Forty-five years ago today, an assassin’s bullet took the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as he stood outside of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.
King, who had served as one of the leaders in the civil rights fight for more than 10 years by that time, was in Memphis to show his support for the city’s striking sanitation workers.
King’s efforts for civil rights focused on a simple goal: equal rights for every man, woman and child in America.
He knew the risks involved. He had grown up during he time when black men who spoke up often became targets for beatings and even lynchings.
He had marched to show support after Medgar Evers was killed from ambush. He had watched James Meredith be threatened because he wanted to enroll in the University of Mississippi, eventually making in onto campus with an escort of U.S. marshals.
He had mourned the deaths of four blacks girls in Selma, Ala., after racists bombed their church.
He had suffered the indignities perpetuated by police and other public officials during his years of working for civil rights in places such as Montgomery, Ala.
He had watched as thousands — black and white — responded to his inspiring words on the mall in Washington, D.C., across the country and around the world.
His ability to stir thousands to act with his speeches has not been matched since.
It’s a different America today. King’s legacy lives on in streets bearing his name and in monuments such as the one in front of District 118’s Jackson Building. And his legacy lives in the hundreds of thousands of people who shook off the chains of prejudice, racism and ignorance and forged ahead.
Much remains to be done. But today’s Americans owe a debt of gratitude to the massive strides made by the efforts of King and others in the civil rights movement.