Martin Luther King, Jr. Is Assassinated

Martin Luther King, Jr. Is Assassinated

Just after 6 p.m. on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. is fatally shot while standing on the balcony outside his second-story room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The civil rights leader was in Memphis to support a sanitation workers’ strike and was on his way to dinner when a bullet struck him in the jaw and severed his spinal cord. King was pronounced dead after his arrival at a Memphis hospital. He was 39 years old.

WATCH: Rise Up: The Movement That Changed America on HISTORY Vault

In the months before his assassination, Martin Luther King became increasingly concerned with the problem of economic inequality in America. He organized a Poor People’s Campaign to focus on the issue, including a march on Washington, and in March 1968 traveled to Memphis in support of poorly treated African-American sanitation workers. On March 28, a workers’ protest march led by King ended in violence and the death of an African American teenager. King left the city but vowed to return in early April to lead another demonstration.

On April 3, back in Memphis, King gave his last sermon, saying, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop … 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.”

READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About Martin Luther King, Jr.

One day after speaking those words, Dr. King was shot and killed by a sniper. As word of the assassination spread, riots broke out in cities all across the United States and National Guard troops were deployed in Memphis and Washington, D.C. On April 9, King was laid to rest in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets to pay tribute to King’s casket as it passed by in a wooden farm cart drawn by two mules.












The evening of King’s murder, a Remington .30-06 hunting rifle was found on the sidewalk beside a rooming house one block from the Lorraine Motel. During the next several weeks, the rifle, eyewitness reports, and fingerprints on the weapon all implicated a single suspect: escaped convict James Earl Ray. A two-bit criminal, Ray escaped a Missouri prison in April 1967 while serving a sentence for a holdup. In May 1968, a massive manhunt for Ray began. The FBI eventually determined that he had obtained a Canadian passport under a false identity, which at the time was relatively easy.

On June 8, Scotland Yard investigators arrested Ray at a London airport. He was trying to fly to Belgium, with the eventual goal, he later admitted, of reaching Rhodesia. Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe, was at the time ruled by an oppressive and internationally condemned white minority government. Extradited to the United States, Ray stood before a Memphis judge in March 1969 and pleaded guilty to King’s murder in order to avoid the electric chair. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison.

Three days later, he attempted to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming he was innocent of King’s assassination and had been set up as a patsy in a larger conspiracy. He claimed that in 1967, a mysterious man named “Raoul” had approached him and recruited him into a gunrunning enterprise. On April 4, 1968, he said, he realized that he was to be the fall guy for the King assassination and fled to Canada. Ray’s motion was denied, as were his dozens of other requests for a trial during the next 29 years.

READ MORE: Why Martin Luther King’s Family Believes James Earl Ray Was Not His Killer

During the 1990s, the widow and children of Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke publicly in support of Ray and his claims, calling him innocent and speculating about an assassination conspiracy involving the U.S. government and military. U.S. authorities were, in conspiracists’ minds, implicated circumstantially. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover obsessed over King, who he thought was under communist influence. For the last six years of his life, King underwent constant wiretapping and harassment by the FBI. Before his death, Dr. King was also monitored by U.S. military intelligence, which may have been asked to watch King after he publicly denounced the Vietnam War in 1967. Furthermore, by calling for radical economic reforms in 1968, including guaranteed annual incomes for all, King was making few new friends in the Cold War-era U.S. government.

Over the years, the assassination has been reexamined by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, the Shelby County, Tennessee, district attorney’s office, and three times by the U.S. Justice Department. The investigations all ended with the same conclusion: James Earl Ray killed Martin Luther King. The House committee acknowledged that a low-level conspiracy might have existed, involving one or more accomplices to Ray, but uncovered no evidence to definitively prove this theory. In addition to the mountain of evidence against him—such as his fingerprints on the murder weapon and his admitted presence at the rooming house on April 4—Ray had a definite motive in assassinating King: hatred. According to his family and friends, he was an outspoken racist who informed them of his intent to kill Dr. He died in 1998.

READ MORE: Why People Rioted After Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassination


Who Assassinated Martin Luther King Jr.?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking before crowd of 25,000 Selma To Montgomery, Alabama civil rights marchers, in front of Montgomery, Alabama state capital building. On March 25, 1965 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Stephen Somerstein/Getty Images)

Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the most significant leaders in American history and the preeminent leader of the African-American Civil Rights movement during the 1950s and '60s. His contributions toward American liberty were great, most notably popularizing civil disobedience (a tactic he learned from Mahatma Gandhi ) on his own homestead of Montgomery, Alabama after Rosa Parks refused to leave her seat on a segregated bus in 1955. The resulting Montgomery Bus Boycott proved a success, as the courts ruled that bus segregation was in conflict with the 14th Amendment, which promised "equal protection of the laws." Not everyone was happy about it.


