Martin Luther King remembered 50 years after his assassination
His daughter Bernice styled the civil rights campaigner as ‘the apostle of non-violence’.
Thousands marched and sang civil rights songs to honour the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, the “apostle of non-violence” silenced by an assassin 50 years ago.
At events ranging from a jubilant concert to a solemn wreath-laying, admirers around the US took time to both reflect on Dr King’s legacy and discuss how his example can apply to racial and economic divides still plaguing society.
Among the largest gatherings was a march through the Mississippi River city where the civil rights leader was shot dead on a motel balcony in 1968.
Memphis Police estimated a crowd of as many as 10,000 people.
Today we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Earlier this year I spoke about Dr. King’s legacy of justice and peace, and his impact on uniting Americans. #MLK50 Proclamation: https://t.co/XXtPO0VX5A pic.twitter.com/SH0esMSyMT— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 4, 2018
The Reverend James Lawson, who invited Dr King to Memphis 50 years ago to assist with a strike by underpaid sanitation workers, helped lead the march and said more progress is needed toward Dr King’s goal of equality for all.
“I’m still anxious and frustrated,” said Lawson, his black hair turned grey.
“The task is unfinished.”
Speaking in Dr King’s hometown of Atlanta, the Reverend Bernice King recalled her father as a great orator whose message of peaceful protest was still vital decades later.
“We decided to start this day remembering the apostle of non-violence,” she said during a ceremony to award a prize named for her father.
As painful as losing her father was, she said she would not change history.
“Actually, I’m glad that everything happened the way that it happened because I can’t imagine the world that we live in without the contributions of Martin Luther King Jr and Coretta Scott King and the sacrifice that they made,” she said.
Before the Memphis march, the rapper Common and pop singer Sheila E had the crowd dancing and bobbing their heads.
Then, as the march began, people locked arms or held signs as they chanted and sang songs such as We Shall Overcome.
“We know what he worked hard for, we know what he died for, so we just want to keep the dream going,” said Dixie Spencer.
“We just want to make sure that we don’t lose the gains that we have made.”
Martin Luther King III addressed marchers at the end of their route, focusing on the triple evils of poverty, racism and war.
“There’s something wrong in our nation where a minimum of 48 million people are living in poverty,” he said. “That’s unacceptable. We must do better.
“America should be embarrassed about having people living in poverty.”
In the evening, the Atlanta events were set to end with a bell-ringing and wreath-laying at Dr King’s crypt to mark the moment when he was gunned down on the balcony of the old Lorraine Motel on April 4 1968. He was 39.
Small-time criminal James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to the killing and quickly recanted, claiming he was set up.
The conviction stood, and Ray died in prison in 1998.
Marking the anniversary of the assassination, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation in honour of Dr King, saying: “In remembrance of his profound and inspirational virtues, we look to do as Dr. King did while this world was privileged enough to still have him.”
The president has been the target of veiled criticism by some speakers at King commemorations in recent days as they complained of fraught race relations and other divisions since he was elected.
Observances marking Dr King’s death were planned coast-to-coast.
In New York, the Dance Theatre of Harlem planned an evening performance in his honour. Another march was scheduled in Yakima, Washington.
In Montgomery, Alabama, where Dr King first gained notice leading a boycott against segregated city buses, a commemorative event brought a symbol of transformation.
The daughter of Dr King’s one-time nemesis, segregationist Governor George C. Wallace, paid tribute to the civil rights leader.
Shirley Mason was a young woman living in Detroit when Dr King was killed.
Now 70, she said she came to Memphis not only to honour Dr King’s legacy but to call for his work to be continued.
“(King) went through the struggle and gave up his life,” she said.
“Why not get out ourselves and do some sacrificing?”