On April 4, 1968, shortly after 6 p.m. Martin Luther King Jr. was fatally shot on the second story balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Dr. King was in town to support a sanitation workers’ strike and was on his way to dinner when a bullet struck him in the jaw and severed his spinal cord. The 39 year old civil rights leader was pronounced dead on his arrival at a Memphis hospital.
During the month before his assassination, Martin Luther King had become increasingly concerned with the problem of economic inequality in America and organized a Poor People’s Campaign to focus on the issue. This included an interracial poor people’s march on Washington. In March 1968 Dr. King traveled to Memphis to support Memphis to support poorly treated African-American sanitation workers. A workers’ protest march led by King ended in violence and in the death of an African American teenager.
On April 3 in Memphis, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his last sermon saying, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop…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.”
One day after speaking those words, Dr. King was shot and killed by a sniper. He was shot by James Earl Ray, who was described as a two-bit criminal.
Scotland Yard investigators arrested Ray at London airport while he was attempting to fly to Belgium and ultimately to Rhodesia, (now called Zimbabwe) which was then ruled by an oppressive and internationally condemned white minority government.
Ray was extradited to the United States where he plead guilty to King’s murder to avoid the electric chair. He was sentenced was 99 years in prison.