Martin Luther King is assassinated

Just after 6 p.m. on 4 April 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. is fatally shot while standing on the balcony outside his second-storey room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The civil rights leader was in Memphis to support a sanitation workers' strike and was on his way to dinner when a bullet struck him in the jaw and severed his spinal cord. King was pronounced dead after his arrival at a Memphis hospital.

He was 39 years old. In the months before his assassination, Martin Luther King became increasingly concerned with the problem of economic inequality in America. He organised a Poor People's Campaign to focus on the issue, including an interracial poor people's march on Washington, and in March 1968 travelled to Memphis in support of poorly treated African-American sanitation workers.

"We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. 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."

On 28 March, a workers' protest march led by King ended in violence and the death of an African-American teenager. King left the city but vowed to return in early April to lead another demonstration. On 3 April, back in Memphis, King gave his last sermon, saying, "We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. 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." One day after speaking those words, Dr. King was shot and killed by a sniper.

As word of the assassination spread, riots broke out in cities all across the United States and National Guard troops were deployed in Memphis and Washington, D.C. On 9 April, King was laid to rest in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets to pay tribute to King's casket as it passed by in a wooden farm cart drawn by two mules. The evening of King's murder, a Remington .30-06 hunting rifle was found on the sidewalk beside a rooming house one block from the Lorraine Motel. During the next several weeks, the rifle, eyewitness reports, and fingerprints on the weapon all implicated a single suspect: escaped convict James Earl Ray. A two-bit criminal, Ray escaped a Missouri prison in April 1967 while serving a sentence for a holdup. In May 1968, a massive manhunt for Ray began. The FBI eventually determined that he had obtained a Canadian passport under a false identity, which at the time was relatively easy.

On 8 June, Scotland Yard investigators arrested Ray at a London airport. He was trying to fly to Belgium, with the eventual goal, he later admitted, of reaching Rhodesia. Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe, was at the time ruled by an oppressive and internationally condemned white minority government. Extradited to the United States, Ray stood before a Memphis judge in March 1969 and pleaded guilty to King's murder in order to avoid the electric chair. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison. Three days later, he attempted to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming he was innocent of King's assassination and had been set up as a patsy in a larger conspiracy. He claimed that in 1967, a mysterious man named "Raoul" had approached him and recruited him into a gunrunning enterprise. On 4 April 1968, he said, he realised that he was to be the fall guy for the King assassination and fled to Canada.

Ray's motion was denied, as were his dozens of other requests for a trial during the next 29 years. During the 1990s, the widow and children of Martin Luther King Jr. spoke publicly in support of Ray and his claims, calling him innocent and speculating about an assassination conspiracy involving the U.S. government and military. The U.S. authorities were, in conspiracists' minds, implicated circumstantially. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover obsessed over King, who he thought was under communist influence. For the last six years of his life, King underwent constant wiretapping and harassment by the FBI. Before his death, Dr. King was also monitored by U.S. military intelligence, which may have been asked to watch King after he publicly denounced the Vietnam War in 1967.

Furthermore, by calling for radical economic reforms in 1968, including guaranteed annual incomes for all, King was making few new friends in the Cold War-era U.S. government. Over the years, the assassination has been re-examined by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, the Shelby County, Tennessee, District Attorney's office, and three times by the U.S. Justice Department. The investigations all ended with the same conclusion: James Earl Ray killed Martin Luther King.

The House committee acknowledged that a low-level conspiracy might have existed, involving one or more accomplices to Ray, but uncovered no evidence to definitively prove this theory. In addition to the mountain of evidence against him – such as his fingerprints on the murder weapon and his admitted presence at the rooming house on 4 April – Ray had a definite motive in assassinating King: hatred. According to his family and friends, he was an outspoken racist who informed them of his intent to kill Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He died in 1998.


Today in History: Martin Luther King Jr. Is Assassinated (1968)

If you had to make a list of the top ten most memorable Americans to ever live, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would definitely be among them. King is known the world over for his work on civil rights in America and his inspirational rhetoric that moved many. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by James Earl Ray, an escaped convict, in Memphis, Tennessee. King&rsquos death was just one of many high profile assassinations during the 1960s.

