April 4, 1968

I’d be remiss in failing to note that this is the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in Memphis. I remember hearing about it as graphically as any shocking news story (and there have been more than a few) of my lifetime. But for those born later, here’s what it sounded like at the time:

It’s interesting now to watch Cronkite and realize how much of the reaction from the nation’s movers and shakers (including LBJ) revolved around fears of “Negro violence” rather than grief at the violent death–at the age of 39–of one of America’s greatest leaders.

My favorite overall assessment of King’s legacy was written by Alan Wolfe in a New York Times review of one of the Taylor Branch biographical books, back in 1998:

Our century’s identity has been to insure that the ideal of civic equality announced to the world in 1776 would become a reality. Just to help make that come about, King had to overcome the determined resistence of terrorists without conscience, politicians without backbone, rivals without foresight and an FBI director so malicious that he would stop at nothing to destroy a man who believed in justice….For all the tribulations his enemies confronted him with, it is not those who foolishly and vainly stood in his way whom we remember, but Martin Luther King, Jr., our century’s epic hero.

We’re well into another century now, but that hasn’t changed.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.