Martin Luther King Jr Fought For Native Americans Too
A year ago this week I was fortunate to visit Memphis, TN. I was there with St. Jude Children's Hospital and the majority of our schedule was spent at seminars, hospital tours, and other St. Jude related activities. Some of our late afternoons and evenings were free during our short trip, giving us time to explore more of Memphis and it's rich history.
One of the most memorable and moving experiences of my trip was visiting the Lorraine Hotel, the site where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, just blocks from the Blues clubs and honky-tonks on Beale Street. On my visit (at dusk, right around the time of day King was shot) it was eerily quiet. We had planned to go back to the museum but found out tours were closed because Vice President Mike Pence was flying in for a speech the next day.
My boss and I were almost unable/unwilling to talk as we quietly walked around the hotel grounds, overcome by the somberness of the now-museum. Standing just a few feet from the exact spot of the assassination, Martin Luther King Jr.'s story suddenly becomes a lot more real. It's one thing to read books and stories about our nations not-always-awesome history. It's completely different to be there and to see things firsthand. It was eye-opening and really helped expand my perspective on a tumultuous time in American history.
I suspect for many Montanans, MLK Jr. Day is nothing more than a day off or a mild inconvenience when you remember that banks and the post office are closed. As the nation celebrates the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, I encourage you to learn more about King. History.com offers a place to start, with this fairly quick introduction to his life story.
Montana seems far from the race riots of the 1960s south, both physically and in our minds. "Out of mind, out of sight" is no excuse for ignorance. The Treasure State is unfortunately not immune from racism and discrimination, including against our indigenous people. You may not know this, but King was a big advocate for Native American rights, penning in his famous 1963 jailcell letter,
Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. … We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its Indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade.
The non-profit Partnership With Native Americans noted that Martin Luther King Jr., "specifically advocated for the desegregation of Native Americans and inspired much of the modern-day advocacy for Native rights, including water rights and tribal sovereignty."
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