Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, one of the most iconic social justice activists the world has ever known.
King is universally respected and admired, his image of peacefulness and resolve cemented in the aftermath of his assassination by a white supremacist. King was quickly honored with a national holiday. The activist, who was just 39-years-old when he died, also has a monument in on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. There's a street named for him in almost every major city in the country.
But King's posthumous status as a universally respected symbol for the best things this nation can represent is in sharp contrast to his life as rabble-rousing outlaw. During King's lifetime he was mercilessly targeted for abuse by American authorities at all levels of government.
Here are some of the worst incidents.
Arrested him for refusing to ride a city bus. King's first arrest for protesting came in 1956, when he was arrested for organizing a bus boycott. Yes, he went to jail for not riding a public bus. King and other black riders refused to patronize Montgomery City Lines, because of segregation and poor service for black riders. The State of Alabama said King and 89 others acted illegally in exercising their right to spend their money as they pleased, charging them under a 1921 statute that outlawed boycotts in the state. His conviction was finally overturned with the Supreme Court ruled segregated buses unconstitutional. During the boycott, his house was bombed—the perpetrators were, of course, never brought to justice.
Arrested him for trying to eat lunch. Four years later, King had moved to Atlanta where he was arrested for trying to eat lunch at the segregated Magnolia Room in Rich’s Department Store in Atlanta. John F. Kennedy, who was then running for president, made the incident go away—which didn't solve the segregation issue, but merely kicked the can down the road for a few years.
Arrested him for praying. In 1962, the deeply religious and totally peaceful King was arrested for standing inside city hall in Albany, Georgia and praying. Yes, conservatives who claim this is a "Christian nation" arrested a man for praying.
Imprisoned him for holding peaceful protests in deeply segregated Alabama. In 1963, King held a series of non-violent marches, sit-ins and protests in Birmingham, where blacks were totally disenfranchised. An Alabama judge issued an unconstitutional injunction against "parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing." King defied this and was jailed—while in jail he started writing a letter in the margins of a newspaper, which became his famous "Letter From Birmingham Jail." A
[caption id="attachment_1248932" align="alignnone" width="265"] The letter a top FBI official sent to KIng[/caption]
The FBI sent King a letter urging him to kill himself. The uncensored letter to the "filthy, fraudulent, abnormal" civil rights leader only came to light recently, through a historian's research into King. The letter was written by former assistant director of the FBI William Sullivan. "King, like all frauds your end is approaching," the letter says.
U.S. intelligence spied on him relentlessly for years. Fifty years after his death, we still don't know the full extent of the spying done on King, but we do know that he was targeted with moles, wiretaps, room bugs and more. All because he was leading a non-violent movement to disrupt Southern segregation.