In ““Now That He Is Safely Dead”: The Construction of the Myth of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)” Professor Massimo Rubboli provocatively examines the hagiography that began in the immediate aftermath of Dr. King’s assassination:
The widespread celebrations on the 40th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 2008, provide a timely opportunity for reflections on the process through which King has been constructed as a mythical figure in the US, while having been purged of his most radical features at the same time. The process used in fact is not new. With the ultimate undercurrent to blunt the sharpest points of a protest movement, a common pattern has been established: first, eliminating its leader; then, turning him into a martyr; and, finally, transforming him into a myth. This article surveys representations of Martin Luther King, Jr., over the last 40 years and argues that the same pattern was followed in his canonization, closely tied to retrospective reflections on the civil rights movement itself. The exact circumstances of his death – like those of the killing of John F. Kennedy and of his brother Robert F. (killed two months after King, on June 5, 1968) – are still controversial (the official account of the assassination has been challenged, among others, by Pepper 2008). What is certain is that right after April 4, 1968, when King was assassinated on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, a process of canonization started to transform him into the martyr-symbol of the war against racism and racial discrimination, constructing a mythical figure, purged of the features more in conflict with the image of the incorruptible American hero.
Follow link for more from Americana Vol V, No 1, Spring 2009.