April 4, 1968. America lost one of the greatest leaders in its history when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated as he stood on a balcony at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. His death sparked a riotous nationwide uproar within the African-American community that was without peer prior to his untimely passing and afterward. His nonviolent civil disobedience helped pave the way for legislation and increased legal rights not only for African-Americans but for every minority of color in the United States.
The Baptist minister led the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and organized the March on Washington in 1963. His eloquent, moving prose and delivery of the famous and often-quoted I Have a Dream speech, is hand down one of the best speeches in history. Winning a Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. was instrumental in getting the Voter Rights Bill of 1964 passed. That feat, adding power to so much he’d done in so little time, made it no surprise that some wanted the King dead.
James Earl Ray was convicted of King’s killing in 1969 after entering a guilty plea to avoid a jury trial. Had he chosen to fight the charges, and had he been found guilty, Ray would have been eligible for the death penalty. Instead, he received a 99 year prison term. Despite later recanting his confession, Ray died in prison in 1998 leaving conspiracy theorists buzzing about who could have been the true killer of Martin Luther King.
Still, the words and works of this angel live. One of the greatest orators the world has ever known, Martin Luther King, Jr. is considered one of the most inspirational people to ever be born. Receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was named a national holiday in 1986. Hundreds, if not thousands of streets across America have been named in his honor. And a memorial statue in his likeness opened to the public on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 2011.
Though his face bore the wisdom of 1,000 years, he was only 39-years-old at the time of his passing. Orator, clergyman, leader of men and the Messianic figurehead of the Civil Rights Movement, no greater activist has ever lived in America. Glaringly gone amid today’s increasingly inept and corrupt contemporary black leadership that appears more interested in riches and celebrity than actual change, we miss the King. Rest in Peace, Good Doctor.