This Day In History: 04/04/1968 - Dr. King is Assassinated

Many historical events occurred on April 4th, and Russ Mitchell recaps them in this video clip from This Day In History. President William Henry Harrison became the first US President to die while in office when his cold turned into pneumonia. Congress passed and authorized what would become known as the American flag, with 13 strips, and then 20 stars with a blue background. Each state that would be added would add another star to the flag. Also, the first Mexican American, Henry Cisneros, became mayor of a major city, which was Texas. On Martin Luther King Jr.'s Memphis hotel balcony, James Earl Ray assassinated King.

April 4, 1967: Martin Luther King Jr. Delivers “Beyond Vietnam” Speech

Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain …

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter—but beautiful—struggle for a new world. —Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech in New York City at Riverside Church on the occasion of his becoming co-chairperson of Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam (subsequently renamed Clergy and Laity Concerned).

Dr. King in a March 25, 1967 antiwar march in Chicago.

Titled “Beyond Vietnam,” it was his first major speech on the war in Vietnam—what the Vietnamese aptly call the American War.

King linked the escalating U.S. commitment to that war with its abandonment of the commitment to social justice at home.

His call for a “shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society” and for us to “struggle for a new world” has acquired even greater urgency than when he issued it decades ago.

Read more from the lesson A Revolution of Values. Read and listen to the Beyond Vietnam speech.

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Teaching the Vietnam War: Beyond the Headlines

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Eight lessons about the Vietnam War, Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers, and whistleblowing.

A Revolution of Values

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Text of speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the Vietnam War, followed by three teaching ideas.

The Limits of Master Narratives in History Textbooks: An Analysis of Representations of Martin Luther King Jr.

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Critique of textbook representation of Martin Luther King Jr. as messiah, embodiment of the Civil Rights Movement, and a moderate.

Challenging Ourselves: Martin Luther King, the Movement, and Its Lessons for Today

Charles E. Cobb Jr. discusses the Civil Rights Movement and its lessons, and how they apply to current movements. 2017.

Aug. 28, 1963: March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

Hundreds of thousands of civil rights activists marched on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

April 15, 1967: Massive Anti-Vietnam War Demonstrations

Amidst growing opposition to the U.S. war in Vietnam, large-scale anti-war protests were held in New York, San Francisco, and many other cities.

April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King Jr. Assassinated

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated while in Memphis to support the striking sanitation workers.

This day in history, April 4: Martin Luther King Jr., 39, was shot and killed in Memphis

Today is Easter Sunday, April 4, the 94th day of 2021. There are 271 days left in the year.

Today’s Highlight in History:

On April 4, 1968, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., 39, was shot and killed while standing on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee his slaying was followed by a wave of rioting (Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Chicago were among cities particularly hard hit.) Suspected gunman James Earl Ray later pleaded guilty to assassinating King, then spent the rest of his life claiming he’d been the victim of a setup.

In 1818, Congress decided the flag of the United States would consist of 13 red and white stripes and 20 stars, with a new star to be added for every new state of the Union.

In 1841, President William Henry Harrison succumbed to pneumonia one month after his inaugural, becoming the first U.S. chief executive to die in office.

In 1850, the city of Los Angeles was incorporated.

In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln, accompanied by his son Tad, visited the vanquished Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, where he was greeted by a crowd that included former slaves.

In 1917, the U.S. Senate voted 82-6 in favor of declaring war against Germany (the House followed suit two days later by a vote of 373-50).

In 1933, the Navy airship USS Akron crashed in severe weather off the New Jersey coast with the loss of 73 lives.

In 1945, during World War II, U.S. forces liberated the Nazi concentration camp Ohrdruf in Germany. Hungary was liberated as Soviet forces cleared out remaining German troops.

In 1949, 12 nations, including the United States, signed the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington, D.C.

