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Tavis Smiley Examines Martin Luther King Jr.’s Last Year

Tavis Smiley 2014

This segment will be rebroadcast on Monday, January 18, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It was originally aired on February 5, 2015. You can also listen live.

There’s a disconnect between Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations today, and attitudes toward the man before he was killed in 1968, author Tavis Smiley says.

When King was assassinated, many had abandoned him, Smiley said in his latest book, “Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year.” The book examines assaults on King’s character, ideology and political tactics, and his lasting legacy.

The last year of his life was King’s most dynamic, Smiley told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh earlier this week.

“If you think you know Dr. King because you are familiar with ‘I Have a Dream,’ the speech he gave in 1963, but you don’t know how he had to navigate, shall we say, the last mile of the way — the last year of his life — if you don’t know that part of Dr. King’s life, then you really don’t know Dr. King.”

On April 4, 1967, King delivered his most controversial speech, “Beyond Vietnam.” In it, King criticized the Vietnam War and said the United States was the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

“That didn’t sit well with the White House. It didn’t sit well with the media. It didn’t sit well with white America. And for different reasons, it didn’t even sit well with black America,” Smiley said. “The last year of his life is a harrowing ordeal of catching hell and hate literally every day of his life until they killed him.”

King was assassinated exactly one year later.

Throughout his life, King abhorred violence, Smiley said, calling it immoral and impractical. “I think that was true then and it’s true now, even in Ferguson, Missouri. Violence is both immoral and impractical.” But Smiley also said “predatory government” creates an explosive environment. “What we saw in Ferguson for too long was predatory government. It doesn’t take much for a powder keg to be set afire.”

Smiley, who is also the host of “The Tavis Smiley Show from PRI” and “Tavis Smiley on PBS,” will discuss his book Saturday in St. Louis.

Related Event

"Death of a King" book signing

  • When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015
  • Where: Main Reading Room at the St. Louis County Library Headquarters, 1640 S. Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis
  • More information

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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