Fifty years ago today Dr. King had a cold.
FIFTY years ago today, Dr. King had a head cold. His trip to Memphis the week prior had resulted in violence. He thought violence broke out, in part, because his people weren't at the helm of the Sanatation Worker's March. So on April 3, 1968, after just a couple of days with his wife and children, he flew back to Memphis with his team determined to lead a peaceful protest, sniffles, laryngitis and all.
Perhaps a peaceful protest, or the speech he would make at Mason Temple that evening, which would include a nice little turn of phrase he had just come up with about a mountaintop, would get some much needed, positive press coverage. Then again, he was feeling so lousy maybe he would skip Mason Temple. Fortunately his friend, Ralph Abernathy, pestered him until he rallied and he gave the prophetic speech about - not getting to the other side of the mountaintop with us - after all.
Despite the triumph at Mason Temple, he was still feeling generally worn down. After his defiant April 4, 1967 declaration against the Vietnam War, the President was no longer taking his calls. The media was failing to report his message, instead reporting violence or turmoil in his path. He was being dismissed as a communist and an agitator. Death threats were at an all time high and he was concerned his remaining time may be short.
To right the ship, he was entertaining running for high office himself. In fact, there was serious talk of him running with renowned pediatrician, Dr. Benjamin Spock, as third party candidates against President Johnson for the white house. On the up side, a campaign would force the media to report his message and give him a platform to bolster his mission. On the other hand, it would necessitate tempering his message and devoting his attentions to a broader spectrum of issues, so he was still unsure.
The next day, 50 years ago tomorrow, April 4, 1968, one year TO THE DAY after his unwelcome speech about Vietnam, Dr. King blew his nose and walked out of his Memphis motel room to go to dinner and complete his role in the Sanitation Workers Strike. Feeling a bit more optimistic as he walked out of the motel room, he joked with his aide, Jesse Jackson, his colleagues, including Ralph Abernathy, and the folks down in the parking lot. Everybody laughed - you can see that in the photo. He was, by all accounts, very funny - able to keep everyone afloat amidst a storm. Dr. King took a few more steps and the bullet hit him. Within the hour, he was dead. He was 39 years old (my age).
That night, there were riots in nationwide, except in Indianapolis, where Robert Kennedy announced Dr. King's death with compassion and gave a powerful speech about finding wisdom in grief and meeting violence, which was sure to continue, with love. Two months later Kennedy, himself, was assassinated. Around the same time, James Earl Ray was arrested for the assassination of Dr. King. Ray pled guilty to murder. He was sentenced to 99 years but escaped from prison in 1977 for another two days of freedom before he was recaptured. The same age as Dr. King, Ray died incarcerated in 1998 at the age of 70 from Hepatitis C.
In the 1990's, Dr. King's wife, Coretta Scott King, filed a civil lawsuit alleging that there was a conspiracy to kill her husband by, among others, the United States of America. She asked for damages in the impossible-to-calculate sum of one dollar. She won. The jury found that there was no lone gunman here. If James Earl Ray pulled the trigger, he had plenty of help. There was a conspiracy to kill her husband that involved the mafia and the highest levels of the U.S. government. I never learned that in school. You can view a case summary and the full conspiracy trial transcripts here: http://www.thekingcenter.org/assassination-conspiracy-trial You can find Bobby Kennedy's speech here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GoKzCff8Zbs and Dr. King’s mountaintop speech, his last speech, given the night before he died, here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oehry1JC9Rk