On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. The 39-year-old civil rights leader had gone to Memphis to lead a march in support of striking sanitation workers.
The legendary orator gave his final speech on April 3 at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple Church of God. Toward the end, King seemed to be foretelling his death.
He acknowledged there were threats against his life, but said they didn’t matter, “because I’ve been to the mountaintop.”
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life,” he said. “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! So 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!” The United States was stunned by King’s murder.
Blacks rioted in several cities, and then-president Lyndon Johnson went on national television to plead for calm.
The Vancouver Sun dispatched Wayne MacDonald of the paper’s Washington bureau to Memphis. “Just 24 hours ago, the city’s 100,000 Negroes were in a boisterous, jovial mood as they planned a major march for next Monday to be led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King,” MacDonald reported. “Today, the city is grief-stricken, angry, bitter and infuriated.”
The Sun’s Denny Boyd covered King’s funeral in Atlanta.
“Behind me, an elderly Negro woman tried to comfort her weary grandchild,” Boyd wrote. “She was telling the small boy with the polished ebony face about the civil rights work of Dr. King and the boy asked, ‘But why did they kill him?’ The woman said, ‘Because Jesus always picks the prettiest flowers to have in heaven.’ ” One hundred and fifty thousand mourners walked behind King’s casket in his funeral procession, many singing the civil rights anthem We Shall Overcome.
One hundred and twenty million people watched the funeral on television.