April 4 is an important historical landmark for Civil Rights

Published 3:14 pm Friday, April 3, 2020

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I circle the date April 4 on my calendar every year.

Fifty-two years ago today, civil cights icon Dr. Martin Luther Jr. was assassinated by James Earl Ray at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis.

According to the history books, King went out on the balcony and was standing near his room where a bullet struck him at 6:01 p.m. that evening. The shot was fired at a rooming house across from the Lorraine Hotel. cardiopulmonary resuscitation

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King fell backward onto the balcony and was unconscious. Andrew Young of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) first believed King was dead, but found he still had A pulse. King was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital,  where doctors opened his chest and performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation. King never regained consciousness and died at 7:05 p.m.

We all know that Ray was arrested on June 8, 1968, in London,  extradited to America and charged with the crime. On March 10, 1969, Ray pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 99 years. Ray spent the rest of his life trying to withdraw a guilty plea until his death in 1998.

In my opinion, King’s death marked the end of the Civil Rights Era that began with Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka in 1954.

Sandwiched between Brown vs. Board of Education and King’s assassination is the historic Selma to Montgomery March that resulted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

King spoke about an early death on two occasions.

In Michael Eric Dyson’s book, April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King’s Death and How it Changed America,

King told his wife, Coretta Scott King, after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, “This is what is going to happen to me also. I keep telling you, this is a sick society.”

King delivered the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech at the Mason Temple Church in Memphis on April 3, 1968, discussing the possibility of an untimely death.  He was killed the next day.

U.S. President Ronald Reagan made King’s birthday a national holiday, signing the bill into law in 1983 and it became official three years later on the third Monday in January.

From where I sit, King’s murder never gets played up properly in either television or film.

I can only recall two instances where King’s assassination was made a big deal in the broadcast media: An episode of the 1970’s hit TV series, “The Jefferson’s,” when the main character, George Jefferson, opened Jefferson’s Cleaners on the same day King was assassinated. Chaos erupted in the New York City neighborhood as news of King’s death filtered through during “The First Store” episode that originally aired on April 6, 1980, on CBS.

Another was the 1978 TV miniseries, “King,” in which the late actor Paul Winfield portrayed the civil rights legend. I always felt Winfield, who died in 2004, was solid portraying King. Winfield was nominated for an Emmy award in the three-part mini-series that originally aired from Feb. 12-14, 1978, on NBC.

I remember watching both shows with my family. In those days, I was a student at Cottondale Elementary School. I was raised to honor and respect King’s legacy and I am grateful for his sacrifices to make the world a better place.

Someday, I hope a filmmaker produces another movie about King and it includes everything, including the assassination. We need an updated version of King’s legacy.