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Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, my fellow Americans
Once again, the heart of America is heavythe spirit of America weeps for a tragedy that denies the very meaning of our land.
The life of a man who symbolized the freedom and faith of America has been taken. But it is the fiber and the fabric of the Republic that is being tested.
If we are to have the America that we mean to have, all men of all races, all regions, all religions must stand their ground to deny violence its victory in this sorrowful time and in all times to come.
Last evening, after receiving the terrible news of Dr. King's death, my heart went out to his family and to his people especially to the young Americans who, I know, must sometimes wonder if they arc to be denied a fullness of life because of the color of their skin. I called the leaders of the Negro community and the white communities, the judiciary, the legislative and the executive branches of our National Government, and the leaders of our city halls throughout the Nation, throughout the night, and asked them to come here to the White House and meet with me this morning.
We have been meeting together this morning.
No words of oursand no words of mine can fill the void of the eloquent voice that has been stilled. But this I do believe deeply:
The dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has not died with him. Men who are white men who are blackmust and will now join together as never in the past to let all the forces of divisiveness know that America shall not be ruled by the bullet, but only by the ballot of free and of just men.
In these years, we have moved toward opening the way of hope and opportunity and justice in this country.
We have rolled away some of the stones of inaction, of indifference' and of injustice.
Our work is not yet done. But we have begun.
We must move with urgency, with resolve, and with new energy in the Congress, in the courts, in the White House, the statehouses and the city halls of the Nation, wherever there is leadershippolitical leadership, leadership in the churches, in the homes, in the schools, in the institutions of higher learninguntil we do overcome.
I have asked the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the leadership of the Congress, and the Congress to receive me at the earliest possible moment. They are in adjournment over the weekend. But I would hope that could be no later than Monday evening, in the area of 9 o'clock, for the purpose of hearing the President's recommendations and the President's suggestions for action constructive action instead of destructive actionin this hour of national need.
I did not understate the case last Sunday evening when I talked of the divisiveness that was tearing this Nation apart. But together, a nation united, a nation caring, a nation concerned, and a nation that thinks more of the Nation's interests than we do of any individual self interest or political interestthat nation can and shall and will overcome.
I have issued a proclamation to the people of the United States which I shall read.
[Text of Proclamation 3839 "Death of Martin Luther King, Jr. ]
By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation
To the People of the United States:
The heart of America grieves today. A leader of his people a teacher of all people has fallen.
Martin Luther King, Jr., has been struck down by the violence against which he preached and worked.
Yet the cause for which he struggled has not fallen. The voice that called for justice and brotherhood has been stilled but the quest for freedom, to which he gave eloquent expression, continues.
Men of all races, all religions, all regions must join together in this hour to deny violence its victoryand to furfill the vision of brotherhood that gave purpose to Martin Luther King's life and works.
Now, THEREFORE, I, LYNDON B. JOHNSON, President of the United States, do call upon all Americans to observe Sunday next, the seventh day of April, as a day of national mourning throughout the United States. In our churches, in our homes, and in our private hearts, let us resolve before God to stand against divisiveness in our country and all its consequences.
I direct that until interment the flag of the United States shall be flown at half- staff on all buildings, grounds and naval vessels of the Federal Clovernment in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions.
I also direct that the Rag shall be flown at half-staff for the same length of time at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations.
IN WlrNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifth day of April, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and sixtyeight and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and ninety second.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON
That concludes the proclamation. Thank
you, my fellow Americans.
NOTE: The President spoke at I: 22 p. m. in the Fish Room at the White House after attending a memorial service for Dr. King at Washington Cathedral. In his opening words he referred to Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, Representative John W. McCormack of Massachusetts, Speaker of the House of Representatives' and Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the United States. The address was broadcast nationally.
1968 Washington, D.C., riots
The Washington, D.C., riots of 1968 were a four-day period of violent civil unrest and rioting following the assassination of leading African American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., on April 4, 1968. Part of the broader King-assassination riots that affected at least 110 U.S. cities, those in Washington, D.C.—along with those in Chicago and Baltimore—were among those with the greatest numbers of participants. President Lyndon B. Johnson called in the National Guard to the city on April 5, 1968 in order to assist the police department in quelling the unrest. Ultimately, 13 people were killed, with approximately 1,000 people injured and over 6,100 arrested.
