The view from the mountaintop: Martin Luther King's turbulent, tragic last year

Fifty years ago, on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr., who preached nonviolent resistance to oppression and war, was shot to death in Memphis. He was 39 years old. He left behind a wife and four children and a nation still riven by the divisions he had devoted his life to healing. Yahoo News takes a look back at his life and his legacy in this special report. Jonathan Darman assesses King as a man not without flaws, but with a passion for justice and a conviction that grace can still be found here among us sinners on earth. Senior Editor Jerry Adler looks back on the fateful last year of King’s life, beginning with his electrifying, and controversial, Riverside Church address against the war in Vietnam. National Correspondent Holly Bailey goes back to Selma, Ala., whose poverty moved King to increasingly turn his focus to economic justice, and finds not much has changed in the years since. Reporter Michael Walsh looks at how King almost died in an attack a decade earlier, and how the knowledge of his mortality shaped his ministry and message.

On April 4, 1967, a Tuesday, Martin Luther King Jr. took the pulpit at New York’s Riverside Church, the great Gothic cathedral conceived by John D. Rockefeller Jr., to deliver a speech entitled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” It announced a decisive shift in King’s message and ministry, from desegregation to a broader engagement with pacifism and social and economic justice. And it marked the beginning of the final year of his life. Exactly one year later, the concerns he spoke to that day would lead him to support a strike by sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., where he was shot and killed.

“I come to this great magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice,” he said at the beginning of his talk, before a crowd of more than 3,000 that filled the immense church. “A time comes when silence is betrayal. That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.” He went on to describe how Great Society antipoverty programs, “the real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white,” had been left “broken and eviscerated” by the costs and the social divisions imposed by the war. “We [are] taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. … We have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools.” He invoked his ministry, “in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them.” And in his summation, he quoted from one of his favorite hymns, written more than 120 years before by the abolitionist James Russell Lowell:

Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide

In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side

Opposition to the war was not a new position for King, although it may have been news to some of his followers. Two years before, he had expressed his view that military action in Vietnam was “accomplishing nothing,” but that came in a question-and-answer session after a speech, and it attracted little attention. As the war escalated through 1965, the board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference authorized him to pursue his own peace initiatives, drawing a warning from an assistant secretary of labor, George Weaver, described by the New York Times as “one of the highest-ranking Negroes in the Johnson administration,” that he risked provoking a “miscalculation” by the North Vietnamese or their patrons in the Soviet Union or China.

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So he understood the risk he was taking. He would be breaking decisively with Lyndon Johnson, the president who had done more than any other since Lincoln to advance civil rights. He was being challenged on the left by a new generation of Black Power advocates and harassed by J. Edgar Hoover, whose covert efforts to discredit and destroy King would get new ammunition from his association with the people derisively called “peaceniks.” Peace activists were often labeled “Commies” in those years, and it was King’s long association with the left-wing activist Stanley Levison, whom Hoover suspected of being a Soviet agent, that brought King under FBI surveillance in the first place. Ironically, as the historian Taylor Branch points out, Levison was actually opposed to King’s involvement in antiwar causes and tried to talk him out of giving his Vietnam speech. (“I lost,” Levison told associates, in a wiretapped phone call, “and we’ll just have to live with the consequences.”)

