A Pacific but Impatient Man

Thursday, April 3, 2008; 1:15 PM

In the week following the killing of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, The Post editorialized frequently on him, his legacy and the response to his death. It began simply lamenting the man and his cause. After a few days the subject turned to the violence in the streets, which The Post struggled to understand, and then to the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which The Post saw as an important milestone not just for King's legacy but for racial progress in America.

Below are excerpts from those editorials.

A Cruel and Wanton Act

... Those who are responsible for this vile deed have killed an unoffending, God-fearing and innocent man of great goodwill; they have also killed something in the spirit and heart of the American people where lived the bright hope for reconciliation between the races.

That hope will be resurrected, because it cannot be utterly extinguished even by so wanton and dastardly a deed. It is possible to kill men like Martin Luther King, but the ideas for which they stand are not mortal or destructible....

Let this crime become the occasion for uniting the Negro and white community on behalf of the principles of social justice, racial equality and nonviolence. It would be the last and final and ultimate repudiation of everything for which Martin Luther King stood if it were to arouse racial hatred and excite the kind of violence that he deplored.

-- April 5, 1968

Martin Luther King Jr.

To each generation of mankind is given one or two rare spirits, touched by some divinity, who see visions and dream dreams. Committed to something outside themselves and beyond the orbit of ordinary lives, they serve their fellow-men as the movers and leaders of social change. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of these, a man whose extraordinary gifts were committed to humanity. Perhaps his tragic death was the means requisite to make real the purpose of his life....

He was a pacific man but an impatient one; and his impatience was the mark of his humanity. He burned with indignation at the indignities and humiliations and injustices that were the common lot of Negroes in the South and at the frustrations and inequalities and poverty that were their portion in the North....

The only true tribute to Martin Luther King, lover of life and lover of mankind, is a renewed dedication to his dream. He belongs now to all of us. The rich legacy he leaves can be enjoyed only as it is shared by all men alike.

-- April 6, 1968

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