MLK50: Rev. Jesse Jackson Relives The Night Of Dr. King’s Assassination

Local News

The 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is being honored in downtown Memphis, and Local 24 anchor Katina Rankin spoke exclusively, one-on-one with Civil Rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Jackson was at the Lorraine Motel the evening James Earl Ray shot and killed Dr. King. 

Reverend Jackson relives April 4, 1968. He extends his hand to Katina. “Good to see you again,” said Rev. Jackson.

Katina says, “I know it’s difficult, but take me back to April 4, 1968.”

“Really, it was April 2nd, we were in a staff meeting in Atlanta preparing the poor people’s campaign going to Washington. Jim Lawson called — Rev. Lawson and Rev. Billy Kyles about coming to Memphis because he thought the sanitation workers strike epitomized what we were trying to say working for the people. We came to Memphis, ah, excited really about the sanitation workers. We were getting ready to go to Rev. Billy Kyles’ home for dinner, and I was coming across the courtyard. And, Dr. King said, ‘Jesse, you’re an hour late.’ He was really an hour late. (laughs) He said that ah, ‘You don’t even have on a shirt and tie’. I said Doc the only prerequisite of a dinner is an appetite not a suit and tie. We laughed. He looked at my friend and said, ‘Ben be sure to play my favorite song tonight on the saxophone, ‘Precious Lord’. And Ben said, ‘I will’,” said Jackson.

“Then he raised up and POW, hit him right here and severed his tie and went down and blew his heart out. WHEW! He died upon impact really.  He didn’t suffer – dead on impact. Then I heard somebody say, ‘Get low, get low’, and I ran towards the step. We were pointing saying the bullet came from that way.  The police was coming to us with their gun out.  I was saying it came from that a way. It was a redefining moment in American history in so many ways,” said Jackson.

“Every time I discuss it, the wound is fresh all over again. We knew at some point we’d die, but we were not going to let one bullet kill the movement. Dr. King had said in his last staff meeting, he said, ‘You know I been an insomniac for three days. Maybe I’ve done as much as I can do in 13 years. Maybe I should just quit.  Andy said, ‘Dr. King don’t say that, don’t talk that way.’ And he said, ‘Andy don’t say peace. There is no peace. The world is in turmoil today’. He said, ‘Well maybe I can fast ’til the point of death.’ He died with his shoes on without fear and left us a tremendous mark of history on which we build the rest of our days.”

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