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Martin Luther King Jr. through the years
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Martin Luther King Jr. through the years
circa 1953: Headshot of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr (1929 - 1968), American civil rights leader and pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, wearing his vestments. (Photo by Michael Evans/New York Times Co./Getty Images)
Former Senator Lehman presents 'Americans for Democratic Action' scroll to Reverend Martin Luther King at the Astor Hotel. February 03, 1961. (Photo by William N. Jacobellis/New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images)
Dr Martin Luther King Jr, the civil rights campaigner and famous orator, portrait of a young man, in a black suit and tie with his head tilted., 1955. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Reverend Ralph Abernathy are shown 'integrating' one of the first buses in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. This scene is from the striking three-hour feature film, King: A Filmed Record. . .Montgomery to Memphis, to be presented for the first time on television on WPIX TV, Channel 11, Tuesday, April 4, from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m., in observance of the fourth anniversary of the death of Dr. King. 1955.
American civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 - 1968) speaks as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, March 20, 1956. (Photo by George Tames/New York Times Co./Getty Images)
MONTGOMERY, AL - MAY 1956: Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. relaxes at home in May 1956 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
MONTGOMERY, AL - MAY 1956: Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. relaxes at home with his family in May 1956 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
MONTGOMERY, AL - MAY 1956: Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. relaxes at home with his family in May 1956 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
MONTGOMERY, AL - MAY 13: Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks with people after delivering a sermon on May 13, 1956 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King speaking from pulpit at mass meeting about principles of non-violence before leading assembly to ride newly integrated busses after successful boycott. (Photo by Don Cravens/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. standing at the Lincoln Memorial with police officers and posing to a photographer during 'Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom' in Washington, D.C. in 1957. (Photo By Paul Schutzer/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
A rear view of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 1957. (Photo By Paul Schutzer/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. addressing the crowd during 'Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom' at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 1957. (Photo By Paul Schutzer/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (C) talking to an unidentified man. (Photo by Grey Villet/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) 9/30/1958-New York, NY: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., poses with his mother (Left) and his wife at Harlem Hospital here Sept. 30th during his first newsconference since being stabbed by Mrs. Izola Curry on Sept. 20th. King said he had no ill will towards Mrs. Curry. He added that he knows thoughtful people will do all in their power to see that she gets the help she apparently needs if it becomes a free and constructive member of Society.
American Civil Rights and religious leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr (1929 - 1968) holds his infant daughter, Yolanda King (1955 - 2007), in his arms, 1956. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)
American Civil Rights and religious leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr (1929 - 1968) bends down as he speaks with a group of schoolgirls in a classroom, January 1960. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)
BIRMINGHAM BENEFIT SHOW: Martin Luther King Jr., left, and an unidentified man address the crowd during the Salute to Freedom concert. (Photo By Grey Villet/The LIFE Premium Collection/Getty Images)
Martin Luther King, Jr., Close-Up During Speech, circa 1960's. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
On the campus of Atlanta University (later renamed Clark Atlanta University) to discuss 'sit-in' protests, American religious and Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr (1929 � 1968) (fore) sits with his hands on his knee, as future politician (and Washington DC mayor) Marion Barry stands behind him, Atlanta, Georgia, mid-May, 1960. (Photo by Howard Sochurek/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Civil Rights ldr. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holding his son Martin III as his daughter Bernice and wife Coretta greet him at the airport upon his release from Georgia State prison after incarceration for leading boycotts. (Photo by Donald Uhrbrock/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
After Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is freed from jail under a $2000 appeal bond, he is greeted by his wife Coretta and children, Marty and Yoki, at the airport in Chamblee, Georgia.
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (3R) participating in planning session for Freedom Riders' bus trip from Montgomery, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi. (Photo by Lee Lockwood/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
Freedom Riders' leaders Reverend Metz Rollins and Martin Luther King Jr. sitting on a church bench with an unidentified person during the Freedom Rider crisis in May of 1961.
Rev. Martin Luther king (L), and attorneys Mrs. Constance Motley and William Kunstler enter their car here 7/25 after a federal judge issued a stay of another jurist's injunction against integration demonstrations at Albany, Ga. King, leader of racial demonstrations over the South, said he would return to Albany immediately.
(Original Caption) 4/12/1963-Birmingham, AL: A police officer grabs Southern integration leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., by the seat of his trousers in jailing him for leading an anti-segregation march.
American Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 - 1968) (center, pointig with right hand) leads a march to a rally against racial discrimination at Coho Hall, Detroit, Michigan, June 23, 1963. Among those with him are Reverend Clarence Franklin (1915 - 1984) (third from left, holding King's right arm) and Detroit mayor Jerome Cavanagh (1928 ? 1979) (second right). (Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving his I Have a Dream speech to huge crowd gathered for the Mall in Washington DC during the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom (aka the Freedom March). (Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Overhead view of the massive crowd assembled on the Mall in front of the Reflecting Pool and between the Lincoln and Washington monuments during the civil rights March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Washington DC, August 28, 1963. It was at this rally that Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his 'I Have a Dream' speech. (Photo by Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
