Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Watching "Roads to Memphis" in the Age of Trump

I just finished watching "Roads to Memphis" about the journeys of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and James Earl Ray, from April, 1967 to April 4, 1968. The documentary then follows Ray to his eventual capture at London's Heathrow Airport on June 8, when he was attempting to flee to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), then ruled by white supremacists.
I had seen it before when it was first shown in 2010, but it still felt like a punch to the gut as the camera focused on the squalid bathroom from which Ray fired his 30.06 rifle at our greatest champion of nonviolence.
Ray was a small-time criminal who had escaped from the Missouri State Penitentiary on April 23, 1967. The documentary follows him on the lam--through the United States and Canada, and then to California and to Mexico, where he tries and fails to make pornographic movies. He returns to California, where commits himself to the presidential candidacy of Alabama governor George C. Wallace, who's running a campaign to bring back racial segregation.And somehow he gets the idea that powerful people would reward him if he killed the symbol of the civil rights movement.
We follow him to Atlanta, and finally to Memphis, where he rents a room overlooking the Lorraine Motel, where King is staying. We know the rest.
Fifty years later, the legacy of James Earl Ray is still with us, marching by torchlight in Charlottesville, murdering churchgoers in Charleston, killing a man who was armed only with a cellphone. There are just too many examples. And nearly eight years after we elected the first black president, the onetime "Party of Lincoln," nominated a man who had claimed Barack Obama had not been born in America, and whose campaign tactics resembled those of George Corley Wallace. And we elected him.
Yet there was a glint of hope toward the end of the program, when Coretta Scott King came to Memphis to head the march her late husband had planned to lead. And there is surely hope today, as we see women stand up for their rights to be free and equal citizens. We see the students of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High stand up for their right to go to school without being murdered. The Black Lives Matter movement is similarly calling for an end to the assumption that black people's lives do not mean as much as those of others.
Thousands of Americans have been spurred into activism by the rise of Donald J. Trump and his politics of division, many choosing to oppose the Party of Trump in the state legislatures. Locally, here in the very red 11th State Senate District of Indiana, Edward Liptrap, a Navy veteran and woodworker, is taking on Republican Joe Zakas, who's held the seat since 1982 and was unopposed in his last general election, in 2014. In Indiana's Second Congressional District, three strong candidates are vying to challenge Republican Jackie Walorski, who regularly praises the Trump Administration.
And perhaps it's time for former president Barack Obama to return to active politics and take on the mantle of King. James Wolcott, writing in this month's issue of Vanity Fair, suggests it in a roundabout way. And Obama has the distinct advantage of a Secret Service that should be more than a match for any budding James Earl Ray.