- United States Army Military District of WashingtonDistrict of Columbia Army National Guard
District of Columbia government
Presidential Proclamation--Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., challenged our Nation to recognize that our individual liberty relies upon our common equality. In communities marred by division and injustice, the movement he built from the ground up forced open doors to negotiation. The strength of his leadership was matched only by the power of his words, which still call on us to perfect those sacred ideals enshrined in our founding documents.
"We have an opportunity to make America a better Nation," Dr. King said on the eve of his death. "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." Though we have made great strides since the turbulent era of Dr. King's movement, his work and our journey remain unfinished. Only when our children are free to pursue their full measure of success -- unhindered by the color of their skin, their gender, the faith in their heart, the people they love, or the fortune of their birth -- will we have reached our destination.
Today, we are closer to fulfilling America's promise of economic and social justice because we stand on the shoulders of giants like Dr. King, yet our future progress will depend on how we prepare our next generation of leaders. We must fortify their ladders of opportunity by correcting social injustice, breaking the cycle of poverty in struggling communities, and reinvesting in our schools. Education can unlock a child's potential and remains our strongest weapon against injustice and inequality.
Recognizing that our Nation has yet to reach Dr. King's promised land is not an admission of defeat, but a call to action. In these challenging times, too many Americans face limited opportunities, but our capacity to support each other remains limitless. Today, let us ask ourselves what Dr. King believed to be life's most urgent and persistent question: "What are you doing for others?" Visit www.MLKDay.gov to find Martin Luther King, Jr., Day of Service projects across our country.
Dr. King devoted his life to serving others, and his message transcends national borders. The devastating earthquake in Haiti, and the urgent need for humanitarian support, reminds us that our service and generosity of spirit must also extend beyond our immediate communities. As our Government continues to bring our resources to bear on the international emergency in Haiti, I ask all Americans who want to contribute to this effort to visit obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/HaitiEarthquake.
By lifting up our brothers and sisters through dedication and service -- both at home and around the world -- we honor Dr. King's memory and reaffirm our common humanity.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 18, 2010, as the Martin Luther King, Jr., Federal Holiday. I encourage all Americans to observe this day with appropriate civic, community, and service programs in honor of Dr. King's life and lasting legacy.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifteenth day of January, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.
Letter from a Birmingham Jail (April 16, 1963)
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Yes, this is a letter, not a speech or sermon &mdash but Calloway-Thomas says it’s worth including on such a list anyway. After all, the circumstances that created this letter are inherently linked to the fact that he couldn’t deliver a speech in person. At the time, King found himself jailed in Alabama after ignoring an injunction against protests in Birmingham. During that time, a group of clergymen wrote an open letter urging him away from protests. He wanted to respond but, from the jail, his only option if he wanted to answer quickly was to write it down. &ldquoIdeas have moments and if those moments aren&rsquot used, you lose that rhetorical moment and it no longer has the force it had,” Calloway-Thomas says.
So, in a format she likens to a spoken call and response, he answers the questions that were posed to him about his methods. While also explaining that he’s on strong biblical footing, he provides the public with a way to understand the work he’s doing. His rhetorical skills are also on display as he uses a story about his 6-year-old daughter’s early perceptions of racism and segregation to underline that the matter is not theoretical. In the years since, this letter has become one of 20th century American history’s most famous documents.
Remarks on Signing the Bill Making the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., a National Holiday
The President. Mrs. King, members of the King family, distinguished Members of the Congress, ladies and gentlemen, honored guests, I'm very pleased to welcome you to the White House, the home that belongs to all of us, the American people.
When I was thinking of the contributions to our country of the man that we're honoring today, a passage attributed to the American poet John Greenleaf Whittier comes to mind. "Each crisis brings its word and deed." In America, in the fifties and sixties, one of the important crises we faced was racial discrimination. The man whose words and deeds in that crisis stirred our nation to the very depths of its soul was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King was born in 1929 in an America where, because of the color of their skin, nearly 1 in 10 lived lives that were separate and unequal. Most black Americans were taught in segregated schools. Across the country, too many could find only poor jobs, toiling for low wages. They were refused entry into hotels and restaurants, made to use separate facilities. In a nation that proclaimed liberty and justice for all, too many black Americans were living with neither.