View of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 - 1968, center) at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where he would deliver his 'I Have a Dream' speech, Washington DC, 28th August 1963. (Photo by Rowland Scherman/Getty Images)
View of some of the leaders of March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom as they prepare to march, Washington DC, August 28, 1963. Among those pictured are, front row from third left, John Lewis (holding manila fodler), Matthew Ahman,Floyd B. McKissick (1922 - 1991), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr (1929 - 1968), Reverend Eugene Carson Blake (1906 - 1985), Cleveland Robinson (1914 - 1995), Joachim Prinz (hidden), unidentified (hidden), Whitney Young (1921 - 1971), Roy Wilkins (1901 - 1981), Walter Reuther (1907 - 1970), and A. Philip Randolph (1889 - 1979). The march provided the setting for Dr. King's iconic 'I Have a Dream' speech. (Photo by Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) three-quarter-length portrait, standing, face front, at a press conference. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
12th August 1964: American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 - 1968) waves with his children, Yolanda and Martin Luther III, from the 'Magic Skyway' ride at the Worlds Fair, New York City. The ride was a replica of a Ford convertible. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
President Lyndon B Johnson (1908 - 1973) discusses the Voting Rights Act with civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 - 1968). The act, part of President Johnson's 'Great Society' program trebled the number of black voters in the south, who had previously been hindered by racially inspired laws, 1965. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holds a picture of three missing civil rights workers, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman (l to r) during a press conference. The bodies of the three men were later found near Philadelphia, Mississippi and the
LOS ANGELES -1965: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sits at a table during The Nation Institute California Conference circa 1965 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Martin Mills/Getty Images)
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1964 Nobel peace Prize winner and leader of the American Negro civil rights movement for more than a decade, addresses an integrated audience during a testimonial dinner in his honor here 1/27. The dinner was held in one of the city's largest downtown hotels.
American religious and Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr (1929 - 1968) watches US President Lyndon Johnson on television, Selma, Alabama, March 1965. (Photo by Frank Dandridge/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
'(from left to right) Harry Belafonte, Chairman Reverend Martin Luther King and Sammy Davis, Jr., Co-Chairmen for the Broadway Answers Selma benefit at the Majestic Theater. April 06, 1965. (Photo by Jerry Engel/New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images)'
FRANCE - OCTOBER 24: Portrait of the American Baptist Martin LUTHER KING Jr. on a trip to Paris. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1964 for his peaceful action to obtain civil rights for African Americans in the USA. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
Martin Luther King, Jr. meets with President Eisenhower at the White House. (Photo by � CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Civil Rights leaders walk arm in arm at a march in Canton, Mississippi. CORE leader Floyd McKissick (c) and Stokely Carmichael of SNCC (r) support the Black Power movement while Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (l) stresses non-violent racial integration.
Martin Luther King, Jr., wearing a hat and sunglasses calls out 'All right, all right, we're gonna march, we're gonna march straight south' as he leads marchers across the Coldwater River Bridge in Coldwater, Mississippi. Dr. King resumed James Meredith' | Location: Coldwater, Mississippi, USA.
WASHINGTON - APRIL 16: FACE THE NATION featuring Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Image dated: April 16, 1967. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
A portrait of American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), circa 1968. (Photo by RDA/Getty Images)
American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 - 1968), watched by Dr. Charles Bousenquet, signs the Degree Roll At Newcastle University after receiving an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree, Newcastle, England, November 14, 1967. (Photo by /Getty Images)
Dr. Martin Luther King press conference held at Sardi's West. June 20, 1967. (Photo by Vic DeLucia/New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Washington, DC: Close up of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on the phone after delivering a sermon at the Washington Episcopal Cathedral. King predicted a 'right wing takeover and a fascist state' will develop in America by 1980, if Congress does not do more for the poor.
Members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference sit in the room of assassinated Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr at the Lorriane Motel (#306) shortly after King's death, Memphis, Tennessee April 4, 1968. Among those present are Andrew Young (at left near lamp, with hand on chin) and Ralph Abernathy (1926 � 1990) (center rear, with round tie pin). (Photo by Henry Groskinsky/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
After the assassination of Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr outside the door of room 306 at the Lorraine Motel, a group of men stand in front of the room window on the motel's balcony, Memphis, Tennessee, April 4, 1968. Theatrice Bailey (1910 - 1982), brother of the motel's owner, stands at the right. (Photo by Henry Groskinsky/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) 4/9/1968-Atlanta, GA: Mule-drawn caisson carrying the casket of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is followed by dignitaries and aids as it moves towards the campus of Morehead College for a memorial service.
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But King was being pushed in the other direction by another influential aide, James Bevel, a fiery preacher from Mississippi, who saw the Vietnam War as an extension of America’s oppression of nonwhites. (Ironically, after King’s death, Bevel would become a supporter of Ronald Reagan and later drift to the fringes of politics as the running mate of perennial presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche.) And King was pushed, more than anything else, by the logic of his own commitment to nonviolence. How, he wondered, could he demand that his own people brave police clubs and dogs without striking back, and not denounce the bombs the United States was dropping on children on the other side of the world? “It has been my consistent belief and position that non-violence is the only true solution to the social problems of the world and of this country,” King wrote a supporter just before the Riverside speech. “The principle of love which has motivated so many to strike out against the evils of racism here in America must motivate us to protest the brutal destruction of the Vietnamese People.”

