This Week in History

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This Week in History
4 April 1968: Martin Luther King Jr assassinated

  Ramya B

On 4 April 1968, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, at the age of 39, was assassinated by a sniper attack. James Earl Ray, who reportedly fled after the attack, was captured in the United Kingdom and was convicted in 1969 after entering a guilty plea. The US Attorney General Janet Reno ordered a new investigation on 26 August 1998 due to sustained complaints of a conspiracy; the Department of Justice released a 150-page report in 2000, rejecting allegations that there was a conspiracy to assassinate King.

The Rise of Martin Luther King 
King was the foremost civil rights leader and an inspirational activist who stood for the core values of equality, nonviolence, and human rights for all Americans in the aftermath of the Second World War and the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, reminding the world of the significance of securing universal voting rights and the abolition of segregation laws (separate but equal) of all forms. He stood faithful to his ideology of non-violent protests even when faced with the repeated occurrences of white supremacists, including an attack on his home in January 1957 and a stabbing injury in September 1958. He remarked: "The experience of these last few days has deepened my faith in the relevance of the spirit of nonviolence and peaceful social change."

Born into an educated African American family in 1929 with two generations of inspirational men and pastors, he graduated in law and medicine. He was a theologian and pastor who completed his doctorate in 1955. He had all available opportunities to lead a peaceful family life with his wife, children, and community but chose to become the champion of the vulnerable section of the US.

Rosa Parks, secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), of which Martin Luther King was an active member, was jailed in 1955 after refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery. Martin Luther King Jr became famous for coordinating a peaceful bus boycott in the deeply segregated city for 382 days. The Supreme Court of the US declared segregation in buses unconstitutional in 1956. Montgomery became an inspiration for the nationwide civil rights movement, and King Junior became a national trailblazer.

"I have a Dream": The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr
After establishing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, which aimed to provide educational opportunities for African Americans, Dr King journeyed more than six million miles and gave more than 1,500 speeches. He organized voter registration drives and represented the disadvantaged wherever an injustice, protest, or action was needed, including a massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama, one of America's most racially divided cities. His famous speech 'I have a dream' was delivered at one of Washington, DC's largest civil rights gatherings, and was listened to by 2.5 million people in 1963.

His leadership and civil rights movement resulted in US President Lyndon B Johnson passing the Civil Rights Act on 2 July 1964. The Civil Rights Act prohibited racial discrimination in employment and education and outlawed racial segregation in public places. Furthermore, the bill established a solid foundation for several other pieces of legislation—including the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which set strict rules for protecting the right of African Americans to vote—that have since been utilized to uphold equal rights for women and all minorities. He spent time in India studying Mahatma Gandhi's teachings and applying them to the American civil rights movement after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. King's contributions to the civil rights struggle altered the global perception of African Americans. 

King came to represent change and optimism for rising against repression and speaking out against racial injustices in the face of violence, verbal abuse, and ridicule. He continues to remain an inspiration today through the words of his books and articles, including the well-known "Letter from Birmingham Jail," denouncing the abuses African Americans were subjected to at the time with a clarion call, "Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere." 

Today, we remember King as a legend who championed international human rights and fought for the equality and liberties of African Americans.


This Week in History is a new addition to our research publications, looking at the history, its importance, consequences/legacies, and relevance today. We hope this will add historic value to two of our flagship publications- Conflict Weekly and The World This Week. A shorter version of the above will be published in Conflict Weekly/The World This Week.

About the author
Ramya B is an Associate Professor at the Department of History, Kristu Jayanti College.


In the series:
23 March 1739: Nadir Shah invades Delhi
17 March 1992: The end of Apartheid in South Africa
18 March 2014: Russia annexes Crimea
14 March 1879: Albert Einstein born in Germany
14 March 1849: The Sikh Army surrenders to the British
12 March 1918: Lenin shifts the capital to Moscow
11 March 1985: Mikhail Gorbachev becomes the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
09 March 1776: Adam Smith publishes “The Wealth of Nations”

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