In one city, a rule required all blacks to sit in the rear of public buses. But in 1955, when a brave woman named Rosa Parks was told to move to the back of the bus, she said, "No." A young minister in a local Baptist church, Martin Luther King, then organized a boycott of the bus company—a boycott that stunned the country. Within 6 months the courts had ruled the segregation of public transportation unconstitutional.
Dr. King had awakened something strong and true, a sense that true justice must be colorblind, and that among white and black Americans, as he put it, "Their destiny is tied up with our destiny, and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom we cannot walk alone."
In the years after the bus boycott, Dr. King made equality of rights his life's work. Across the country, he organized boycotts, rallies, and marches. Often he was beaten, imprisoned, but he never stopped teaching nonviolence. "Work with the faith", he told his followers, "that unearned suffering is redemptive." In 1964 Dr. King became the youngest man in history to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Dr. King's work brought him to this city often. And in one sweltering August day in 1963, he addressed a quarter of a million people at the Lincoln Memorial. If American history grows from two centuries to twenty, his words that day will never be forgotten. "I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood."
In 1968 Martin Luther King was gunned down by a brutal assassin, his life cut short at the age of 39. But those 39 short years had changed America forever. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had guaranteed all Americans equal use of public accommodations, equal access to programs financed by Federal funds, and the right to compete for employment on the sole basis of individual merit. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 had made certain that from then on black Americans would get to vote. But most important, there was not just a change of law there was a change of heart. The conscience of America had been touched. Across the land, people had begun to treat each other not as blacks and whites, but as fellow Americans.
And since Dr. King's death, his father, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr., and his wife, Coretta King, have eloquently and forcefully carried on his work. Also his family have joined in that cause.
Now our nation has decided to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by setting aside a day each year to remember him and the just cause he stood for. We've made historic strides since Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus. As a democratic people, we can take pride in the knowledge that we Americans recognized a grave injustice and took action to correct it. And we should remember that in far too many countries, people like Dr. King never have the opportunity to speak out at all.
But traces of bigotry still mar America. So, each year on Martin Luther King Day, let us not only recall Dr. King, but rededicate ourselves to the Commandments he believed in and sought to live every day: Thou shall love thy God with all thy heart, and thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself. And I just have to believe that all of us—if all of us, young and old, Republicans and Democrats, do all we can to live up to those Commandments, then we will see the day when Dr. King's dream comes true, and in his words, "All of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning, '. land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.'"
Thank you, God bless you, and I will sign it.
Mrs. King. Thank you, Mr. President, Vice President Bush, Majority Leader Baker and the distinguished congressional and senatorial delegations, and other representatives who've gathered here, and friends.
All right-thinking people, all right-thinking Americans are joined in spirit with us this day as the highest recognition which this nation gives is bestowed upon Martin Luther King, Jr., one who also was the recipient of the highest recognition which the world bestows, the Nobel Peace Prize.
In his own life's example, he symbolized what was right about America, what was noblest and best, what human beings have pursued since the beginning of history. He loved unconditionally. He was in constant pursuit of truth, and when he discovered it, he embraced it. His nonviolent campaigns brought about redemption, reconciliation, and justice. He taught us that only peaceful means can bring about peaceful ends, that our goal was to create the love community.
America is a more democratic nation, a more just nation, a more peaceful nation because Martin Luther King, Jr., became her preeminent nonviolent commander.
Martin Luther King, Jr., and his spirit live within all of us. Thank God for the blessing of his life and his leadership and his commitment. What manner of man was this? May we make ourselves worthy to carry on his dream and create the love community. Thank you.
President Johnson's Address to the Nation Upon Proclaiming A Day Of Mourning Following The Death Of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. [April 5, 1968] - History
Speeches and other Media Uses by Lyndon B. Johnson,
36th President of the United States,
11/22/63 - 1/20/69
The most comprehensive site is Telephone Conversations at Lyndon Baines Johnson Library. Their Telephone Conversations Release Sample Audio Files contains 6 excerpts from early years.
It may pay first to see excerpted selections at American RadioWorks from Steven Smith and Kate Ellis, White House Tapes - The President Calling with sections on Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. The President Calling - Lyndon B. Johnson has four pages and topics, each with explanatory material on Johnson's unique method of telephone persuasion. Included are "In-Depth Stories" on the wrenching November 1963 transition entitled The Sudden President then comes The Road from Selma on 1965 emergence of the Voting Rights Act then The Vietnam Dilemma (speaks for itself, with some of this from 1964 as Johnson publicly disavowed any intention to broaden American involvement there).
