Civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. is celebrated each year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the third Monday in January. In 2018, many are also taking time in April to reflect on King’s accomplishments and contributions to modern society on the 50th anniversary of his death.
When did Martin Luther King Jr die?
King died on April 4, 1968. He was shot by an assassin as he stood on the balcony of a hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, where he had traveled to support a strike by black sanitation workers. King was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery but died a little over an hour after the shooting.
The night before, King had delivered his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech at the Mason Temple in Memphis, in which he seemed to meditate on death.
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now,” he said. “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live — a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do 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. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
The day after King’s death, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared April 7, 1968 to be a national day of mourning. That year, LBJ signed the 1968 Civil Rights Act into law, which outlawed housing discrimination on the basis of race, religion or national origin.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassin, James Earl Ray, was captured in London in June 1968, where he was attempting to fly to Rhodesia with a fake passport. He confessed to the assassination in March 1969 and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. Ray died in 1998.