MLK Jr.’s family reflects on assassination of civil rights icon, says America in a ‘dark moment’

On Thursday, April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King III was sitting at home in Atlanta with his siblings, watching the news, when a news bulletin flashed across their TV screen: Their father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., had just been assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn.

It was this memory King shared as he and his wife issued an urgent call to action to protect democracy on the 56th anniversary of his father’s murder.

“At that moment, obviously, our hearts started beating very fast and our lives would change forever,” King said Thursday. He and his wife, Arndrea Waters King, spoke to a room full of reporters at the National Civil Rights Museum — the same site where his father was shot.

But 56 years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Waters King said the nation has still not fought the three evils he preached against: racism, poverty and war.

She added that as painful as it was for the family to be at the site where the Civil Rights Movement icon was killed, there was no place more important to be as they urged Americans to dedicate themselves to achieving King’s mission.

“We as a society are really at not only a pivotal moment, but a very, very dark moment,” Waters King said Thursday. “We’re here today to say that it’s time that we as a nation be the wolf of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. That we feed the wolf of peace and justice and equity; that we make real the promises of democracy.”

“We’re here in that spirit to remind America of not only a dream, but a man,” she continued. “And we are asking for us all to stand together, to walk together, to continue his work together to make real his dream of the beloved community.”

Martin Luther King Jr. spoke often of his vision for a “beloved community,” a new world that would be absent of poverty, hunger and hate.

He spoke of this community both at home and abroad.

In 1956, the civil rights leader addressed graduates at the University of the West Indies, painting a picture of what this community would be.

“But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community,” he said. “It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”

In a grave warning Thursday, Martin Luther King III said American democracy is at risk if the nation does not address its history — and the repeal of rights that his father fought to obtain.

“We live in a nation that is complicated, where history is being written out and excluded. That’s not what democracy is supposed to be about,” King said. “It’s about inclusion. It’s about understanding that everyone has a story that needs to be told. It’s about understanding that when we work together, we are stronger and better.”

He added that while there have been successes toward achieving equity in the last several years, they have been stymied by other forces. King also pointed to the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent rise in calls for legislation centering diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) investments and dismantling racism.

But as those changes were made, the nation saw a gunman kill three Black Americans in Jacksonville. Now, he said, the nation is seeing a rollback to policies promoting DEI.

“My father used to say that whenever you have a victory, there’s always the inevitable pushback,” King said. “We have to create a different climate and use everything at our disposal, every piece of technology, and we have to figure out how do we transform these evil acts into positive energy that can change our communities and our nation and really make it better for all.”

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