the Pacific fleet crippled, what was there to stop the Japanese from seizing Seattle and San Francisco? These fears, we now know, were exaggerated. And they led to the unjustifiable internment of thousands of Japanese-Americans. Nonetheless, they did not seem irrational or unrealistic then.

But because things have been much, much worse than now does not mean that we should relax our strenuous efforts one bit. What is being proposed —- and seriously planned in Washington today —- is a grave threat to our future. The health care takeover is menacing. Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s former labor secretary, and a real bellwether for liberalism, wrote boldly to seniors: “We will let you die.” Sarah Palin was publicly pilloried for saying they would do that. Reich, from Harvard, says it and gets away with it.

Rush Limbaugh was blackballed by the NFL over racist comments he never made. Yet Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg boasts about her lovely office at the Supreme Court. It faces an interior courtyard, where she won’t have to see or hear those raucous protesters out in front. She can don her $3.000 Paris-made judicial robes and never have to answer for her genocidal comments about public funding for abortions. She told the New York Times she thought the Supreme Court missed the whole point of Roe when it upheld the Hyde Amendment that bans federal funding of abortion back in 1980. She always thought, she confessed, that public funding of abortion was necessary to get rid of “populations we don’t want too many of.” No more heinous statement has been made by a Supreme Court justice since Roger B. Taney said “the black man has no rights which the white man is bound to respect.”

Another huge threat is the debt being piled upon our children’s generation and our grandchildren’s. The government announced on Friday that this year’s deficit had climbed to $1,400,000,000,000. President Obama has managed, in just nine months, to exceed the debt run up by all 43 of his predecessors. The media likes to print it as “$1.4 trillion.” Sounds small. There’s a decimal, after all. But it really should be reported as $1.4 TRILLION! George W. Bush is no innocent in this regard. But if he ran up a mountain of debt, Barack Obama has answered with a Mountain Range of debt. It’s Pike Peak versus the Rockies.

Can we survive? Can we come back? Yes. During that horrible year of 1968, many of us college students were pretty down. Our wonderful diplomatic history prof at University of Virginia—Norman A. Graebner—had not given up on this country. He concluded his final lecture of the year by urging us to understand the incredible unused resources of these United States. The U.S. was like the boxer, Joe Louis, he said. The Brown Bomber always had “power to spare.”

The man we called “Graebner the Great” was right. America does have power to spare. That power stems ultimately from the American people’s reliance on God. In God we Trust. As long as that is so, I say power to the people.