On this dayApr 04, 1968

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Assassinated in Memphis

Joseph Louw / The LIFE Images Collection via Getty

On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed while standing on a hotel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King was in the city to speak on his growing Poor People's Campaign and to support an economic protest by Black sanitation workers.

About two months earlier, 1,300 African American Memphis sanitation workers began a strike to protest low pay and poor treatment. When city leaders largely ignored the strike and refused to negotiate, the workers sought assistance from civil rights leaders, including Dr. King. He enthusiastically agreed to help and, on March 18, visited the city to speak to a crowd of more than 15,000 people.

Dr. King also planned a march of support. When the first attempt was violently suppressed by police, leaving one protestor dead, Dr. King resolved to stage another peaceful march on April 8. He returned to Memphis by plane on April 3, braving a bomb threat on his scheduled flight. Once in Memphis, he stayed at the Lorraine Motel and gave a short speech reflecting on his own mortality.

The next evening, April 4, Dr. King was shot as he stepped out onto the motel balcony. He was rushed to nearby St. Joseph's Hospital and pronounced dead at 7:05 pm, leaving a nation in shock and sparking mournful uprisings in more than 100 cities across the country. Just 39 years old, Dr. King left behind a wife, Coretta Scott King, and four young children. James Earl Ray, a white man, was later convicted of his assassination.

Watch Dr. King's final speech, given the night before he was assassinated, here.

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