He was in Memphis for the second time in less than a month to support a strike by sanitation workers. The city “had sought an injunction to prevent him from leading another march.”
In 1968, three networks dominated television news: ABC, CBS and NBC. Most people received television signals via an antenna, so the network you watched depended how close you were to a local TV station. PBS would not be incorporated until 1969.
News traveled more slowly then, but breaking news… well, it “broke” into regularly scheduled programming. President Johnson made a nationwide public statement. Walter Cronkite was finalizing the national evening broadcast when he added the news about Dr. King.
Using old-fashioned communication technology, the landline telephone, plus face-to-face conversations, organizers led protests across the nation; riots took place in more than 100 cities. They resulted in more than 40 deaths.
The following day, President Johnson declared a national day of mourning on Sunday 07 April 1968. He would deploy more than 50,000 National Guard troops, “the largest domestic military deployment since the Civil War.”
More than 150,000 travelled to Atlanta for Dr. King’s funeral on 09 April 1968. And Atlanta avoided the “unrest” that happened elsewhere.
Churches opened their doors to feed and sleep some of the nearly 150,000 people flocking to Atlanta. For many white churches, it was the first time they had black people in their sanctuary. At the city’s historically black colleges, student leaders trained their fellow students on how to be parade marshals to help with crowd control (emphasis added).
… avoiding violence was Mayor Ivan Allen’s top priority. He ordered police placed on two 12-hours shifts each day while detectives walked the streets around the clock …
Gov. Lester Maddox, who earlier had refused to fly flags at half-staff before being ordered to by the federal government, lined up state troopers around the State Capitol, with orders to kill any protester who stepped on the grounds.
In 2018, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a special photo feature on Dr. King’s funeral.
April 9, 1968: Tens of thousands clogged nearly every horizontal surface surrounding Ebenezer Baptist Church, from hilltops to rooftops, all craning for a view of the dignitaries, celebrities and the hearse bearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s body.
On April 3, Dr. King gave his last sermon, positioning the Memphis strike “within the long struggle for human freedom and the battle for economic justice, evoking the New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan to stress the need for selfless involvement.”
Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it… if something isn’t done, and in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed…
I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us, the pilot said over the public address system, “We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night…”
We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop … 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.
On 06 June 1968, an assassin’s bullet would also claim Robert Kennedy Jr.
Today, the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis serves as the National Civil Rights Museum; it was established in 1991.
[T]he museum is among the top 5% of institutions to be accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and is a founding member of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, which brings together historic sites, museums and memory initiatives from all around the globe that connect past struggles to today’s movements for human rights and social justice.