On This Day: Martin Luther King assassinated

Rebecca Lewis
On This Day: Martin Luther King assassinated

4 April 1968: Just after 6pm on a Thursday afternoon American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr was fatally shot by a sniper bullet.

The pastor was shot down while standing on a hotel balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was pronounced dead in hospital an hour later.

He lived and worked in a time when a respectable seamstress could be imprisoned for sitting on a bus seat barred to black passengers, when a black student could be denied access to proper education and when a black teen could be hunted down and murdered for doing nothing more than being friendly to a white girl.

It was fighting injustices like this that Dr King found himself in Memphis in the company of striking black sanitary public works employees. He delivered his last speech during a rally in support of the workers on 3 April and even alluded to the possibility of his early death.

He said: "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." 

Escaped convict James Earl Ray was found guilty of his murder and sentenced to 99 years in prison after the assassination.

The white supremacist had checked into a boarding house opposite the hotel where Dr King was staying.

He had waited for the 39-year-old activist to walk out onto the balcony before firing his rifle.

He fled the scene and was arrested in Heathrow Airport, London, on 8 June 1968, while on his way to white-ruled Rhodesia.
Martin Luther King's death led to fierce nationwide race riots and a day of national mourning. The Pathé newsreel above assesses the life of the Nobel Prize Winner, whose life was so tragically cut short by the violence he preached against.

In the video Martin Luther King addresses 250,000 supporters, both black and white, with his famous "I have a dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, five years before his assassination.

He describes his "dream", where "sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down on together at the table of brotherhood."

As inspired supporters watch Dr King, the narrator notes: "Dr Martin Luther King was not allowed to see his dream become reality."