“But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And 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.” –Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
These were the famous ending words of Dr. Martin Luther King’s last speech at Mason Temple Church in Memphis, Tennessee on April 3, 1968. King was assassinated the following day.
This week will always mark the remembrance of a man who spoke in the pursuit of peace, equality, and love for an entire nation. President Lyndon B. Johnson referred to King as the “apostle of nonviolence.” A light had dimmed in a nation built upon hope and freedom. The devastating loss led to a change in history and the birth of one of America’s greatest legacy. With tragedy came social change.
People were enraged and shocked to hear of King’s sudden death. Rioting began to ripple through towns. Johnson knew the civil rights legislation needed to be passed soon. On April 11, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, or the Fair Housing Act, was passed and signed by Johnson. King will always be widely known as the face of the civil rights movement. His powerful voice drew in an unprecedented amount of people both black and white.
Justice was also fought in the case of James Earl Ray, the suspect found guilty in King’s murder. His testimony was never heard. Ray’s fingerprints were found on the rifle as well as a scope and a pair of binoculars. He pleaded guilty to King’s murder on March 10, 1969, only to retract his confession claiming he was victim of conspiracy. Among Ray’s supporters were King’s closest loved ones. King’s son Dexter publicly met with Ray in 1977. His encounter impacted him enough to petition for Ray’s case to be reopened. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, also supported Ray’s innocence touching on how America will never know the true details behind the case.
One detail will always be widely known. Dr. Martin Luther King left an imprint in Untied States History that could never be erased. Activists still seeking equality and social change reflect and call upon the actions and values King represented through his courageous speeches. The Chicago Freedom Movement, edited by Mary Lou Finley, Bernard Lafayette Jr., James R. Ralph, and Pam Smith, speaks in depth of the trail of civil rights activism King colored throughout the North. In Peace and Freedom, speaks of Lafayette’s experience with King in what has come to be known in history as a battleground for racial equality: Selma. Lafayette was an associate of King’s in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and one of the main organizers of the actions taken in Selma.
“I felt Dr. King’s determination gave courage to the people who were trying to take a stand. When he talked about his dream, he spoke of something positive, rather than condemning the situation. His speech was a voice for change. He saw change coming. When he said, “Let freedom ring,” Dr. King gave the nation a unified voice.” –Bernard Lafayette Jr., In Peace and Freedom