In the spring of 1967, King, notwithstanding his 1964 Nobel Prize, was not quite the towering figure we look back on today. The great victories he had helped win — the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — were receding into the (recent) past. The SCLC was in disarray and debt. King’s effort to tackle racial segregation in the North was foundering on the discovery that housing was a much more complicated and nuanced issue than whites-only lunch counters. King’s antiwar activism, while popular among the antiwar left, wasn’t winning many converts even among his allies in the civil rights movement, some of whom supported the war on principle, while others worried it would dilute his message about race. Within days of King’s speech the leading mainline civil rights group, the NAACP, disassociated itself from his stance, with a declaration that “we are not a peace organization nor a foreign policy association. We are a civil rights organization.” An editorial in the New York Times on April 7 (“Dr. King’s Error”) chastised King, in measured Times-speak, for making “too facile a connection between the speeding up of the war in Vietnam and the slowing down of the war against poverty.”

King’s life was already hectic and was about to get more so. He spent his last year crisscrossing the country in a whirl of speeches, sermons, meetings, rallies and marches. David Halberstam, who profiled him in the summer of 1967 for Harper’s magazine, noted that “most of King’s life is spent going to airports, and it is the only time to talk to him.” The period has been chronicled in a number of places, notably including the final volume of Branch’s magisterial trilogy on King’s life, “At Canaan’s Edge,” and a new HBO documentary, “King in the Wilderness.” Local newspapers reported on his visits whenever he touched down, in articles that make for arresting reading 50 years later, with their casual references to “Reds” and “Negroes,” which is the word King himself used. (It would be another year before the Amsterdam News, Harlem’s leading publication, totally banished the term in favor of “blacks.”) A partial list of the places King visited during that year includes, besides New York and his home in Atlanta: Boston; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Cleveland; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Miami; Grinnell, Iowa; Clarksdale, Marks and nearby towns in Mississippi; Geneva, Switzerland (for a world peace conference); Newcastle upon Tyne, England (to receive an honorary degree); Acapulco (for a two-day vacation); and, of course, Memphis. Along the way he rebuffed appeals to run for president as a peace candidate, served a five-day sentence in the Birmingham, Ala., jail, was accused by Hoover, in a secret report to Johnson, of plotting to blow up the Chicago Loop, and was bequeathed the entire estate — amounting to less than $10,000 — of the New Yorker writer Dorothy Parker, who admired him although they had never met.

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Scene of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination
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Scene of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination
TENNESSEE, UNITED STATES - APRIL 04: Police carrying body of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. after he was shot by assassin James Earl Ray. (Photo by Joseph Louw/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) 4/4/1968-Memphis, TN: Police stand guard on balcony of motel in which Negro leader Dr. Martin Luther King was shot 4/4. King was felled by a single shot as he stood on balcony of his downtown motel.
Bloodstained balcony of Lorraine Motel, where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was shot by white sniper, James Earl Ray. (Photo by Henry Groskinsky/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
View of a nearby rooming house (on the left) where suspect James Earl Ray was believed to have fired the fatal shot that killed Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, Memphis, Tennessee, April 4, 1968. (Photo by Henry Groskinsky/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Daily News front page April, 5, 1968, Headline: MARTIN KING SHOT TO DEATH - Gunned Down in Memphis - A Man of Peace. In December 1964, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., then 35, accepted Nobel Peace Prize from Gunnar Jahn in Oslo, Norway. Last night, in Memphis, Tenn., Dr. King was shot to death as he stood on balcony of his hotel. He was there to lead garbage strike marches. Two men were arrested shortly after shooting. (Photo By: /NY Daily News via Getty Images)
An unidentified man stands outside the door of room 306 on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, a few feet from where Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated earlier in the evening, Memphis, Tennessee, April 4, 1968. The photo was taken from a nearby rooming house where suspect James Earl Ray was believed to have fired the fatal shot. (Photo by Henry Groskinsky/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Simulated view through a gunsight of the balcony at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King was shot and killed.
(Original Caption) View of balcony on which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was standing when fatally shot April 4th as he leaned over railing to talk to friends outside the Lorraine Motel.
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A few days after the Riverside speech, King flew to California for a series of speeches. He held a press conference in part to deal with the repercussions of the address, at which he clarified, apparently for the benefit of donors to the SCLC, that he was not seeking to merge the civil rights and peace movements — meaning their contributions wouldn’t go to support his antiwar activism. By April 15 he was back in New York for a large and unruly march and rally for peace at the United Nations, alongside the antiwar activists Harry Belafonte and Benjamin Spock. “Many Draft Cards Burned — Eggs Tossed at Parade” was part of the headline in the next day’s Times. Citing some of the banners, signs and chants, the story introduced readers of the Times to a new slogan: “No Vietnamese ever called me nigger.”

Over the next few months King made repeated trips to Cleveland, one of four cities he had designated as a focus of his campaign to improve housing and job opportunities for blacks. He denounced the city’s crackdown in response to the previous summer’s riots, telling reporters, “a get-tough policy should mean getting tough against poverty, inferior education and rat-infested slums.” Meeting with local ministers and civil rights leaders, he involved himself in the details of local organizing: rent strikes, voter registration drives and “Operation Breadbasket,” targeted boycotts meant to force businesses to hire more black workers. “We’re not begging for freedom any more,” he told a press conference in May. Among a handful of reports on King’s local activities published by the Plain Dealer that summer and fall was a front-page picture of him relaxing on the lawn of a local activist, dressed, as he almost invariably was in photographs from those years, in a dark suit, white shirt and necktie. He was tossing a football to a couple of youngsters, including his sons, Martin III and Dexter, who were along for the trip.

