The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. shocked the world and sparked conspiracy theories across the nation.
Fifty years ago on April 4, 1968, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. The shot, fired by James Earl Ray, sent shockwaves around the world. Suddenly the civil rights movement was thrown into chaos while cities across America would descend into mass rioting.
In the year before his death, King expanded his activism to topics beyond race. Most recently he had spoken out publicly against the Vietnam War and was in the midst of forming a coalition of poor Americans to address high poverty and unemployment rates.
King had been planning a march on Washington when he was called to Memphis to support the sanitation workers' strike. It was in Memphis at the Mason Temple Church that King gave his last speech that seemed to eerily foreshadow his demise.
“I’ve seen the promised land," he said. "I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."
The next day as he was standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. He was shot in the neck, by a then-unknown assassin from a building across from the motel. After being rushed to the hospital, he was pronounced dead an hour after being shot.
Over a month later, his assassin, Illinois-born James Earl Ray was arrested at London's Heathrow Airport and extradited to the U.S. He pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. However, once incarcerated, he backtracked and claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy.
To the surprise of the nation, the King family believed him. King's son Dexter even visited Ray in 1977 and campaigned for the reopening of Ray's case and an examination of the allegations he'd made.
Ultimately, a civil court jury agreed that there was indeed a conspiracy.
A local restaurant owner with alleged mafia connections named Lloyd Jowers claimed he had hired a dirty cop to kill King in an effort to silence his activism. The King family sued Jowers for wrongful death in civil court, where the jury found that Jowers was part of a conspiracy to assassinate King. Despite the jury's findings, James Earl Ray was the only man ever convicted of killing King.
In the 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, countless other theories have popped up regarding just how and why he died. The King family has spoken publicly about these issues, and will likely continue to do so. However they continue to make one thing clear: the legacy that Martin Luther King Jr. left behind should be the first thing that those who remember him think about.