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Jesse Jackson on M.L.K.: One Bullet Couldn’t Kill the Movement

March 30, 2018 in History

By Yohuru Williams

U.S. National Guard troops blocking off a street while striking Memphis sanitation workers march by, wearing placards reading, 'I Am A Man' on March 29, 1968. King was killed on the eve of a second march to support the sanitation workers. (Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

History Reads is a weekly series featuring work from Team History, a group of experts and influencers, exploring history’s most fascinating questions.

Early in the evening on April 4, 1968, on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, a single bullet felled Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the 39-year-old leader of America’s long-simmering civil-rights struggle. Known for his advocacy of nonviolent resistance to racial injustice, King was instrumental in rolling back national laws dictating segregation and discrimination; and in 1964, he became the youngest person ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

King, who had come to the city to support a sanitation workers’ strike, was under significant stress, both from aggressive government surveillance and from fellow civil-rights leaders at odds about what a national agenda should look like—and how best to pursue it. High on Dr. King’s list: spotlighting the plight of America’s poor.

One of the people with King the day he was killed was a 26-year-old rising figure in the movement named Jesse Jackson, Jr. In the last 50 years, he himself has become a national civil-rights icon, who has worked tirelessly to topple the vestiges of racism and inequality in America and across the globe. In a wide-ranging interview with HISTORY, Rev. Jackson offered his recollections on the assassination, its tumultuous aftermath throughout 1968—and how the movement struggled to push forward with King’s dream of racial and economic equality.

VIDEO: MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: A look at the life of iconic civil rights leader.

HISTORY: Dr. King’s assassination came in the midst of preparation for the Poor People’s Campaign, a massive demonstration to highlight the issue of poverty in America. What were the internal arguments within his organization, the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), around this planning?

Jesse Jackson: We were trying to think strategically about how to gain traction. And so we had the staff meeting in January with whites from Appalachia and the Smoky Mountains, Native Americans from the reservations, blacks from the deep south, Latinos from south of this country, Chavez’s group, some Jewish allies from New York led by [activist] Al Lowenstein, and labor. [The discussion was] on how to begin to go city by city and come by bus, by train, by plane—[to] come to Washington and set up Resurrection City, a poor people’s camp between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.

And so that …read more


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