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Pilgrims remember King by marching in Memphis

April 4, 1998
Web posted at: 10:38 a.m. EST (1538 GMT)

In this story:

MEMPHIS, Tennessee (CNN) -- To commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.'s death 30 years ago, hundreds of people walked through downtown Memphis Saturday to honor the civil rights leader's last march and his legacy.

It was in Memphis on April 3, 1968, that King shook off talk of threats against him and promised his followers they would get to the promised land, though "I may not get there with you."

The Man, The Movement

  • Highlights from the life of Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)
  • The Civil Rights Movement: A Timeline

    The Assassin

  • James Earl Ray: A Profile

    Sounds and images

  • Classic Images of King from Life Magazine
  • An Interactive Tour of Martin Luther King's Birthplace


  • Exploring King's Legacy

    Message Board

  • The King Assassination

  • The following day, he was shot down by an assassin.

    King had gone to Memphis to offer support to striking sanitation workers by marching with them on March 28, 1968. The demonstration was broken up by police after a group of rowdy young protesters began breaking windows.

    Disappointed, King returned to Memphis six days later, vowing to stage another march, this one peaceful. He never made it.

    Saturday's march was part of the weekend's "Pilgrimage to Memphis," which also featured seminars and other events honoring King and other champions of the civil rights movement.

    At 6 p.m. (7 p.m. EST) Saturday, all the church bells in Memphis will be rung, marking the shooting that took King's life at that hour on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. Large crowds are expected at the candlelight vigil afterward at the motel, today a civil rights museum.

    Atlanta, King's birthplace, also planned memorial services, and wreaths were to be laid at his tomb. Each year, thousands of people visit his home, the church where he preached and the nearby center established in his name.

    'Mountaintop' speech resounds again

    On Friday night, at a Memphis church service attended by more than 500 people, a recording of King's portentous "Mountaintop" speech echoed once more through the Mason Temple.

    "I just want to do God's will," King said in a recording of the speech. "And he has allowed me to go up 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. And 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."

    Keeping King's legacy alive

    The Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles, who was with King when he was shot, said a main goal of the pilgrimage is to teach young people about the civil rights movement and King.

    "And I'm also talking about 40-year-old young people," Kyles said. "People who are 35 were only 5 when Martin died. People who are 40 were only 10."

    Memphis in 1998
    icon 2 min. 5 sec. VXtreme video
    Children salute Dr. King
    icon 1 min. 57 sec. VXtreme video
    "Dr. King was a man who stood up for our rights."
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    2MB / 60 sec. / 160x120
    video icon QuickTime movie

    In Memphis, strides toward equality have been made. The city is run by its first black mayor, Willie Herington, who was a civil rights protester in 1968. Most of the officials on the City Council and County Commission are African Americans.

    But the city still has a high crime rate and a high dropout rate from the school system, Herington said.

    "Black people in Memphis are still disenfranchised, by and large," he added.

    Fight against injustice continues

    Kyles said people must remember King's basic message: that the way to overcome injustice is through nonviolent protest.


    How much do you think race relations have changed since King's death?

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    "The civil rights movement was a magnificent thing," he said. "With all the violence in the land now, we don't have to have that. Nonviolence worked then and it will work now."

    While the fight for equality that King championed continues, many of his friends and relatives still have questions about his death. James Earl Ray, King's confessed assassin, recanted his confession years ago, and has been fighting to have a trial, which he never had because of his guilty plea.

    His quest has the support of King's widow, Coretta Scott King, and her children, who say there is enough evidence suggesting Ray was either framed or had help to reopen the case and let Ray have his day in court.

    Ray, however, who is serving a 99-year prison term, is seriously ill with liver disease.

    Correspondents Brian Cabell and Gary Tuchman contributed to this report.


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