Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.

Writing in 1977, civil rights leader Andrew Young reflects on the life and death of Dr. King.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Credit: Martin Mills/Getty Images

"I was surprised by his assassination. I didn't see the Poor People's Campaign as the threat to Washington and the Establishment that I now see it was."

That's the great civil rights activist Andrew Young, recalling the life and death of his friend Martin Luther King, Jr. in a short 1977 essay for Rolling Stone. The piece is well worth reading over this MLK weekend – not least for its intimate touches ("He would stay up all night reading, talking, clowning – whatever he felt like doing"), its humor ("You never won an argument because he would take off on flights of oratory, and you'd forget your point trying to listen to him"), its jarring reminders ("We had legions of FBI agents tracking us down, harassing us, trying to disrupt the work we were doing") its wisfulness  ("I think he would have been quite content to be pastor of the Riverside Church, maybe teach at a university or a seminary") and, in this passage, its disturbing echoes for today:

Dr. King never understood why J. Edgar Hoover couldn't comprehend what he was doing. If you read Hoover's FBI reports on the March on Washington speech, you realize that he never saw Dr. King's vision of a New America. He saw a powerful, radical political voice trying to destroy the nation.

I didn't know then, but I now think that there lies the indirect responsibility for his assassination. I don't know if it can ever be pinned down, but there are so many client groups that did dirty jobs around and for official people. I think now that Dr. King's assassination was directly related to the fear that officialdom had of his bringing large numbers of poor people to the nation's capital, setting up tents, demanding some response from them.

Andrew Young: Remembering Dr. King