Miller Center of Public Affairs - Presidential Recordings Program and History and Politics Out Loud also have many illuminating excerpts.
Following are some leading examples of Johnson on the telephone from these four sources, itemized by date(s) of the events.
11/24-29/63 - Selected Telephone Conversations Concerning the Special Commission to Investigate the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (The Warren Commission), November 24-29, 1963 source: LBJ in the Oval Office from History and Politics Out Loud
12/14/63 - LBJ explains his economic philosophy to CEA Chairman Walter Heller, an influential holdover from the Kennedy Administration source: Miller Center of Public Affairs - Presidential Recordings Program in Transcript & Audio Highlight Clips
5/14/64 - LBJ on the Economic Opportunity Act to key Congressman Phil Landrum (D-Ga.), audio source: Miller Center of Public Affairs - Presidential Recordings Program in Transcript & Audio Highlight Clips
7/23/64 - LBJ and Sen. Eastland of Mississippi (arch-enemy of civil rights) on the three civil rights workers murdered there in 1964 source: Miller Center of Public Affairs - Presidential Recordings Program
7/29/64 - LBJ Sells the War on Poverty to friend and skeptical Texas Democrat George Mahon source: Miller Center of Public Affairs - Presidential Recordings Program in Transcript & Audio Highlight Clips
7/30/64 - War on Poverty and Racial Tension in the Urban North with Rep. Frank Smith of Mississippi (a rare Mississippi ally who sought to deemphasize racial politics), audio source: Miller Center of Public Affairs - Presidential Recordings Program in Transcript & Audio Highlight Clips
11/5/64 - LBJ Compares the War on Poverty to the Abolition of Slavery, to Senator Joseph Clark (leading Democratic civil rights advocate, from Pennsylvania), audio source: Miller Center of Public Affairs - Presidential Recordings Program in Transcript & Audio Highlight Clips
3/1/65 - Telephone Conversations Release Sample Audio Files - Adam Clayton Powell, mp3 or ram source: Telephone Conversations at Lyndon Baines Johnson Library
12/24/65 - Mayor Daley of Chicago and the Community Action Program of the War on Poverty (as aspect of the War unloved by urban mayors, to say the least), audio source: Miller Center of Public Affairs - Presidential Recordings Program in Transcript & Audio Highlight Clips
2/1/66 - LBJ, Eugene McCarthy, and Vietnam, 1966 conversation with the man who become the first to run against LBJ in 1968 as an antiwar candidate, audio source: Miller Center of Public Affairs - Presidential Recordings Program in Transcript & Audio Highlight Clips
All press conference transcripts are available from Presidential News Conferences by The American Presidency Project.
By Ernie Suggs
In considering the life of Martin Luther King Jr., everyone talks about April 4, but nobody talks about April 4.
Two days, actually. One year apart.
April 4, 1968, when a bullet took him down.
April 4, 1967, when he made one of his most controversial speeches.
The 365 days between would be the most trying of King’s life. The path from Selma to Montgomery had been clear and unambiguous. But the road ahead was fraught and painful. His movement was splintering. New voices mocked his creed of nonviolence. He couldn’t sleep and was suffering from depression and exhaustion.
In that 1967 speech he departed from the core mission of the civil rights movement and set himself on the path toward a more radical global perspective: he would also speak out against the war and the crippling poverty he saw across the nation.
Those 365 days would lead him to Memphis.
April 4, 1967: Manhattan
In front of the United Nations in New York, April 15, 1967, when King called the Vietnam War racist and broke with President Lyndon Johnson.
By the time Martin Luther King Jr. stepped to the pulpit of the massive Riverside Church in New York City — a Gothic masterpiece financed by John David Rockefeller Jr. — he had already won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize for his work as the face and spiritual embodiment of the Civil Rights Movement. But his popularity was waning as younger, more militant black leaders challenged him for power.
None of that mattered that Tuesday night in Morningside Heights. He had made it clear — having enlisted Spelman College history professor Vincent Harding, to help pen his speech — that he was going to use the pulpit to denounce the Vietnam War, which was not only taking a toll on the Vietnamese, but also poor American blacks who were being drafted and dying at disproportionate rates. This was 1967, not 1972. Anti-war fervor had not yet reached its peak.
