#MLK50 - 50 Years Since The Prominent Civil Rights Leader Was Assassinated

By: Kayla Pasacreta

On April 4, 1968 at 6:05 PM, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was shot  on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. At 7:05 PM, he was pronounced dead. He was only 39. Predictably, King's death would forever shake the nation. The death of the man who largely preached peace and spoke of the country's potential had an explosive impact on the country.

Dr. King at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee 

Dr. King at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee 

Just a day before King was killed, he had touched down in Memphis to attend the funeral of 16-year-old Larry Payne, who was killed by a Memphis police officer. That same day, King delivered a prophetic speech that many people now find eerie in the wake of his death, 

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. 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. 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.
— Martin Luther King Jr.

King's "Mountaintop" speech unravels a man fighting. Fighting a battle for equality, a self battle of perseverance, and a battle of acceptance. 50 years later, King is a seen as a beacon of hope, resistance, and peace. But, remembering the death of King means to remember the great anguish and despair racism has, and continues to impose on the country. King was tired, y'all. The fight to force this country to confront its wrongdoings, disparities, and inequities is not an easy one. 

protestors honoring King, photo via  Getty Images

protestors honoring King, photo via Getty Images

Following King's death, riots began to plague a grieving country. In cities like Chicago, Baltimore, and DC, rioters and protestors took to the streets with anger. How could this happen? How could we move forward? Between racist housing, the death of Martin Luther King Jr., and the raging police brutality, folks understandingly felt hopeless. King's death also caused a wave of radicalism, as seen by the birth of the Black Panther Party.

King's "Mountaintop" speech passed on the torch to future Civil Rights leaders. The plan for equality was realized, almost destiny. The fight could not end. Although activists within the movement were saddened by King's death, they pushed forward to continue to mobilize and organize. In John Lewis' words, "When he died, I think something died in all of us. Something died in America. Each day I think we must find a way, to dream the way he dreamed. And build on what he left us." And build on is exactly what they did. Days after his assassination, one of the most important pieces of Civil Rights legislation, the Fair Housing Act, became law. Years later, in 1986, Civil Rights leader John Lewis was elected a Congressman in Georgia. 22 years after that, the incredible (yet imperfect) Barack Obama was elected as the country's first ever Black president. As proven time and time again, with progession comes backlash...or in the words of CNN's Van Jones, a whitelash.

the rainy day of King's funeral at Ebenezer Baptist Church, photo via  Getty Images

the rainy day of King's funeral at Ebenezer Baptist Church, photo via Getty Images

Following King's death, there's still unfinished business. While the country no longer has Jim Crow laws or overtly racist policies, the racial tension and despair is greater than what any one imagined it would be in 2018. With Donald Trump's presidency and Jeff Sessions overseeing the Department of Justice, it almost seems like a clock of progression has ticked backwards. The Black Lives Matter movement, which simply calls for the acknowledgement and dignity of black lives, is largely regarded as divisive as the Black Panther movement. Whereas black activists and journalists were stalked by the FBI, they are now called out on Twitter by the Commander-in-Chief. The Larry Payne's have turned into Stephon Clark's; cell phones replace blackness as a valid reason to take away a life. 

Here we are, 50 years later. The dream of Martin Luther King Jr. is still unfulfilled. But still, there is hope. In King's own words, "Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, let us remember that the work is unfinished, but it will eventually be achieved. Let's use this time of remembrance to continue to push for change. In the words of CNN commentator Angela Rye, work woke and resist, y'all. 

Kayla PasacretaComment