Assassination of Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a pastor and activist for civil rights for blacks in the South. He founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference which organized many protests and parades in support of this cause throughout the 1950's and 1960's. In early April 1968, he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. His murder sparked anger across the country and helped pave the way for an equal housing bill to be passed in Congress.
Rev. Martin Luther King favored non-violent protests and sit-ins over violence. Many young Black-Americans were not satisfied with his methods. They wanted to follow the ideas of violence put forth by Malcolm X who had little regard for King's tactics. As a result, King tried to get wider exposure across the country and tried to gain rights for Blacks and focus on the problems of poverty and employment for both poor Americans and Black-Americans.
In the spring of 1968, King and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference went to Memphis, Tennessee, to give their support to a strike by sanitation workers. The workers wanted equal pay and fairer work conditions. On April 3, Rev. King gave a speech at a church in Memphis. In it, he said, '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. And 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.' The next day, Rev. King was standing on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. A shot was fired and he was hit in the neck. When he arrived at the hospital, he was dead. Martin Luther King was 39 years old.
People filled with anger burned and looted in over 100 cities in the country. President Lyndon Johnson asked people to not continue the violence which caused King's death. He asked Congress to act quickly on the legislation they were discussing in Congress. On April 11, one week after king's death, the fair housing act was passed, also called the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
On June 8, a suspect, James Earl Ray, was captured in London at Heathrow Airport. He had been seen leaving the motel in Memphis carrying something wrapped in a bundle. In a bathroom in the motel, police found a telescope and a pair of binoculars. His fingerprints were also on the gun. He was arrested and pled guilty. No trial was held. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison.
Later, Ray claimed he was not guilty and was a victim of a conspiracy. Several investigations were held by the government, but no other persons were found to be involved. Members of Martin Luther King's family wanted more work to be done on this case. His wife, Coretta Scott King, claimed that without the process of a trial, much more information was not found relating to the crime, especially regarding Ray's guilt or innocence.
It appeared that King's death created a wider distance between blacks and whites. Activist young Black men saw that it proved that non-violent means did not work and caused the assassination of King. They became more radical and extreme and started to move toward the formation of the Black Power movement and the Black Panther Party in the late 1960's and early 1970's.
Martin Luther King remained the voice and champion of civil rights in the 1950's and 1960's. After his death, a campaign was begun to create a holiday in his honor. There was a lot of criticism, but eventually, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill in 1983. A memorial to Dr. King is planned for the mall in Washington, D. C.
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