Black History: Special Delivery!!

Funeral Procession of Martin Luther King Jr
Mule drawn Carriage carries body of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during funeral procession in 1968.


Shortly before his death, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had traveled to Memphis, TN to support black sanitation workers in their quest for higher wages and better working conditions. King had become increasingly more vocal about the economic disenfranchisement and discrimination faced by blacks. The rally hoped to draw 6,000 people. On the original date of the march, Dr. King and his supporters withdrew from the march; feeling that the presence of the Black Panther might provoke violence. King later returned to Memphis to attend a second march that was planned. He hoped that this march would be a peaceful one.

Upon arriving, King checked into the Lorraine Motel. Despite security considerations, King chose to stay at the motel. During his earlier visit, he had been criticized for staying at the Holiday Inn because it was viewed as too “lavish”. On the evening of April 4th, King came out onto the balcony of his hotel room on the second floor. He began talking to friends on the ground below. At 6:05pm, a shot suddenly rang out, hitting King. He collapsed immediately. King had been shot by a sniper and was hit in the neck and head. He was pronounced dead at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Memphis.

James Earl Ray was initially believed to be the alleged assassin. He was captured approximately one month later at a London airport. He initially confessed but then retracted his confession 3 days later. Ray would be convicted and spend the rest of his life in prison. Oddly, the bullets that struck king were never matched to Ray’s gun. To this day, there remains suspicion regarding whether King’s murder was the result of a conspiracy, possibly involving the U.S. government and the FBI.   In 1999, King’s family won a civil court decision which stated that the government was responsible for his death. Surprisingly, (or maybe not so surprisingly), the court decision was not widely reported by the media.

Anger surrounding King’s death ignited riots and protest across the nation. Over 150,000 mourners came to pay tribute to Dr. King at his funeral services in Atlanta, GA. King died with no real financial assets and he did not have a will. Much of the money that he did make during his lifetime was donated back to the movement. Actor and activist Harry Belafonte provided for the education and living expenses of King’s children and wife for many year. Because there was no will, there have been ongoing court battles between King’s family and others regarding King’s belongings and intellectual property such has is speeches, books, and other artifacts from the civil rights movement, etc.

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