MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A half century after Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, visitors still flock to the Memphis, Tennessee, site where the civil rights leader was assassinated and say that while there has been progress in racial equality, more strides need to be made.
“We still look like there is a shadow over us, still seems like something is holding us back,” Charles Wilson, a black man from Mississippi, said during a recent visit to the site.
On April 4, 1968, King, 39, was shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The motel is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum, which includes Room 306, preserved as it was when King stayed there, and vintage cars parked out front.
A Baptist pastor and civil rights activist, King worked to end legal segregation of blacks in the United States. He gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the August 1963 March on Washington, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 at age 35 — the youngest man to have received the award.
Despite King’s advocacy of non-violent resistance, the days immediately following his death were marked by rioting in several American cities. Thousands of National Guard troops were deployed.
Wilson, the recent National Civil Rights Museum visitor, and his son Charles Jr. were among those who contemplated King’s legacy and the status of civil rights in the United States.
“I think that the changes that people fought for as far as voting and et cetera, a lot of people don’t take advantage of it, and a lot of people gave their lives for that right, they fought for it and people now don’t appreciate it,” Wilson Jr said.
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Nancy Langfield, a white woman visiting from Missouri, said politicians in Washington do not reflect the racial makeup of the United States.
She deplored what she called the rhetoric coming out of Washington, calling it hateful and mean. “I look at the government and it looks very white to me, and then I think about the country and it doesn’t seem overly white to me,” Langfield said.
For Hyungu Lee, of Tennessee, who visited the museum with his family, King’s legacy still is alive.
“Even though he is not here, I feel that his spirit is with us now, and because of him, our human rights is getting better and better, so I feel really thankful,” Lee said.
(Reporting by Kia Johnson; Writing by Suzannah Gonzales; Editing by Matthew Lewis)