Just as the Civil Rights Movement was beginning to reach new heights, one of its most prominent leaders and vocal proponents was gunned down in a heinous assassination. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was slain by a gunshot as he stood outside a Memphis hotel on April 4, 1968, at 6:01 p.m. Central time. The details around the shooting of King have been swirled in controversy, although an arrest was made in the case nearly a year later.
Similar to the conspiracy theories surrounding the John F. Kennedy assassination and Lee Harvey Oswald, some speculated that King’s convicted killer, James Earl Ray, was not the true perpetrator. Conflicting reports from ballistic evidence to witness accounts clashed, even prompting Rev. Jesse Jackson to speak on the murky details again in 2004; Jackson was present with King during the time of his passing.
In an interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, Rev. Jackson said:
“But I will never believe that James Earl Ray had the motive, the money and the mobility to have done it himself. Our government was very involved in setting the stage for, and I think the escape route, for James Earl Ray.”
Dr. King seemingly foretold his death after giving his last speech, often referred to as the “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” address. Near the end, King speaks of an untimely death while still in Memphis on April 3 due to a bomb threat to his outgoing plane. In the speech, he urges revelers to continue their fight against injustices. Using his effective voice, King was defiant and fearless in the face of death.
“And 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. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”
Dr. King’s legacy was cemented long before that fateful day. Just 39 years old, he had become the voice of the oppressed and disenfranchised. He was beloved and hated all at once, yet it never stopped him from his tireless bent to rally. King was an active supporter of union workers and other unfairly treated employees. Although fellow activist James L. Farmer Jr. called for peaceful protests in the wake of his passing, violent riots broke out in nearly 110 cities with Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington being affected the most. The protests nearly drove the cities to ruin and it wasn’t until the 1990s that Washington’s Shaw district saw recovery.
If King were alive today, he would have turned 83 this past January. What would King say of a world where a Black man is president but racism still plays a large part of what divides America and the rest of the free world? What would King’s opinion be of the Trayvon Martin case? How would someone who nearly unified the world look at our country today? It is nearly shameful that the very things King died speaking out against still play a major part in our lives in 2012. Everyone should look at what’s ahead of them and ask hard questions as to why the world seems to be running in place.
Rest In Peace, Dr. King.