Fifty years ago today, on 4 April, 1968, Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated.
I can still remember where I was and the empty, sorrowful feeling that this news provoked. A man who had passionately espoused non-violence had died violently.
Fifty years ago I was sitting in a lecture theatre at Sydney University, listening to a talk on the Vietnam War. It was around lunchtime and one of the fellows at the door started to share quietly the news he had just heard of Dr King’s death.
Many students like me were looking for leaders with vision and values like Dr King. He had acted against racial inequality, condemned the Vietnam War and promoted non-violence as a viable course of action. It was a very sad day.
At this time, young Australians were fighting and some were dying in South Vietnam. The following month I would be turning twenty. It was the law to register for ‘national service’ at that age and so leave your future to the obscene throw of a dice. As a young pacifist, I had to make some serious decisions.
Two books of Dr King which have greatly influenced me during my life are Strength To Love and The Trumpet of Conscience. These little paperbacks have travelled with me down the years and their words are still valued. A favourite quote from Strength To Love are the following lines:
‘We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers’ … and sisters.
I read last week that Sydney University unashamedly receives money from armament manufacturers. As my dear father would have exclaimed, ‘What’s the world coming to?’
In December 1969 I travelled over 900 kilometres to a little south west New South Wales town on the Murray River. This western Riverina township is intriguingly called Tooleybuc. At the time, my brother was teaching at the local school and I had come to drive him home for the Christmas holidays. I stayed in Tooleybuc for nearly a week. While there I happened to do some drawing. The charcoal portrait of Dr King was one of the results.
Leaders like Dr Martin Luther King have set the world very high standards of leadership. Like me, there are many who still remember him and continue to be inspired by his vision for humanity.
© Jim Low