King was a key player in organizing non-violent protests against discrimination in all walks of life, he was an influential and inspiring speaker, and was loved by millions of people of all races. On the day before he was shot and killed, King spoke these words: &ldquoWe&rsquove got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn&rsquot matter with me now, because I&rsquove been to the mountaintop…And He&rsquos allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I&rsquove looked over, and I&rsquove 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.&rdquo

New York Times

While King was a vehement supporter of non-violent means, his enemies were many. Even with the racism that persists today, it is hard to describe the scope and passion of the conflict between those that supported true civil rights and those that didn&rsquot. So it isn&rsquot all that surprising that King might have known that his end might come sooner or later via violent means.

The outcry that took place after his death was vast and ferocious. Violent and non-violent protests took place all throughout the country. In Durham, North Carolina alone, three days after the assassination, 13 fires were started.

The assassination, it is believed by historians, caused the rift between white and black Americans to widen. Those who followed Martin Luther King Jr.&rsquos teachings about non-violent protests saw the assassination as a rejection of those same teachings by their opponents, leading them to become radicalized. The same happened when Malcolm X was assassinated in February 1965.

James Earl Ray. PBS

Like the assassination of JFK in 1963, there are many conspiracy theories regarding the assassination of MLK Jr. This started promptly when James Earl Ray withdrew his initial guilty plea and claimed he was being set up by the government. In the 1990s, King&rsquos family supported Ray&rsquos claim. They believed the assassination had nothing to do with race, but instead with J. Edgar Hoover, who thought King was influenced by communism. There is proof that in the last years of his life, Martin Luther King Jr. was constantly harassed by the FBI with wiretaps and other forms of surveillance.

The death of Martin Luther King Jr. is something that is still felt to this day, and it was just one of the many tragedies that took place in the 1950s and 60s for the sake of racial equality.


2 thoughts on &ldquo April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated &rdquo

“Dr. King died at the age of 39, an age only four years older than the requirement for Presidency, yet he accomplished more than many who held that highest office.” – I love this line! Every time I read Dr. King’s “Mountaintop” speech I get chills. It’s almost as though he knew what was coming. Although he’s gone, his legacy lives on, and I’m so, SO grateful for that.

I never realized that there was much controversy over the death of Dr. King. It always sad to see such powerful figures gone so soon. Dr. King, Robert Kennedy, and JFK were all gone so soon. We can only imagine what good they could have done had their lives not been so tragically lost.


Early years

King came from a comfortable middle-class family steeped in the tradition of the Southern Black ministry: both his father and maternal grandfather were Baptist preachers. His parents were college-educated, and King’s father had succeeded his father-in-law as pastor of the prestigious Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The family lived on Auburn Avenue, otherwise known as “Sweet Auburn,” the bustling “Black Wall Street,” home to some of the country’s largest and most prosperous Black businesses and Black churches in the years before the civil rights movement. Young Martin received a solid education and grew up in a loving extended family.

This secure upbringing, however, did not prevent King from experiencing the prejudices then common in the South. He never forgot the time when, at about age six, one of his white playmates announced that his parents would no longer allow him to play with King, because the children were now attending segregated schools. Dearest to King in these early years was his maternal grandmother, whose death in 1941 left him shaken and unstable. Upset because he had learned of her fatal heart attack while attending a parade without his parents’ permission, the 12-year-old King attempted suicide by jumping from a second-story window.

In 1944, at age 15, King entered Morehouse College in Atlanta under a special wartime program intended to boost enrollment by admitting promising high-school students like King. Before beginning college, however, King spent the summer on a tobacco farm in Connecticut it was his first extended stay away from home and his first substantial experience of race relations outside the segregated South. He was shocked by how peacefully the races mixed in the North. “Negroes and whites go [to] the same church,” he noted in a letter to his parents. “I never [thought] that a person of my race could eat anywhere.” This summer experience in the North only deepened King’s growing hatred of racial segregation.

At Morehouse, King favoured studies in medicine and law, but these were eclipsed in his senior year by a decision to enter the ministry, as his father had urged. King’s mentor at Morehouse was the college president, Benjamin Mays, a social gospel activist whose rich oratory and progressive ideas had left an indelible imprint on King’s father. Committed to fighting racial inequality, Mays accused the African American community of complacency in the face of oppression, and he prodded the Black church into social action by criticizing its emphasis on the hereafter instead of the here and now it was a call to service that was not lost on the teenage King. He graduated from Morehouse in 1948.

King spent the next three years at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, where he became acquainted with Mohandas Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence as well as with the thought of contemporary Protestant theologians. He earned a bachelor of divinity degree in 1951. Renowned for his oratorical skills, King was elected president of Crozer’s student body, which was composed almost exclusively of white students. As a professor at Crozer wrote in a letter of recommendation for King, “The fact that with our student body largely Southern in constitution a colored man should be elected to and be popular [in] such a position is in itself no mean recommendation.” From Crozer, King went to Boston University, where, in seeking a firm foundation for his own theological and ethical inclinations, he studied man’s relationship to God and received a doctorate (1955) for a dissertation titled “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.”


