This week's feature on Washington State Supreme Court Justice Richard B. Sanders quoted briefly from a column he wrote as a young man for the University of Washington Daily. Below is the source document, which was originally published in the Daily on April 10, 1968. Part of it has been scanned, and the rest of it was transcribed (original bolds included) by Stranger intern Ernie Piper.
As I write this column, the killer of Dr. King has not yet been brought to justice. The papers say that he was a sandy-haired white man. I think they’re wrong. It looks like suicide to me.
“He that sows the wind,” the Bible says, “shall reap the whirlwind.” Dr. King sowed that wind every time he disobeyed a law and said he was right in doing it. Sure, he spent some time in jail, but the moral victory was always his. He set himself above the law and encouraged others to do the same. They did.
While Dr. King received the Nobel Prize for Peace, his demonstrations were sometimes less than peaceful. King’s last demonstration was in Memphis. It started peacefully enough but then Dr. King “lost control.” King sped safely out of the area in the back seat of a car. Others were not so lucky.
A sixteen-year-old boy died and scores were injured. In spite of all this King threatened to disobey a court order against marching in the tension-ridden Memphis. He never had the chance. The same legal structure which King had so attacked could not save him from the assassin’s bullet.
But King is not without mourners. I mourn him as a man struck down by violence—as I mourn the boy cut down in the aftermath of King’s march—or as I would have mourned the possible innocent victims of the proposed illegal march. Unfortunately, I fear that my concern for these “little people” is not shared by those of power and influence.
Not since John F. Kennedy’s assassination have the doors of this university swung shut. And well they should not.
The University is a public institution and is responsible to all the public, not just a fraction. To use the University as a partisan tool is not only an affront to its function as a public institution but strikes at the foundation of the independence and freedom of the academic community.
By dismissing class in honor of Dr. King, President Odegaard has shown himself to be unworthy of wearing the mantle of a public official and academian. Unless Dr. Odegaard is prepared to dismiss class for the passing of every great man or for every man that dies from violence, how can he justify honoring one and not the other?
General Douglas McArthur passed on without a whimper from Dr. Odegaard. Brave men have died in Vietnam and elsewhere—college was not dismissed to honor them. Innocent men have died in urban riots—where was Dr. Odegaard then?
What it all comes down to is simply this: whether or not classes will be held on a given day depends on an arbitrary judgment made by the president of this university.
All this does not mean Dr. King should not be mourned—but mourning makes little sense when done on cue. Many students found a way to express themselves by gathering before the HUB last Friday. I went to class the day after General McArthur died with a heavy heart, but I had no right to ask others to join me.
It might be argued that the death of King was somehow “different.” While King espoused non-violence, it was thought that riots would surely follow his death. The argument goes further—only by nationwide tribute to Dr. King could riots be averted. There was and they weren’t.
If non-violence was Dr. King’s trade, why would one of his followers take the occasion of his death to be violent? The answer is simple: he would not. All the tribute in the world for Dr. King could not affect those who had little use for him to begin with. Roy Wilkins, executive director of the NAACP, said he had “no sympathy whatsoever” for Negroes using Dr. King’s death as “an opportunity to steal things.”
In a way, to premise action on fear of riots is a resounding rebuke to the announced method of non-violence which King had set for himself. To say that the riots resulted from his death is the greatest dishonor one could heap upon him. Alas, that appears to be the line taken by the media and others.
By the same token, it is hardly a compliment to Dr. King to allow the fear of violence to shape the policies of our nation or city. Prior to the passage of every civil rights bill for the last several years had been the spectre of the “long, hot summer.”
The bills were passed and violence erupted just the same. If the proposed legislation is good, it should be passed without regard to violence in the streets or the death of Dr. King. If it is bad, it should be rejected whatever the price.
To do otherwise would be to allow violence to rule instead of reason. If that is the result, Dr. King, by his own pronouncements, has died in vain.