Chicago joins nation to mark 50th anniversary of the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King
By Stacy M. Brown and Erick Johnson
On a cold Chicago evening, Adrian Edwards of the Park Manor neighborhood boarded a Greyhound bus for a 532-mile journey to Memphis. The Roosevelt University student and employee had never been to the southern city before, but the historic anniversary of the death of the revered civil rights leader got her to finally make the trip.
Edwards was one many Chicago residents who joined hundreds of thousands of Americans who marked the solemn 50th Anniversary of the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., who was gunned down at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968.
“I’m hoping to get a stronger connection and sense of justice on this trip,” Edwards said. “I just think it will inspire me to do more.”
Edwards was among 35 people who boarded a Greyhound bus from the Operation PUSH Rainbow Coalition Monday night for the eight-hour trip to Memphis. On Tuesday, April 3, a busload of some 45 Chicago Public School students made a similar trip, headed for ceremonies in Memphis. There, they watched Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. and Saint Sabina’s Father Michael L. Pfleger deliver speeches before huge crowds that flooded Tennessee’s second largest city.
King’s children, Martin Luther King III and Bernice King, led a day-long string of events that rekindled painful memories of a murder that stunned the world 50 years ago.
At Operation Rainbow PUSH headquarters, a one-hour commemorative ceremony was held Wednesday. A bell sounded 39 times at 6:01 p.m., exactly the time King was gunned down on the balcony outside his hotel room, number 306. King was 39 when he died.
On Chicago’s West Side, several prominent Black faith and political leaders marked the historic anniversary of King’s assassination with a wreath-laying ceremony at a marker honoring the civil rights leader near 4800 West Chicago Avenue. Among them were State Representative La Shawn K. Ford, (D-Chicago); Alderman Emma Mitts (37th Ward); Reverend Ira Acree, the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago; Austin Village 72; Westside Health Authority and other community organizations.
The West Side suffered tremendous devastation after residents took their anger to the streets and looted and burned buildings following King’s assassination.
“April 4, 1968 was the day a modern-day Moses was killed! A man who was so hated when he was alive because of his commitment to equal rights for all, was murdered – leaving many Blacks feeling betrayed once again by their country,” said Acree, Pastor of the Greater St. John Bible Church in the Austin community in a statement. “We have yet to recover from the immense desecration and destruction of our community. But, we are resilient and determined nevertheless, to fight on!”
Rep. Ford said “It is my hope that this day can be a day of remembrance and a day of advocating an end to gun violence.”
While gunman James Earl Ray’s bullet silenced the legendary leader, his legacy continues to live on through contemporaries like Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr. and organizations like the NAACP.
Younger organizations, like Color of Change have picked up the mantle, pushing for justice, freedom and equality around the nation.
“In challenging political moments like this one, it can be tempting to give into despair, which makes it all the more critical for our communities to remember our powerful legacy and draw inspiration from leaders like Dr. King, especially now on the 50th anniversary of his assassination,” said Rashad Robinson, the executive director of Color of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization.
“What people too often forget is that beyond inspiring speeches and letters, Dr. King held a deep understanding of strategy and an expert execution of his vision.”
Robinson continued: “From the Montgomery bus boycott that brought a city and industry to its knees, to leveraging media as a megaphone for the Civil Rights movement, every day at Color of Change we strive to learn from Dr. King’s proud legacy, and all those that stood with him. We hold corporations accountable and demand they do more than just steal Dr. King’s voice for ads, but implement his demands for treating workers fairly and equally.”
The NAACP is honoring King with a series of special events in Memphis. “As we join our spirit of activism with so many in Memphis for [a] march and rally, our overarching goal is to lift up Dr. King’s legacy of active participation in our democracy,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement.
Jackson, who stood on that Lorraine Motel balcony in Memphis the day before the assassination, said King’s death redefined America.
“On this anniversary… it always hurts. He was 39-years-old, he was hated by our government, attacked by our government, media, shot, killed in cold blood,” Jackson said.
Martin Luther King III recalled the “Mountaintop” speech in which his father declared that, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life … longevity has its place. But, I’m not concerned about that now …
Jackson said that some people thought that King was anticipating his death the next day. “He had just come from a plane which had been emptied, because of the threat of the plane being hit by a terrorist attack,” Jackson said.
“He refused to be afraid because of the risk of ambush and sabotage. He refused to stop what he was doing out of fear because he did it out of courage.”
In a tweet Valerie Jarrett, who served as senior adviser to former President Barack Obama, wrote about King’s final speech and what it means to those who follow in his footsteps. “Those who fight for social justice today stand on the shoulders of many, including Martin Luther King Jr.,” Jarrett said. “I hope King’s last speech will give you strength for the hard journey ahead.”
King’s daughter, Bernice A. King, tweeted that her father was a nonviolent practitioner, a social change strategist and a courageous speaker of truth to power.