The Riots That Followed the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

The Riots That Followed the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech in Memphis, Tennessee, one day before his assassination. King’s Memphis speech focused on the ongoing sanitation workers’ strike, and he reaffirmed his commitment to fight injustice with nonviolent protest, despite government injunctions and threats on his life. King stated he just wanted to carry out God’s will: “And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” As the news of King’s assassination spread, riots broke out in more than 100 cities across the United States, with some raging for several days. In the week following the shooting in Memphis, hundreds of buildings were burned, thousands of arrests were made, and more than 40 people lost their lives.

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