1968 – Martin Luther King is assassinated

Martin Luther King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, after years of non-violent struggle for civil rights. By 1967, he was moving on from that. While it remained an important part of his goals, he had also become a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War and in 1967 established the Poor People’s Campaign – both of which reflected an approach to social justice that was increasingly based on class rather than race.

King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee as he stood on the balcony of his hotel. A single shot fired by James Earl Ray caused a remarkable amount of damage, and although King was raced to a nearby hospital by his friends, the doctors were unable to save him. His death led to riots in many American cities (other than Indianapolis, where Bobby Kennedy made one of the greatest speeches of his career, and found his plea for cooler heads heeded), and a national day of mourning was declared by the President.

Referenced in:
Pride – U2
They Don’t Care About Us – Michael Jackson

1963 — Martin Luther King makes his “I Have A Dream” speech

For a speech that lasted only 10 minutes, it’s hard to overstate the importance of the speech. It’s remains one of the most-quoted speeches of the twentieth century. It crystallised the ideals of the American Civil Rights Movement into a single line; a single dream.

And yet oddly, the best known part of the speech – the “I Have A Dream” section itself – was actually an improvisation. Martin Luther King was a great writer and a great orator, but on this day, he departed from the text of his pre-written speech. He spoke with passion and vision. He spoke from the heart, articulating a vision of an America – a world – which we have still not achieved.

King would be Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1963, would win the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize…

…and be assassinated a little under eight months later.

Referenced in:
She Is Always Seventeen — Harry Chapin