In 1975, more than 130 people, most of them children, were killed when a U.S. Air Force transport plane evacuating Vietnamese orphans crash-landed shortly after takeoff from Saigon. Microsoft was founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In 1983, the space shuttle Challenger roared into orbit on its maiden voyage. (It was destroyed in the disaster of January 1986.)

In 1991, Sen. John Heinz, R-Pa., and six other people, including two children, were killed when a helicopter collided with Heinz’s plane over a schoolyard in Merion, Pennsylvania.

In 2015, in North Charleston, South Carolina, Walter Scott, a 50-year-old Black motorist, was shot to death while running away from a traffic stop Officer Michael Thomas Slager, seen in a cellphone video opening fire at Scott, was charged with murder. (The charge, which lingered after a first state trial ended in a mistrial, was dropped as part of a deal under which Slager pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights violation he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.)

Ten years ago: Yielding to political opposition, the Obama administration gave up on trying avowed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators in civilian federal courts and said it would prosecute them instead before military commissions. President Barack Obama’s campaign announced in a web video that he would run for re-election in 2012. The Connecticut Huskies beat the Butler Bulldogs 53-41 for the NCAA men’s basketball title.

Five years ago: The Supreme Court, in Evenwel v. Abbott, unanimously endorsed election maps that bolstered the growing political influence of America’s Latinos, ruling that states could count everyone, not just eligible voters, in drawing voting districts. A tourist helicopter crashed and burned in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in eastern Tennessee, killing all five people aboard. Kris Jenkins hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift Villanova to the national title with a 77-74 victory over North Carolina in one of the wildest finishes in the history of the NCAA Tournament.

One year ago: President Donald Trump warned that the country could be heading into its “toughest” weeks yet as the coronavirus death toll mounted, but he also expressed growing impatience with social distancing guidelines he said of the virus-related shutdowns, “The cure cannot be worse than the problem.” A cruise ship with coronavirus victims on board, including two who died, docked in Miami the Coral Princess, with nearly 1,900 passengers and crew, had been in limbo for days awaiting permission to dock as passengers self-isolated in their staterooms.

Today’s birthdays: Recording executive Clive Davis is 89. Author Kitty Kelley is 79. Actor Craig T. Nelson is 77. Actor Walter Charles is 76. Actor Christine Lahti is 71. Country singer Steve Gatlin (The Gatlin Brothers) is 70. Actor Mary-Margaret Humes is 67. Writer-producer David E. Kelley is 65. Actor Constance Shulman is 63. Actor Phil Morris is 62. Actor Lorraine Toussaint is 61. Actor Hugo Weaving is 61. Rock musician Craig Adams (The Cult) is 59. Talk show host/comic Graham Norton is 58. Actor David Cross is 57. Actor Robert Downey Jr. is 56. Actor Nancy McKeon is 55. Actor Barry Pepper is 51. Country singer Clay Davidson is 50. Rock singer Josh Todd (Buckcherry) is 50. Singer Jill Scott is 49. Rock musician Magnus Sveningsson (The Cardigans) is 49. Magician David Blaine is 48. Singer Kelly Price is 48. R&B singer Andre Dalyrimple (Soul For Real) is 47. Country musician Josh McSwain (Parmalee) is 46. Actor James Roday is 45. Actor Natasha Lyonne is 42. Actor Eric Andre is 38. Actor Amanda Righetti is 38. Actor-singer Jamie Lynn Spears is 30. Actor Daniela Bobadilla is 28. Pop singer Austin Mahone (muh-HOHN’) is 25. Actor Aliyah Royale is 21.

Journalism, it’s often said, is the first-draft of history. Check back each day for what’s new … and old.

This Day In History: 04/04/1968 - Dr. King is Assassinated - HISTORY

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On This Day: The Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On April 4, 1968, civil rights leader and clergyman Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was fatally shot while staying at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The shooter, James Earl Ray, was a convicted felon who had escaped from a Missouri prison. Politicians, civil rights leaders and people across the nation mourned the loss of Dr. King. The assassination also set off riots and looting in cities around the nation. Dr. King's assassination left a significant gap in leadership for the civil rights movement and affected the 1968 presidential campaign. His legacy as a seminal figure in the civil rights movement, his belief in non-violence, and his efforts in the struggle for equality, had impacts well beyond his lifetime.

