Pages From Our Past: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death sets off riots (1968)
April 5, 1968: King’s Death Sets Off Riots
On this day, the nation was rocked by the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The front page carries stories from Memphis about riots in the wake of King’s death, and about a public viewing that brought out hundreds to pay their respects.
A dispatch from Washington considered political repercussions of the assassination as the 1968 presidential election approached. The rioting was expected to accelerate efforts to pass a pending civil rights bill, a follow-up to the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. The new bill, which passed the house five days later and was enacted in July that year, provided for equal housing opportunities and made racial hate crime a federal offense.
In an AP story out of New York, President Johnson makes a statement urging people to honor King’s memory by avoiding violence. It’s followed by reactions collected from public figures and celebrities across the nation, including baseball player Jackie Robinson. The mayor of Gary, Ind., Richard Hatcher, is quoted saying, “He changed the world. He changed it enduringly, far beyond the power of hatred to rescind.” In a public appearance in Indianapolis just two months before he was assassinated himself, Senator Robert Kennedy said, “He dedicated himself to justice and love between his fellow human beings. It’s up those of us who are here to carry out that dream.”