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Remembering Martin Luther King Jr., killed 44 years ago today

April 04, 2012|By Rene Lynch
  • The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. leads a 1965 march in Boston to protest racial imbalances in schools as well as slum housing conditions.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. leads a 1965 march in Boston to protest racial… (Bettmann / CORBIS )

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.was assassinated 44 years ago today. The somber anniversary will be marked across the country, including with a wreath-laying ceremony at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn., which is on the site where King was fatally shot.

And the new Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C., will also mark the anniversary -- its very first, since it just opened to the public last summer -- with a candlelight vigil later this evening.

In the social media world, the anniversary of King's assassination is being noted in a different way -- with a dotted line being drawn between King's assassination and the shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. "From Martin to Martin: Hoodies up on the Mountaintop," reads the headline at the influential website Global Grind. "Today is Wed, April 4, 2012, the 44th anniv of MLK's death, the 38th day since the murder of #Trayvon Martin -- with no arrest," according to a posting on Twitter.

King was profoundly influenced by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and by the Indian leader's use of nonviolent civil disobedience. They would become the cornerstone of King's efforts to achieve equal rights for blacks in the United States. In 1964, he became the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, which recognized his work to end racial segregation and discrimination.

On April 4, 1968, King was staying at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., preparing a speech he was scheduled to give that night at the nearby Mason Temple. The hotel was one of the few places in the area where blacks were welcome to spend the night, according to the Commercial Appeal, and was a haven on the road for the likes of black celebrities and entertainers such as Ray Charles, Lionel Hampton and Aretha Franklin.

When King stepped out onto the balcony before heading over to the temple, a shot rang out: Assassin James Earl Ray had been lying in wait with a clear view from a nearby boardinghouse. Ray escaped that night but was later captured and convicted of King's death; he spent the remainder of his life insisting that he was innocent and that he was being used as a scapegoat.

King had long been the target of bombings and death threats and had often alluded to a belief that his life would be cut short. In fact, one night earlier, in a speech at the Mason Temple, he told those in attendance: "I may not get there with you, but I want you to know that we as a people will get to the promised land."

The National Civil Rights Museum was built up around the motel where the assassination took place, and visitors can still see the room -- Room 306 -- where King slept. Efforts have been made to preserve it exactly as it was, down to an ashtray filled with cigarettes. The museum will not be open this time next year. Renovations will shut its doors on what would be the 45th anniversary of King's assassination, the Commercial Appeal notes

Events being held in Memphis to mark the anniversary include a rally organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Council -- an organization that King led until his death -- and the renaming of a street in King's honor.

And at 5:30 p.m. local time, the Rev. Jesse Jackson  -- who was with King at the time of the assassination -- will lay a wreath on the balcony near the spot where King was shot.

The candlelight vigil being held in Washington, D.C., will include a number of dignitaries, including Gandhi's grandson, Arun Gandhi.

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