King transcends dream, nightmare

Ampim speaks on King’s campaign shift from civil rights to human rights


George Morin / The Advocate

ABOVE: History professor Manu Ampim speaks to students during his presentation on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Planetarium on Feb. 17.

By Lorenzo Morotti, Editor-in-chief

Students filled the Planetarium in the Physical Sciences Building on Feb. 17 to listen to a Contra Costa College history professor’s presentation that aimed to clarify Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s often-distorted legacy.

“(Dr. King’s struggle) became an international struggle,” history professor Manu Ampim said.

“(King) was linking up with people around the world and somebody was very nervous about that,” he said. “King was seen as the number one threat to national security and was constantly called a terrorist by FBI.”

Ampim sought to expose the misconception that King was only an activist for African-American civil rights, with the truth being that King adjusted his scope to focus on international human rights and swung his support to the Black Power Movement in 1966.

Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms to which all human beings are entitled, such as the rights of life, liberty, freedom of thought and expression and equality before the law.

Ampim said the second period of King’s life work, starting in 1966 and spanning until his death in 1968, should be the focus of the King national holiday because his works during this time are what accelerated his assassination by the FBI.

“Imagine (King) being born in Atlanta, Georgia, as a small, cuddly baby (in 1929) — now that’s a cute image, right? But shift your gaze 39 years later, when he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee with a high-powered rifle that severed his spine and he died in a pool of his own blood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel,” he said. “Now that’s an uncomfortable image. But what (King) was assassinated for defines his life.”

CCC’s chapter of Alpha Gamma Sigma, the California community college scholastic honor society, organized the event at the suggestion of AGS Vice President Jennifer Osoria. AGS President Brenda Vega said the event was held in honor of African-American Heritage Month.

Osoria, a psychology major, said Ampim stressed how important it is to be critical toward information and its sources.

“(The presentation) was different. (Ampim) gave us information that you don’t get on T.V., the radio or even in class,” she said. “It was a full house and for (the AGS) that is a big accomplishment.”

It was during the two final years of King’s life, Ampim said, that he wrote his most controversial books and gave his most controversial speeches, including the book “Where do we go from here? Community or Chaos,” and his “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” speech.

Ampim said at this point in King’s life, he embraced all revolutionary movements around the world, including the North Vietnamese and the oppressed people of South Africa, and no longer embraced non-violence as a realistic means for change in the U.S.

King’s shift started in June of 1966 when James Meredith, the first student admitted to the segregated University of Mississippi, was shot and killed during the second day of his March Against Fear.

Ampim said that for the young activists in CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), this was the breaking point.

Ampim said many of these young activists had nothing and lived in slums and teeming ghettos across the country.

“Integration was no longer their primary concern. This is when the movement began dealing with the acquisition of power,” he said.

These student groups also renounced non-violence and began carrying weapons during marches and rallies for protection against white police officers.

Ampim said during this “180 degree change” all white activists within SNCC and CORE who had fought alongside them for civil rights were kicked out. King did not denounce any of these organizations, but did not give up hope for a non-violent means to end racism.

King’s attempt to launch the Poor People’s Campaign in early 1968, prior to his assassination on April 4, was his final attempt to reform the political and social structure of the U.S. by shutting down the government using non-violence.

“(King said) there will be no business as usual,” Ampim said. “(King) intended to block all vehicular traffic until the rights for the poor were granted and in his letters and speeches envisioned a dramatic televised walk to (Washington) D.C.” 

He said King and his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, set up a system to block all phone calls and shut down selected cities across the country.

“(The Poor People’s Campaign) was (King’s) last desperate attempt for non-violence,” he said. “(King) did not have the answer or omniscience to solve the problems.”

Ampim said King’s non-violent campaigns during the 50s and 60s were an experiment. He engaged in the experimentation but became discouraged at the method’s lack of success and was assassinated before he ever had the chance to set the Poor People’s Campaign in motion.

Former ASU senator Gabriel Gonzalez, currently a UC Berkeley history major, said he was picking up a copy of his CCC transcripts when he saw a flier for the event in the Student Services Center and decided to attend.

“I didn’t expect such a good turnout,” he said.

Health and human services department Chairperson Aminta Mickles brought her HHS-222, Multicultural Issues/Human Services, class to Ampim’s presentation.

Mickles and her 25 students nearly doubled the 30 other guests in attendance. She said events like this one need to be hosted on campus because the teachings and works of King are still relevant to students today.

“We need to start a new fire because there are so many injustices going on in the world and young people are the ones who can carry out change,” Mickles said.