Editor's note: Paul Greenberg, former editorial page editor of the Pine Bluff Commercial and retired editorial page editor and columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for a series of editorials he wrote in 1968 on civil rights. Greenberg described the editorials during an interview once as being about the "need for understanding and the respect for the rights of others." We believe those sensibilities are worthy of review again, considering the racial protests and other turmoil in the country today. For that reason, we are republishing each of Mr. Greenberg's award-winning editorials over the course of several weeks, and we thank him for allowing us to do so.
In all, Greenberg submitted seven "exhibits" to be considered for the Pulitzer. This segment, which was submitted as "EXHIBIT 4," was titled: "The Commercial comments on the assassination of Martin Luther King, emphasizing his Southern Baptist background and hoping to show that not only Negroes have lost a leader."
The Prophet Unarmed (Friday, April 5, 1968)
He was a young Negro preacher out of Georgia who stirred the conscience of a nation and the admiration of a world.
Martin Luther King was only 39 when he stood on that balcony yesterday in Memphis, but it seemed as though he had always been the symbol of his cause. It had started in Montgomery one day in 1955, when the new preacher at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church told his people to walk if they had to, but not to ride any more segregated buses. And so they did. For 381 days, until there were no more segregated buses in Montgomery.
From Montgomery he went on to other cities and other grievances but his cause remained the same -- human dignity -- and his watchword nonviolence.
Martin Luther King sensed that his strongest ally was his adversary's conscience and, Baptist preacher that he was, he allowed the American conscience no respite.
HIS WAS a moral, not a political style. Whether calming a crowd in a slum or accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Stockholm, he turned his platform into a pulpit.
He had a serene courage in the face of danger. "It really doesn't matter what happens now," he said just before his death. "I've been to the mountain top."
The prophet unarmed, he never held a significant public office or ran for one. He had no army and deplored the need for one. Yet he expressed the hope and patience and vision of millions.
NEW, MORE militant leaders emerged, pressing Dr. King to say that the time for violence had come. He refused, despite frustration after frustration. Once he defied a federal judge and for a moment sunk to the level of his adversaries who put themselves above the law. For that dereliction, he submitted to jail.
But he would not submit to the clamor for violence. And now, at the age of 39, he is dead. The violence he preached against, the violence he could still have done so much to prevent, has stalked and killed him. Whatever the assassin's name, it shall be remembered only because of Martin Luther King's.
The enormity of the crime calls out for vengeance, for blood, for all the things that Martin Luther King preached against. Rioting broke out shortly after the news of his assassination. There are those who say that the hope for a peaceful solution of America's racial problems died with Martin Luther King last night.
NO, THAT MUST not be, that will not be. Leontyne Price said it: "What Dr. King stood for can never be killed with a bullet."
His ideas were more than personal, they were Christian. He expressed them; he did not create them. They sprang from a people inured to hardship and strong in faith. They will last as long as there are churchhouses and gospel music and preachers. He will forever be the peculiar possession of the American Negro, but all men of good will shall claim him.
Martin Luther King stirred a nation's conscience. His hope and vision shall stir it yet.