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Daily History

April 4 1968 Martin Luther King Jr Assassinated

Martin Luther King on April 4th 1968

On April 4th 1968, just after 6 pm, Martin Luther King Jr was standing on the balcony outside his second-story room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, when he was fatally shot. The civil rights leader was in Memphis to support a sanitation workers’ strike and was on his way to dinner. A bullet struck him in the jaw and severed his spinal cord. King was pronounced dead after his arrival at a Memphis hospital. He was 39 years old.

Martin Luther King Jr was born January 15th 1929, and is remembered as an American clergyman, activist, and prominent leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights in the United States and around the world, using nonviolent methods and following the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.

A Baptist minister, King became a civil rights activist early in his career. He led the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, serving as its first president. King’s efforts led to the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. There, he established his reputation as one of the greatest orators in American history.

In 1964, King became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and racial discrimination through civil disobedience and other non-violent means. By the time of his death in 1968, he had refocused his efforts on ending poverty and stopping the Vietnam War.

In the months before his assassination, Martin Luther King became increasingly concerned with the problem of economic inequality in America. He organised a Poor People’s Campaign to focus on the issue, including an interracial poor people’s march on Washington, and in March 1968 travelled to Memphis in support of poorly treated African-American sanitation workers. On March 28, a workers’ protest march led by King ended in violence and the death of an African-American teenager. King left the city but vowed to return in early April to lead another demonstration.

On April 3, back in Memphis, King gave his last sermon, saying, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop…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.”

One day after speaking those words, Dr King was shot and killed by a sniper. As word of the assassination spread, riots broke out in cities all across the United States and National Guard troops were deployed in Memphis and Washington, D.C. On April 9, King was laid to rest in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets to pay tribute to King’s casket as it passed by in a wooden farm cart drawn by two mules.

The evening of King’s murder, a Remington .30-06 hunting rifle was found on the sidewalk beside a rooming house one block from the Lorraine Motel. During the next several weeks, the rifle, eyewitness reports, and fingerprints on the weapon all implicated a single suspect: escaped convict James Earl Ray. A two-bit criminal, Ray escaped a Missouri prison in April 1967 while serving a sentence for a holdup. In May 1968, a massive manhunt for Ray began. The FBI eventually determined that he had obtained a Canadian passport under a false identity, which at the time was relatively easy.

On June 8, Scotland Yard investigators arrested Ray at a London airport. He was trying to fly to Belgium, with the eventual goal, he later admitted, of reaching Rhodesia. Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe, was at the time ruled by an oppressive and internationally condemned white minority government. Extradited to the United States, Ray stood before a Memphis judge in March 1969 and pleaded guilty to King’s murder in order to avoid the electric chair. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison.

Three days later, he attempted to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming he was innocent of King’s assassination and had been set up as a patsy in a larger conspiracy. He claimed that in 1967, a mysterious man named “Raoul” had approached him and recruited him into a gunrunning enterprise. On April 4, 1968, he said, he realised that he was to be the fall guy for the King assassination and fled to Canada. Ray’s motion was denied, as were his dozens of other requests for a trial during the next 29 years.

During the 1990s, the widow and children of Martin Luther King Jr. spoke publicly in support of Ray and his claims, calling him innocent and speculating about an assassination conspiracy involving the U.S. government and military. U.S. authorities were, in conspiracists’ minds, implicated circumstantially. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover obsessed over King, who he thought was under communist influence. For the last six years of his life, King underwent constant wiretapping and harassment by the FBI. Before his death, Dr King was also monitored by U.S. military intelligence, which may have been asked to watch King after he publicly denounced the Vietnam War in 1967. Furthermore, by calling for radical economic reforms in 1968, including guaranteed annual incomes for all, King was making few new friends in the Cold War era U.S. government.

Over the years, the assassination has been re-examined by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, the Shelby County, Tennessee, district attorney’s office, and three times by the U.S. Justice Department. The investigations all ended with the same conclusion: James Earl Ray killed Martin Luther King. The House committee acknowledged that a low-level conspiracy might have existed, involving one or more accomplices to Ray, but uncovered no evidence to definitively prove this theory. In addition to the mountain of evidence against him, including his fingerprints on the murder weapon and his admitted presence at the rooming house on April 4, Ray had a definite motive in assassinating King: hatred. According to his family and friends, he was an outspoken racist who informed them of his intent to kill Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. He died in 1998.

Click here for the full text of Dr Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” Speech


About Craig Hill

Social Justice Campaigner, Writer, Teacher and Business Consultant. Lived in China and USA. Dealing with disability. My articles have been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and many other international publications. Please consider donating, to support our social justice campaign, by clicking on the "Donations Page" button in the top menu.


14 thoughts on “April 4 1968 Martin Luther King Jr Assassinated

  1. This is the anniversary of a very sad day. Thanks for the post, Craig.

    Posted by Naomi Baltuck | April 4, 2012, 00:27
  2. While his death was a tragedy, there is also the tragedy that the family suffers from not feeling confidence about the cause of his death. The fact that the King family accepted Ray’s story about his involvement is interesting, because this either speaks to the truth, or distrust of a government that had them under surveillance for many years.
    There are also several conspiracy theories surrounding his death. Some theorize U.S. government involvement, because King was under constant government surveillance, and argue that those conducting surveillance actually had an opportunity to stop the assassination. Other theories do not allege U.S. government involvement, and point to Ray being able to escape to Canada. However, a conspiracy theory is what “it is.”
    Nonetheless, the deaths of John Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy are generally spoken up in the same breath for obvious reasons; they were the best of us, who left too soon.

    Posted by mulrickillion | April 4, 2012, 02:47
  3. This was so tragic – why him of all people, I suppose he was a threat to the old world. It’s tragic when somebody is killed … but this !!!!!!!!

    Posted by viveka | April 4, 2012, 03:43
  4. I was ten years old when he was murdered. I honestly do not remember the details very well. It amazes me, when I think upon it, of how arrogant people can be. To think that another human being, preaching PEACE and civil rights, could, and would be a threat to them. Responding with violence, it says quite a bit about them. Every time I hear his famous speech I choke up, and try to THINK about the words and their meaning. They are still as important today as they were then.

    Posted by Four Blue Hills | April 4, 2012, 04:11
  5. I want to thank you Mr. Hill for your continued support of my blog. I am indebted to you.

    Posted by Jueseppi B. | April 4, 2012, 10:29
  6. Reblogged this on The ObamaCrat.Com™ and commented:
    Expertly written by Mr. Craig Hill at the blog: “Craig Hill”. Thank you Mr. Hill for this article on American History.

    Posted by Jueseppi B. | April 4, 2012, 10:30
  7. Reblogged this on okieprogressive and commented:
    April 4 1968 Martin Luther King Jr Assassinated

    Posted by okieprogressive | April 4, 2012, 12:23
  8. His family does not consider James Earl Ray the assassin.

    Posted by sheafferhistorian | April 4, 2012, 13:36
  9. Reblogged this on Retrofilms.in and commented:
    To The 3 Unknown: ML King, JF Keneddy, MK Gandhi…

    Posted by retrofilms.in | April 4, 2012, 15:42
  10. Reblogged this on Elemental Magic and commented:
    “I have a DREAM” –
    “Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.” – “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

    Posted by !!YaZ!! | April 4, 2012, 23:22


  1. Pingback: Martin Luther King: ‘I Have A Dream’ « Craig Hill - April 4, 2012

  2. Pingback: Martin Luther King: 'I Have A Dream' « China Daily Mail - April 6, 2012

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