Walter Cronkite's Announcement of the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

On April 4th, 1968, CBS anchor Walter Cronkite announcement the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Related Article

Additional Resources

To commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, C-SPAN Classroom has aggregated a number of video resources to help your students learn more about the day, key events in his life, and his legacy related to the civil rights movement.

In April, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested for marching in Birmingham, Alabama. While in jail, Dr. King wrote a letter to eight white religious leaders in the south in response to a statement they wrote about strategies used during the civil rights movement in Birmingham. This lesson evaluates the impact of King

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Just after 6 p.m. on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. is fatally shot while standing on the balcony outside his second-story room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

The civil rights leader was in Memphis 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. King was pronounced dead after his arrival at a Memphis hospital. He was 39 years old.

In the months before his assassination, Martin Luther King became increasingly concerned with the problem of economic inequality in America. He organized a Poor People’s Campaign to focus on the issue, including an interracialpoor people’s march on Washington, and in March 1968 traveled to Memphis in support of poorly treated African-American sanitation workers. On March 28, a workers’ protest march led by King ended in violence and the death of an African-American teenager. King left the city but vowed to return in early April to lead another demonstration.

On April 3, back in Memphis, King 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.”

Why Dr Martin Luther King was in Memphis the day he was assassinated

Wednesday marks the 50 th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr, the Civil Rights activist and American icon, who was assassinated at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis in 1968.

But while the murder is annually mourned on this day every year, many people probably don’t know the reason why Martin Luther King, Jr, was actually in Tennessee on that fateful day.

Last week I attended the press conference for The Film Foundation’s launch of their new curriculum for The Story Of Movies, Portraits Of America, where one of the speakers was Lee Saunders, the President of the American Federation Of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

Since the event coincided with the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr, Saunders used his speech to remind everyone why King was in Memphis, which you can read below.

“Next week, it will be exactly 50 years since the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Many Americans know that Dr. King was assassinated standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Fewer people know why he was there and what he died for.”

“Two months earlier, on February 1st, 1968, two sanitation workers Robert Walker and Echol Cole, members of AFSCME Local 1733 were working their shift in a driving rainstorm. To seek shelter, they huddled in the back of their truck.”

“That’s when the truck malfunctioned, and the men got caught in the compacting gears and were crushed to death. The union had been warning about unsafe equipment, but no one paid any heed at all. You see, these were black workers in a southern city in 1968.”

“They didn’t have a grievance procedure or a contract. They did backbreaking jobs for poverty wages, without hardly any rights at all. These were modern day plantation conditions.”

“But the horrific deaths of Walker and Cole proved to be a galvanizing moment. It moved their 1,300 AFSCME brothers to make the courageous decision to go on strike, to assert their humanity with an iconic slogan, so simple but so powerful: I AM A MAN.”

“The strike got the attention of Dr. King, who traveled to Memphis several times to rally the community and express his solidarity. He lent his voice to the struggle because he believed that racial justice and economic justice could not be separated from one another…that civil rights and labor rights were one and the same.”

“At the Mason Temple in Memphis on April 3rd, Dr. King delivered what would be the final speech of his life, telling a crowd of thousands that he had been to the mountaintop and he had seen the promised land.”

“’I may not get there with you,’ he said, but ‘we as a people will get to the promised land’.”

“The fact remains that Dr. King’s dream remains a dream not yet fulfilled, and too few understand the cause he fought and died for. The cause of democracy. The promised land is within our reach, but we’re not there yet.”

Saunders then tied it in to why he was in attendance at The Film Foundation event, alongside Dr. Carla Hayden, Jeanine Basinger, Catherine Gourley and Martin Scorsese.