Observers and followers of King said the speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” liberated him and removed any constraints of political correctness, political allegiance or even popular opinion.
“I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice,” he told the 3,000 gathered.
For 22 minutes King talked about his ministerial obligations to expand his narrow American perspective into a global one and the three evils of racism, poverty and war.
He challenged President Lyndon B. Johnson — an ally who had pushed through the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act — to get out of a war that was “rooted in capitalism” and devote more resources and attention to the homefront. He even called for men to declare themselves conscientious objectors.
The Riverside crowd gave King a standing ovation and he was was initially pleased with the speech, satisfied that he had finally spoken out loudly against the war. But as his aides predicted, the speech was a political disaster. The war hawks in Washington hated it, just as much as the doves in the SCLC.
A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin refused to talk about it in the press. Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young distanced themselves from him. Black media that had chronicled his every step since the Montgomery Bus Boycott a decade earlier railed against him, leading The Washington Post to write that “King has done a grave injury to those who are his natural allies…and… an even graver injury to himself.”
King argued that while the speech might have been politically unwise, he was “morally wise.” He absorbed the criticism quietly, but vowed to move. He had no choice.
“I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government,” King said at Riverside. “For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.”
5 Facts About The Assassination Of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
D r. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination remains one of the most highly-investigated and second-guessed murders of our time. While James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to killing the civil rights leader, Coretta Scott King and other members of his inner circle suggested that Dr. King Jr. was a “ victim of conspiracy . ” Because of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s perception of Dr. King Jr. along with his assumptions about his politics, those who embraced prejudice also turned their backs on him and his ideals. It was obvious that the government started to view Dr. King Jr. as a threat. Nothing made that more clear than the way the FBI investigated his behaviors and sought to turn his following against him. And o nce a powerful force gains access to information that can taint a leader’s reputation, it can also aim to disrupt or even end an entire movement.
There are those of us whose parents and grandparents followed and respected him. So much so that we know certain facts about Dr. King Jr.’s life and assassination like the back of our hands. We know who is responsible, where it happened, where he was headed before things went awry and the plans he had for the people of Memphis and the rest of the world. And then, there are those other facts that we aren’t aware of that can perhaps help us better understand what he was up against as well as the level of his impact. Here are five facts about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
1. There had been a previous attempt to assassinate him.
Before his death at the hands of James Earl Ray, Dr. King had survived being attacked by a mentally ill woman during his book tour in Harlem, New York, in 1958. He was signing copies of his first book, “Stride Towards Freedom: The Montgomery Story,” at a department store when Izola Ware Curry approached and asked him if he was Dr. King, and upon receiving confirmation, stabbed him in the chest with a seven-inch-long letter opener. The blade landed just inches away from his aorta leading him to require emergency surgery. He remained in the hospital for over a month to recover. The delusional Curry, who had been stalking Dr. King for more than six years, believed that he was working with Communists to conspire against her. It was reported that she was also carrying a loaded pistol, but was stopped before she could get to it. Ten years later during his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, Dr. King shared that his physicians said the blade had been lodged so close to his heart it would have pierced his artery had he even so much as sneezed.
2. The reverend’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech drew attention to an ongoing sanitation workers’ strike.
In the weeks leading up to Dr. King’s assassination, sanitation workers in Memphis had been striking against unsafe conditions on the job. The strike began on February 12, 1968, sparked by the deaths of two garbage workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, who had been crushed by malfunctioning equipment on the trucks. Dr. King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, delivered in Memphis on April 3, the day before he was gunned down, drew attention to the union workers’ plight and to their requests. It was his last major public address, and somewhat prophetic that he would speak about the almost fatal stabbing years earlier, and basically assert that he was not afraid to die. A few days after Dr. King’s assassination, his widow, Coretta Scott King, and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) personnel continued his support of the workers by leading a rally of more than 40,000 people through the streets of Memphis. Their efforts helped to secure a better hourly wage for sanitation employees within a week of King’s death.
Source: Getty Images / Getty Images
3. Outraged by his assassination, supporters of Dr. King took to the streets.
Civil unrest followed the announcement of the death of Dr. King. As Americans sought to express their grief and anger, about 3,500 people were injured, 43 were killed, and 27,000 arrested as outbreaks of rioting, looting, arson, and violence took over more than 100 cities across the nation. The turmoil was compared to the Civil War in that close to 60,000 National Guardsmen and army troops were assigned to join forces with local police stations to calm the crowds of demonstrators.
