Monday, April 4, is the 48th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tenn., as he stood on the balcony of Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel. Several of his colleagues were inside the room, including the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, the Rev. Andrew Young and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who all ran out onto the balcony upon hearing King collapse after being shot at 6:01 p.m. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. Mass riots erupted nationwide in protest.
King will eternally be linked to his nonviolent theory as a means to what he believed would solve the United States’ race conflicts. However, in the later stages of his life, he began directing the public’s attention to the country’s exploitation of its citizens, as well as of the world’s melanated population.
Some find it ironic that he was assassinated exactly 365 days after he delivered one of his powerful dissertations, “Beyond Vietnam,” at Harlem’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, where he opposed the exploitive practices of the U. S. through its military industrial complex.
“Somehow this madness must cease,” King said. “We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.”
Standing on the frontlines for his people and under the constant threat of physical harm since the mid-1950s, when he gained national prominence as one of the key figures during the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, King was not confused about the dangers he regularly faced, mentioning his awareness of it on several occasions. The most recent mention was on the day before he was assassinated, when he forewarned the audience at Memphis’ Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ Headquarters).
He had gone there to speak to some African-American sanitation workers, who were striking. Perhaps foreseeing that his end was near, he again addressed the reality of the dangers he constantly faced.
“And then I got into Memphis, and some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out,” he told the audience. “What would happen to me from some of our sick [Caucasian] brothers? Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead, but it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop, and I don’t mind.
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. 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.”
King concluded, “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. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”