Volume 1, Number 2 (2008)

Forty Years On: Marking the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee.

Joshua F.J. Inwood

Auburn University 


The last decade has seen the growth of an increasingly complex memorial landscape dedicated to Dr. King and the Civil Rights experience, particularly in the U.S. South.  This growth has been accompanied by a larger cultural embrace of Dr. King’s images by hegemonic forces in U.S. society and represents the culmination of a fifty year campaign by the federal government to neutralize King and the Civil Rights movement.  In the years since King’s death, these forces have sought to accelerate the neo-liberal transformation of U.S. society—a society which has expanded its overseas empire, and where the social inequalities King identified have in many cases deepened economic inequality—while couching their motives and actions in the rhetoric and symbols of Dr. King.  In the 40 years since King last preached among us, we have seen the ideals of hope and love he represented replaced by the cold marble of memorial landscapes.  These landscapes often place King’s life in a hagiology of American leaders without fully engaging with his messages about the threat of militarism and social inequality in U.S. society.  In the words of a social activist friend working in Atlanta, Georgia, the 40 years since King’s death has been a time to “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”