Lorraine Hotel Fifty Years Ago

In April 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. traveled to Memphis to address a gathering at the Masonic Temple. The city’s black sanitation workers had walked off the job to protest working condition and low wages. The speech keynoted by the phrase ‘I’ve been to the mountaintop.”

That night King stayed at the Lorraine Hotel with civil rights activist Ralph Abernathy.

As the group prepared to leave according to biographer Taylor Branch, King’s last words were to musician Ben Branch, who was scheduled to perform that night at a planned event. King said, “Ben, make sure you play ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.”

A shot rang out from across the street.

A bullet struck King’s cheek and detoured down his spine.

He never regained consciousness.

A white man fled the boarding house.

The FBI put James Earl Ray of the Most Wanted list.

He escaped capture in the USA only to be arrested in London’s Heathrow Airport two months after the shooting.

A good part of the nation was in mourning.

America was ruled by the gun.

Coretta King, his wife, showed dignity.

His followers acted with restrain.

Not the police.

They beat blacks without mercy.

The officers of the law only protected and served one group.

The KKK.

And Nazis.

Cities burned across America.

The USA was out of control, but back under the fist of white power.

But we have a dream.

Martin Luther King’s dream.

The dream lives on.

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