I know why Dr. King was killed. I’m absolutely convinced that Dr. King wasn’t killed because he cared about sitting at integrated lunch counters. Indeed, at the time of his death he was obsessed with owning the diner. The night before he died, Dr. King gave a great speech at Mason Temple, Church of God in Christ. We often remember this speech for its ending. King talks about having gone to the “mountaintop.” Frankly, I couldn’t care less about the mountaintop. What’s important in that speech is the message of economic empowerment and a new activism- the power of economic withdrawal- that scared the hell out of America.
Having gone to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers, King reasoned that rather than pleading with the city of Memphis to treat black sanitation workers fairly, it would be much more efficient to force Coca-Cola or Wonder Bread to plead the cause of the sanitation workers at city hall. King advised his audience not to buy those products in Memphis. By doing so, those companies would be put under so much pressure that they would be willing to adopt the agenda of the black community as their own.
I’m certain that many people in the audience were doubtful that they were powerful enough to bring large corporations like Coca-Cola to their knees. Perhaps for this very reason, King brought to their attention that while they were a poor people individually, collectively they possessed more wealth than all other nations of the world, save nine. The objective, King reasoned, was to pool that wealth together. King gave practical steps. He urged his audience to withdraw their money from the white-owned banks and deposit it in black-owned institutions. King admonished the withdrawal of economic support from companies that did not support the agenda of the black community.
Both interesting and sad to me is that in the same speech, King admonished his listeners to withdraw their money from white-owned insurance companies and to switch to insurance companies owned by blacks. I was informed this week by a friend that at that time, 1968, there were seven insurance companies in Memphis that were black-owned. Today, in 2012, there are none. From here I think the rest of this blog post is fairly obvious so I won’t insult your intelligence or waste your time. Let’s just say that the agenda King put forth that night is still the right one.