The sudden assassination of the civil rights leader broke the hearts of millions fighting for equal rights.

As Black History Month draws to a close, the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. echoes through the hearts and minds of the American people. Dr. King was a revolutionary civil rights leader whose strict adherence to nonviolent protest and powerful oration lead his campaigns for equality to victory across the segregated United States. His assassination on April 4, 1968, sent shockwaves through the nation.

Two Cities, Three Services

Dr. King was managing the protest of sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee when he was suddenly killed at the hotel he was staying in.  An initial public viewing was held on April 5 at a funeral home in Memphis.  Dr. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, was flown to Memphis by Robert F. Kennedy to attend the service.  Following a public visitation, his body was escorted by a procession of cars to the local airport where he was flown to Atlanta for funeral services and burial.

A small, private service in the Ebenezer Baptist Church was held on April 9.  This service was attended by various political and religious leaders, foreign dignitaries, and other notable people including Vice President Hubert Humphrey.  President Lyndon Johnson notably did not attend over concerns of potential protests in regard to the Vietnam War.

At this private service, Dr. King eulogized himself as a recording of his famous “Drum Major” sermon was played.  This was requested by Coretta Scott King herself.  At Dr. King’s previous request before his death, a close personal friend sang they hymn “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”  Dr. King’s bronze casket was then processed 3 ½ miles to Morehouse College.  This procession was attended by over 100,000 mourners.  A final public service was held at the college, Dr. King’s alma mater, where he was eulogized by the college president, Benjamin Mays.

The King Center

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was buried in South View Cemetery and was later exhumed in 1977 to be buried in the plaza standing between the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, known as The King Center, and the Ebenezer Baptist Church. The crypt of Dr. King, now shared with his wife Coretta Scott King, is now part of a National Historic Site. An eternal flame burns close to the enclosure.

The funeral services of Dr. King were observed by over 300,000 mourners. Three days after the assassination, President Johnson declared April 7 as a national day of mourning for the legendary civil rights leader, inviting the United States and the entire world to share in their grief. It is through these private and public services that the world began to process the shock and devastation of its loss.