Three Weeks Before His Murder MLK Said "America is Still a Racist Country."

Senator Tim Scott said "America is not a racist country." But MLK disagreed.

In a response to President Biden’s speech to Congress on April 28, Senator Tim Scott, a Black man and a Republican said, “America is not a racist country.”

Many rightly took issue with Scott’s statement, especially in the current context of ongoing anti-Black police brutality, a raft of laws restricting voting access, and the fear-mongering over academic frameworks such as Critical Race Theory (CRT).

For decades activists have pointed out that racism is not simply a problem of the past, but a persistent crisis in the present, too.

In 1968, just a few weeks before his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. traveled to Gross Pointe, Michigan and yet again pointed to the longstanding injustice of racism.

The first thing I would like to mention is that there must be a recognition on the part of everybody in this nation that America is still a racist country. Now however unpleasant that sounds, it is the truth.  And we will never solve the problem of racism until there is a recognition of the fact that racism still stands at the center of so much of our nation and we must see racism for what it is.

King would have disagreed with Senator Tim Scott saying that America is not a racist country. The civil rights activist knew firsthand how many Americans resisted any truth-telling around the racist roots of the country in which they resided.

As King arrived at Grosse Pointe High School where the speech was to take place, the white police chief literally sat on King’s lap in the car in order to protect him from angry crowds that had gathered outside.

Once King began speaking, he was interrupted several times by hecklers. Although the mainly white and suburban crowd of around 2,000 people were supportive of King, a small right-wing group called “Breakthrough” staged a concerted effort to disrupt the speech.

One person stood up and called him a “traitor.” Referring to the upcoming question and answer period, King said from the podium, “if you think I'm a traitor, then you'll have an opportunity to ask me about my traitorness and we will give you that opportunity.”

When the interruptions continued, King also explained with a bit of levity,

“Now let me relieve you a bit. I've been in the struggle a long time now, (applause) and I've conditioned myself to some things that are much more painful than discourteous people not allowing you to speak, so if they feel that they can discourage me, they'll be up here all night.”

Much more could be said about whether America is a racist country. Data as well as experience demonstrate that the “color line”, to use Dubois’ language, is not only the problem of the twentieth century, but of the twenty-first century as well.

The reality that America is still a racist country is one that Martin Luther King Jr. intimately knew, and it is a reality that cost him his life. More lives will be lost as long as people, including Black people, ignore the racism that continues to rob this nation of its potential.