Opinion: It's Racist to Memorialize Martin Luther King Jr.'s Assassin

Walter Rhein

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A few days ago, I wrote an article on why it was disrespectful to celebrate Robert E. Lee on Martin Luther King Jr. day. King was a civil rights activist who worked for equality, justice, and freedom. Lee was a traitor who fought to protect the power of tyrants. Celebrating both of those historical figures on the same day is an effort to erase history.

Predictably, somebody chimed in to declare that he celebrated James Earl Ray rather than Martin Luther King Jr. James Earl Ray, of course, is the individual who murdered King. This is a person who felt entitled to make this declaration on a public forum.

A few years ago, prominent Republican politicians were going around saying, “All lives matter.” If that is the case, where is the outrage when people celebrate a murderer?

Unfortunately, this is the kind of behavior you often see on the part of the political right. To this day, there are places in the United States that celebrate John Wilkes Booth. In a nation that claims patriotism is important, how do we tolerate individuals who celebrate the assassination of Abraham Lincoln?

In a nation that claims to believe in the word of Jesus Christ, how do we tolerate people who celebrate any assassins at all?

Political violence has become far too normalized in our country. The January 6th coup attempt is yet another case where violent, cowardly terrorists tried to use the threat of force to undermine the democratic process. They tried to burn America to the ground.

Of course, they failed.

Only a few days ago, yet another election-denying Republican candidate allegedly tried to hire assassins to murder his Democratic opponents.

Members of the political right like to talk a good game about how they care about our country. However, when push comes to shove, they seem willing to indulge in the most abhorrent tactics imaginable.

Have you ever noticed that assassins always seem to go after decent human beings who work for the betterment of all humankind? When you read the speeches of Martin Luther King, it’s obvious that many of the injustices he fought against are still prevalent today.

Lincoln, too, was assassinated for daring to stand up against tyranny and protect the freedoms of all the men and women in our country.

It would be fair to argue that Jesus Christ himself falls into this group. Unfortunately, modern American Christians seem to overlook the fact that Christ was a champion of the downtrodden. As with the others, Christ was murdered for preaching the importance of kindness.

Modern America is a country that is more interested in protecting guns than protecting the lives of children. Many Americans like to put stickers of assault rifles on their vehicles as a form of warning.

Many Americans take up their weapons and march on our government buildings when they don’t get their way.

These are the same people who think it’s “funny” to celebrate the life of an assassin over the life of a civil rights activist. They will even try to deny that racism is involved in their behavior.

This is the kind of attitude that confronts decent people daily. Nobody can reasonably argue that it’s anything other than racist to celebrate James Earl Ray. Yet, that’s exactly what some people will do.

Other people will remain silent as loathsome individuals make comments like this. The result is that violence and terrorism become normalized. To this day, few of the ringleaders of the January 6th coup have been held accountable.

I would prefer to live in a society where all the citizens celebrated decency. I would prefer to live in a society where all the citizens fought against inequality. I would prefer to live in a society where all the citizens denounced racism. I would prefer to live in a society where assassins weren’t celebrated.

But America is not that society.

Fortunately, some of us care enough about our country, our children, and basic human decency to work to make it so.

Have some respect for human life. Don't celebrate assassins. Don't celebrate traitors. Don't celebrate racists. Instead, try to celebrate the decent people who work hard all their lives to make the world a better place for everyone.

Why is this a controversial thing to say?

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI

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