Last Days & Legacy

King returned to Memphis for the last time in early April. Addressing an audience at Bishop Charles J. Mason Temple on April 3, 1968, King affirmed his optimism despite the “difficult days” that lay ahead. “But it really doesn’t matter with me now,” he declared, “because I’ve been to the mountaintop [and] I’ve seen the Promised Land.” He continued, “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 following evening the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. took place as he stood on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. A white segregationist, James Earl Ray, was later convicted of the crime. The Poor People’s Campaign continued for a few months after his death under the direction of Ralph Abernathy, the new SCLC president, but it did not achieve its objectives.

Until his death King remained steadfast in his commitment to the radical transformation of American society through nonviolent activism. In his posthumously published essay, “A Testament of Hope”, he urged African Americans to refrain from violence but also warned, “White America must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society.” The “black revolution” was more than a civil rights movement, he insisted. “It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws-racism, poverty, militarism and materialism”.

After her husband’s death, Coretta Scott King established the Atlanta-based Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change (also known as the King Center) to promote Kingian concepts of nonviolent struggle. She also led the successful effort to honor her husband with a federally mandated King national holiday, which was first celebrated in 1986 Additionally, she and the King siblings successfully pursued a civil case in 1999 — King Family versus Jowers and Other Unknown Co-Conspirators (full transcript) — in which the jury concluded that there was a conspiracy involved in the assassination of  Dr. King.”

Today, Dr. King is considered to be one of the most important figures of the 20th century, not only for African-Americans but for all those seeking freedom, justice, equality and peace. His unique approach to the philosophy of nonviolent action stands as one of the most successful alternatives to the world’s ongoing struggle against violent conflict, and against structural injustice