April 4 marked the 50th anniversary of the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
King, the leader of the non-violent movement for civil rights in the 1960s, had come to Memphis the day before to help sanitation workers rally for better wages and safer working conditions.
That evening, as King stood on a balcony at the Loraine Motel, he was mortally wounded by a bullet from a rifle believed to have been fired from a rooming house across the street from the Loraine. King was hit in the jaw and knocked unconscious. He was pronounced dead at the St. Joseph’s Hospital about an hour later, having never regained consciousness.
Here is how the world learned and reacted to the news of King’s assassination:
What King said night before he was murdered:
King came to Memphis in early April 1968 to help striking sanitation workers in their protests for better wages and safer working conditions. On April 3, King addressed a gathering at the Mason Temple in Memphis. He said he did not feel well and did not want to go, but went anyway on the urging of his aides. King stood before the crowd and spoke extemporaneously for more than 40 minutes. The speech turned out to be prophetic as King told those gathered he had “been to the mountaintop,” but that he may not “get there with you.” Here is that speech:
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From the New York Times:
Martin Luther King Jr.: Leader of Millions in Nonviolent Drive for Racial Justice
“To many million of American Negroes, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the prophet of their crusade for racial equality. He was their voice of anguish, their eloquence in humiliation, their battle cry for human dignity. He forged for them the weapons of nonviolence that withstood and blunted the ferocity of segregation.
“And to many millions of American whites, he was one of a group of Negroes who preserved the bridge of communication between races when racial warfare threatened the United States in the nineteen-sixties, as Negroes sought the full emancipation pledged to them a century before by Abraham Lincoln.
“To the world, Dr. King had the stature that accrued to a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, a man with access to the White House and the Vatican; a veritable hero in the African states that were just emerging from colonialism.” (Click here to continue reading)
Riots follow killing of Martin Luther King Jr.
“Before darkness fell on this day, a Friday, the plumes of smoke from the West Side already were visible to Loop office workers. In Chicago and across the nation, rioting was breaking out in response to the news that Martin Luther King Jr. had been gunned down in Memphis the day before.” (Click here to continue reading)
Robert Kennedy breaking the news
On April 4, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was in Indianapolis, campaigning for the Democratic nomination for president when he was told of the assassination of King. His staff tried to dissuade Kennedy from going to speak to the crowd in a predominately black neighborhood in the city, as news of riots were beginning to spread.
Kennedy insisted on going to the corner of 17th Avenue and Broadway and talking with the people gathered there. Kennedy began by breaking the news that King had been shot and killed, then called for calm and reminded those gathered that he, too, had had a family member killed and that his family member (his brother, John F. Kennedy) was killed by a white man.
Here is Kennedy’s speech that night.
President Lyndon Johnson’s response
Johnson was notified of King’s assassination as he readied for a trip to Hawaii. He postponed the trip, called King’s wife to offer condolences and declared April 7 a national day of mourning.
The front pages
To see how the world reacted to King’s assassination, click here.
Walter Cronkite on CBS
WBS radio tribute
Coretta Scott King two days after her husband’s assassination