Theresa Derry

Time Capsule Editor

One could argue that Martin Luther King was the most influential leader during the Civil Rights Era.

King was a figure who worked tirelessly for social justice. He began his work with the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s. Through his efforts in the Civil Rights Movement, he used different methods to strive for social justice. He is well-known for participating in nonviolent protests and delivering impassioned speeches. Through implementing these two particular techniques, King fought for justice and equality for all people regardless of  their racial identity.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed the King holiday bill into law. Citizens of the United States still see this bill in effect today. Each January, the third Monday is set aside to remember King. Even though one day of the year is set aside to remember King’s legacy, United States citizens often forget the day King was assassinated.

King was also the founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In the spring of 1968, King and other members of the SCLC traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to support a sanitation workers’ strike. On April 3, 1968, upon arriving to Memphis, King delivered his last speech at Mason Temple Church entitled “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” 

Little did the audience know that on the following day, April 4, 1968, King would be assassinated. King was standing and talking to his fellow companions on the second floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel, when all of a sudden a bullet fired and struck him in the neck. King was immediately rushed to the hospital, but only an hour passed by before King was dead. At the young age of thirty-nine, King had become a martyr for civil rights. Through a thorough investigation, it was discovered on June 8, 1968, that criminal James Earl Ray was responsible for King’s assassination.

African Americans in the United States during this time saw King’s assassination as an attempt to diminish the equality that was sought for through King’s implementation of nonviolent resistance. The African American population in the United States during this time was inspired by King’s work, and his assassination prompted them to found the Black Power movement and the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

King’s legacy did not only leave an impression on the African American population. President Lyndon B. Johnson stated that King was the “apostle of nonviolence.” Johnson urged Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act on April 11, 1968, in response to King’s unforeseen assassination.

Some of King’s famous words from his self-written eulogy signify the kind of activist he was, “I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to give his life serving others.” As citizens of this country, we cannot forget King’s legacy that became even more profound after his assassination.

Theresa Derry can be contacted at