On June 12, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of eight black African-American ministers, including King and his brother, for contempt of court, stemming from a demonstration in Birmingham four years earlier. Bull Connor, Birmingham’s commissioner of public safety, had denied the group a permit to march, but they did anyway, invoking the doctrine of civil disobedience to illegitimate authority. In a 5-4 decision, with Chief Justice Earl Warren among the dissenters, the Court overruled that defense and ordered the men to serve their sentences and pay a $50 fine. Even if forbidding the march was unconstitutional, the decision held, the proper remedy was to appeal the denial to the courts. A few months later, one of the justices in the majority, Tom Clark, was replaced by Thurgood Marshall. Marshall, a civil rights hero in his own right, became the first African-American on the court, and, it’s safe to say, would have tipped the balance to the other side.

King was in and out of Cleveland and Chicago at least a half-dozen times that summer. In August he returned to Atlanta for the SCLC convention, where he announced plans to “dislocate” Northern cities with a campaign of “mass civil disobedience.” In a long speech titled “Where Do We Go From Here?” he enumerated achievements in Chicago and Cleveland, including the hiring of more black contractors by major department stores and taking out advertisements in Negro newspapers. The speech was well received, and the audience broke into applause and affirmation as King moved into his peroration with one of his signature aphorisms: “Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But reading it today one is struck by the realization that just a few years earlier King had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to overturn a century of injustice and oppression and had stood in the Oval Office as Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. A gap had opened between King’s soaring rhetoric and the grindingly slow process of bringing concrete improvements to the lives of millions of people in big-city ghettoes and the ramshackle towns of the Old South. The arc of the moral universe would have to be very long indeed if its course were to be measured by the hiring of more “Negro insect and rodent exterminators, as well as janitorial services” by chain stores in Chicago’s South Side.

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The history of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, the site of Martin Luther King Jr. assassination
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The history of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, the site of Martin Luther King Jr. assassination
Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down by assassin. (Photo by Henry Groskinsky/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Dr. Ralph Abernathy (1929 - 1990) and Jesse Jackson (both obscured) and others stand on the balcony of Lorraine motel and point in the direction of gun shots that killed American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 - 1968), who lies at their feet, Memphis, Tennessee, April 4, 1968. (Photo by Joseph Louw/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
Exterior view of the Lorraine Motel in the hours after the assassination of Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Memphis, Tennessee, April 4, 1968. (Photo by Henry Groskinsky/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
In room 306 of the Lorraine motel, the arm of an unidentified man hold a copy of the book 'Strength to Love' by Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was assassinated just outside the room the previous evening, Memphis, Tennessee, April 5, 1968. The small case contains King's personal effects. (Photo by Henry Groskinsky/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) View through a simulated telescopic gunsight shows what the killer of Dr. Martin Luther King may have seen just before he fired the fatal bullet on April 4th at the balcony of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King stood talking to friends. The photograph was made from the bathroom window of the rooming house from which police believe the assassin fired his rifle.
(Original Caption) Memphis, Tenn.: Mrs. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Rev. A.D. King, brother of the slain civil rights leader unveil a commemorative plaque on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was shot death.
(Original Caption) A wreath is attached to the outside door of Room #306 of the Lorraine Motel which Dr. Martin Luther King occupied before he was fatally shot as he leaned over a railing outside the room talking to friends.
The Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot outside of rooms 306 and 307 on April 4, 1968. The motel is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum. (Photo by Ben Noey Jr./Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images)
Standing in front of the former Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination on April 4, 1968, Memphis sanitation workers Elmore Nickelberry, 76, center, and his son, Terrence, left, hold a replica of the placard used by strikers in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Carl Juste/Miami Herald/MCT via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 15: Lorraine Motel, Memphis, Tennessee (Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - APRIL 08: Photo of MEMPHIS; The Lorraine Motel in Memphis where Martin Luther King was assassinated in April 1968 (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)
Sheree Fenison, 9, of New Hope Baptist Church in Lake Village, Arkansas, stares at the last room where Martin Luther King slept. On Martin Luther King's birthday, crowds visit The Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where he was assassinated on the evening of April 4th, 1968. The hotel, now the National Civil Rights Museum, has made an exhibit out of the original room Dr. King stayed in, #306, and the balcony right outside where he was slain. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 25: A general view of the exterior of the Lorraine Motel which is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum on May 25, 2013 in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot outside of rooms 306 and 307 on April 4, 1968. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
View of the facade of the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, January 15, 2014. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)
MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 25: A general view of the exterior of the Lorraine Motel which is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum on May 25, 2013 in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot outside of rooms 306 and 307 on April 4, 1968. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
MEMPHIS - OCTOBER 03: 'Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Room 306' exhibit at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on October 3, 2016. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)
MEMPHIS, TN - APRIL 01: Orlando Colbert puts a broom away as he helps prepare the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered and is now part of the complex of the National Civil Rights Museum, for the 50th anniversary of his assassination on April 1, 2018 in Memphis, Tennessee. Over the next few days, the city will commemorate his legacy before his death on the balcony outside room 306 on April 4, 1968. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A view of room 306 at the Lorraine Motel, where civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., spent his last night, is seen on the grounds of the National Civil Rights Museum, April 3, 2018 in Memphis, Tennessee. King was assassinated 50 years ago on April 4, 1968, as he stepped to the balcony outside the room. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A wreath hangs on the balcony of the former Lorraine Motel, now part of the National Civil Rights Museum, where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee April 2, 2008. April 4th will mark the 40th anniversary of the assassination of the civil rights leader who was shot as he stood on the balcony by James Earl Ray. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES)
A view of room 306 at the Lorraine Motel, where civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., spent his last night, is seen on the grounds of the National Civil Rights Museum, April 3, 2018 in Memphis, Tennessee. King was assassinated 50 years ago on April 4, 1968, as he stepped to the balcony outside the room. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Students stare out a window at the Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum, at the site where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, April 3. People from across the United States are gathering in Memphis to commemorate King on April 4, the 30th anniversary of his death. KING ANNIVERSARY
A view of room 306 at the Lorraine Motel, where civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., spent his last night, is seen on the grounds of the National Civil Rights Museum, April 3, 2018 in Memphis, Tennessee. King was assassinated 50 years ago on April 4, 1968, as he stepped to the balcony outside the room. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Rev. Jesse Jackson speaking with family members on the balcony outside room 306 at the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, is seen on the grounds of the National Civil Rights Museum, April 3, 2018 in Memphis, Tennessee. King was assassinated 50 years ago on April 4, 1968, as he stepped to the balcony. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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At the end of October, King and three others, including his brother, the Rev. A.D. King, surrendered in Birmingham to serve their sentences. “As we leave for a Birmingham jail today,” King said, “we call out to America: Take heed. Do not allow the Bill of Rights to become a prisoner of war.” He did not follow up on plans to write a sequel to his famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail” of 1963, although he did compose an essay, “A Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged,” that was later published in the New York Times. The men were released after four days; King’s close aide Rev. Ralph Abernathy joked that since the lawyers had failed to keep the pastors out of jail, he was going back on his promise to keep them out of Hell. On being released, King announced plans to visit the Soviet Union. This was a trip he never made.

