Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Life and Legacy Honored In Memphis 40 Years After Death

Friday, April 4, 2008, marked 40 years since the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, then thirty-nine years-old, in Memphis, TN in 1968.

Friday, April 4, 2008, marked 40 years since the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, then thirty-nine years-old, in Memphis, TN in 1968. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Memphis to organize a strike for workers’ rights. The sanitation workers were protesting their low wages and poor working conditions.

One night before his death, the legendary Dr. King delivered his last speech on April 3, 1968, “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” in which King stated, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself. Strangely enough, I would turn to the almighty, if you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of 20th century I would be happy. That’s a strange statement to make because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick, trouble is in the land, confusion all around, that’s a strange statement.”

On April 4, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr would be assassinated while standing on the balcony at the Lorraine Motel as he prepared for an evening rally. His murder would bring on riots and race riots in hundreds of cities which spanned for days that burned the communities of Blacks. Thousands of soldiers where called in by the government to control the violence which led to arrests of more than 20,000 people and killings of more than 50,000. The riots ended with millions of dollars of damage.

Even 40 years after his death and goal to bring equality, Blacks are stated to still be experiencing greater rates of poverty and crime than their counterparts and have not reached equality socially and economically.

On April 3, 2008 Congress honored Dr. King with tributes from numerous lawmakers which included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congressman John Lewis, Senator Harry Reid, amongst others in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall. Senator Harry Reid urged everyone to continue to strive for his dream of equality during his speech at the ceremony and Congressman John Lewis who worked with the late Dr. Martin Luther King stated because of King’s leadership, people rose up out of fear, and were willing to put their bodies on the line.

In 1983, following an overwhelming 383-90 vote in favor of establishing the holiday, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law. Though the Arizona Senator John McCain visited Memphis Friday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reportedly, McCain was one of only 90 Representatives to vote against establishing MLK day as a national holiday. For years the presidential hopeful has faced criticism due to his vote against creating a federal holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. McCain would later state he was wrong to vote against the federal holiday honoring King.

Also in Memphis, more than 800 people made their way through the streets in the rain to honor Dr. Martin Luther King at the National Civil Rights Museum. The room which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr stayed prior to his assassination may be seen at the National Civil Rights Museum (formerly the Lorraine Motel) which exhibits moments in the civil rights movement in the United States.

Speakers encouraged the attendees to follow King’s example by working to help the poor, improve public schools and provide housing for the homeless. Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton spoke about remembering marching with the sanitation workers and protesting city policies in 1968.

“I never dreamed that one day I would come from a protester against the mayor to enter City Hall as the mayor,” Herenton stated.

Herenton’s comment seems to fit into the dreams of King being that he is the first black elected Mayor of Memphis. Martin Luther King, Jr is most remembered for his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 which spoke of these kinds of dreams and brought together millions in the United States to work for racial justice.

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