From a 1982 book review in which Garry Wills noted that Martin Luther King, Jr. knew he “would have to accept his own death” if he were to play a leading role in the civil rights movement:
…He did not do it all at once; he hoped to slip away from the appointment he had made. But it was soon clear to him, as to others around him, that one could not challenge the entire moral basis of a society’s racial arrangements without being jailed, beaten, and (finally) killed. Going to jail meant risking death from inmates as well as guards, and he went to jail nineteen times…
…By 1962 a northern editor was instructing his reporter, “Go where the Mahatma goes, he might get killed.” By 1968 the Federal Bureau of Investigation had followed up on fifty death threats. He was stabbed; his home was bombed; his church was bombed. His time was running out…
Wills concluded that “[King's] insistence on a moral assessment of our country’s use of its power and wealth becomes more important, not less, as time passes.”
Thirty years later, who would dispute Wills’ statement? Unfortunately, many people would, but the persistence of human folly does nothing to diminish King’s courage and vision.
Here’s Paul Krugman on those who have no interest in understanding the scope of King’s efforts:
…Mitt Romney says that we should discuss income inequality, if at all, only in “quiet rooms.” There was a time when people said the same thing about racial inequality. Luckily, however, there were people like Martin Luther King who refused to stay quiet. And we should follow their example today. For the fact is that rising inequality threatens to make America a different and worse place — and we need to reverse that trend to preserve both our values and our dreams.