Commitment to King's unfinished work remains 50 years later - InfoNews

Current Conditions

Mostly Cloudy

Commitment to King's unfinished work remains 50 years later

FILE - In this Tuesday, Jan. 25, 1983 file photo, State Rep. Tyrone Brooks speaks in Atlanta. Brooks was 22 years old and 400 miles away, seeking clues to an unsolved lynching as old as he was, when he got the news that Martin Luther King Jr. was dead. Stunned, Brooks said he dropped everything and drove to Memphis, crying all the way. (AP Photo/Joe Holloway Jr., File)
April 01, 2018 - 6:49 AM

ATLANTA - Tyrone Brooks was 22 years old and 400 miles away, seeking clues to an unsolved lynching as old as he was, when he got the news that Martin Luther King Jr. was dead. Stunned, Brooks dropped everything and drove to Memphis, crying all the way.

The next day, King's closest confidant, the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, told Brooks: "Tighten your belts and dry your tears. If you love Martin Luther King as you say you do, help me carry on his work."

The members of King's tight circle barely paused to grieve. They plunged into carrying out his unfinished work, and turned it into a lifelong vow.

Some went into politics. A few continued to serve the organization that King led or started their own. Others returned to the pulpit, preaching a gospel of racial liberation.

And the King legacy continues, evident today in a new generation protesting many of the same issues King confronted : inequality, police brutality and poverty.

"Legally, segregation was outlawed, but we still face a danger in public space," said Bree Newsome, who climbed a pole to snatch down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina statehouse in 2015. "In that way, I absolutely feel that what we're doing is continuing in the legacy of Martin Luther King."

Even so, the problems persist. A poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found only 1 in 10 African Americans think the United States has achieved all or most of the goals of the civil rights movement. Among whites, only 35 per cent believe those goals have been at least mostly achieved.

"A lot of people across the country see injustice or inequality as unfortunate, almost like a car accident, instead of unjust and something they have to do something about," said Rashad Robinson, 39, who uses King's example as a guide in his work as executive director of the online civil rights group Color of Change. "People talk a lot about empathy, but King was really building power. Power is the ability to change the rules, and Dr. King was all about changing the rules."

Jesse Jackson parlayed his service at King's side into a blend of grassroots activism and elective politics.

Through aggressive voter registration, Jackson assembled a base of support patterned after the "beloved community" King envisioned for America and ran for president twice in the 1980s. His candidacy is widely considered to have laid the foundation for the election of the first black president, Barack Obama, in 2008.

"We were determined to keep moving, in his name," Jackson said.

After the assassination, Brooks helped lead the Mule Train — a caravan of mule-drawn wagons that symbolized poverty — out of the Deep South to Washington for the Poor People's Campaign, King's last big protest, in the summer of 1968. He followed up his career in King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference with nearly four decades as a Georgia legislator, pushing legislation that would eventually remove the Confederate symbol from the state flag.

Now 72, Brooks does advocacy work around the same 1946 quadruple lynching he was pursuing 50 years ago. No one was ever arrested or charged in the case.

"Some of us are so committed to making sure the dream never dies, we committed to this struggle for life," Brooks said.

Though only 13 when King was killed, the Rev. Al Sharpton was already an SCLC activist. He said his dramatic approach, aimed at seizing media attention and the national spotlight, came from King's playbook.

"King knew how to deal with movement theatre and we had to recreate that," said Sharpton, 63. "When people say, 'All they want is publicity,' that's exactly what we want. That's what King wanted. Because if you can't make something a public issue, no one will seek to solve it."

That strategy has largely been the focus of the Rev. William Barber, who began the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina in 2013 to push back against rollbacks on education, health care and voting.

"It's time to change the moral narrative," said Barber, 54, who will lead a revival of the Poor People's Campaign this spring to attract new attention to poverty.

Brittany Packnett, 33, who became an activist after Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, said her activism is fueled by King's willingness to "sacrifice himself for a freedom he may never see."

"If Dr. King hadn't done this for us, we wouldn't be here," Packnett said. "As persistent as injustice is, so will we be."


Whack is The Associated Press' national writer on race and ethnicity. Follow her work on Twitter at


For AP's complete coverage marking 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, go to

News from © The Associated Press, 2018
The Associated Press

  • Popular penticton News
  • Comments
  • Woman found dead in car in Kamloops
    KAMLOOPS - A woman has been found dead and two men have been taken to hospital after they were found in a car playing loud music early this morning. Kamloops RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Jodi Shel
  • Kamloops RCMP seek missing man
    KAMLOOPS - Police in Kamloops are asking for the public's help to find a missing man. James Harris, 53, has not been in contact with family or friends since late March and he was last se
  • Searching for a stranger: Dozens of people brought in by bus to look for Ryan Shtuka
    SUN PEAKS - It's been nearly 10 weeks since Ryan Shtuka went missing in the Sun Peaks area after leaving a house party on Burfield Drive, but volunteers are still showing up in droves hoping t
  • Kelowna RCMP investigating brutal downtown assault
    KELOWNA - A Kelowna man who witnessed a brutal assault by a group of young men on a lone male in downtown Kelowna on the weekend says he feels like he came close to seeing a murder in progress.
  • Broncos families surprised obituaries are on website selling services
    Some families of Humboldt Broncos bus crash victims are surprised to learn that error-riddled obituaries of their loved ones have been posted on a website that's selling flowers, as well as on
View Site in: Desktop | Mobile