4. Doors were shut and ceremonies were postponed as the country (and the world) mourned.
In the wake of Dr. King’s murder, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered that public libraries, museums, businesses, and schools shut their doors. It was three days after King’s assassination that Johnson called for a national day of mourning. The Academy Awards board also postponed the 40th annual ceremony for a few days later than it was originally scheduled, one of only four times the event has ever been put on hold.
5. It was later discovered that the FBI had sent a strange letter to Dr. King threatening to taint his reputation unless he committed suicide.
In 2014 The New York Times published an uncensored version of a letter that the FBI had sent to Dr. King after he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in August of 1963. The agency hinted at its plan to release details about the reverend’s sexual history in an effort to denounce him as a “King” and a “doctor.” In addition to the publication of the letter, a report was also released exposing just how committed the FBI (and its former director, J. Edgar Hoover) was to ruining the civil rights leader’s reputation, having had him under surveillance for some time. Hoover’s involvement seemed to have been personal and was sparked by his belief that King was a Communist sympathizer. After determining that this was inaccurate, Hoover still approved continued FBI harassment of Dr. King. In the letter, which was sent to his home along with recordings of his interludes with other women, they used monikers like “colossal fraud” and “evil abnormal beast” to describe him, saying that “there is but one way out for you” with hopes of coercing him into committing suicide. Although the missive was unsigned, King and his team correctly deduced that it was from the FBI.
1968: A Year of Turmoil and Change
1968 was a turning point in U.S. history, a year of triumphs and tragedies, social and political upheavals, that forever changed our country. In the air, America reached new heights with NASA’s Apollo 8 orbiting the moon and Boeing’s 747 jumbo jet’s first flight. However, all was not well on the ground: the country lost a Navy intelligence ship (USS Pueblo) and two proponents of peace—Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy. Other events that made history that year include the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive, riots in Washington, DC, the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1968, and heightened social unrest over the Vietnam War, values, and race.
The National Archives holds records documenting the turbulent time during 1968. Explore the records in the National Archives Catalog related to all the triumphs and tragedies, social and political upheavals, that forever changed our country.
In reflection, 1968 was a year of triumph and tragedy. International and national events changed the landscape of America and the world around it forever. Now 50 years later, the National Archives holds records of the events that shaped our nation during that critical era.
Remarks by the President at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Dedication
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you. (Applause.) Please be seated.
An earthquake and a hurricane may have delayed this day, but this is a day that would not be denied.
For this day, we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.&rsquos return to the National Mall. In this place, he will stand for all time, among monuments to those who fathered this nation and those who defended it a black preacher with no official rank or title who somehow gave voice to our deepest dreams and our most lasting ideals, a man who stirred our conscience and thereby helped make our union more perfect.
And Dr. King would be the first to remind us that this memorial is not for him alone. The movement of which he was a part depended on an entire generation of leaders. Many are here today, and for their service and their sacrifice, we owe them our everlasting gratitude. This is a monument to your collective achievement. (Applause.)
Some giants of the civil rights movement &ndash- like Rosa Parks and Dorothy Height, Benjamin Hooks, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth &ndash- they&rsquove been taken from us these past few years. This monument attests to their strength and their courage, and while we miss them dearly, we know they rest in a better place.
And finally, there are the multitudes of men and women whose names never appear in the history books &ndash- those who marched and those who sang, those who sat in and those who stood firm, those who organized and those who mobilized &ndash- all those men and women who through countless acts of quiet heroism helped bring about changes few thought were even possible. &ldquoBy the thousands,&rdquo said Dr. King, &ldquofaceless, anonymous, relentless young people, black and white&helliphave taken our whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.&rdquo To those men and women, to those foot soldiers for justice, know that this monument is yours, as well.
Nearly half a century has passed since that historic March on Washington, a day when thousands upon thousands gathered for jobs and for freedom. That is what our schoolchildren remember best when they think of Dr. King -&ndash his booming voice across this Mall, calling on America to make freedom a reality for all of God&rsquos children, prophesizing of a day when the jangling discord of our nation would be transformed into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
It is right that we honor that march, that we lift up Dr. King&rsquos &ldquoI Have a Dream&rdquo speech &ndash- for without that shining moment, without Dr. King&rsquos glorious words, we might not have had the courage to come as far as we have. Because of that hopeful vision, because of Dr. King&rsquos moral imagination, barricades began to fall and bigotry began to fade. New doors of opportunity swung open for an entire generation. Yes, laws changed, but hearts and minds changed, as well.