“To get there, we must ensure every American understands the unfinished work, starting with our young people whose idealism and passion for progress impress me every day.”

“We must use every tool and none more important than film to move our people toward a greater understanding of our past and a greater responsibility for our future.”

“Movies don’t just entertain. They educate and inspire. No medium has a greater ability to move us and move us to action than film. Movies create community and help us understand our national identity.”

“Because I love movies…because I love my union…because I believe improving our democracy is a duty we all share…I am proud to be a partner in this project.”

You can learn more about the free education curriculum The Story Of Movies, which has taught over 10 million students to date, by visiting and

Meanwhile you can watch Martin Luther King Jr. deliver the most memorable moment of his final speech on April 3, 1968, below.

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Black History Calendar
Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was a great man who worked for racial equality and civil rights in the United States of America. He was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. Martin had a brother, Alfred, and a sister, Christine. Both his father and grandfather were ministers. His mother was a schoolteacher who taught him how to read before he went to school.

Young Martin was an excellent student in school he skipped grades in both elementary school and high school . He enjoyed reading books, singing, riding a bicycle, and playing football and baseball. Martin entered Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, when he was only 15 years old.

Martin experienced racism early in life. He decided to do to something to make the world a better and fairer place.

After graduating from college and getting married, Dr. King became a minister and moved to Alabama.

During the 1950's, Dr. King became active in the movement for civil rights and racial equality. He participated in the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott and many other peaceful demonstrations that protested the unfair treatment of African-Americans. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.

Commemorating the life of a tremendously important leader, we celebrate Martin Luther King Day each year in January, the month in which he was born. August 28, the anniversary of Dr. King's 1963 I Have a Dream speech, is called "Dream Day."

April 4, 1968 | The Assassination of Martin Luther King

Marion S. Trikosko/ Library of Congress Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. pictured leaning on a lectern in 1964.
Historic Headlines

Learn about key events in history and their connections to today.

On April 4, 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 39, was shot to death in Memphis by an escaped convict, James Earl Ray.

Dr. King, the acclaimed civil rights leader, arrived in Memphis on April 3 and delivered what would be the final speech of his life, now known as the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” address, in which he spoke of his own mortality. “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.”

The next day, while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel reportedly speaking with the civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, who stood below in the parking lot, Dr. King was shot. As The New York Times described the scene, “The Rev. Ralph W. Abernathy, perhaps Dr. King’s closest friend, was just about to come out of the motel room when the sudden loud noise burst out. Dr. King toppled to the concrete second-floor walkway. Blood gushed from the right jaw and neck area. His necktie had been ripped off by the blast.”

An emergency surgery failed to save Dr. King’s life. He was declared dead about an hour after being shot.

News of Dr. King’s death soon spread throughout the nation. At a campaign rally, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a strong supporter of civil rights and a Democrat running for president, commemorated Dr. King in an address. “What we need in the United States is not division what we need in the United States is not hatred what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black,” he said. (Just more than two months later, Mr. Kennedy would also be killed by an assassin’s bullet after a campaign appearance in California.)

Riots broke out in many cities after the fatal shooting of Dr. King. The Times said that in Memphis, the “tragedy had been followed by incidents that included sporadic shooting, fires, bricks and bottles thrown at policemen, and looting that started in Negro districts and then spread over the city.”

In the Times obituary published on April 5, 1968, Murray Schumach wrote: “To many million of American Negroes, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the prophet of their crusade for racial equality. He was their voice of anguish, their eloquence in humiliation, their battle cry for human dignity. He forged for them the weapons of nonviolence that withstood and blunted the ferocity of segregation. And to many millions of American whites, he was one of a group of Negroes who preserved the bridge of communication between races.”

The eventual convicted assassin, Mr. Ray, was arrested two months later in London’s Heathrow Airport. He admitted to killing Dr. King and was given a life sentence. He later recanted and said that he had been set up. Mr. Ray died in prison in 1998.