A Shared Legacy

King’s contemporaries’ real lives can bridge the gap between reality and fiction—especially the life of Coretta Scott King, his wife and fellow activist.

“The scope of her activism and the breadth of the issues she was working on are an indication of where [Martin Luther King] would be,” suggests Jeanne Theoharis, a Brooklyn College political science professor and author of A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History.

Just four days after her husband’s assassination, Coretta Scott King led the Memphis sanitation worker’s march in his place. But her work wasn't restrained to merely carrying her late husband’s torch, says Theoharis, pointing to King’s early opposition to the Vietnam War, her campaigns for economic as well as racial justice, her global peace work and denunciation of South African apartheid, and her agitation for gay rights.

King, if he had lived, would very likely have taken up those same banners—perhaps even marching them into the White House, speculates Komozi Woodard, a professor of history, public policy, and Africana studies at Sarah Lawrence College.

“Hopefully, White America would have matured to the point of decriminalizing Dr. King as time went on” just as Nelson Mandela’s image shifted from terrorist to savior in South Africa, Woodard tells National Geographic. “Dr. King may have successfully run for president as Mandela did.”


&ldquoBut we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice.&rdquo

&ldquoThere comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair.&rdquo

&ldquoAny law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.&rdquo

&ldquoThe whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.&rdquo

&ldquoLet us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.&rdquo

&ldquoDarkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.&rdquo

&ldquoThe ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others.&rdquo

&ldquoWe must all learn to live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools.&rdquo

&ldquoForgiveness is not an occasional act it is a permanent attitude.&rdquo

&ldquoI have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.&rdquo

&ldquoThe function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.&rdquo

&ldquoI'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.&rdquo

&ldquoPower at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.&rdquo

&ldquoA man who won't die for something is not fit to live.&rdquo

&ldquoAt the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.&rdquo

&ldquoRight, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.&rdquo

&ldquoIn the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.&rdquo

&ldquoInjustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.&rdquo

&ldquoOur lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.&rdquo


Death and legacy

Over the next few years, King broadened his focus and began speaking out against the Vietnam War and economic issues, calling for a bill of rights for all Americans.

In the spring of 1968, King visited Memphis, Tennessee, to support Black sanitary workers who were on strike. On April 4, King was assassinated by James Earl Ray in his Memphis hotel. President Johnson called for a national day of mourning on April 7. In 1983, Congress cemented King's legacy as an American icon by declaring the third Monday of every January Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." — Martin Luther King, Jr.

King was honored with dozens of awards and honorary degrees for his achievement throughout his life and posthumously. In addition to receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, King was awarded the NAACP Medal in 1957 and the American Liberties Medallion by the American Jewish Committee in 1965. After his death, King was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1994 with his wife, Coretta.

King's legacy has inspired activists fighting injustice anywhere in the world. NAACP has carried on King's work on behalf of Black Americans and strives to keep his dream alive for future generations. We take inspiration from his closing remarks at the NAACP Emancipation Day Rally in 1957: "I close by saying there is nothing greater in all the world than freedom. It's worth going to jail for. It's worth losing a job for. It's worth dying for. My friends, go out this evening determined to achieve this freedom which God wants for all of His children."


Causes Edit

The immediate cause of the rioting was the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.. King was not only a leader in the civil rights movement, but also an advocate for nonviolence. He pursued direct engagement with the political system (as opposed to the separatist ideas of black nationalism). His death led to anger and disillusionment, and feelings that now only violent resistance to white supremacy could be effective. [3] [4]

Riots Edit

The protesters were mostly black not all were poor. Middle-class black people also demonstrated against systemic inequality. [5] Although the media called these events "race riots", there were few confirmed acts of violence between black and white people. White businesses tended to be targeted however, white public and community buildings such as schools and churches were largely spared. [1]

Compared to the previous summer of rioting, the number of fatalities was lower, largely attributed to new procedures instituted by the federal government, and orders not to fire on looters. [6]

In New York City, mayor John Lindsay traveled directly into Harlem, telling black residents that he regretted King's death and was working against poverty. He is credited for averting major riots in New York with this direct response although minor disturbances still erupted in the city. [7] In Indianapolis, Indiana, Senator Robert F. Kennedy's speech on the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. is credited with preventing a riot there. In Boston, rioting may have been averted by a James Brown concert taking place on the night of April 5, with Brown, Mayor Kevin White, and City Councilor Tom Atkins speaking to the Garden crowd about peace and unity before the show. [8]

In Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Police Department and community activists averted a repeat of the 1965 riots that devastated portions of the city. Several memorials were held in tribute to King throughout the Los Angeles area on the days leading into his funeral service. [ citation needed ]

Washington, D.C. Edit

The Washington, D.C., riots of April 4–8, 1968, resulted in Washington, along with Chicago and Baltimore, receiving the heaviest impact of the 110 cities to see unrest following the King assassination.

