Dr. Martin Luther King was a civil rights activist during the civil right movement in the 1960s. In March 1968, he attended an African American sanitation workers strike which had been staged to protest unequal wages and working conditions. At that time, Memphis paid African American workers significantly lower wages than their white counterparts (Ching, 14). Unlike their white counterparts, they also declined to pay African Americans if they stayed home during bad weather where most blacks were compelled to work even in driving rain and snow storms. This among other things fuelled a strike at a time when the civil rights movement was heated up. This particular strike at Memphis and the strike are what led to his death later in a hotel room where he was staying (Pepper, 12).
The last speech
Martin Luther King wanted votes as he was preparing to clinch the democrat ticket and the civil movement at that time was his basis. Luther returned to Memphis on April 3rd to address a gathering at the Mason Temple. His flight to Memphis had been delayed because of a bomb threat against his plane. He delivered what was to be the last speech of his life with a thunderstorm raging outside, the speech is now dubbed “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” where he made reference to the bomb threat while winding up. This is what he said “And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We have got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I have been to the mountaintop, and I don’t mind like anybody else I would like to live a long life (Pepper, 23). 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. And I’ve looked over. 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. And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything (Pepper, 20). I do not fear any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” This went down as a historical speech and a ray of hope for the African-Americans who were fighting for equal treatments with the whites.
Martin Luther was booked in room 306 at the Lorrain Motel in Memphis owned by Walter Bailey. Luther’s close friend Reverend Ralph David was his roommate during the assassination day. On Thursday, April 4th 1968, while standing on the motel’s second-floor balcony, Luther was struck by a single 30 bullet (Ching, 27). The bullet penetrated through his right cheek, breaking his jaw, neck and several vertebrae. The jugular vein and major arteries were damaged in the process before lodging in his shoulder. Ralph heard the shot from inside the motel room and ran to the balcony where Luther was lying on the floor unconscious.
The unconscious Luther was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where doctors opened his chest and performed manual heart massage and other life-saving procedures to no avail. He was pronounced dead at 7:05 pm causing a widespread panic around the country as he was the African Americans Point man. A witness had seen James Earl Ray the man who assassinated Martin Luther King fleeing from a rooming house across the street from the Lorraine Motel. The witness had rent a room shortly after the assassination. A package that had been dumped close to the site and included a rifle and binoculars had a forensic that showed Ray’s fingerprints on them. The rifle had been purchased by Ray under a fake name six days before. A worldwide manhunt was sanctioned that led to the arrest of Ray at London Heathrow Airport two months later on his way to Angola in southern Africa on a was on a false Canadian passport.
He was quickly extradited to Tennessee and charged with Martin Luther’s murder. He confessed to have assassinated Luther but sought to withdraw his plea until his death in 1998. He pleads guilty to avoid a death penalty and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. In his plea, Ray claimed to have not personally killed Luther hinting at a possible conspiracy. He failed and spent the rest of his life in jail until his death on 23rd April 1998.
The Aftermath of Martin Luther’s Assassination
Almost immediately, Robert F Kennedy’s then a senator and a brother to the late JF Kennedy gave a speech on Martin Luther’s assassination to the shock of everybody. He said that his brother had also been killed by a white man and called upon African Americans calm as Luther would not have wanted violence (Walker, 38). He went on to call upon the unity of blacks and whites in America to end the killing insanity and he was later assassinated.
The speech was meant to prevent riots but failed as even attempts by Luther’s friend to call for peaceful demonstrations bared no fruits. However, others like Stokely Carmichael advocated for more forceful action chanting that white America had killed their king and had to pay for what she had done. After word had spread that Luther is dead, crowds started gathering in Memphis and acted polite at first although the ran out of control and looted and destroyed property around where they overpowered even the federal police. Carmichael led angry protestors the following day that clashed with police destroying property worth millions. They became so powerful that they overwhelmed reinforced federal police and were at one point rioting reached within two blocks of the White House before rioters retreated. The occupation of Washington was the largest of any American city since the Civil War. And by April 8th twelve had been killed 1,097 injured, and over 6,100 arrested. Damages reached a tune of $27 million. Other highly affected cities were Chicago and Baltimore
The funeral of Martin Luther king
Martin Luther’s assassination was filled with sadness and tension which was growing with time in other states. Five days after Martin Luther’s assassination, President Lyndon Johnson declared a national day of mourning for the lost civil rights leader and a crowd of over 300,000 attended his funeral that same day. The Vice President at that time Hubert Humphrey attended on behalf of president Lyndon, who had attended a meeting although there were fears that the president might be insulted over the Vietnam War and Luther’s death (Walker, 44). Luther eulogized himself as requested by his wife. His last sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church was played at the funeral. In that sermon he requests that, at his funeral no mention of his awards and honors, but that it be said that he tried to feed the hungry, clothed the naked, be right on the Vietnam war question and loved and served humanity., his good friend Mahalia Jackson sang his favorite hymn, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” at his funeral as Luther had requested.