Just after 6 p.m. on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was on his way to dinner in Memphis, Tenn. As he was standing on the balcony of his second-story room at the Lorraine Motel, he was fatally shot.
“Today, 55 years ago my life changed forever,” Rev. Bernice A. King, CEO of The King Center and King’s daughter, tweeted on Tuesday.
“At 5 years of age my father was violently taken from me and my family. Although the void persists… I choose to love anyway.”
King was among many this week to honor the slain civil rights leader and to share how the work to achieve his dream is still strong.
Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) said Tuesday was a day of reflection for the nation.
“As we observe the 55th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we must not only remember the tragic loss of a great civil rights leader, but also reflect on the continuing struggle for justice and equality,” Green said in a statement to The Hill.
“We owe it to posterity to continue fighting for his dream of a nation where invidious discrimination does not hinder one’s opportunities; where the content of one’s character and not the color of one’s skin determines the treatment of women and men. To accomplish this, in the profoundly immortal words of Dr. King, we must ‘transform this world-wide neighborhood into a world-wide brotherhood’; ‘We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or perish together as fools’.”
The day he was assassinated, King was in Memphis supporting the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike. The civil rights legend, known for his nonviolent protests, believed the strike highlighted economic inequality in America.
The night before his assassination, King gave his last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now,” Martin Luther King, Jr. said. “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it 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. 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.”
One day later, at only 39 years old, King was pronounced dead from a bullet that struck him in the jaw and severed his spinal cord. His murder sparked nationwide protests. Thirty-nine people were killed, and more than 3,000 injured.
“Today marks the 55th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) tweeted on Tuesday. “We sadly remember this terrible loss to our country and our world. He was the nonviolent leader for civil rights & human rights. Let’s think about what we each can do, to follow in his footsteps.”
Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was close with Martin Luther King and founded the Rainbow PUSH Coalition in Chicago, said King’s spirit “has been our moral guidepost for more than 50 years,” even as the struggle continues.
“Dr. King was an emancipator,” Jackson tweeted. “He inspired us, he changed our conditions, our objective conditions. He is a universal frame of reference for moral authority, the global frame of reference for nonviolent justice & social change.”
But Bernice King said that since her father’s murder, little progress has been made.
“As you look at the triple evils that he talked about — that being, poverty, racism and militarism — we have made very little progress as it relates to the issue of poverty, of economic injustice,” said Bernice King.
“I think this is a time for us to reflect on what he was doing and recommitting ourselves to doubling up our efforts to work towards the eradication of the triple evils, but especially working towards a more economically just society and each one of us have a role and responsibility in this effort.”
Part of that, said Russ Wiggington, President of the National Civil Rights Museum, is addressing a slew of legislation affecting the education of today’s students.
“We do have to educate, we do have to make people know that Rosa Parks did not just get tired one day,” he said, referring to recent news reports that a textbook manufacturer in Florida attempted to remove Parks’s race from its history lesson on the Montgomery Bus Boycotts.
“She was part of a political and strategic inner circle and machine quite frankly, that allowed for that boycott to have lasting power and unprecedented influence in beginning the process of having African Americans particularly in the south seen as humans, to be seen as people who deserved an equitable place at the collective table.”
In a statement to The Hill, Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) said now is the time for the nation to choose if it wants to achieve Martin Luther King’s dream.
“55 years after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated for fighting for a reflective democracy, we face a choice,” Lee said. “Are we going to let our nation continue to slip down the road of fascism, of wealth inequality, of racism, of xenophobia, antisemitism? Or are we going to be a nation that lives up to its ideals?”