MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The civil rights leader, just 39 years old, was gunned down in Tennessee. Now, the nation is paying tribute to him and his legacy.
It was a day of remembrance and reflection. Hundreds gathered at the National Civil Rights Museum to honor King’s legacy underneath the balcony outside what was room 306 at the Lorraine Motel, where King was struck down by an assassin’s bullet.
"This was a moral movement. It was a moral movement," said museum president Terri Freeman. "But Dr. King believed that it was going to be a moral movement that has to engage everybody."
Longtime lieutenant Jesse Jackson was in the hotel parking lot 50 years ago. He spoke from the balcony on Wednesday.
Many flocked to the national King memorial in Washington, D.C., where crowds paused to mourn and others marched. Some looked at what King accomplished with cautious optimism.
"I think we’ve taken leaps and bounds from where he wanted to be," said Crystal Moody. "I think it’s an ever-changing nation, hopefully in the positive."
And in Indianapolis, where Robert F. Kennedy famously told the crowd of King’s death, civil rights icon John Lewis — who was by Kennedy’s side that night — talked about his personal loss.
"I cried, I lost a friend. I lost a great brother, I lost my leader," Lewis said. "If it haven’t been for MLK I don’t know what would have happened to our country."
There has been a feeling of reverence for a civil rights icon of paying homage to King’s struggle for justice and a palpable sense of gratitude for his ultimate sacrifice. King’s influence on so many people’s lives is evident from all walks of life — young and old, black or white.