Do you know where you were on April 4, 1968? Some of you may not have been born yet; but those of who were, does that date mean anything at all to you? And the rest of you, do you know what happened on that day?
I can tell you exactly where I was on that date, and I will always remember what happened. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
I was a senior in high school that year and had been selected to be a member of a special high school student council developed by the governor of the state of Arkansas, Winthrop Rockefeller. The special council included student body presidents from all Arkansas high schools.
We held our final meeting that year at the city convention center in West Memphis, Arkansas, a small city just across the Mississippi River from Memphis and only about nine miles from the Lorraine Motel. On Thursday afternoon, April 4, we finished our work and prepared for a special dinner and dance that evening.
At 6:01 p.m. and only a few miles away, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was hit by a sniper’s bullet. Dr. King had been standing on the balcony in front of his room when, without warning, he was shot. The .30-caliber rifle bullet entered his right cheek, traveled through his neck, and finally stopped at his shoulder blade. Dr. King was immediately taken to a nearby hospital but was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m.
Back at the convention center in West Memphis, less than 10 minutes away, just before 7 p.m., the music abruptly stopped and the convention center was filled with Arkansas state troopers. They quickly rounded up four black teenagers and escorted them from the building for their safety. An assistant to the governor somberly announced that Dr. King had been shot and taken to a hospital. Memphis and West Memphis were put on high alert, and no one was allowed to leave the convention center until further notice. Within a few minutes the announcement came that Dr. King had died. The dance was over; we were to go to our lodging, and no one was to cross the bridge into Memphis. State troopers and local police were everywhere.
That was 45 years ago this past week. It was clear from the outset that the killing was racially motivated. Even though Dr. King advocated nonviolence, the civil rights movement was plagued by considerable violence and upheaval in the streets of America. My family and I attended church services every Saturday in Memphis. It was rare in those days for churches to be integrated, but ours was. On more than one occasion leading up to that spring day, we had to walk around demonstrators and long rows of police with riot gear just to get into the Ellis Auditorium, where our services were held.
As a country, America has made considerable progress in race relations over the past 45 years; but hatred for others because of their beliefs or their race still exists. And violence still seems to be an easy option for people who are angry. In the past year, we have seen that violent part of society rear its head at Sandy Hook Elementary and a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. While there is no evidence that either of these was motivated by race, it is indicative of our society that violence is often the answer for hatred or anger. Mentally disturbed people especially fall prey to the ease with which they can kill others.
Ezekiel the prophet wrote of a time when violence would dominate the streets of our cities. He wrote, “Make a chain, for the land is filled with crimes of blood, and the city is full of violence.”
Human life is precious and not to be destroyed by senseless acts of violence. Human beings have the potential to enter the family of God and live for all eternity—not in heaven, but ruling with Jesus Christ here on this earth.
One day the words “Murder in Memphis” will be a historical footnote and a lesson from a far distant past. Gone will be the anger and hatred that have characterized our society for way too long!
The prophet Isaiah described this future when he wrote, “Violence shall no longer be heard in your land, neither wasting nor destruction within your borders.”
Can you imagine a time when there will be no murder? When everyone will live in peace and prosperity? If you would like to know more about that future, which isn’t the “going to heaven” idea that is commonly taught, then read our website and the literature we offer. You may be shocked to know the real truth from the Bible.
The murder in Memphis of Martin Luther King Jr. took place on April 4, 1968. I can tell you every detail about that evening, but I can’t tell you that the world is better today. In fact, I would say the evidence is that it is worse. Only the return of Jesus Christ will bring a better world, where there is no more murder.
Check us out and let us know what you think.
For Life, Hope & Truth, I’m Jim Franks.