The ready availability of jobs in the growing federal government attracted many to Washington since the early 20th century, and middle class African-American neighborhoods prospered. Despite the end of legally mandated racial segregation, the historic neighborhoods of Shaw, the H Street Northeast corridor, and Columbia Heights, centered at the intersection of 14th and U Streets Northwest, remained the centers of African-American commercial life in the city.

As word of King's murder by James Earl Ray in Memphis spread on the evening of Thursday, April 4, crowds began to gather at 14th and U. Stokely Carmichael led members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to stores in the neighborhood demanding that they close out of respect. Although polite at first, the crowd fell out of control and began breaking windows. By 11pm, widespread looting had begun.

Mayor-Commissioner Walter Washington ordered the damage cleaned up immediately the next morning. However, anger was still evident on Friday morning when Carmichael addressed a rally at Howard, warning of violence. After the close of the rally, crowds walking down 7th Street NW and in the H Street NE corridor came into violent confrontations with police. By midday, numerous buildings were on fire, and firefighters were prevented from responding by crowds attacking with bottles and rocks.

Crowds of as many as 20,000 overwhelmed the District's 3,100-member police force, and 11,850 federal troops and 1,750 D.C. National Guardsmen under orders of President Lyndon B. Johnson arrived on the streets of D.C. to assist them. Marines mounted machine guns on the steps of the Capitol and Army soldiers from the 3rd Infantry guarded the White House. At one point, on April 5, 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. Mayor Washington imposed a curfew and banned the sale of alcohol and guns in the city. By the time the city was considered pacified on Sunday, April 8, some 1,200 buildings had been burned, including over 900 stores. Damages reached $27 million.

The riots utterly devastated Washington's inner city economy. With the destruction or closing of businesses, thousands of jobs were lost, and insurance rates soared. Made uneasy by the violence, city residents of all races accelerated their departure for suburban areas, depressing property values. Crime in the burned out neighborhoods rose sharply, further discouraging investment.

On some blocks, only rubble remained for decades. Columbia Heights and the U Street corridor did not begin to recover economically until the opening of the U Street and Columbia Heights Metro stations in 1991 and 1999, respectively, while the H Street NE corridor remained depressed for several years longer.

Mayor-Commissioner Washington, who was the last presidentially appointed mayor of Washington, went on to become the city's first elected mayor.

Chicago Edit

On April 5, one day after King was assassinated, violence sparked on the West side of Chicago. It eventually expanded to consume a 28-block stretch of West Madison Street, with additional damage occurring on Roosevelt Road. The North Lawndale and East Garfield Park neighborhoods on the West Side and the Woodlawn neighborhood on the South Side experienced the majority of the destruction and chaos. The rioters broke windows, looted stores, and set buildings (both abandoned and occupied) on fire. Firefighters quickly flooded the neighborhood, and Chicago's off-duty firefighters were told to report for duty. There were 36 major fires reported between 4:00 pm and 10:00 pm alone. The next day, Mayor Richard J. Daley imposed a curfew on anyone under the age of 21, closed the streets to automobile traffic, and halted the sale of guns or ammunition.

Approximately 10,500 police were sent in, and by April 6, more than 6,700 Illinois National Guard troops had arrived in Chicago with 5,000 regular Army soldiers from the 1st Armored and 5th Infantry Divisions being ordered into the city by President Johnson. The General in charge declared that no one was allowed to have gatherings in the riot areas, and he authorized the use of tear gas. Mayor Richard J. Daley gave police the authority "to shoot to kill any arsonist or anyone with a Molotov cocktail in his hand . and . to shoot to maim or cripple anyone looting any stores in our city."

By the time order was restored on April 7, 11 people had died, 500 had been injured, and 2,150 had been arrested. Over 200 buildings were damaged in the disturbance with damage costs running up to $10 million.

