Martin Luther King stands with Hosea Williams, Jesse Jackson and Ralph Abernathy on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 3, 1968, a day before he was assassinated at approximately the same place.
In March 1968, King went to Memphis to campaign for the rights of black sanitation workers. On March 28, he led a March that turned violent, a sign of the increasing militancy of black rights movements, which contrasted to King’s nonviolent teachings.
He returned to Memphis on April 3 and delivered a speech now called “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple. In it, he expressed that he was not afraid of death.
The following evening, King stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel and spoke with Jesse Jackson, who was standing in the courtyard below. Ralph Abernathy, another friend and civil rights leader, was stepping out of the room to join them when a single shot from 100 yards away hit King in the neck.
King collapsed and was taken to nearby St. Joseph’s Hospital, where emergency surgery failed to save his life. He was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m., an hour after being shot.
Robert F. Kennedy, speaking at a campaign rally that night, echoed the ideals that King had lived and died for: “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”
Some King family members believe that King was a victim of a government conspiracy designed to end the major anti-poverty reforms he had planned. “The economic movement was why he was killed, frankly,” claims Martin Luther King III in a 1998 interview with Newsweek. “That was frightening to the powers that be.”
J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI kept King under tight surveillance, believing that he had ties to communists. In 1964, after King received the Nobel Peace Prize, the FBI sent him an anonymous package containing recordings of him speaking sexually to females and a threatening note concluding, “You are done.”
But some reject the conspiracy theory. King biographer David J. Garrow writes in Salon that the evidence in favor of a conspiracy “amounts to nothing more than fabricated stories told by people motivated by the expectation of Hollywood movie riches and, in some instances, actual up-front cash payments.”
One close friend of the King family told Garrow, “They’ve got to blame someone else more important [than Ray], no matter what the evidence.”