April 9th 1968, the final march of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Junior.Just a few days earlier on the 4th of April,James Earl Ray-the man later convicted of the shooting assassinated King on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis Tennessee.More than 100,000 people lined the streets of Atlanta-the place of King’s birth as two mules pulled a simple farm wagon carrying his body.King’s funeral drew famous faces of the era, including Senator Robert Kennedy, future US President-Richard Nixon and fellow civil rights activist-the Reverend Jesse Jackson.
Jackson spoke with VOA in August 2011 during the dedication of King’s Memorial in Washington.“He’s really as a symbol of power and justice and peace and reconciliation, but we had to win some mighty battles to get the reconciliation. I mean the Battle of Montgomery involved confrontation and endurance through a later one-day struggle.”The battles of Alabama were for the voting rights denied blacks in many parts of the American South.It was followed by more police violence against civilians in the city of Selma in what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday”.Congressman John Lewis was one of the leaders of the student protests.“They came toward us, beating us with nightsticks, trampling us with horses, releasing tear gas. Was hit in the head by a trooper with a night stick. I had a concussion at the brain.”“I thought I was going to die. I thought I saw death.”The televised violence sparked a national outcry.
A few days later, a court order gave king permission to lead tens of thousands of demonstrators to march from Selma to Alabama’s capital Montgomery.“King junior came back to visit me in my hospital room and said, ‘John, don’t worry. We will make it from Stallman to Montgomery, and the Voting Rights Act will be passed.” A year after US President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, King’s strategy of peaceful protests led to the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.“Well, he believed in the legal process, he taught litigation alone was too slow. You need in litigation, demonstration and legislation. He believed in mass action to transform the masses’ marching and the change of culture that, that drove us for the neat march.”The most famous was the 1963 march on Washington.
An estimated quarter of a million people gathered at the National Mall to hear King’s iconic speech.It was a dream of freedom and equality in a country that was built on the backs of the enslaved.New York Times reporter Earl Caldwell was sent to Memphis to shadow King.“What was on King’s mind and what he wanted to talk to me about was what he called the Poor People’s Campaign. He said he was gonna gather poor people from all around the country, bring them to Washington, and he was going to stop the business of the government of the United States until it dealt with the issue of poverty particularly pertaining to black people.”
Passage of the Civil Rights Act forced legal change in the 1960s, but activists say real change is often slow.“We are a different but a better nation today in the sense that the barbaric laws and in some civil laws of racial apartheid have ended, so that the social gaps have closed but the economic gaps, they’re free but less equal.”King’s legacy of peaceful protest lives on most recently at the March for our lives rally in Washington.Organizers of the gun-control march on Washington estimated crowds of about 800,000, among them King’s granddaughter.My grandfather had dream that his four little children will not be judged by the color, their skin but by the content of their character.Before his assassination in 1968 King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent campaign for equality.Today more than 100 schools and over 900 streets in the United States bear his name.
Arash Arabasadi, VOA News, Washington