The death of a King
Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the centre of our lives.
On April 4th, 1968, at 6.05pm, MLK was shot dead by James Earl Ray, on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel, in Memphis.
MLK travelled to Memphis to support the strike of more than 1,300 city sanitation workers. The strike was sparked by the death of Robert Walker and Echol Cole, who were crushed by their faulty garbage truck. The strikes brought national focus to the terrible working conditions and low wages of black sanitation workers.
MLK’s murder came a day after his famous “Mountain Top” speech, where he spoke of his own mortality;
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.
The assassination of MLK triggered riots in more than 100 cities across the country, killing more than 35 people. On April 8, his widow, Coretta Scott King, joined 42,000 people on a silent march through Memphis. Now 50 years on how close are we to the promise land?
King’s promised land
King spoke of our responsibility as people, to create a world grounded in economic, social, political and racial justice. While there has been a noticeable shift in public attitudes towards race – white privilege rules our institutions and power over society.
Still today, people of colour face huge dangers in public spaces. Black poverty across the globe, black and brown incarnation and police brutality still dominate our societies. In the UK, we only have to look at our horrific immigration detention centres, the murdering of children on our streets and the horror of Grenfell Tower to know how much is yet to be done. 50 years on from the death of MLK and it is sobering how far off we are from his promised land.
King was building power: so are we
I have a dream that enough is enough. And that this should be a gun-free world, period.
MLK was about building power and pushing the black struggle into the streets and sitting rooms of white privilege. Due to his work, the efforts of those he worked with and the brave leaders who have followed – we have seen growth in black and brown political representation across oceans and especially in the election of Barack Obama.
While there is still so much injustice, it is important to remember his legacy is evident today. There is a new generation protesting many of the same issues MLK faced: inequality, police brutality and poverty. They – we are not letting up. We are seeing the largest anti-gun-violence mobilization in the States since he was murdered. In the UK, we are seeing young people in huge numbers participating in civic action like never before. A movement is growing across the globe. There are so many moments to lift up and recognise and even more to hope for.
We must use time creatively, and forever realise that the time is always ripe to do right.
How Dr King asked to be remembered
I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others… I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.
Just a day before MLK was murdered he spoke of his own death, during his famous mountaintop speech, at a small church in Memphis. He spoke about his legacy, the promised land and how he would like to be remembered by the world. It is surreal that just the next day he would be lost to the world. Here is MLK’s final speech to remember him as he asked to be remembered.