TIMELINE: Martin Luther King Jr.’s final year >>>

Now things began speeding up. On Dec. 4 King announced plans for a “poor peoples’ campaign for jobs or income,” which would take the form of a march on Washington the following spring. “In a news conference here,” the Times reported from Atlanta, “the winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace acknowledged that the ugly mood of many Negroes in the nation’s slums made the campaign ‘risky,’ but he asserted that ‘not to act represents moral irresponsibility.’” The reporter observed that “the Negro leader’s mood seemed deeply pessimistic.” A whirlwind of fundraising and planning for the march ensued, interrupted by more speeches and rallies. In January, he visited Joan Baez in jail in Oakland, Calif., where she was serving a sentence for staging a sit-in to protest the draft. On the men’s wing, he visited another peace activist, Ira Sandperl. Sandperl was struck, Branch writes, by the “contrast between the well-tailored figure in starched cuffs and the face of weary depression. King asked a favor. ‘When I’m in jail in Washington,’ he said, ‘come visit me there.’”

On Feb. 4, King was back in Atlanta in the pulpit of his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, where he preached what has become known as the “Drum Major” sermon, musing on the all-too-human desire for recognition. The text is from the 10th chapter of Mark, in which the apostles James and John request the honor of sitting alongside Jesus. This impulse is the root of the social evil of racism, King said, “a need some people have … to feel that their white skin ordained them to be first,” and also of the personal vices of jealousy, arrogance and pride. That thought in turn led him to consider his own place in history and how he would want to be remembered and eulogized. “I don’t want a long funeral,” he said. “Tell them not to talk too long. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize — that isn’t important.” He wanted to be remembered, he said, as someone who served others, who tried to feed the hungry and serve humanity and who “tried to be right on the war question.” “Yes, Jesus,” he concluded, “I want to be on your right or your left side, not for any selfish reason. … I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.”

It was also in February that King appeared as a guest on The Tonight Show, where Belafonte, a close friend, was filling in as host. King mentioned he had flown up from Washington on a plane that had been delayed by “mechanical difficulties,” and he was glad to land safely. “I don’t want you to think that as a Baptist preacher, I don’t have confidence in God in the air,” he said. “It’s just that I’ve had more experience with him on the ground.”

“Do you fear for your life?” Belafonte asked.

“Not really,” King replied. “Ultimately it isn’t important how long you live — it’s how well you live.” He was 39.

