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April 4 marked 46 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

It was 46 years ago, on April 4, 1968, that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — American activist, clergyman, Nobel Peace Prize winner and a leader in the American civil rights movement — was gunned down at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. He was 39.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964 (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, NYWT&S Collection photo)
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964 (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, NYWT&S Collection photo)

James Earl Ray was arrested and charged with murder, and after conviction was sentenced to 99 years in a Tennessee pison.

Although his guilt is not believed by all — not even the King family — Ray pleaded guilty, however he tried retracting his guilty plea many times so he could be tried by a jury. His attempts for a jury trial were unsuccessful and Ray died in prison on April 23, 1998, at the age of 70.

Although the assassination ended King’s life, it did not end his legacy — one that became widely known for his work in the advancement of civil rights using non-violent acts, civil disobedience and strong Christian beliefs.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 after crusading for the African American civil rights movement beginning in the mid-1950s.

Known as a charismatic leader, King achieved national recognition as one of the leaders in the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott, which started on December 1, 1955, when an African American woman, Rosa Parks, was arrested after refusing to give up her seat to a white person.

The boycott — which lasted for more than a year — ended on Dec. 20, 1956, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the Alabama laws requiring segregated buses.

King gave his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech after he led a massive march to Washington D.C. in 1963.

After his assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson said: “I ask every citizen to reject the blind violence that has taken Dr. King, who lived by non-violence.”

Despite Johnson’s plea to ignore the violence and the urging of many other leaders, as well as King’s own non-violent legacy, nationwide riots followed in more than 100 cities in the wake of the assassination.

Then U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, D-N.Y., on the day of his assassination in 1968, gave one of his greatest speeches while campaigning for the 1968 presidential Democratic nomination in Indianapolis. Some believe the speech was an attempt to prevent post-assassination rioting and feelings of hatred. The speech is considered by many to be one of the greatest speeches in American history, which Kennedy — brother of President John
F. Kennedy — prepared himself.

Kennedy said: “I have some very sad news for all of you, and I think sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tenn.”

This was the first time that many of the members of the audience had heard the news of King’s death.

Kennedy went on to say: “For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.”

This was the first time that many of Kennedy’s staff had heard Robert talk publicly of his brother’s assassination. He went on to end the speech by quoting the ancient Greeks saying America should dedicate itself “to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”

At King’s funeral on April 9, 1968, a crowd of approximately 300,000 people gathered to mourn the loss. A recording of the last sermon that he had given at the Ebenezer Baptist Church was played as his own eulogy, according to Wikipedia. He made the request during that sermon that none of his awards or honors should be mentioned at his funeral, but instead to note that he tried to “love and serve humanity,” “clothe the naked,” and “feed the hungry.”

The Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where King was shot, is now home to the National Civil Rights Museum. A monument in his honor is located in West Potomac Park in Washington, D.C., and Jan. 19 of each year is celebrated as Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

By Josh Allen, eParisExtra

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