The south side ghetto had escaped the major chaos mainly because the two large street gangs, the Blackstone Rangers and the East Side Disciples, cooperated to control their neighborhoods. Many gang members did not participate in the rioting, due in part to King's direct involvement with these groups in 1966. [9]

Baltimore Edit

The Baltimore riot of 1968 began two days after the murder. On Saturday, April 6, the Governor of Maryland, Spiro T. Agnew, called out thousands of National Guard troops and 500 Maryland State Police to quell the disturbance. When it was determined that the state forces could not control the riot, Agnew requested Federal troops from President Lyndon B. Johnson. The riot was precipitated by King's assassination, but was also evidence of larger frustrations among the city's African-American population.

By Sunday evening, 5,000 paratroopers, combat engineers, and artillerymen from the XVIII Airborne Corps in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, specially trained in tactics, including sniper school, were on the streets of Baltimore with fixed bayonets, and equipped with chemical (CS) disperser backpacks. Two days later, they were joined by a Light Infantry Brigade from Fort Benning, Georgia. With all the police and troops on the streets, the situation began to calm down. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that H. Rap Brown was in Baltimore driving a Ford Mustang with Broward County, Florida tags, and was assembling large groups of angry protesters and agitating them to escalate the rioting. In several instances, these disturbances were rapidly quelled through the use of bayonets and chemical dispersers by the XVIII Airborne units. That unit arrested more than 3,000 detainees, who were turned over to the Baltimore Police. A general curfew was set at 6 p.m. in the city limits and martial law was enforced. As rioting continued, African American plainclothes police officers and community leaders were sent to the worst areas to prevent further violence. By the end of the unrest, 6 people had died, 700 were injured, and 5,800 had been arrested property damage was estimated at over $12 million. [10]

One of the major outcomes of the riot was the attention Governor Agnew received when he criticized local black leaders for not doing enough to help stop the disturbance. While this angered black people and white liberals, it caught the attention of Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon, who was looking for someone on his ticket who could counter George Wallace's American Independent Party campaign. Agnew became Nixon's vice presidential running mate in 1968.

Kansas City Edit

The rioting in Kansas City did not erupt on April 4, like other cities of the United States affected directly by the assassination of King, but rather on April 9 after local events within the city. [11] [12] The riot was sparked when Kansas City Police Department deployed tear gas against student protesters when they staged their performances outside City Hall. [11] [12]

The deployment of tear gas dispersed the protesters from the area, but other citizens of the city began to riot as a result of the police action on the student protesters. The resulting effects of the riot resulted in the arrest of over 100 adults, and left five dead and at least 20 admitted to hospitals. [13]

Detroit Edit

Although not as large as other cities, violent disturbances did erupt in Detroit. Michigan Governor George W. Romney ordered the National Guard into Detroit. One person was killed, [14] and gangs tossed objects at cars and smashed storefront windows along 12th Street on the west side. [15]

New York City Edit

Riots erupted in New York City the night King was murdered. Sporadic violence and looting occurred in Harlem, the largest African-American neighborhood in Manhattan. Tensions simmered down after Mayor John Lindsay traveled into the heart of the area and stated that he regretted King's wrongful death. However, numerous businesses were still looted and set afire in Harlem and Brooklyn following the statement.

Pittsburgh Edit

Disturbances erupted in Pittsburgh on April 5 and continued through April 11. The riot peaked on April 7 in which one person was killed and 3,600 National Guardsmen were deployed into the city. Over 100 businesses were either looted or burned in the Hill District, Homewood, and North Side neighborhoods with various structures being set afire by arsonists. The riot left many of the city's black commercial districts in shambles and the areas most impacted by the unrest were slow to recover in the following decades.

Cincinnati Edit

The Cincinnati riots were in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. Tension in the Avondale neighborhood had already been high due to a lack of job opportunities for African-American men, and the assassination escalated that tension. On April 8, around 1,500 black people attended a memorial held at a local recreation center. An officer of the Congress of Racial Equality blamed white Americans for King's death and urged the crowd to retaliate. The crowd was orderly when it left the memorial and spilled out into the street. Nearby James Smith, a black man, attempted to protect a jewelry store from a robbery with his own shotgun. During the struggle with the robbers, also black, Smith accidentally shot and killed his wife.

Rioting started after a false rumor was spread in the crowd that Smith's wife was actually killed by a white police officer. Rioters smashed store windows and looted merchandise. More than 70 fires had been set, several of them major. During the rioting eight young African Americans dragged a white student, Noel Wright, and his wife from their car in Mount Auburn. Wright was stabbed to death and his wife was beaten. The next night, the city was put under curfew, and nearly 1,500 National Guardsmen were brought in to subdue the violence. Several days after the riot started, two people were dead, hundreds were arrested, and the city had suffered $3 million in property damage.