On March 3 he returned to Ebenezer to preach on “Unfulfilled Dreams,” about world-historical figures who never achieved their greatest goals — like Gandhi, who lived just long enough to see his dream of a united India shattered by religious war and partition, or King David, who died before he could build a temple to the Lord. Each of us is building our own temple, King told the worshippers. We are all traveling to a destination, and what matters isn’t whether we reach our destination, but that we are on the right road.

He was hurtling toward his own destiny, and perhaps he sensed it. Certainly those around him did. His aides worried he was pushing himself too hard, in danger of burning out, or of losing control of the civil rights movement as more militant figures rose to prominence, mocking his lifelong commitment to nonviolence. He spoke in Detroit in mid-March, then flew to Los Angeles for speeches and meetings where, Branch writes, he let himself be talked into committing to visit “Indian reservations and migrant labor camps from California to Appalachia and Massachusetts” in the run-up to the Poor People’s March, whose start was barely more than a month away. Then he took a call from James Lawson, a preacher and organizer in Memphis, urging him to speak at a rally in support of a strike by the overwhelmingly black sanitation workers’ union. So he flew into Memphis by way of New Orleans on March 18, arriving to a packed auditorium at the Mason Temple to deliver a rousing address.

“We are tired of being at the bottom! We are tired of our men being emasculated so that our wives and daughters have to go out and work in the white lady’s kitchen,” he thundered. As the cheers filled the packed hall, he promised that he would be back.

From Memphis, King descended into the Delta, visiting towns in some of the poorest counties in the United States, speaking in what the Times called “a shabby firetrap of a building whose interior walls are covered with funeral-parlor calendars” showing a suffering — white-skinned — Jesus on the cross. “I am very deeply touched,” King told mothers who couldn’t afford shoes for their children. “God does not want you to live like you are living.”

Then he got back on an airplane to meet with supporters in New York, visiting a Harlem tenement where a local activist, Mrs. Bennie Fowler, cooked him lunch and served it beneath a clothesline strung across her dining room. He apologized for canceling some appearances, explaining “I’ve been getting two hours’ sleep a night for the last 10 days.”

Then he returned to Memphis for a march that started late and quickly turned ugly, with looting, cops injured and shooting back and hundreds arrested. King back in his hotel room was overcome with remorse (according to FBI transcripts of his wiretapped phone conversations), blaming himself for being unable to rein in the anger he had always hoped to keep from spilling over into violence.

“Maybe we just have to admit that the day of violence is here,” he said in despair to his aides. “And maybe we have to give up and let violence take its course.” Then he flew home to Atlanta.

Newspapers around the country denounced King as an agitator and troublemaker, following, in some cases, scripts that had been surreptitiously provided by Hoover’s agents. King flew to Washington to preach a Sunday service at the National Cathedral, describing the poverty and misery he had seen the week before in Mississippi. That day, Sunday, March 31, ended with Johnson’s speech announcing he would not run for another term as president in November.

And then King returned to Memphis for a third time. His aide Xernona Clayton had picked him up at his home, where, she recounts in “King in the Wilderness,” his two sons had uncharacteristically tried to keep him from leaving. “He said, what in the world happened to these kids. They must be trying to tell me they’re missing me more, and when I come back I’ve got to change my habits.”

His flight out of Atlanta was delayed because of bomb threats, and he arrived at the Mason Temple amid a Biblical-magnitude thunderstorm. He spoke about the strike and Operation Breadbasket, and he repeated his warnings about violence: “We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles; we don’t need any Molotov cocktails.” He recalled the time he had been stabbed at a book signing in New York, an attempted assassination that came very close to succeeding. Doctors told him just a sneeze could have ruptured his aorta, and then “I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had,” and “I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see the great movement there.”

