Martin Luther King: 50 years after his assassination

On 4 April 1968 Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed on a balcony in Memphis, leaving behind 4 kids and a political movement that reshaped the American history.

As the world marks the 50th anniversary of King’s murder, the milestone coincides with a resurgence of white supremacy, the shootings of unarmed black men and a parade of discouraging statistics on the lack of progress among black Americans on issues from housing to education to wealth.

50 years ago an enthusiastic crowd was so eager to hear from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., they roused him from his bed at the Lorraine Motel across town in a thunderstorm to Mason Temple Church of God in Christ in Memphis, Tenn. On the eve of his assassination, King delivered an improvised masterpiece, ‘I’ve been to the Mountaintop’. In it, the civil rights leader foresaw his own death. The speech was repeated again on Tuesday night, as his youngest child, Bernice King, addressed the audience, calling her older brother, Martin Luther King III, to join her in the pulpit.

Rather than despair, the resounding message repeated in the building Tuesday night was one of resilience, resolve, and a renewed commitment to King’s legacy and unfinished work.

The commemoration of the Mountaintop speech followed an announcement earlier in the day by civil rights leaders who are reviving an economic justice campaign first planned by King. The organizers of a new Poor People’s Campaign are planning 40 days of marches, sit-ins and other peaceful protests.

The original Poor People’s Campaign was carried out in 1968 after King’s death by other civil rights leaders. King had envisioned the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington as a way to speak out against economic injustice, as he shifted his focus from civil rights to human rights.

It is reminded that on 14 October 1964, King won the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance after a series of organized protests. In 1968, King was planning a national occupation of Washington, DC, the famous Poor People’s Campaign, when he was assassinated by James Earl Ray on 4 April in Memphis, Tennessee; riots followed in many U.S. cities. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in numerous cities and states beginning in 1971, and as a US federal holiday in 1986.

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