Look at the faces here around you, and you see an America that is more fair and more free and more just than the one Dr. King addressed that day. We are right to savor that slow but certain progress -&ndash progress that&rsquos expressed itself in a million ways, large and small, across this nation every single day, as people of all colors and creeds live together, and work together, and fight alongside one another, and learn together, and build together, and love one another.
So it is right for us to celebrate today Dr. King&rsquos dream and his vision of unity. And yet it is also important on this day to remind ourselves that such progress did not come easily that Dr. King&rsquos faith was hard-won that it sprung out of a harsh reality and some bitter disappointments.
It is right for us to celebrate Dr. King&rsquos marvelous oratory, but it is worth remembering that progress did not come from words alone. Progress was hard. Progress was purchased through enduring the smack of billy clubs and the blast of fire hoses. It was bought with days in jail cells and nights of bomb threats. For every victory during the height of the civil rights movement, there were setbacks and there were defeats.
We forget now, but during his life, Dr. King wasn&rsquot always considered a unifying figure. Even after rising to prominence, even after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King was vilified by many, denounced as a rabble rouser and an agitator, a communist and a radical. He was even attacked by his own people, by those who felt he was going too fast or those who felt he was going too slow by those who felt he shouldn&rsquot meddle in issues like the Vietnam War or the rights of union workers. We know from his own testimony the doubts and the pain this caused him, and that the controversy that would swirl around his actions would last until the fateful day he died.
I raise all this because nearly 50 years after the March on Washington, our work, Dr. King&rsquos work, is not yet complete. We gather here at a moment of great challenge and great change. In the first decade of this new century, we have been tested by war and by tragedy by an economic crisis and its aftermath that has left millions out of work, and poverty on the rise, and millions more just struggling to get by. Indeed, even before this crisis struck, we had endured a decade of rising inequality and stagnant wages. In too many troubled neighborhoods across the country, the conditions of our poorest citizens appear little changed from what existed 50 years ago -&ndash neighborhoods with underfunded schools and broken-down slums, inadequate health care, constant violence, neighborhoods in which too many young people grow up with little hope and few prospects for the future.
Our work is not done. And so on this day, in which we celebrate a man and a movement that did so much for this country, let us draw strength from those earlier struggles. First and foremost, let us remember that change has never been quick. Change has never been simple, or without controversy. Change depends on persistence. Change requires determination. It took a full decade before the moral guidance of Brown v. Board of Education was translated into the enforcement measures of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, but those 10 long years did not lead Dr. King to give up. He kept on pushing, he kept on speaking, he kept on marching until change finally came. (Applause.)
And then when, even after the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act passed, African Americans still found themselves trapped in pockets of poverty across the country, Dr. King didn&rsquot say those laws were a failure he didn&rsquot say this is too hard he didn&rsquot say, let&rsquos settle for what we got and go home. Instead he said, let&rsquos take those victories and broaden our mission to achieve not just civil and political equality but also economic justice let&rsquos fight for a living wage and better schools and jobs for all who are willing to work. In other words, when met with hardship, when confronting disappointment, Dr. King refused to accept what he called the &ldquoisness&rdquo of today. He kept pushing towards the &ldquooughtness&rdquo of tomorrow.
And so, as we think about all the work that we must do &ndash- rebuilding an economy that can compete on a global stage, and fixing our schools so that every child -- not just some, but every child -- gets a world-class education, and making sure that our health care system is affordable and accessible to all, and that our economic system is one in which everybody gets a fair shake and everybody does their fair share, let us not be trapped by what is. (Applause.) We can&rsquot be discouraged by what is. We&rsquove got to keep pushing for what ought to be, the America we ought to leave to our children, mindful that the hardships we face are nothing compared to those Dr. King and his fellow marchers faced 50 years ago, and that if we maintain our faith, in ourselves and in the possibilities of this nation, there is no challenge we cannot surmount.
