Martin Luther King’s death tore America apart. We still can’t reckon with African American demands for justice

In King’s last campaign, he traveled to Memphis early in 1968 to assist striking sanitation workers — 1,300 black men who toiled in degrading conditions for meager wages. On March 28, 1968, King led a march during which some of the protesters behind him turned violent. King’s critics thought this clinched their argument. Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia called King a “self-seeking rabble-rouser” who “undoubtedly encouraged” the violence in Memphis. Rep. Dan Kuykendall of Tennessee accused King of “agitating destruction, violence, and hatred.” The criticism continued even after King’s murder days later. Upon hearing of the assassination, Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina decried King as “an outside agitator, bent on stirring people up, making everyone dissatisfied.”

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