MEMPHIS, Tennessee — In the spring of 1968, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had won victories on desegregation and voting rights and had been planning his Poor People’s Campaign when he turned his attention to Memphis, the gritty city by the Mississippi River. In supporting striking sanitation workers, King wanted to lead marches and show that nonviolent protest still worked.
But on April 4, at the city’s Lorraine Motel, he would be fatally shot.
Here are three stories from The Associated Press coverage of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
April 4, 1968
By Doug Stone
MEMPHIS, Tennessee — Nobel Laureate Martin Luther King Jr., father of nonviolence in the American civil rights movement, was killed by an assassin’s bullet Thursday night.
King, 39, was hit in the neck by a bullet as he stood on the balcony of a motel here. He died less than an hour later in St. Joseph’s Hospital.
Gov. Buford Ellington immediately ordered 4,000 National Guard troops back into the city. A curfew, which was clamped on Memphis after a King-led march turned into a riot a week ago, was reimposed.
Police said incidents of violence, including several firebombings, were reported following King’s death.
The 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner was standing on the balcony of his motel here, where he had come to lead protests in behalf of the city’s 1,300 striking garbage workers, most of them Negroes, when he was shot.
Two unidentified men who were arrested were released several hours later.
As word of King’s death spread through the stunned city, Negroes in scattered areas also looted stores, stoned police and firetrucks and tossed several firebombs. Two policemen were injured, mainly by flying glass when a shotgun blast broke their windshield.
Four hours after King died, the city was quieting some, but police still reported sporadic outbreaks.
Police also said they found a 30.05 rifle on Main Street about one block from the motel, but it was not confirmed whether this was the weapon that killed King.
An aide who was standing nearby said the shot hit King in the neck and lower right part of his face.
“Martin Luther King is dead,” said Assistant Police Chief Henry Lux, the first word of the death.
Assistant Hospital Administrator Paul Hess confirmed later that King died at 7 p.m. of a bullet wound in the neck.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said he and others in the King party were getting ready to go to dinner when the shooting occurred.
“King was on the second-floor balcony of the motel,” Jackson said. “He had just bent over. If he had been standing up, he wouldn’t have been hit in the face.”
King had just told Ben Branch: “My man, be sure to sing ‘Blessed Lord’ tonight, and sing it well.”
A shot then rang out, Jackson said.
Jackson said the only sound King uttered after that was, “Oh!”
“It knocked him down. When I turned around I saw police coming from everywhere. They said, ‘where did it come from,’ and I said ‘behind you.’ The police were coming from where the shot came.”
Branch, another member of the King party, said “The bullet exploded in his face. It knocked him off his feet,” Solomon Jones, King’s chauffeur, said he saw a “man in white clothes” running from the scene.
Violence erupted again shortly after King was shot. Police reported snipers firing on police and National Guard units, and several persons were reported hit by the shots. Several firebombings and other acts of vandal-ism also were reported.
Police director Frank Holloman ordered a cur-few back into effect “until further notice” as youths ran rampant, many of them with fire-bombs in their hands.
National Guard units, which had been deactivated only Wednesday after five days on duty here, were called back to active duty and rushed to Memphis.
A bomb threat was telephoned to Methodist Hospital, and police were rushed to the scene.
Armed guards were immediately posted at St. Joseph’s Hospital, where King died.
Holloman said early investigation indicated the assassin was a white male, who was “50 to 100 yards away in a flophouse.” He said police had no definite leads but that two persons were in
A Stunned Nation
By Brian Sullivan
NEW YORK — From President Johnson to a lady weeping in Detroit, the nation reacted to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Thursday night with anguish, shock and pleas that his death would not trigger the violence he deplored.
“We have been saddened,” President Johnson told the nation on radio and television. “I ask every citizen to reject the blind violence that has struck Dr. King, who lived by non-violence.”
The president said he was postponing his trip to Hawaii, for a Vietnam strategy conference, until Friday. He had been scheduled to leave about midnight Thursday.
Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey said the slaying “brings shame to our country. An apostle of non-violence has been the victim of violence.” The vice president, however, said Dr. King’s death will bring new strength to the cause he fought for.
Mrs. Rosa Parks, one of the earliest prominent figures in the modern civil rights movement, wept at her Detroit home: “I can’t talk now, I just can’t talk.”
“Martin is dead,” said James Farmer, former national director of the Congress of Racial Equality. “God help us all.
“We kill our conscience, we cut open our soul. I can’t say what is in my heart_anger, fear, love for him and sorrow for his family and the family of black people.”
Churches opened their doors and readied special services in Dr. King’s honor. The Protestant Council of the City of New York asked that all churches remain open Friday and Saturday so that “all citizens may bring supplication to God that the ideals of this man’s life will not be lost.”
James Meredith, who was shot in June 1966 during a voter registration march in Mississippi, said, “This is America’s answer to the peaceful, non-violent way of obtaining rights in this country.”
Gov. John B. Connally Jr. of Texas, victim of a sniper’s bullet with President John F. Kennedy, said Dr. King “contributed much to the chaos and turbulence in this country, but he did not deserve this fate. …”
Roy Wilkins, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the NAACP is “shocked and deeply grieved by the dastardly murder of Dr. Martin Luther King. … It will not stay the civil rights movement; it will instead spur it to greater activity.”
Leontyne Price, a soprano for the Metropolitan Opera, and a Negro, said: “What Dr. Martin Luther King stood for and was, can never be killed with a bullet.”
Whitney Young, executive director of the National Urban League: “We are unspeakably shocked by the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, one of the greatest leaders of our time. This is a bitter reflection on America. We fear for our country.”
Floyd McKissick, national director of CORE, said that with Dr. King’s death, non-violence “is now a dead philosophy.
“This is racism in the most extreme form, it is truly American racism,” McKissick said. “We make no predictions, but, mark my word, black Americans of all sorts and beliefs loved Martin Luther King.”
Jackie Robinson, first Negro to play in major-league baseball and now an adviser on race relations in New York state: “I’m shocked. Oh, my God, I’m frightened. I’m very concerned, disturbed and very worried. I pray God this doesn’t end up in the streets.”
King’s Last Speech
By Jay Bowles
MEMPHIS, Tennessee — “It really doesn’t matter what happens now. I’ve been to the mountaintop.”
The speaker was Martin Luther King Jr. His audience was a cheering crowd of some 2,000 supporters. It was Wednesday night.
Less than 24 hours later, the nation’s foremost apostle of non-violence was dead_the victim of an assassin’s bullet_as he stood on the threshold of the biggest test of the theories he espoused.
King said Wednesday night that he was aware that threats had been made on his life. But he said he had seen the fulfillment of his goals of non-violence and did not worry about the future.
He said his flight to Memphis from Atlanta Tuesday had been delayed because of a baggage search which airlines officials said resulted from threats to him.
“And there have been some threats around here,” he added.
“We’ve got some difficult days ahead, but it really doesn’t matter now,” King said. “Because I’ve been to the mountaintop.”
And Andrew Young, executive vice president of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said he had heard King make similar re-marks only once before_at Demopolis, Ala., during his 1964 Selma march.
“I don’t know whether it was premonition or not,” Young said as he stood in the door of the emergency room where the Nobel Peace Prize winner had been taken after he was felled by the bullet.
The supreme test of the theory of non-violence was to have come next Monday, when King planned to lead a massive march down the path where violence broke out last week.
It was the first time in King’s long history of civil rights activity that one of his drives had erupted into violence. He was clearly disturbed.
Young, testifying at a federal court hearing six hours before King was shot, was asked by U.S. District Judge Bailey Brown what effect violence in the upcoming march would have on King.
“I would say that Dr. King would consider it a repudiation of his philosophy and his whole way of life,” Young replied. “I don’t know when I’ve seen him as discouraged and depressed.”
But the discouragement had left King’s voice when he addressed the audience Wednesday night. “Let us stand with greater determination,” he said.
“Let us move on in these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be.”