Trenton, New Jersey Edit

The Trenton Riots of 1968 were a major civil disturbance that took place during the week following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4. More than 200 Trenton businesses, mostly in Downtown, were ransacked and burned. More than 300 people, most of them young black men, were arrested on charges ranging from assault and arson to looting and violating the mayor's emergency curfew. In addition to 16 injured policemen, 15 firefighters were treated at city hospitals for smoke inhalation, burns, sprains and cuts suffered while fighting raging blazes or for injuries inflicted by rioters. Denizens of Trenton's urban core often pulled false alarms and would then throw bricks at firefighters responding to the alarm boxes. This experience, along with similar experiences in other major cities, effectively ended the use of open-cab fire engines. [ citation needed ] As an interim measure, the Trenton Fire Department fabricated temporary cab enclosures from steel deck plating until new equipment could be obtained. The losses incurred by downtown businesses were initially estimated by the city to be $7 million, but the total of insurance claims and settlements came to $2.5 million. [16]

Trenton's Battle Monument neighborhood was hardest hit. Since the 1950s, North Trenton had witnessed a steady exodus of middle-class residents, and the riots spelled the end for North Trenton. By the 1970s, the region had become one of the most blighted and crime-ridden in the city, although gentrification in the area eventually followed. [ citation needed ]

Wilmington, Delaware Edit

The two-day riot that occurred after King's assassination was small compared with riots in other cities, but its aftermath – a 9 + 1 ⁄ 2 -month occupation by the National Guard – highlighted the depth of Wilmington's racial problem. During the riot, which occurred on April 9–10, 1968, the mayor asked for a small number of National Guardsmen to help restore order. Democratic Governor Charles L. Terry (a southern-style Democrat) sent in the entire state National Guard and refused to remove them after the rioting was brought under control. Republican Russell W. Peterson defeated Governor Terry, and upon his inauguration in January 1969, Governor Peterson ended the National Guard's occupation in Wilmington. [17]

The Occupation of Wilmington caused scars on the city and its people that have lasted to this day. Some suburbanites grew fearful of traveling into Wilmington in broad daylight, even to attend church on Sunday morning. Over the next few years businesses relocated, taking their employees, customers and tax payments with them. [18]

Louisville Edit

Riots occurred in Louisville, Kentucky, in May 1968. As in many other cities around the country, there were unrest and riots partially in response to the assassination. On May 27, 1968, a group of 400 people, mostly Black people, gathered at Twenty-Eight and Greenwood Streets, in the Parkland neighborhood. The intersection, and Parkland in general, had recently become an important location for Louisville's black community, as the local NAACP branch had moved its office there.

The crowd was protesting the possible reinstatement of a white officer who had been suspended for beating an African-American man some weeks earlier. Several community leaders arrived and told the crowd that no decision had been reached, and alluded to disturbances in the future if the officer was reinstated. By 8:30, the crowd began to disperse.

However, rumors (which turned out to be untrue) were spread that Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee speaker Stokely Carmichael's plane to Louisville was being intentionally delayed by white people. After bottles were thrown by the crowd, the crowd became unruly and police were called. However the small and unprepared police response simply upset the crowd more, which continued to grow. The police, including a captain who was hit in the face by a bottle, retreated, leaving behind a patrol car, which was turned over and burned.

By midnight, rioters had looted stores as far east as Fourth Street, overturned cars and started fires.

Within an hour, Mayor Kenneth A. Schmied requested 700 Kentucky National Guard troops and established a citywide curfew. Violence and vandalism continued to rage the next day, but had subdued somewhat by May 29. Business owners began to return, although troops remained until June 4. Police made 472 arrests related to the riots. Two African-American teenagers had died, and $200,000 in damage had been done. [19]

The disturbances had a longer-lasting effect. Most white business owners quickly pulled out or were forced out of Parkland and surrounding areas. Most white residents also left the West End, which had been almost entirely white north of Broadway, from subdivision until the 1960s. The riot would have effects that shaped the image which white people would hold of Louisville's West End, that it was predominantly black and crime-ridden. [20]

The assassinations triggered active unrest in communities that were already discontented. For example, the Memphis sanitation strike, which was already underway, took on a new level of urgency. It was to these striking workers that King delivered his final speech, and in Memphis that he was killed. Negotiations on April 16 brought an end to the strike and a promise of better wages. [21] [22]

In Oakland, increasing friction between Black Panthers and the police led to the death of Bobby Hutton.


Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

At 6:05 P.M. on Thursday, 4 April 1968, Martin Luther King was shot dead while standing on a balcony outside his second-floor room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. News of King’s assassination prompted major outbreaks of racial violence, resulting in more than 40 deaths nationwide and extensive property damage in over 100 American cities. James Earl Ray, a 40-year-old escaped fugitive, later confessed to the crime and was sentenced to a 99-year prison term. During King’s funeral a tape recording was played in which King spoke of how he wanted to be remembered after his death: “I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others ” (King, “ Drum Major Instinct , ” 85).

King had arrived in Tennessee on Wednesday, 3 April, to prepare for a march the following Monday on behalf of striking Memphis sanitation workers. As he prepared to leave the Lorraine Motel for a dinner at the home of Memphis minister Samuel “Billy ” Kyles, King stepped out onto the balcony of room 306 to speak with Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) colleagues standing in the parking area below. An assassin fired a single shot that caused severe wounds to the lower right side of his face. SCLC aides rushed to him, and Ralph Abernathy cradled King’s head. Others on the balcony pointed across the street toward the rear of a boarding house on South Main Street where the shot seemed to have originated. An ambulance rushed King to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where doctors pronounced him dead at 7:05 P.M.

President Lyndon B. Johnson called for a national day of mourning to be observed on 7 April. In the following days, public libraries, museums, schools, and businesses were closed, and the Academy Awards ceremony and numerous sporting events were postponed. On 8 April King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, and other family members joined thousands of participants in a march in Memphis honoring King and supporting the sanitation workers. King’s funeral service was held the following day in Atlanta at Ebenezer Baptist Church. It was attended by many of the nation’s political and civil rights leaders, including Jacqueline Kennedy, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and Ralph Bunche. Morehouse College President Benjamin Mays delivered the eulogy, predicting that King “ would probably say that, if death had to come, I am sure there was no greater cause to die for than fighting to get a just wage for garbage collectors ” (Mays, 9 April 1968). Over 100,000 mourners followed two mules pulling King’s coffin through the streets of Atlanta. After another ceremony on the Morehouse campus, King’s body was initially interred at South-View Cemetery. Eventually, it was moved to a crypt next to the Ebenezer Church at the King Center , an institution founded by King’s widow.

Shortly after the assassination, a policeman discovered a bundle containing a 30.06 Remington rifle next door to the boarding house. The largest investigation in Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) history led its agents to an apartment in Atlanta. Fingerprints uncovered in the apartment matched those of James Earl Ray, a fugitive who had escaped from a Missouri prison in April 1967. FBI agents and police in Memphis produced further evidence that Ray had registered on 4 April at the South Main Street roominghouse and that he had taken a second-floor room near a common bathroom with a view of the Lorraine Motel.

The identification of Ray as a suspect led to an international manhunt. On 19 July 1968 Ray was extradited to the United States from Britain to stand trial. In a plea bargain, Tennessee prosecutors agreed in March 1969 to forgo seeking the death penalty when Ray pled guilty to murder charges. The circumstances leading to the plea later became a source of controversy, when Ray recanted his confession soon after being sentenced to a 99-year term in prison.

During the years following King’s assassination, doubts about the adequacy of the case against Ray were fueled by revelations of the extensive surveillance of King by the FBI and other government agencies. Beginning in 1976 the House Select Committee on Assassinations, chaired by Representative Louis Stokes, re-examined the evidence concerning King’s assassination, as well as that of President John F. Kennedy. The committee’s final report suggested that Ray may have had co-conspirators. The report nonetheless concluded that there was no convincing evidence of government complicity in King’s assassination.

After recanting his guilty plea, Ray continued to maintain his innocence, claiming to have been framed by a gun-smuggler he knew as “ Raoul. ” In 1993 Ray’s lawyer, William F. Pepper, sought to build popular support to reopen Ray’s case by staging a televised mock trial of Ray in which the “ jury ” found him not guilty. In 1997 members of King’s family publicly supported Ray’s appeal for a new trial, and King’s son Dexter Scott King supported Ray’s claims of innocence during a televised prison encounter. Despite this support Tennessee authorities refused to reopen the case, and Ray died in prison on 23 April 1998.

Even after Ray’s death, conspiracy allegations continued to surface. In 1999, on behalf of King’s widow and children, Pepper won a token civil verdict of wrongful death against Lloyd Jowers, owner of Jim’s Grill, a restaurant across the street from the Lorraine Motel. Although the trial produced considerable testimony that contradicted the original case against Ray, the Justice Department announced in 2000 that its own internal investigation, launched in 1998 at the King family’s request, had failed to find sufficient evidence to warrant a further investigation.


Watch the video: 1968 King Assassination Report CBS News