The King family supported Mr. Ray’s claims, believing that Dr. King may have been killed in a conspiracy because of his antipoverty and antiwar campaigns. By 1967, Dr. King had become the country’s most prominent opponent of the Vietnam War, and a staunch critic of overall United States foreign policy. In his �yond Vietnam” speech delivered at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 — one year to the day before he was killed — Dr. King had called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” In its editorial on the speech, 𠇍r. King’s Error,” The Times criticized Dr. King for “link[ing] his personal opposition to the war in Vietnam with the cause of Negro equality in the United States.”

In 1999, the King family won a civil suit against a Memphis restaurateur who was said to have hired a police officer to kill Dr. King. “The jury’s decision,” explained The Times, “means it did not believe that James Earl Ray … fired the shot that killed Dr. King.”

Connect to Today:

Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence and commitment to economic and social justice remain influential 44 years after his death. In an August 2011 Op-Ed article, Prof. Cornel West reflected on Dr. King’s legacy. He argued that Dr. King’s concern for America’s 𠇏our catastrophes” “racism, poverty, militarism and materialism,” is as valid today as it was in the late 1960s and that the 𠇊ge of Obama has fallen tragically short of fulfilling King’s prophetic legacy.”

What are your thoughts on Dr. King’s legacy as it applies to the 𠇏our catastrophes”? Do you think he would “weep from his grave” as the headline of Dr. West’s Op-Ed suggests, or would he have a more optimistic view of the United States in 2012? Why?

Watch: Joseph Louw’s Eyewitness Testimony, Broadcast Three Days After Dr. King’s Assassination

In the moments immediately following Dr. King’s assassination, Joseph Louw was the only photographer on the scene. Dr. King’s friends gathered around his body and pointed in the direction of the shooter. Police with rifles swarmed around the motel. “As I looked at Dr. King,” he said, “I could almost feel the wound myself.”

Two nights prior, Louw and Dr. King had shared a moment on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, looking up at a powerful storm brewing over Memphis. “For me,” Louw said, “that was the first time I had seen Martin Luther King as a man, as well as a great man.”

Following the assassination, Louw immediately returned to New York to develop his four rolls of film at the LIFE Magazine labs. His photos taken at the motel in Memphis would become one of the most recognizable images of the twentieth century.

PBL/NET and Louw agreed that any money received from the use of Louw’s photographs from the night Dr. King was assassinated would be contributed to organizations dedicated to the principles for which the late civil rights leader worked so assiduously.

Joseph Louw told LIFE Magazine that the last stage of developing the film was the “longest 10 minutes of my life. The first picture I looked at was Dr. King laying behind the railing. I never did photograph him full in the face. I felt I had to keep my distance and respect.”

This Day In History: 04/04/1968 - Dr. King is Assassinated - HISTORY

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated by a sniper's bullet while standing on the second-floor balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. As news of King's death spread, violent riots broke out in African American neighborhoods in over one hundred cities across the United States. King, who was the nation's foremost civil rights leader, had returned to Memphis to lead a nonviolent march in support of the city's striking sanitation workers. On April 8, King's widow, Coretta Scott King, and the couple's four small children led a crowd estimated at forty thousand in a silent march through the streets of Memphis to honor the fallen leader and support the cause of the city's black sanitation workers. The next day, funerary rites for King were held in his hometown, Atlanta, Georgia. Following a nationally televised broadcast of his funeral service at Ebenezer Baptist Church, King's body was led three-and-a-half miles through the city's streets, with more than one hundred thousand mourners in tow, to Morehouse College where a second funeral service was performed. King's assassin, James Earl Ray, was apprehended by authorities in London, England after a two-month international manhunt. Upon his extradition to Tennessee, Ray pleaded guilty to the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. and was given a ninety-nine year jail sentence.

Watch the video: April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King Jr. Assassinated (January 2022).