Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 15. Segment 7
The Promised Land

Dr. King is preparing for the Poor People's Campaign in Washington when the garbage workers in Memphis, Tennessee, go on strike. The black workers strike because they were sent home one day when it rained. The white garbage workers weren't sent home. When the rain stopped, the whites went back to work and were paid a full day's wages; but the blacks, because they had been sent home, were paid for only a few hours. So the blacks strike for fair and equal treatment. Dr. King agrees to march on their behalf. See It Now - Martin Luther King, Jr. That march has hardly begun when teenagers begin smashing windows and looting stores. King is furious. He believes in nonviolent resistance. He leaves the march. But the uproar isn't over. By the time it is, 155 stores are damaged, sixty people hurt, and a sixteen-year old boy has been killed by police gunfire. King feels sick that a boy has died. In a discouraged moment he says: "It may be that those of us who believe in nonviolence should just step aside and let the violent forces run their course, which will be very brief, because you can't conduct a violent campaign in this country."

But King can't step aside. He decides he has to lead a peaceful march in Memphis. Some of Dr. King's aides don't agree. They think Memphis is too dangerous. Dr. King is receiving death threats in the mail. But he is determined to go back. See It Now - Dr. King The night before his trip, King turns on the television. President Johnson is making an announcement. The North Vietnamese's Tet offensive earlier in the year has made it clear to the President that Americans cannot win the war. Johnson says he is cutting back on the bombing of Vietnam and will try to get a settlement of the war. Then he stuns the nation. He says, Hear It Now - LBJ "I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party for a another term as your president."

This terrible war has claimed yet another victim&3151;the President of the United States. The next evening, in Memphis, Dr. King speaks to a huge crowd. Once again, like during his "I Have a Dream" speech, he uses no notes; he just speaks from his heart: "I would like to live a long life. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. And 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. I have a dream this afternoon that the brotherhood of man will become a reality.... I'm not worrying about anything, 'Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.' " Check The Source - "I'm Not Worried About Anything"

The next evening, Martin Luther King, Jr., goes out onto the balcony off his room at the Lorraine Motel to breathe some fresh air before dinner. His friend Ralph Abernathy hears something that sounds like a firecracker. But it is no firecracker. Martin Luther King, Jr., has been shot dead. He is thirty-nine years old. His assassin, a white man named James Earl Ray, will be captured two months later at an airport, in London, England.

Robert Kennedy hears the news about Dr. King in Indianapolis, See It Now - Bobby Kennedy just before he is to speak to a black crowd in a troubled section of the city. "Cancel the talk," the mayor of Indianapolis urges. The police refuse to protect him. But Kennedy will not leave. He climbs onto the back of a truck and tells the crowd of the tragedy in Memphis. "Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice for his fellow human beings, and he died because of that effort," Kennedy says. "In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black, you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and with a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love." Check The Source - "To Replace Violence With Compassion"

The crowd is hushed; people weep; and there is no violence in Indianapolis that day.

learn more at:
© 2002 Picture History and Educational
Broadcasting Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Thirteen/WNET PBS