Spencer Kellogg | United States
In the pantheon of American activism, Dr. Martin Luther King is revered for his courageous words and devout commitment to consequential change for the disenfranchised minorities of America. A man of faith who spoke eloquently against the Vietnam War, MLK was the crest of a turning cultural tide that instituted the greatest direct change our country has ever known. Today, King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, in front of the Washington Mall, remains arguably the most iconic freedom speech in all of American history.
Five years later, on April 4, 1968, King would lay in a pool of his own blood on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Gunned down (allegedly) with a single bullet shot by a petty criminal noted for his checkered past, MLK’s death still haunts and confounds the American psyche today.
King was in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers and had given his now infamous “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” speech at the Mason Temple Church the night before his assassination. In remarks that seemed to eerily foreshadow the coming day, King declared the journey to freedom far from over:
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.
24 hours later, King was pronounced dead at St. Joseph’s Hospital. In major cities across the country, anger boiled over and riots broke out. In Memphis alone, over 40 people died in the week after King’s death and thousands more were arrested.
Militant pan-Africanist Stokely Carmichael lashed out at what he and many others saw as state-sponsored murder of a generational leader.
White America killed Dr. King last night. She made it a whole lot easier for a whole lot of black people today. There no longer needs to be intellectual discussions, black people know that they have to get guns. White America will live to cry that she killed Dr. King last night.
The only reporter on the scene was Earl Caldwell who had been following King’s speaking tour. Caldwell shared his thoughts on MLK’s final 24 hours with New York Daily:
In the weeks that followed Mr. King’s death a nation mourned in solidarity. In his native Georgia, funeral rites were read and his procession was followed by more than 100,000 people through the streets of Atlanta. In Memphis, Coretta Scott King led a group of 40,000 silent mourners to honor King.
On April 9, 1968, Martin Luther King was laid to rest. A crowd of 300,000 that included Vice President Hubert Humphrey attended and the New York Times called King’s passing a “national tragedy.”
50 years after King’s death, questions still linger regarding the true perpetrator(s). Although James Earl Ray initially confessed to the shooting, he recanted three days later and many, including some of the King family, believe other forces were afoot in the assassination.
Before his death, King was planning a multiracial camp out on the National Mall to protest the Vietnam War. His growing stature as a civil rights & anti-war activist was gaining support across a nation tired of watching its sons die in the jungles of South-East Asia. King planned to demand Congress immediately withdrawal from the war and use the saved money to aid the poor and disenfranchised at home in the United States. The legacy of Dr. King lies in the selflessness of his mission.
When doctors performed an autopsy on MLK, they found a body worn down by years of relentless activism. Although King was only 39, the autopsy revealed that he had the heart of a 60-year-old.
Today, we remember Martin Luther King as a symbol of peace and freedom. He was a professional dissident who used the words of our constitution as ammunition in a war against the unrighteous and unconstitutional injustices of the American government.
In the history of great American men, King ranks as one of our nation’s finest. His beautiful oration and steadfast resolve brought a divided country together and rewrote the status quo forever. He drove a path where there was none before and in doing so opened the door for entire future generations of Americans to come.
Image Sources Wikimedia