And just as we draw strength from Dr. King&rsquos struggles, so must we draw inspiration from his constant insistence on the oneness of man the belief in his words that &ldquowe are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.&rdquo It was that insistence, rooted in his Christian faith, that led him to tell a group of angry young protesters, &ldquoI love you as I love my own children,&rdquo even as one threw a rock that glanced off his neck.
It was that insistence, that belief that God resides in each of us, from the high to the low, in the oppressor and the oppressed, that convinced him that people and systems could change. It fortified his belief in non-violence. It permitted him to place his faith in a government that had fallen short of its ideals. It led him to see his charge not only as freeing black America from the shackles of discrimination, but also freeing many Americans from their own prejudices, and freeing Americans of every color from the depredations of poverty.
And so at this moment, when our politics appear so sharply polarized, and faith in our institutions so greatly diminished, we need more than ever to take heed of Dr. King&rsquos teachings. He calls on us to stand in the other person&rsquos shoes to see through their eyes to understand their pain. He tells us that we have a duty to fight against poverty, even if we are well off to care about the child in the decrepit school even if our own children are doing fine to show compassion toward the immigrant family, with the knowledge that most of us are only a few generations removed from similar hardships. (Applause.)
To say that we are bound together as one people, and must constantly strive to see ourselves in one another, is not to argue for a false unity that papers over our differences and ratifies an unjust status quo. As was true 50 years ago, as has been true throughout human history, those with power and privilege will often decry any call for change as &ldquodivisive.&rdquo They&rsquoll say any challenge to the existing arrangements are unwise and destabilizing. Dr. King understood that peace without justice was no peace at all that aligning our reality with our ideals often requires the speaking of uncomfortable truths and the creative tension of non-violent protest.
But he also understood that to bring about true and lasting change, there must be the possibility of reconciliation that any social movement has to channel this tension through the spirit of love and mutuality.
If he were alive today, I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there that the businessman can enter tough negotiations with his company&rsquos union without vilifying the right to collectively bargain. He would want us to know we can argue fiercely about the proper size and role of government without questioning each other&rsquos love for this country -- (applause) -- with the knowledge that in this democracy, government is no distant object but is rather an expression of our common commitments to one another. He would call on us to assume the best in each other rather than the worst, and challenge one another in ways that ultimately heal rather than wound.
In the end, that&rsquos what I hope my daughters take away from this monument. I want them to come away from here with a faith in what they can accomplish when they are determined and working for a righteous cause. I want them to come away from here with a faith in other people and a faith in a benevolent God. This sculpture, massive and iconic as it is, will remind them of Dr. King&rsquos strength, but to see him only as larger than life would do a disservice to what he taught us about ourselves. He would want them to know that he had setbacks, because they will have setbacks. He would want them to know that he had doubts, because they will have doubts. He would want them to know that he was flawed, because all of us have flaws.
It is precisely because Dr. King was a man of flesh and blood and not a figure of stone that he inspires us so. His life, his story, tells us that change can come if you don&rsquot give up. He would not give up, no matter how long it took, because in the smallest hamlets and the darkest slums, he had witnessed the highest reaches of the human spirit because in those moments when the struggle seemed most hopeless, he had seen men and women and children conquer their fear because he had seen hills and mountains made low and rough places made plain, and the crooked places made straight and God make a way out of no way.
And that is why we honor this man &ndash- because he had faith in us. And that is why he belongs on this Mall -&ndash because he saw what we might become. That is why Dr. King was so quintessentially American -- because for all the hardships we&rsquove endured, for all our sometimes tragic history, ours is a story of optimism and achievement and constant striving that is unique upon this Earth. And that is why the rest of the world still looks to us to lead. This is a country where ordinary people find in their hearts the courage to do extraordinary things the courage to stand up in the face of the fiercest resistance and despair and say this is wrong, and this is right we will not settle for what the cynics tell us we have to accept and we will reach again and again, no matter the odds, for what we know is possible.
That is the conviction we must carry now in our hearts. (Applause.) As tough as times may be, I know we will overcome. I know there are better days ahead. I know this because of the man towering over us. I know this because all he and his generation endured -- we are here today in a country that dedicated a monument to that legacy.
And so with our eyes on the horizon and our faith squarely placed in one another, let us keep striving let us keep struggling let us keep climbing toward that promised land of a nation and a world that is more fair, and more just, and more equal for every single child of God.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)