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Memphis 50 years after Martin Luther King's death
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Memphis 50 years after Martin Luther King's death
A statue of Rosa Parks sits at the front of a bus in the National Civil Rights Museum, on the site of the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 26, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "MLK ERNST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People visit the reconstructed hotel room where Martin Luther King stayed before he was shot and killed at the in 1968 at the Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum, in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S. March 25, 2018. Picture taken March 25, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "MLK ERNST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A mural heralds the Soulsville neighbourhood, home to the legendary Stax recording studio, in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "MLK ERNST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A street sign marks Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S. March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "MLK ERNST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Archie Hurt, who regards Martin Luther King Jr. as a prophet, stands in front of his house in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 29, 2018. Hurt, has been painting parts of Biblical scripture interspersed with his thoughts on religion, politics and current events on the front of his house for ten years and twenty years before that when it was his brother's house. His hat reads "Cry to the Lord". REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "MLK ERNST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
The U.S. flag decorates a building in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "MLK ERNST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Activist Sweet Willie Wine looks through papers near his framed "Memphis Invaders" (a black power group) jacket in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 29, 2018. After spending time in prison as a young man, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. inspired Wine to dedicate his life to the Civil Rights movement. He was three blocks away from the Lorraine Motel when King was killed on April 4, 1968. "On Friday, April the 5th, his body was at Lewis' Funeral Home. Something said to me, "Get up and go down to Lewis's Funeral Home," said Wine. "I went in and over him I said, 'Dr. King, I'm gonna make them pay.' That's when I made my commitment. That was fifty years ago, and I've not turned around since." REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "MLK ERNST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
The base of a statue to Nathan Bedford Forrest, a founder of the Ku Klux Klan, stands in a park in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 27, 2018. In December 2017 activists forced a removal of the statue from his gravesite. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "MLK ERNST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Tami Sawyer, a Black Lives Matter organiser, who is running for election to sit on city council, meets potential voters at a bar room event called Nerdnite where she talks about her experience removing a statue of KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest (pictured), in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "MLK ERNST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Knowledge Quest community program founder Marlon Foster (L) gives a tour to visitors from Tennessee agriculture agencies of Knowledge Quest's community microfarm on razed home lots in the Soulsville neighbourhood in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "MLK ERNST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A car drives by the house, slated to be moved to a new location, where singer Aretha Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "MLK ERNST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Sanitation workers collect refuse from a truck decorated with images honoring civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who was shot and killed in Memphis in 1968 while championing their cause as workers, in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S. March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
A stained glass portrait of Bishop W.F. Ball, which hearkens back to the historic roots of Clayborn Temple, hangs in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S. March 25, 2018. The church is the building where the striking workers met 50 years ago at the time of Martin Luther King Jr. assassination. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "MLK ERNST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Sanitation worker Walter Coleman works a route on a truck decorated to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 28, 2018. King Jr. was shot and killed while rallying with striking sanitation workers in 1968. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "MLK ERNST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People visit the reconstructed hotel room where Martin Luther King Jr. stayed before he was shot and killed in 1968 at the Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum, in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 26, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "MLK ERNST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Side dishes including (clockwise from top right) cabbage, sweet potatoes, collard greens, rice, beans and macaroni-and-cheese are ready to be served at Ms. Girlee's Soul Food Restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 29, 2018. The restaurant is owned by Henry Leach and his family.�Leach, who participated in the strike 50 years ago, said Martin Luther King came to the city for justice, not violence. "He came to help us get what we wanted. Like I tell you, he became like a father to us,"�the former sanitation worker said recently. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "MLK ERNST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Shahidah Jones (L) and Rev. Earle Fisher, Black Lives Matter organisers, light themselves using a phone, as they pose for a photo near the De Soto Bridge in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 28, 2018. One thousand Black Lives Matter activists occupied and shut down the De Soto Bridge for four hours in a July 2016 protest. Rev. Earle Fisher: "I didn't have anything to do with (the protest) in terms of starting it but I was definitely there in solidarity with the people." Shahidah Jones: "The vibe of the protest had, then, started to change. It had started out with positive energy, but now you could feel this aggression growing." Helping to resolve the stalemate Fisher got the police to agree to a meeting on community policing and led the protesters off the bridge. Jones: "We get asked a lot as organisers, what does MLK 50 mean to you? It doesn't mean anything different for us than April 5th. Our job is still the same." REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "MLK ERNST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A stairway leads to an empty lot where a house used to stand in the Soulsville, where some members of the neighborhood struggle with poverty issues 50 years after Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968 while taking up the cause of striking sanitation workers, in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S. March 29, 2018. Picture taken March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "MLK ERNST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Customers watch, as their orders are prepared, at Ms. Girlee's Soul Food Restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 29, 2018. The restaurant is owned by Henry Leach and his family.�Leach, who participated in the strike 50 years ago, said King came to the city for justice, not violence. "He came to help us get what we wanted. Like I tell you, he became like a father to us," the former sanitation worker said recently. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "MLK ERNST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People visit the reconstructed hotel room where Martin Luther King Jr. was staying before he was shot and killed at the in 1968 at the Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum, in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 26, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "MLK ERNST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A cotton-themed mural decorates a building in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "MLK ERNST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Actor Larry Bates plays Martin Luther King Jr. as he rehearses a scene from the play "The Mountaintop", part of events marking the 50th anniversary of King's murder at the Halloran Centre, in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "MLK ERNST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A marker on a street corner in the Soulsville neighbourhood marks the spot of the People's Grocery lynching of African-American proprietors Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell and Will Stewart in 1892, which spurred Ida B. Wells in her crusade against lynching, in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S. March 26, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "MLK ERNST" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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“And then I got into Memphis,” King continued. “And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out, or 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 really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. 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 so I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man.”

And he ended with a line from the great Civil War anthem, the Battle Hymn of the Republic:

“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”

That was the night of April 3, 1968.

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