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It was 1968… the assassination of Martin Luther King

First a spokesman for the Blacks of Montgomery, this pastor dedicated his life to the civil rights of the black community. His peaceful campaigns won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. If Martin Luther King wore the stuff of a hero for some, he had become an enemy for others. On April 4, 1968, the black pastor was shot dead in Memphis, Tennessee.

Martin Luther King, an iconic figure

Born in 1929 in Atlanta in the segregationist south, Martin Luther King Jr. From a family of pastors, he is a brilliant student. He obtained a doctorate in philosophy in 1955 from Boston University. King remained in the family scheme by becoming a pastor in 1954. He served in Montgomery, Alabama, where he quickly became the voice of the Black community.

In 1955, he led the movement in support of Rosa Parks, arrested by the police for refusing to give way to a white passenger on a bus. A call for a boycott of the city bus company was issued and King went to prison for a few months. He finally won a year later when the Supreme Court ruled against the company. This highly publicized victory led Martin Luther King to found in 1957 the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), the Conference of Southern Christian Leadership of which he became the president. His struggle for the civil rights of blacks now extends to the entire United States. An admirer of Gandhi, he travelled to India to deepen his knowledge of Satyagraha, a principle of non-violence as part of Gandhi’s civil disobedience.

One life, one fight

In the 1960s, Martin Luther King made his mark and his non-violent actions for the civil rights of the black community earned him the support of the then president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. On August 28, 1963, he organized the March for Civil Rights for 250,000 people. King made history with his “I have dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. In this speech, he expresses his wish to see his people and his country liberated from all segregation.

“I tell you here and now, my friends, although, yes, although we face difficulties today and tomorrow, I still have this dream: it is a dream deeply rooted in the American ideal. I dream that one day our country will rise and fully live the true reality of its creed, « We hold these truths self-evident that all men are created equal. » Before concluding with these words of the spiritual negro «Free at Last»: «Finally free! Finally free! Thank Almighty God, we are finally free!”

Excerpt from speech given by Martin Luther King on August 28, 1963

In 1964, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent struggles for civil rights.

The Arrival of American Black Nationalism thanks to Martin Luther King

King is the target of many death threats he received every day. “In 1968, the FBI became aware of more than 50 racist plots against King, including one more serious than the others involving a $100,000 reward, promised by two white supremacists in Missouri, to anyone who would murder him.” explains Sylvie Laurent, historian specializing in the United States. Ten years earlier, he had escaped death, when a black woman tried to stab him during a signing session for his first book Stride Toward Freedom, a story about the Montgomery bus boycott.

King nevertheless continues to launch non-violent actions. But from 1965 black-extremist movements like the Black Muslim of Malcolm X the Black Power of Carmichael emerged. The new black generation no longer recognizes itself in the pastor’s speeches and allows a nationalism claiming violence and radicalism to take root. Therefore, brutality and blood are invited in the demonstrations.

A tragic fate

On April 4, 1968 in the city of Memphis a demonstration was held. It turned into a fiasco with looting and vandalism. It was at this time that Martin Luther King Junior, present on the balcony of a motel, receives a bullet and dies. The news spread and the country was on fire. Riots broke in Washington, Memphis, Chicago, Baltimore, Boston. The United States plunged into a state of emergency for ten days. The toll is significant: 300 wounded and 20,000 arrests. In Atlanta, it’s time for meditation. On April 9, 1968, the coffin of Martin Luther King crosses the streets of his hometown alongside 300,000 people.

The pastor’s murderer is identified as James Earl Ray, a white supremacist holding the murder weapon. He had rented a room in front of the Lorraine Motel where King was. He was arrested in London on 8 June 1968 and finally confessed before being sentenced to 99 years in prison. The struggle of Martin Luther King allowed the black community to make its voice heard. Its commitments against racism and for equality are now carried by new generations, including the Black Lives Matter movement.

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