Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
January 10, 1957
April 24, 1968
Age at Death:
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an African-American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the American civil rights movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. Dr. King advanced civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience, inspired by his Christian beliefs and the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi. He was the son of early civil rights activist Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. and was born in Atlanta, the second of three children. Dr. King participated in and led marches for blacks' right to vote, desegregation, labor rights, and other basic civil rights. He led the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and later became the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). As president of the SCLC, he led the unsuccessful Albany Movement in Albany, Georgia, and helped organize some of the nonviolent 1963 protests in Birmingham, Alabama. King helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Baptist faith was a foundation for how Dr. King was raised, as was education. He earned his bachelor's degree at Morehouse, then went on to earn a second bachelor's as well as a doctorate in Theology. He married Coretta Scott and they had four children.
Dr. King was fatally shot by James Earl Ray at 6:01 p.m., on Thursday, April 4, 1968, as he stood on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine motel. The bullet entered through his right cheek, smashing his jaw, then traveled down his spinal cord before lodging in his shoulder. After emergency surgery, Dr. King died at the hospital. Dr. King is buried within Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park. The assassination led to nationwide race riots. April 7th was declared a national day of mourning.
Was justice served?
It's hard to determine if justice was truly served. Two months after Dr. King's death, James Earl Ray—who was on the loose from a previous prison escape—was captured at London Heathrow Airport while trying to leave England on a false Canadian passport. Mr. Ray was extradited to Tennessee and charged with King's murder. He confessed to the assassination on March 10, 1969, though he recanted this confession three days later. On attorney advice, Mr. Ray pleaded guilty to avoid a trial conviction and possible death penalty. He was sentenced to a 99-year prison term. Mr. Ray later claimed a man he met in Montreal, Quebec was involved and that the assassination was the result of a conspiracy. He spent the remainder of his life attempting, unsuccessfully, to withdraw his guilty plea and secure the trial he never had; he died in 1998 at age 70. After his guilty plea, several conspiracies arose about the government and others plotting Dr. King's assassination. Dr. King's widow Mrs. King and the couple's children won a wrongful death claim against Loyd Jowers and "other unknown co-conspirators." Mr. Jowers claimed to have received $100,000 to arrange King's assassination. The jury found in favor of the King family, finding Jowers to be complicit in a conspiracy against King and that government agencies were party to the assassination. However, in 2000, the U.S. Department of Justice completed the investigation into Jowers' claims but did not find evidence to support allegations about the conspiracy. We may never fully know all individuals involved in the assassination.