Of the most iconic figures associated with America’s racial crisis of the 1960s, few lived to see the decade’s end. Like John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Malcolm X had barely entered middle age when, on 21 February 1965, death arrived with a bullet. Memory of these assassinations, popular and scholarly, sags with the intimations of lost opportunities and wrong turns. In their last months, we note with sad irony, President Kennedy had finally grasped the moral urgency of the need for desegregation; Martin Luther King had belatedly reached out to the urban ghettos; and Robert Kennedy, launched on his own campaign for the White House, had renounced war and championed social and economic justice. How differently things might have turned out.
Such commemoration speaks of the depths of regret at the course history did take. The bitter polarities of ‘black power’ and ‘white backlash’ could perhaps have been avoided, we imagine, had these men lived