April 4, 1968: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated.
The night before his assassination in April 1968, Martin Luther King told a group of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee: “We’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through” (“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”). King believed the struggle in Memphis exposed the need for economic equality and social justice that he hoped his Poor People’s Campaign would highlight nationally.
In the year before his murder, King was moving to the left, influenced by the uprisings of Black youth throughout the U.S. and by the Vietnam War, evidenced by his famous speech “Beyond Vietnam.” Washington’s fear of a radicalized King led many to conclude that the U.S. government had a hand in the assassination.
More than 30 years later, Martin Luther King’s family and his attorney, William F. Pepper, won a civil trial that found US government agencies guilty in the wrongful death of Martin Luther King. The 1999 trial,King Family versus Jowers and Other Unknown Co-Conspirators, is the only trial ever conducted on the assassination of Dr. King. The King family’s attempts for a criminal trial were denied, as suspect James Ray’s recant of what he claimed was a false confession was denied.