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Martin Luther King, forty years on

Latest update : 2008-04-05

The United States today mark the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King. The sentencing of escaped convict James Earl Ray failed to dispel the mystery that has surrounded Dr King's assassination ever since.

Watch our Top Story on "Martin Luther King: 40 years on"



Thousands mourned here Friday the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King 40 years ago, reflecting that his dream of equality remains still largely unfulfilled.

While his children placed a wreath on the grave in Atlanta where King and his wife Coretta Scott King were buried, mourners in a rain-soaked Memphis attended speeches and candle-light vigils to honor King's legacy.

His memory still stirs strong emotions and Democratic White House hopeful Hillary Clinton recalled how King made a lasting impression on her, when at 14 she shook his hand, after listening to him speak in Chicago.

With tears welling in her eyes, Clinton described her despair on learning that a lone gunman had killed King with a single bullet while he was standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968.

"It felt like everything had been shattered. Like we would never be able to put the pieces together again," she said at the Mason Temple in Memphis, where King spoke on the eve of his murder.

She acknowledged that while progress has been made, "we know the journey is far from over. Some days when you open up the newspaper and you read the headlines, it feels like we've tumbled right back down that mountain top."

In a sign that times are changing though, Clinton, bidding to be the first woman in the White House, is bitterly contesting the Democratic Party's nomination against Illinois Senator Barack Obama, the first African-American with a real shot at being president.

Obama, who was campaigning in Indiana, held a moment's silence for King at the beginning of his rally.

"Through his faith and courage and wisdom, Dr. Martin Luther King moved an entire nation," he said. "When he was killed ... it left a wound on the soul of our nation that has not yet fully healed."

"The cause of Dr. King was bigger than any one man, and could not be stopped by force of violence," agreed Republican presidential hopeful John McCain.

"Dr. King stirred the conscience of our nation to ensure that the self-evident truths of human freedom held true for all Americans."

But McCain was heckled by the Memphis crowd outside the motel, which has now become a civil rights museum, when he admitted he had been wrong to initially oppose creating a federal holiday in King's honor.

"I was wrong and eventually realized that in time," McCain said." I remind you that we can all be a little late sometimes in doing the right thing. Dr. King understood this about his fellow Americans."

King had travelled to Memphis in southern Tennessee to support striking sanitation workers. But the day after giving a speech, he was shot dead, at just 39 years old.

Escaped inmate James Earl Ray was convicted of the murder and sentenced to 99 years in prison, but many still suspect there was a conspiracy and Ray could not have acted alone.

As a young man, King had emerged as a charismatic hero battling for racial equality during the turbulent early days of the civil rights movement.

His "I have a dream" speech in Washington in 1963 became a defining moment in the movement and roused the nation's conscience.

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,'" King told the crowd at the capital's Lincoln Memorial.

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Those four little words thundered through his speech and entered into the American lexicon as symbols of the pursuit of racial equality.

But civil rights leader Jesse Jackson reminded CNN Friday there are still glaring divisions between black and white in America.

"We have among blacks, more unemployment, 2.5 million African-Americans in jail. We have an unfunded moral imperative to invest in healing the structural inequality," he said.

And another leading activist Al Sharpton was scathing of the presidential candidates appearances in rain-soaked Memphis on Friday.

"The question is who's going to do what Dr. King stood for, not the question of who's going to do drive-by appearances," he said on CNN. "None of them are standing on the agenda of Dr. King. Obama comes closest to that."

Date created : 2008-04-04