Remembering MLK 50 years later

Published 10:36 pm Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Editor’s note: The news on the front page of the April 4, 1968, Suffolk News-Herald was fairly mundane. The biggest story — quite important locally, it would turn out — was about talks regarding a merger of Suffolk and Nansemond County grinding to a halt. The move would finally come to fruition about six years later.

But the whole world changed that day in Memphis, Tenn., and the front page of the next day’s edition looked quite different.

In memoriam of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we’ve reproduced here the Associated Press story that ran in the April 5, 1968, afternoon edition. We edited for space and modern style.

Newsletter

Email newsletter signup

We’ve also included reaction from local civic and religious leaders that ran on page 2 that day.

Massive search on for slayer

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. triggered violence across the nation and caused President Johnson to delay this morning, for the second time, his departure for Hawaii.

The President called a late morning meeting of civil rights leaders in the White House in the convulsive wave of reaction following the death Thursday night of the 39-year-old King.

King died in a Memphis hospital less than an hour after he was shot in the neck as he stood on the balcony of his motel here. Police searched for a white gunman.

Johnson originally had planned to leave for Hawaii Thursday night and postponed it to early today, then postponed it again for the meeting with civil rights leaders, set for 11 a.m.

At the same time, Atty. Gen. Ramsey Clark and three other federal officials were sped here in an Air Force jet.

A Justice Department spokesman in Washington said Clark planned to meet with members of King’s family and with his colleagues, including Dr. Ralph Abernathy and Dr. Andrew Young.

“He also will confer with federal, state and local law enforcement officers concerning last night’s assassination,” the spokesman said.

Violence, including arson and shooting, broke out in several American cities.

Sheriff William Morris said the fatal shot was apparently fired from a “flop-house” facing the front of the motel. Police said a .30- .06 Remington rifle and a suitcase were found in the doorway of a building adjacent to the rooming house.

Morris said, “King was standing on the second floor, leaning over a railing in front of his room. He was talking to two men on the ground. When the shot hit him, it knocked him backward. Officers heard the shot.”

Memphis Police Director Frank Holloman said the suspect checked into a second floor room between 3 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Thursday. “The shot was fired from a common bathroom which was at the end of a hall on the east side of the building,” he said.

Police did not disclose the name the man signed when he checked in. They said they found a palm print on the rifle and it had been flown to the FBI in Washington.

The murder weapon apparently was a new .30- .06 Remington pump rifle with telescopic sights, Holloman said. The assassin also carried a new set of binoculars and a new suitcase.

A .30- .06 Remington pump rifle was one of 15 weapons stolen a night earlier from a Memphis sporting goods store, but Holloman refused to say immediately that the stolen gun was the death weapon.

“As far as we know, and from the evidence at this time; there was only one man in the physical area of the slaying,” Holloman said.

He said one of the 30 to 40 officers on duty in the vicinity of the motel saw the bullet strike King, and all immediately converged on the scene.

The fatal shot was fired from the window of a common bathroom in the flop-house, Holloman said. King’s room was 205 feet away, through trees and across a street but in “clear view of the window.”

Holloman said the assassin was a white male, between 26 and 32 years of age, standing 6 feet tall and weighing 165 to 175 pounds.

Assassination called shocking

Jarvis L. Howell, chairman, Nansemond County Board of Supervisors: “The tragedy of last night in the death of Martin Luther King was a shock to the people of our nation. Dr. King’s life and history will linger long in the hearts of people of goodwill. It is important that we continue to work together in our country through a spirit of Christian understanding and respect of each other.”

James F. Hope, mayor of the City of Suffolk: “I was very distressed over the tragic death of Dr. Martin Luther King. I sincerely hope that this regrettable event will not cause any deterioration of race relations and that people of both races will continue to dedicate their efforts toward solving bi-racial matters.”

The Rev. C.J. Word, pastor of East End Baptist Church: “A tragic experience! This segregated society has created an atmosphere which makes this experience quite possible and approved by many people.”

The Rev. C.L. Landrum Jr., pastor of Suffolk Presbyterian Church: “Dr. King’s death is a national tragedy. His non-violent approach to dealing with racial injustice and his concern for reconciliation between black people and white people were major contributions to American life. I hope the mantle of his leadership will fall on the shoulders of someone with a similar spirit and outlook. He was a great Christian.”