REMEMBERING MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.– April 4th Marks 40 Years Since His Assassination


“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here….Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King (from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”)

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 40 years ago in the early evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony just outside his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. King was in Memphis to support a strike by sanitation workers who were largely black. At the time King, who is best known for his “I Have A Dream” speech given during the 1963 “March on Washington” was planning the “Poor People’s Campaign” on Washington, DC planned for May 1968.

Now regarded universally by an authentic American hero, King is now remembered every year with a federal holiday marking his birthday (he was born January 15, 1929).

His death plunged the nation and world into grief, with many American cities exploding in rage with rioting during a year that has been described by historians as one of the bloodiest and most turbulent time in American history, with the war in Vietnam raging, turmoil and fighting on the streets during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, and the assassination almost exactly two months later of yet another major leader, Senator Robert F. Kennedy who was running for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination.

Below are the last few lines of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous last speech, given evening of April 3, 1968 in a MLK-2.gifMemphis church, the night before his assassination, delivering one of his most memorable lines “I’ve been to the mountaintop…” and recalling the major work he had done to advance the cause of civil rights:

“…Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination.

And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.

You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up. The only question I heard from her was, “Are you Martin Luther King?”

And I was looking down writing, and I said yes. And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman.

I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that’s punctured, you drown in your own blood—that’s the end of you.

It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had sneezed, I would have died.

Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after the operation, after my chest had been opened, and the blade had been taken out, to move around in the wheel chair in the hospital. They allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from all over the states, and the world, kind letters came in.

MLK-3.gifI read a few, but one of them I will never forget. I had received one from the President and the Vice-President. I’ve forgotten what those telegrams said. I’d received a visit and a letter from the Governor of New York, but I’ve forgotten what the letter said.

But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I’ll never forget it. It said simply, “Dear Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School.”

She said, “While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I am a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”

And I want to say tonight, I want to say that I am happy that I didn’t sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters. And I knew that as they were sitting in, they were really standing up for the best in the American dream. And taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up. And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama, been in Memphis to see the community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering. I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.

And they were telling me, now it doesn’t matter now. It really doesn’t matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us, the pilot said over the public address system, “We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.”

And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. 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!”


Robert Kennedy gave these brief remarks to about 1,000 people – mostly black, in one of the poorest areas of Indianapolis. The crowd did not yet know of King’s death and, was waiting excitedly to greet Kennedy and hear a campaign speech during the evening of April 4, 1968. Local law enforcement officials urged Kennedy to cancel the rally fearing an outbreak of violence, which Kennedy refused to do. His police escort peeled off from his motorcade into the poor section of the city where his rally was scheduled, refusing to accompany the New York senator in what was then referred to as “the ghetto”.

Kennedy, looking grim and clearly shaken, mounted the makeshift stage and told the audience that King had just been shot and killed in Memphis. The news was greeted by a wave of shrieks and screams of anguish. The audience, stunned now into silence, listened to Kennedy – who was remembering the death less than five years earlier of his brother, President Kennedy, and in a quiet voice, urged both blacks and whites to remember and honor King and to get past the bitterness and hatred that divided America.

Here are the remarks by Kennedy given that night in Indianapolis (pictured below announcing King’s death) to the crowd, that is now looked on as one of his greatest speeches. He had never before talked about his brother’s assassination and how he felt until this moment on April 4, 1968 – just two months before his own death.

I’m only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening, because I have some — some very sad news for all of you..I have some very sad news for all of you, and, I think, sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world; and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.

[audience screams with anguish at the news and is stunned into silence as Kennedy continues to speak]

Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.

For those of you who are black — considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible — you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.

We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another.
Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.

For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with — be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poem, my — my favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote:
“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God.”

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King – yes, that’s true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love – a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.

We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We’ve had difficult times in the past and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it’s not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

And let’s dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: “to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”
Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.

Go to CDCAN website for complete text of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, and other photos at


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